July 8th, 2014


The view from Germany – as they prepare to face Brazil in the semi-final

Jogi being Jogi.

It’s relatively rare for footballers to sound more eloquent at describing the game’s emotional nuances than journalists, but members of the Germany squad have now managed to do so twice in a week.

First there was Per Mertesacker’s instantly meme-worthy interview after the 2-1 win over Algeria. “Would you rather we played beautiful football but got knocked out?” And over the weekend there was Philipp Lahm with an another comment one did not quite expect from this extraordinarily talented, but also extraordinarily PR-trained, “golden generation” of German players: “Playing for another third place isn’t something I need right now. More is required – definitely.”

Both comments summed up a new realism that is more in sync with the mood in German bars and living rooms right now than the Nu jazz-soundtracked feelgood clips transmitted by public broadcasters from the team’s Campo Bahia training camp.

Germany will now play in their fourth consecutive World Cup semi-final, often playing beautiful, stereotype-defying football along the way, but that is no longer something you hear people chatting about at the public screenings around the country. The mood is grimmer, less euphoric.

Even during the 1-0 win over France there were howls of frustrations every time a player misplaced a pass, debates over who should replace Joachim Löw after the tournament whenever the team looked tactically lacking. “It’s as if Löw can no longer please anyone at all,” wrote Alexander Osang in Der Spiegel. “When he played Philipp Lahm in midfield people said he was being stubborn, when he moved him back into defence, as he did against France, people said he didn’t have a spine. If he wins it’s because of the team; if he loses, it’s his fault.”

Osang also pointed out that in the press conference after the France match the only person to congratulate Löw was the Fifa official chairing the session, the only journalist to point out his impressive points-per-game record, a reporter from Sudan.

Löw’s reputation as the tactical mastermind to counterbalance Jürgen Klinsmann’s motivational skills was severely damaged by Euro 2012 semi-final defeat at the hands of Italy. In an open letter addressed to Löw, Die Welt’s Lars Wallrodt on Monday called it “the match in which you betrayed German football” .

The widely held view in Germany is that Löw tinkered too much with his team in that game, trying too hard to adjust Germany to Italy’s strengths. Of course one could argue that he did the same thing again against France last Friday – it’s just that this time, Germany won.

Rather than mark his legacy as a modernist who revolutionised the German game, anything other than a victory in the final on 13 July is likely to cement the reputation of Löw and the generation of Lahm, Schweinsteiger et al as eternal runners-up.

The more optimistic voices in the German media feel confident that the players are more aware of that fact than anybody else. In some previous tournaments Germany had put a new spin on their reputation as a Turniermannschaft – tournament team – not just that they get better as it progresses through the knockout stages, but that they also become more flamboyant – 4–1 against England and 4–0 against Argentina in 2010, 4–2 against Greece in 2012.

This time round, the team started with an emphatic 4–0 demolition of Portugal and a riveting, anarchic 2–2 against Ghana, but have ground out one-goal wins in the last three matches. No longer burdened with representing the avant garde, Germany seem to be rediscovering the old ruthlessly efficient ways. “Like Italy in Germany shirts”, the public broadcaster ARD called it – and for the first time in years, that sounded like a compliment.


I found this article interesting. I'll post the view from Brazil in some time.

Luiz Felipe Scolari must inspire Brazil to play as a team against Germany

Luiz Felipe Scolari urges Brazil on against Colombia in their World Cup quarter-final. Without the injured Neymar, He will need them to play more as a team against Germany in the semi-final.

The last few days have been inevitably dominated by the terrible news of Neymar’s injury and his personal drama. I do hope, though, that the Brazilian players have taken this time to actually think of something else. Saddened as they are at the loss of not only an amazing player but also a player who always stood out as an example of happiness and high spirits, they have to focus on the job lying ahead of them. I will not lie here: the absence of Neymar will make things harder for the Seleção in Belo Horizonte. Neymar is the kind of player that creates some problems for the opposition just by being on the pitch and without him Luiz Felipe Scolari will have to devise an alternative plan to take on Joachim Löw’s men.

Truth be told, Neymar had not played well in either of Brazil games in the knockout stages so far. More notably so against Colombia, when he basically had one shot at goal and was pretty removed from the bulk of the action by the time Juan Camilo Zúñiga took him out. I wasn’t very happy with the way the Seleção resorted to expecting Neymar to sort things out with individual moves. That is always a difficult strategy at such a high level. He scored four goals, of course, but it was worrying to see David Luiz and Thiago Silva hitting long balls to him instead of trying to work things through the midfield. But Neymar can always offer a great outlet for Brazil on the break and he would have been quite useful, to say the least, against Germany on Tuesday.

