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And Now I’m Back

I’ve been in Holland.

Well, strictly speaking, since it was on the borders of the Friesland and Groningen provinces, make that The Netherlands.

The good lady’s eldest brother lives there. We had been supposed to visit for years but life got in the way.

We needed to renew our passports first. I sent the applications away late in July. Despite all the talk on the news about delays we got the new ones inside a week. (As I remember it was four days.) Maybe the Glasgow Passport office is more efficient than down south.

So another country visited. Apart from the constituent parts of the UK (though I only just made it into Wales) I’ve been to Sweden (Stockholm,) the Soviet Union (Leningrad as was) and Denmark (Copenhagen) on a school cruise when I was at Primary School, Portugal (the Azores, Madeira, Lisbon) and Spain (Vigo) on a Secondary School cruise, and as an adult to Germany (near Stuttgart) and France twice (Normandy for the D-Day beaches and Picardy for World War I battlefields.)

Since the good lady didn’t fancy being on a RoRo ferry overnight we drove down to Harwich (with an overnight stop) and the same on the way back. I’m knackered.

Germanic Hegemony Looms

Over the past eight years Spain dominated the international football tournaments in which they took part – though they had a premonitory blip in last year’s Confederations Cup (and what a misleading pointer that final turned out to be.)

After the win by Germany in Rio on Sunday we could be in for a longer period of domination than the Spanish enjoyed as the German players are quite young and will only have gained in confidence from their achievement. I don’t know if I can stand that thought, though.

Still, at least it gives Scotland an early opportunity to claim their scalp as the two countries meet on Sep 7th in the first qualifying game for the 2016 European Championships.

The late World Cup has unified the FIFA and Unofficial Football World Championships. Going into it Uruguay were the holders of the unofficial title but swiftly lost it to Costa Rica.

For historical reasons Scotland is actually at the top of the unofficial football championship rankings. The September game will give Scotland a chance to reclaim the actual title – if Argentina don’t beat the Germans in their friendly a few days before.

Sólo otro club

In one of the least unpredictable transfers of this summer Liverpool’s troubled (and troubling – the guy clearly needs help) star striker Luis Suarez has moved to Barcelona, no doubt to the benefit of his bank balance. The only question was over his destination. As he made no secret he wished to play in Spain the other option would have been Real Madrid.

Barcelona’s motto, emblazoned on the seats in their stadium, the Camp Nou, is “més que un club” (more than a club.) Such a claim to moral high ground is somewhat undermined by their acquisition of a serial perpetrator of assaults; assaults which if carried out in any other walk of life might have seen their author up before a magistrate.

Suarez’s gifts as a footballer clearly outweigh any consideration of propriety (or indeed of the player’s inner well-being: he is not going to change his behaviour when it is rewarded like this.)

It seems Barcelona is sólo otro club (just another club) after all.

di Stéfano

The football legend who has died today had a name that needed no further explanation. He was part of that legendary Real Madrid side that captivated the football followers of Glasgow and Scotland at the European Cup Final of 1960 – played at Hampden Park. di Stéfano scored a hat-trick.

I was too young to be aware of it at the time but the folk memory was promulgated and persists. Such was the effect of that display of what football could be that the names of the forward line still trip off the tongue with no need for googling. Canario, Del Sol, di Stéfano, Puskas and Gento. Mind you, I see film of that game now and think, “Where was the marking?”

One curiosity is that I believe the Eintracht Frankfurt team that formed the opposition that day were all amateurs – as was German football as a whole.

di Stéfano may be unique in having played international football for three different countries, his native Argentina, Colombia, where he played league football for a while, and Spain for whom he was naturalised in 1956. That was the type of scenario that I thought had been resolved by FIFA with its rules on eligibility but in the recent World Cup one of the commentators remarked that Kevin-Prince Boateng who played for Ghana in the tournament had previously played for Germany (but not, it seems, for the senior side.)

The World Cup was one stage that di Stéfano did not grace, for various reasons, but his thirteen national titles (two in Argentina, three in Colombia and no less than eight in Spain) and five European Cups – not to mention his scoring record – speak for themselves.

Alfredo Stéfano di Stéfano Laulhé: 4/7/1926 – 7/7/2014. So it goes.

Spain 0-2 Chile

World Cup Group B, Estádio do Maracanã, 18/6/14.

This is the way the world (Cup) ends. For Spain at least. Not with a bang – and barely a whimper.

The signs that were there in the Confederations Cup last year that Spain’s time was coming to an end are now manifest. Their defensive frailty in the Holland game was underlined here. How they miss Carles Puyol. I don’t think a defence with a Puyol in his prime would have collapsed in such a way. And the wisdom of selecting Iker Casillas in goal has to be doubted.

With this result we seem to have reverted to situation normal for Spain at World Cups. Implosion.

Speaking of which, has anyone else noticed the facial resemblance between Diego Costa and Fernando Hierro?

Fernando Hierro
Diego Costa

Brazil 3-0 Spain

FIFA Confederations Cup, Final, Maracanã Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, 30/6/13

Seemingly Brazil don’t do competitive defeats at home. Their last was 38 years ago, and that was the only one in the past 50 years. They have only ever lost twice in a competitive game at the Maracanã (whose official name I’ve now learned is the Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho.)

As in the semi-final Spain were most unSpain like. This could be due to the fact that both Italy and Brazil got at them. I note here that even if Big Phil did not send Brazil out deliberately to play the early ball over the top David Luiz had certainly noticed the Spanish vulnerability. It was his crossfield pass that led to Brazil’s first goal.

It was strange to see Spain out-hustled for two games in a row. Hustling is one of their strengths. But Italy and Brazil didn’t allow them time on the ball nor space to pass it.

