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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 Maracana (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.

Liechtenstein 0-1 Scotland

Euro 2012 Qualifying round, Rheinpark Stadion, Vaduz. 8/10/11

I missed most of the first half of this as I was travelling back from Dundee. By the commentary on Radio Scotland it sounded like we were scorning innumerable chances. It was 0-0 when I arrived home. Imagine my surprise when, two minutes later, I turned on the TV and saw we had scored. Chris McKail-Smith, the first double-barrelled surname player ever to start a game for Scotland, took it well.

The second half was a snooze fest – with Liechtenstein shading the mid part of the half – up until the last ten minutes when Peter Jehle in the home goal had to make two great saves in a minute.

So. Only Spain to beat now.

Onwards and upwards to the play-offs.

(No. Me neither.)

Scotland 1-0 Lithuania

Euro 2012, Hampden Park, 6/9/11

Well; a win, but again from the highlights this is one that could have had a different outcome. Lithuania had some chances too.

Scotland should have had it won early, and not just with the penalty that Darren Fletcher didn’t score. Barry Bannan impressed in midfield, though.

So as usual we’re not to be put out of our uncertainty till the last.

We ought to beat Liechtenstein. (We ought to.)

Can’t see it against Spain, though. Can you?

Bringing Laughter To The Stoniest Heart?

I think it was Oscar Wilde who said that anyone who did not have the stoniest heart could not read about the death of Little Nell in Charles Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop without laughing. (For possible Wildean phrasings of this aphorism see here.)

I confess I feel much the same way about the current position of Liverpool Football Club.

Their supporters bayed for the previous owners to sell up and for the previous manager to go, or be sacked.

Having got both their wishes they immediately set to complaining about the new manager, Roy Hodgson – who had just won the Manager of the Season award, don’t forget – for not being their darling, former player and manager Kenny Dalglish. Effectively they never gave Hodgson a chance.

It is as if they believe they have a divine right to success and to a winning team. Despite their club’s trophy laden history they do not.

I think it is this sense of entitlement that makes me anti-pathetic towards the club – as I am to the similarly deluded fans, and the overweening behaviour, of the Old Firm clubs.

And now Hodgson has gone, in that telling weasel phrase “by mutual consent,” and replaced – for now – by Kenny Dalglish.

Admittedly Liverpool’s results have not been good this season – in the Premier League at least.

Yet how much of this is really to do with the manager? Can a manager really turn around several seasons’ worth of decline in six months? Liverpool’s current position stems in large part from the mistakes made by previous manager Rafael Benitez; mistakes in signing certain players and mistakes in alienating and then in letting go others.

It is evident from the scantiest perusal of their games on television that the present players are not performing. Whatever their affections for the old manager and whatever they may think of the new it is their job to do what he asks of them. Surely some of the blame ought to be placed on them.

Okay, Fernando Torres has an excuse. He has been injured, then not match fit and also probably suffering a reaction from Spain’s World Cup win in the summer.

Steven Gerrard is a more complicated case. He is clearly not playing as effectively as he once did. That may be due to an overall decline in the ability level of players around him. He is also probably trying too hard. And here’s a thought; actually he may not be quite as good a player as everyone made out. Or he may simply be in decline.

There is another problem with him, though. I think he has too much of an influence on the team in that the other players defer to him. When he’s on the pitch they look to him to drive things on – they even get out of his way when they are actually better placed to play the ball. His shadow hangs over them even when he’s not playing as they seem to believe that without him they are not as capable of achieving a win.

Changing the manager is a desperate throw of the dice. My own club Dumbarton did precisely this just before the recent snows interrupted the fixtures. Whether that was a wise move only time will tell. As in Liverpool’s case it may have been too late. It was for Newcastle United two seasons ago when they appointed Alan Shearer to try to avoid relegation; a strategy that did not work. His unheralded successor, Chris Hughton, then performed miracles to restore the club to Premier League respectability – and got the sack for his trouble.

But Kenny Dalglish as saviour?

If I were a Liverpool fan I would not count on it.

Whose Side Are You On, Ref?

No ref, no game. (Bob Marley should have written that.)

It’s a farce isn’t it? The SFL brought to a standstill because of a dispute in which it is not involved. (As far as I’m aware no SFL club has complained of any referee bias against them – or even of incompetence.)

Yet the SPL, one of whose members it is which is causing all the fuss, has its games go ahead?

Okay our game might have been off anyway due to the weather but the prime reason is the referee’s strike.

I see from this report that the Polish refs whom the SFA was going to bring in have also called off. Pity; I was wondering what the Polish for, “Who’s the mason in the black?” is.

I saw Mark McGhee on BBC Scotland on Thursday night saying that it was a dangerous precedent, what if the foreign refs turn out to be better than ours.

I don’t think Scottish refs are perfect but I also don’t think they are biased or corrupt, merely mistaken at times – as are all refs.

So what, Mark, if the foreign refs are worse?

That might actually tell us something.

It would be marvellously ironic if today Celtic were on the wrong end of an important decision. But if they are on the right end of one it proves nothing – beyond the possibility that the ref just doesn’t fancy an earful from Neil Lennon, or snide blustering from a certain Dr John Reid.

Let me be clear. All clubs suffer from poor decisions at times. Yet it is simply ridiculous for either of the Old Firm to say they do not benefit in the majority of cases in Scotland.

A similar situation occurs for all big clubs everywhere. (Manchester United rarely have penalty awards given against them at Old Trafford. I have no doubt Real Madrid benefit from this effect in Spain.) In Europe it is the Old Firm who are small beer and suffer accordingly.

As things stand it seems Celtic’s management now have what they wanted; an atmosphere in which decisions against Celtic cannot be made for fear of the consequences.

The SFA has not been strong in this. Member clubs should be told only to question decisions via the SFA and not the media. Persistent complaints, such as those we have seen, should engender a points deduction.

Club managers should be banned from the touchline for the remainder of the season (or half the next if in March, April or May) for any nose-to-nose confrontations with match officials. Players mobbing the ref should mean a club fine.

I’m not holding my breath for any of that to happen to either of the Old Firm.

Scotland 2-3 Spain

Hampden Park, 12/10/10

Well this was much brighter. Two good goals and coming from behind to equalise. Against the World Champions* too. It just shows the benefits of having a go sometimes. Mind you I only watched the highlights show at 11.05.

The timidity of the (lack of) ambition in evidence against Lithuania and in the Czech Rep was shown up by this performance. We are capable of creating chances and of scoring them – even against the best. Okay it was at home and with a fierce vocal backing. But Spain are a much greater force than the two teams from whom we filched merely one point and who now have four and three respectively in our mini tournament to decide the upper lower (or lower upper if you prefer) placings in the group. Spain will win it overall, Liechtenstein will be bottom.

It’s all left us with too much to do.

*The official World Champions. Japan (!) are now the unofficial World Champions. That title has changed hands twice now since the World Cup.

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