But I am bit surprised by the split in some reactions. Defeatism and excess of confidence are both wrong here. Brazil against Germany is like a football derby and it has all the ingredients to be an extremely tough match. True, the recent problems in the Brazil camp might have swung the pendulum a bit towards the Germans but I would be surprised if any of Löw’s players are actually rubbing their hands before this semi-final – funnily enough, only the second time these two teams will have met in a World Cup.

I personally think the recent events will be used by Big Phil to galvanise the Seleção spirit. There is a precious chance for him to rally his players towards a strong group performance, based on collective commitment rather than the expectation of individual moments. Brazil have reasons to feel reassured. Their collective game against Colombia was a considerable improvement in comparison to recent performances, although mainly in the first half. With all due respect to Colombia’s great World Cup run, the match against Brazil was always going to be different for them and they were considerably more nervous against the Seleção.

Germany will not treat Brazil like normal opponents either. There has always been a great deal of respect and admiration from them towards the Brazilians. That does not mean they will not try to go for the kill. This match is crucial for this German team and for their coach. The absence of trophies since 1996 hurts in a country with such a strong winning tradition and I understand Löw has been under a lot of pressure to deliver a title. He has assembled a very strong squad and if you like well-played football there is no way you won’t admire players like Thomas Müller and Toni Kroos, for example.

I went to the Maracanã for Germany’s game against France in the quarter-finals and the professional way the Germans played impressed me a lot. They took their chance in that set-piece with Mats Hummels and then resorted to sitting deep, in order to hit France on the break. André Schürrle could have killed the game had he been more accurate in front of goal. Even the veteran, Miroslav Klose, was running like hell. The way the Germans advanced using the midfield looks daunting and Brazil will certainly have to concentrate on disturbing their build-up and look out for opportunities to break. In this sense, Scolari will welcome the return, from suspension, of Luiz Gustavo. He has been one of Brazil’s best players in the tournament and also brings a lot of knowledge about the opponents, including the Bayern bunch.

Dante also knows a lot about the opponents and he is a natural choice to replace the suspended Thiago Silva, assuming the captain’s appeal against his yellow card is not successful. [UPDATE: FIFA rejected the appeal] But Brazil will need an escape valve and I believe it demands the repositioning of Oscar. His switching to a more central role could give the Seleção more quality in midfield and from there Oscar can unleash Hulk, whose runs against Colombia could and should have resulted in at least another couple of goals. Brazil could deploy Bernard and use his pace to put pressure on the wings but Willian is an option more useful for defending and marking. Fred remains a massive concern and I think Scolari has given him enough time – five matches – to show something. But the manager is the one there watching the players almost 24 hours a day.

Last but not least, Brazil cannot forget they will be playing a World Cup semi-final at home with a crowd that will be willing to cheer them on immensely. It’s a special occasion that will demand a lot of heart. It’s up to the Seleção to oblige.

SOURCE: The Guardian

Wonderful article by the legendary Zico. The Guardian is a goldmine of information on the World Cup. Also, the Wall Street Journal has a cool World Cup page here. And finally, here is a very interesting article from The New Yorker on World Cup fashion (I mentioned this in the viewing post and the spam post for NED-CRC)

Brazil v Germany: five things to look out for in the World Cup semi-final.

Mad choir-master prince. I'm sad that he's leaving Chelsea.

1) Brazil's mind

Earlier in the tournament Luiz Felipe Scolari had fears for tears. The overwrought emoting of many of his players seemed to be sapping their energy and focus. He hired a psychologist to help them channel their feelings better. Then Neymar got injured and a whole country seemed to be plunged into mourning, with the remaining players left to prepare for the showdown with Germany amid nationwide wailing and prophecies of doom. Even Scolari admitted Neymar’s absence is a “catastrophe”, explaining that the 22-year-old was “the one player we did not want to lose”. The first task facing Brazil, then, is to get their heads in the right place.

