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The World Turned Upside Down?

You may have noticed there’s a rather large and important football competition taking place at the moment. (A swift glance at TV schedules would be enough to tell you that.)

Four years ago I expressed my fear that a period of Germanic hegemony was upon us. Notwithstanding Portugal’s efforts at the last European Championships the young German side which triumphed at last year’s Confederations Cup boded well (or ill, according to view) for that prospect.

It seems that hegemony is not to be. In three performances of stunning inadequacy Germany have been so poor as to finish bottom of their group, only a moment of individual brilliance on the part of Toni Kroos yielding them a solitary win over Sweden.

It’s been a topsy-turvy sort of tournament what with England playing well (so far) and Argentina, like the Germans, struggling badly – but still managing to reach the second round.

I’ve not been overly impressed by anyone – though I thought Colombia looked good against Poland. But that may have been because the Poles were totally ineffective.

Brazil seem unbalanced to me; too much in thrall to their star player, Neymar, who doesn’t look fully fit. Belgium may be dark horses but haven’t played anybody of standing yet.

Judgement must be reserved till the knockout games. Too often before, a good showing in the group has unravelled at the next step.

But… Could this be Uruguay’s year again? They’re the only side yet to concede a goal.

(Cue a Portugal win on Saturday.)

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.

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.)

Uruguay 2-3 Germany

World Cup, 3rd/4th place play-off, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth, 10/7/10.

This was a ding-dong encounter, end-to-end stuff, both sides managing to take the lead then being clawed back, one going in front again, the other hitting the bar with the last kick of the ball.

Enjoyable stuff.

I doubt the final tomorrow will be as good as this.

The ref ought to have sent off Germany’s Aogo for a wild, over the top challenge but, as it was the third place game, contented himself with a yellow.

Diego Forlan has looked better and better with every game he has played.

Uruguay 2-3 Netherlands

World Cup Semi-Final: Green Point Stadium, Cape Town, 6/7/10

Despite the scoreline this wasn’t a classic. Semi-finals rarely are.

I thought Uruguay were shading it till van Bronckhorst hit his wonder strike. Holland took control for a while but the kerfuffle before the double booking seemed to benefit Uruguay who had much the better of the remainder of the half. Forlan’s goal was also well hit but yet another of this tournament’s goalkeeping misjudgements.

Uruguay were looking more menacing in the second half too; until the Dutch goal – at which van Persie was quite definitely offside. However I suspect that after Suarez’s handball in the last game Uruguay were never going to get the benefit of any close decisions in this one. They were then hit with a sucker punch via Robben’s head and suddenly Holland began to look a team. The game was effectively over.

The well worked free kick for Uruguay’s second came too late but showed Holland can be panicked at the back. A few minutes earlier and who knows…?

Paraguay 0-1 Spain

Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg, 3/7/10.

World Cup history was going to be made whoever won this match. In the end it was Spain who got to their first ever semi-final.

For all they played quite well tonight (and might have won but for the penalty save) I couldn’t keep from reminding myself that Paraguay had got this far by virtue of only one victory in the whole tournament – against Slovakia. Spain now have four; but have looked far from convincing. Once again, and like Argentina earlier in the day, their players continually took wrong options, held on to the ball when they should have passed and generally kept running into defensive walls.

The first half was dire, the second (pac̩ the assertions of Hansen and Dixon) not much better Рthough we had the mad three minutes with three penalty attempts and a third award denied.

Four South American sides in the quarters but only one survives to the semis; and that the team that came fifth in the Conmebol qualifiers, and had to beat Costa Rica in a play off, to wit Uruguay.

Puyol again looked vulnerable, as did Piqué. Germany could mince them.

Argentina 0-4 Germany

Greeen Point Stadium, Cape Town, 3/7/10.

A triumph for teamwork over individualism. The Argentines believed in their own abilities too much, kept the ball when a pass was on instead and ended up smothered by a German blanket. (Spain might be able to pass their way through this sort of defence; but I have my doubts. They don’t have enough width – as neither did Argentina.) The Germans knew exactly what to do when they had the ball, passed into the correct space and had scalpel-like precision when it mattered.

The turning point was really the first goal, a bad one for Argentina to lose as it gave the Germans extra belief – and something to hold on to. Without it, the first goal in the second half wouldn’t have been such a blow to Argentina. 1-0 down was perhaps doable, but not 2-0.

There are only two former winners left in it now. What odds would you have got on one of them being Uruguay? And neither being Brazil nor Argentina?

Uruguay 1-1 Ghana

Soccer City, Johannesburg, 2/7/10. aet 1-1: pens 4-2

This game had everything.

Both teams going for it, momentum see-sawing, chances at both ends, crunching tackles, neat passing, a surprising long range goal, a superbly struck free kick, a sending-off, a last minute (of extra time) penalty – missed. A game like this is why football can be so enthralling.

Sadly the culmination was a penalty shoot-out; never a satisfactory way for a team to lose.

The first half was one of two quarters. It looked bad for Ghana – not at the races early on. After about twenty minutes there was a stat that said: Corners; Uruguay 4-0 Ghana.

Then Ghana got their first and suddenly it was all them and Uruguay “fell oot it.*”

Ghana deserved their lead at the break. The second half was more even. Ghana were shading it in extra time but Uruguay were never unthreatening.

Btw it took till extra time before the commentators noticed Ghana were stationing two men on the goal line at their attacking corners – something I clocked very early.

I also thought that, since the keeper had come out, Stephen Appiah might have been offside before he hooked the ball towards goal immediately before the handball on the line and that therefore it shouldn’t have been a penalty – but that would have deprived us of the compelling finale.

* (phrase © a schoolmate of mine.)

France 0-2 Mexico

Peter Mokaba Stadium, Polokwane, 17/6/10

The better team (by a country mile) won this game.

A France side which in retrospect was in decline even as long ago as when Scotland beat them twice in the last World Cup qualifiers, had no invention, no spark and looked disinterested.

Mexico by contrast were bright and fluid and constantly looked threatening.

France are out unless they hump the hosts and there is not a draw in the other game (or, if head-to-head results count before goal difference only if Mexico beat Uruguay.)

The TV pundits seemed to think Uruguay and Mexico might collude to draw and thus eliminate both Bafana Bafana and the French.

But….

Would you want to come second in this group?

Okay you would have got through but it would also mean most likely facing Argentina in the second round. (I can’t see Greece beating them to come first in Group B.)

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