Monday, December 30, 2013


Dr. Subhashis Biswas

So we love the game. We love artistry, we love passion, we love fighting spirit, we love the colors, we love the stadiums, we love the players, we love all the things associated with the game. As Bill Shankly quoted, the game we love is much more than mundane matters like life and death.  We analyze the every move on the field, we criticise the tactics, and we hail the evolution of new formations.
Everything about the game gets our attention. Now how about the only thing that actually matters in this game? How about the round object which is actually the centre of action and attraction? How about the “football” itself? How much attention and analysis does the round object gets? This article will look into a few details about the ball, some histories, some interesting incidents, some evolutionary aspects, some science and of course some impact on the game as a whole. It is about the “Football”.
Early Days
When we think of the magnitude of this game today, we wonder how it has all started. Or in other words, how football was invented. The game looks pretty simple on its face value. A sense of teamwork and achieving your goal. Any corporate house follows the same principle. Human civilization followed this principle. Our civilization, society progressed by achieving goal, setting targets, working together, standing for each other. Whatever I have described in last few lines can easily be applied in football field. All these characteristics are needed in a good football team. So we wonder, who first thought that these important characteristics can be formulated in the form of game. Who thought about the fact that the ball should be round, not square, not trapezium, not any other geometric shape.
Of course as true for any inventions, there are conflicts regarding its origin. Ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Chinese people involved in some sort of game with round object kicked by feet, though the technicalities are very different from modern day football. These dates are believed to be as far as 2500 B.C.

Most of these games included the use of hands, feet and even sticks to control a ball. We can see resemblances in Australian Rules football and rugby, where ball is kicked sometimes along with hold and run. The Roman game of ‘Harpastum’ resembles more like modern day rugby and needed lot of hostility keeping tradition with violent nature of sports and culture of life in ancient Rome.
Ancient Chinese game “Tsu-Chu” or “kick ball” is the most accurate ancestor of football. This game was played during Tsin dynasty (255-206BC). The soldiers, after a hard day of work, found it relaxing in a game which required kicking the ball, and scoring “goals”. The difference of this goal with modern day goal is that the “goal-post” hung about 30 feet above the ground. From the introduction of Tsu-Chu onwards, football-like games spread throughout the world, with many cultures having activities that centred on the use of their feet. The Native Americans had ‘Pahsaherman’, the Indigenous Australians ‘Marn Grook’ and the Moari’s ‘Ki-o-rahi’ to name a few.
Invention of modern day football
This idea of kicking a round object travelled through an evolutionary path over the years. When the journey reached early medieval ages, it took a form of kicking a pig’s bladder or skull from one town to another in England. The pig’s bladder needed to be kept in the air, and sometimes this got really violent. Unlimited number of peoples got involved in the game who tried to kick the pig’s bladder in opponent team’s church or house. Shrovetide football, as it is known, is still surviving many villages in England. Obviously these types of inhuman and cruel activities had drawn a lot of flak from various corners of society, and faded away from the society.
In 12th and 13th century, football was mentioned in various forms in English literature. The first literary reference of football in literature is given by William FitzStephen (around 1180) in Descriptio Nobilissimae Ciuitatis Londinae.
He described about the sports and passtime of people around that time. He mentioned about each kid from school coming with a ball of their own after lunch. Older people will come in horse-backs to watch the youths play and revive their own youth. Layamon, a notable English poet of 13th century, described ball playing as “driving balls over the field” by knights of King Arthur in “Brut”.
It is believed that the game of football is actually brought in England and then mainland Europe by Arabs. There is some confusion regarding this statement, as according to some beliefs, the game of football was already present in Europe. But what the Arab did was made the game popular and a permanent event in sports and pastime of Europeans.
The journey of football to modern day popularity had many obstacles. Edward II thought playing football will bar the youths from participating in archery. So he banned the game of “ball”. Edward III, Edward IV, Henry IV, Henry V all followed suite and banned football in their regime and forced people to practice archery. Oliver Cromwell, ruler in Britain after Charles I was the last person to have opposed football. After his death in 1660, football gradually re-emerged in Britain and spread its wings in mainland Europe.