Spain had their chances but the combination of a David Luiz goal line clearance and a Julio Cesar in great form frustrated them.

Fred’s second early in the second half killed the game. Iker Casillas showed here why Jose Mourinho may have preferred Diego López latterly.

Talking about goalkeepers falling from their absolute best Gianluigi Buffon in the semi seemed to have recovered from Italy’s defensive horrors in the group games but looked a bit iffy again in the third place match.

Brazil don’t lose competitive matches at home?

Well, they’re still haunted by the loss to Uruguay at the Maracanã in the last game of the 1950 World Cup. They still will be when next year’s tournament comes round.

Confederations Cup 2013

This year’s tournament has been very watchable stuff, even if the games involving Tahiti were total mismatches.

Italy have been strange; leaking goals in the group games was very unlike them. They reverted to defensive type in the semi-final against Spain, though, except they seemed to adopt that most un-Azzurri tactic, the ball over the top. An un-Italian inability to convert chances scuppered them in the end. I wonder if Brazil will try the ball over the top in the final. It caught Spain out a few times, confirming the sense that the Spanish are get-at-able at the back.

Nigeria look to have the nucleus of a side for the future; get themselves a clinical finisher and they’ll be there.

I was surprised that Japan ended up with no points. They were excellent but allowed themselves to be caught out. Given a good draw in next year’s World Cup they could go deep into that competition.

Brazil aren’t the full article yet either but Neymar is a player (even if he falls over too easily.)

And what a transformation for Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani from the group games – when he looked lost – to the semi-final, where he was influential all over the pitch.

(The final will probably be a let down now.)

Germany 1-2 Italy

Euro 2012, Semi-final, National Stadium, Warsaw.

I missed the other semi-final. (Probably just as well because it sounds as if it was a bore fest.)

This was a good game, though, with both teams wanting to win it. The Italians seemed unusually nervous at the back to begin with but that all ended after they pounced.

Mario Balotelli showed just how effective he can be. His movement for the first goal was brilliant, but he couldn’t have done it without Andrea Pirlo’s exquisite pass out to Georgio Chiellini and Antonio Cassano’s wriggle past the defender. A simple (simple?) over the top ball from Riccardo Monotolivo exposed the Germans for the second and Balotelli’s finish was never going to be saved.

The German substitutions at half time rather gave the game away that the wrong choices had been made in the first place; but even they were too late. Jérôme Boateng looked a liability at right back but when Thomas Müller repalced him the Germans lost whatever shape they had had. Italy ought to have picked them off and buried them. This German team doesn’t have enough old heads in midfield (or perhaps guiding them from the bench.) Or did they believe their own hype?

The Italy-Spain match-up in the final is an intriguing one.

Will Italy play three at the back again? It nearly worked to give them a win in the group game.

Will Spain play a striker of any description? They usually lack width so perhaps there’s no point. Maybe they’ll just try to hypnotise the Italians with their movement. (It could put me to sleep.)

Euro 2012

I’ve not posted about Euro 2012 yet because I’ve not seen many whole games.

I did catch all of the England – Ukraine game last night, though. If Ukraine had had a striker they’d have won this. England rode their luck and not just with the ball over the line incident.

I take issue with the commmentators over that. In real time I couldn’t tell if the ball was over the line or not. Even with the benefit of the replay using the along the line view I couldn’t tell that the whole ball had crossed the line when John Terry kicked it out. Neither could the fifth official be sure. And he has to be sure to give the goal. It was only when Terry was stripped from the picture and the frame was frozen that I could tell – and how was I to know what other manipulation may have been done to the image? The line official didn’t have that luxury.

Still, roll on goal line technology.

It must be said Uefa haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory over the Niklas Bendtner fine and ban for ambush marketing vivs-a-vis racist chanting and inappropriate banners.

As to possible winners; who knows?

Spain look get-at-able at the back. If it weren’t for Iker Casillas they would have been going home early: both Italy and Croatia would have beaten them. They also seem to have developed this novel way of trying to win football games. It involves not trying to score goals. (To be fair Dumbarton have been using that system for donkey’s years; but not deliberately.)

Against Croatia the Italians did that Italian thing of taking a lead and trying to hold it. The only thing is their defence isn’t good enough these days to sustain it. Had they gone for the second they might have saved themselves a fraught third game. They looked good going forward against Spain though.

Greece? Not likely, but we’ve thought that before.

Germany look impressive and Mario Gomez has morphed from being the German Luca Toni and suddenly found goal scoring form in a tournament.

Czech Republic? I doubt they’ll have enough to beat Portugal who were too fragile at the back against Denmark. But do the Portuguese have enough striking options beyond Ronaldo to get to the final?

France were shown up against Sweden and must play Spain.

England are teed up to lose to a Mario Balotelli goal. They have exceeded their usual Euro performance in getting to the quarter-final, after all.

At this stage it looks like the Germans.

Spain 3-1 Scotland

José Rico Pérez Stadium, Alicante. 11/10/11

I didn’t see all this. I watched the early parts of the game in a pub in Cambridge and soon remarked to the good lady, “The game’s two minutes in and Scotland haven’t touched the ball yet.” It’s difficult to do well in a game when the opposition won’t let you near the ball. Spain’s touch and movement are simply superb.

The first goal was like water running through a grating; very little resistance. I missed the second as I was travelling back to the hotel. The third looked like curtains.

Still, the penalty animated the corpse a bit. David Goodwillie’s striker’s instincts (always go for goal) meant the possibility of 3-2 was spurned. But that would have been an injustice. Scotland were right royally humped. No disgrace when it’s by the best team in the world, though.

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