2) Replacing Neymar

Brazil’s second task is, of course, to figure out how best to replace their stricken idol. Minus their leader, they need to operate better as a collective. They already made such an improvement in the victory over Colombia, when Neymar’s performance, before his injury, was middling. They will probably need to raise their game still further and Oscar will probably be central to that. If he is moved infield rather than stationed out wide, where he has spent most of his time in this tournament, the Chelsea player has the ability to bind his team together, generating the fluidity that was sometimes hindered by the desire to direct everything through Neymar. The choice as to who would play out wide seems to be between Willian and Bernard and the former looks a shrewder choice. Not only does Willian’s understanding with his club-mate Oscar give him an edge; he has a key weapon to which this Germany team remain vulnerable even after Per Mertesacker was dropped from the centre and Philipp Lahm reverted from midfield to right-back: speed.

3) Strikers with a point to prove

One gets the impression that the next worst thing that could befall Brazil fans after being deprived of Neymar would be for Argentina to go on and win the World Cup at the Maracanã. But it would also be supremely galling if Brazil were prevented from making the final by a goal in their own backyard from Miroslav Klose, who would thereby surpass Ronaldo as the tournament’s all-time leading goalscorer – at a time when Brazil are spearheaded by Fred. If ever a player needed a big performance, it is Fred on Tuesday. A goal or two would be ideal but regularly effective link-play and threatening runs might be acceptable progress.

Mind you, Klose could do with a goal too: his tally of 15 in World Cups does not include any in a semi-final or final, giving a slightly hollow ring to his top-scorer title. At least the 36-year-old should start: Germany looked a far more balanced team against France than they had done in previous matches, thanks in part to Klose being deployed up front and Thomas Müller being allowed to roam free from wider. Müller, of course, needs only two goals to join James Rodríguez at the top of the Golden Boot chart. He could become the first player to win the award in consecutive tournaments. He is 24.

4) Time to see more of the wizardry of Özil

“If Löw is bold, he’ll say: ‘I will not play with only 10 people’” – that is the verdict of the former Bayern Munich left-back Paul Breitner, who has joined the chorus of German voices calling for Mesut Özil to be dropped for the semi-final. “He has just been going for a walk,” said Breitner of the Arsenal player’s performances. It seems, then, that many Germans regard Özil almost as a skinnier, more annoying version of Brazil’s left-winger – less dynamic and explosive than Hulk but just as wasteful. The statistics do not back up that view: Özil has completed more passes in the final third than any other player at the tournament. Özil, then, has exerted an understated influence. But has he done enough to justify his continued inclusion?

His passing may have been tidy but it has seldom been as inventive as it was, say, 18 months ago when he was in top form and before Joachim Löw altered Germany’s formation and shifted his playmaker wide. Löw does not seem inclined to drop the 25-year-old, partly because no player has staked a strong enough claim to replace him, so the manager will need an improved performance from Özil, in both offensive and defensive terms, as Brazil’s full-backs are capable of taking advantage of any German weakness on the wings.

5) The man in the middle

Referees are the subject of an unfair amount of attention in football and no one could reasonably criticise Marco Rodríguez for missing Luis Suárez’s bite when he took charge of the Italy-Uruguay match earlier in the tournament. However, the official will necessarily be under intense scrutiny in the semi-final. First, some of the decisions that have previously gone Brazil’s way in the competition mean that many observers will be looking for proof of impartiality from the Mexican. Secondly, if Brazil attempt to recreate the roughhouse approach that they used against Colombia, Rodríguez will need to keep a lid on things better than Carlos Velasco Carballo did. The tournament can do without losing any more top players and no one wants another match marred by incessant free-kicks, especially not for the wrong offenses.

Just a few hours left! I hope this match is exciting unlike the FRA-GER QF. Also, David Luiz will be taking over as captain for Brazil.

The view from Brazil – as they prepare to face Germany in the semi-final

Camilo Zuniga barged into Neymar and with this tackle ended the Brazilian's World Cup.

Brazil is counting down towards the semi-final with Germany in a mood of anxiety, dismay and – just occasionally – hope despite the loss of the nation’s much-loved matchwinner, Neymar.

The misfortune of the tournament-ending injury to the Barcelona forward continues to overshadow the triumph of Brazil’s quarter-final victory over Colombia and the growing prospect of a final against arch-rivals Argentina.

Newspaper front pages have been dominated by images of Neymar being carried on a stretcher to a helicopter. TV channels have run repeat after repeat of his emotional, red-eyed video address to the nation. Even president Dilma Rousseff has written a florid open letter to the playmaker describing him as a great warrior whose injury “broke my heart and the heart of every Brazilian”.

Her claim may be no exaggeration given the sorrow expressed by fans, commentators and team-mates after confirmation that the national side will have to manage without their biggest star against their toughest opponents to date.

The human aspect and high football stakes have brought out the best and worst of the World Cup hosts: as well as the heartfelt sympathy and love for a fallen hero, there has been hateful, racist abuse towards Juan Zúñiga, the Colombian player who was responsible for the injury. Brazilians have issued death threats to Zúñiga on social networks and described the black player as a “criminal monkey”.

Very few commentators have been brave enough to challenge the prevailing sense of injustice. Among those who did was André Forastieri, who opined that Brazil have little cause to complain given the win-at-any-cost mentality of the coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, whose players have gone down more often and committed more fouls than almost any other in this World Cup.

“There is a certain sadistic pleasure in the fact that Brazil will face the remainder of the Cup without Neymar,” he wrote on his blog. “He was anointed the face of our football, the poster child for Brazilianness, a symbol of our skill, swagger and emotion. Well, if our team depended on a single player, we were always walking towards defeat.”

But this is not the only problem facing Brazil. With the captain Thiago Silva also suspended, Brazil will have to take on Germany without two of the tournament’s most influential players.

Looking forward, the nation is now speculating on how Felipão (as Scolari is better known here) will adjust the squad. Pundits – the best of whom are treated in this football-obsessed society with the reverence other nations bestow on philosophers – have lined up to share their views.

Juca Kfouri, who is probably the most respected football columnist in the country, says he will not be surprised if Brazil have a more attacking lineup against Germany, despite Scolari’s reputation for caution. He expects Oscar to take the central role of Neymar, and hopes the more offensively minded and creative talents of Bernard and Willian will be introduced alongside him.

Xico Sa, a social commentator and football writer, believes the squad – which has been criticised for emotional fragility – will now be stronger and more determined to win on behalf of their fallen team-mate. The loss of Thiago Silva, he says, should not be overstated because the defender David Luiz had already become de facto captain after Thiago Silva was too nervous to take a penalty in the shootout against Chile.

Tostão, a key member of the Brazil team that won the World Cup in 1970, also remained optimistic. “After the initial earthquake, I still believe there is a good chance for Brazil to win the World Cup even without Neymar and to beat Germany without our other key player Thiago Silva.”

But the challenge of doing that was graphically represented by Folha de São Paulo newspaper, which devoted an entire page to an image of a spinal column with each vertebra named after a player in the national team.

With Neymar fractured and Silva out, the implication is that this is a team that requires emergency surgery if they are to avoid being crippled against Germany.

As usual, the Meia Hora tabloid has the most humorously absurd take on the calamity facing the national team. Noting that the attacking midfielder Willian has also been complaining of back pains, it says the team now need a superhero to emerge.

Step forward, the most ordinary player in the squad – the striker Fred, who is depicted on the front page in a Superman outfit roaring his team on to victory in their hour of need.


Four hours to go! And if Brazil want to win today, they should not start Fred.

Who Is Most Important to Their Side: Arjen Robben or Lionel Messi?

Arjen Robben and Lionel Messi have undoubtedly been two of the stars of the 2014 World Cup. But which of them is more important to their side’s hopes of competing for the trophy in the Maracana come June 13?

Both players strike similar fear into opposition defenses and have both found themselves double or triple marked at times during the competition. In terms of ultimate output, the pair are very similar. Per 90 minutes on the field, Robben has produced 0.56 goals and 0.19 assists for a total goal contribution of 0.75; Messi’s figures are slightly better at 0.79 goals and 0.20 assists for a total goal contribution of 0.99. Include the match-winning penalty Robben won against Mexico in the round of 16 as an assist and his overall goal contribution jumps to 0.94 per 90 minutes—pretty much on par with Messi. (I've included a chart because this isn't Statistics class)

When you look at Argentina and Messi, the team is well aware of his place on the team. We know he is our main player, our captain, the best player in the world,” Mascherano said recently, as reported by Fox Sports. “Every time we recover the ball we try to pass to him as he is the best player we have in the team and he will score goals.” Indeed, Argentina coach Sabella has looked painfully short on alternative plans throughout the tournament.

In short, Messi is Argentina’s creative hub, whereas Robben is simply Netherlands’ most potent attacking threat.