The number of players involved in early days of football ranged from thousands to fifteen hundreds, and the distance between two goalposts could have been as wide as 3 miles. All the youth peoples living in one town were engaged in the game, chasing balls which sometimes kicked and thrown high in the air. The shape of the ball was made round so that it can be held comfortably in hand.
Football in early days knew no bounds. It was madness sometimes, destructive sometimes, inflicting many damages in various parts of the society. Ball sometimes drowned in ponds, destroyed properties and sometimes even took lives. Yet people gave into the madness all the times, talking and joking about the events relating the game.
Public schools in Britain observed football in their school premises from as early as 1747. Elton, Westminister, Harrow, Shrewsbury all these schools took up football by 1750s. Football gradually was shaping and moving towards its modern form by 1800s.
An excerpt from a famous book entitled The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England written by Joseph Strutt and William Hone are as follows:

"When a match at football is made, two parties, each containing an equal number of competitors, take the field, and stand between two goals, placed at the distance of eighty or an hundred yards the one from the other. The goal is usually made with two sticks driven into the ground, about two or three feet apart. The ball, which is commonly made of a blown bladder, and cased with leather, is delivered in the midst of the ground, and the object of each party is to drive it through the goal of their antagonists, which being achieved the game is won. The abilities of the performers are best displayed in attacking and defending the goals; and hence the pastime was more frequently called a goal at football than a game at football. When the exercise becomes exceeding violent, the players kick each other's shins without the least ceremony, and some of them are overthrown at the hazard of their limbs."

As the time progressed, slowly calm prevailed over madness, and the game became popular in England, and started to spread across the mainland Europe. People across Britain felt the need to take the game more seriously and formulate some rules which can be applied at the playing field. Certainly they thought thousand men running around wildly over 3 miles is not the right idea. The material of the ball was primary concern. Animal bladder or thereabouts cannot serve as the official ball. Forget about morality, it will not last the length of the game. Rubber was the material that came to mind which provided the best alternative of animal bladder. Something that can bounce. Something that has good elastic properties. Something that can wither different weather conditions.
Charles Goodyear, a well known name in the field of Rubber Technology. He designed the first non-pig bladed ball made of rubber. He patented vulcanized rubber in 1836 and 19 years later he made first rubber bladder ball used in the football field. If you are wandering what vulcanized rubber is, have a look at this picture:

There are linkages between the carbon chains. These are sulphur linkages which make the rubber more flexible. This makes the rubber take various shapes, and makes it less rigid. A good material to prepare something which will be subject to vigorous kicking and thumping. A wise choice by Goodyear to use vulcanized rubber as the principal material of football.
The ball prepared by Goodyear looked more like modern day basketball though. It was prepared with vulcanized rubber panels stitched across the seam. The vulcanized rubber definitely allowed the ball to bounce more, and it was easier to kick. The ball was used to play a football match between Oneida Football club and pupil from Boston Latin and English schools.
Initially there was not much specification about the actual football was mentioned in the rulebook. But in 1872 Football Association specified that the football should be a spherical object with circumference between 68.6 to 71.1 centimetres.  The weight of the football should not cross 16 Oz. The size and weight almost remained same over the years. The material in the outer surface of the football has severely changed.
Football was spreading fast across the globe. The British rulers were pretty much all over the world by that time, and people of British origin introduced and played the game in various parts of the world. Switzerland and Denmark saw football associations formed as first associations in mainland Europe. Buenos Aires cricket club was formed by British railway workers and played the first association football match down in South America. The game was spreading fast. So need of footballs more in numbers were increasing. Demand has increased, so mass level production of football was needed. The game is no longer limited to the territories of United Kingdom.
The football league in England, the first version of today’s hugely popular Barclays Premiere league, started in England at 1888. Mass production of football also started in Britain around that time. Tomnilson’s and Mitre’s were the first two companies who jumped into the commercial side of the picture and manufactured football in large numbers. Times were difficult back then. Commercialising something in large scale was not easy. Quality and quantity had to be balanced. Those companies prepared two different kinds of footballs according to the market need. One superior quality made with leather from the rump of a cow while lower quality balls were made from the shoulder. They have changed the north-south stitch in the ball with interlocking panels on the surface of the ball. This made the ball more stable against puncture. At this point, football has come a long way from the animal bladders.
The rubbers if strewn across tightly on the surface of the ball, can become very strong and withstand heavier pressure. But if the tensile strength of something is high, rather if you stitch something with high tension, it is likely that surface going to rupture after colliding with hard surface. That’s what happened with the footballs prepared in early 1900s as the ball prepared with stronger rubbers often got ruptured due to hardness and roughness of the football field. Remember, those were the days before lawn-mowers, ground keepings and smoothness of the surface in a football field. These balls were good for kicking but were painful when heading due to the heavy stitching and the water absorption characteristics of the leather. Water absorption of the leather during rain made the ball very heavy and caused many head injuries.
The first world cup, official global tournament hosted by FIFA took place in Uruguay in 1930.
In the final of the tournament archrivals Uruguay and Argentina both reached the ground with balls made in their own country, and demanded that the final to be played with their own ball respectively. The atmosphere inside the Centenario Stadium in Montevideo was already heated up, and this controversy regarding the ball provided the added fuel. The referee John Langenus from Belgium was a shrewd man. He had already made arrangements for escape in case there was chaos. He provided an amicable solution to both the teams. He decided that balls made in both Uruguay and Argentina to be used, but one at a time in each half! Argentina won the toss, used their ball and lead 2-1 at the half time. Uruguay used their ball in 2nd half and scored three goals in 2nd half to win the match 4-2 and lift the first FIFA world cup. The “ball” clearly was a factor in the outcome.
At this stage, the major problem with the footballs was water adsorption. Huge amount of water used to seep inside the ball, making it heavier and almost difficult to kick and head. 1934 and 1938 world cups saw the use of these “heavy” balls. The pattern of play saw that ball is more kept on the ground, which in turn made it heavy. The modern day wing play was not so evident at that time. Wing back concept was not very popular, though they hardly used to overlap and send a floating cross across the goal for the centre forward to head in the ball. 
So, the manufacturers had to do something about it. During World War II some technologies evolved regarding the quality of the rubber and leather materials. War-related materials were innovated keeping in mind of its longevity. Porosity of the rubber is reduced by using synthetic paints and non-porous materials to cover the leather. Some examples of common non-porous materials are glass, ceramics etc. Applying paints was not very wise idea, as the quality of leather was not very high after World War II to start with. So the quality of the ball did not improve massively, though the water-resistant property was improved by some extent.  The colour of the ball remained brownish so far, mainly resembling colour of the raw leather. In 1951, floodlight was introduced and white footballs are made for viewers to see it properly, as dark balls cannot be seen properly under floodlight. Later orange balls were also introduced for grounds covered in snow.
Synthetic Soccer Balls
Slowly the need of a soccer ball which will be “comfortable” for players, increased. The progress of the game should not be suffered due to lack of innovation. The idea of synthetic soccer balls emerged slowly. Manufacturers were thinking in the terms of improving the water resisting property of the leather. To do so, the first thought that came to manufacturer’s mind was to prepare hybrid leathers, i.e. mix “some” materials with the original leather. Leather production has three stages: preparatory stages, tanning, and crusting. It is during the tanning process various chemicals are mixed with the leather to make leathers of variable properties. Some of the well known chemicals that are used in tanning process are “Tannin”. Cr2(SO4)3, HCOOH, Hg, and various solvents. So, if the property of the leather has to be changed, it is at this stage, i.e., during tanning, some other materials are needed to be introduced.
Telstar Elast
Polyurethane is a material, with a carbamate (-CO-NH-) linkage that was considered to be the principle hybrid materials in leather balls. Polyurethane is thermosetting polymer, i.e., it does not melt even when heated. This property gives added stability to the leather with which polyurethane was to be mixed. During the tanning process of the leather, polyurethane is mixed and the hybrid leather ball with synthetic material was first used in Euro 1968, hosted in the then Czechoslovakia. Telstar Elast was the name given to the ball prepared by ADIDAS.

Later on, white black panel Telstar balls were introduced in the world cup for the first time in 1970. Immediate improvement was noticed in the swerve of the ball. An example is this free kick by Rivelino.
The flight of the ball changed in the air due to addition of synthetic materials. More and more goals are scored from freekicks. Goalkeeper’s job got difficult because it became difficult to judge the flight of the ball in the air.
Then came Johan Cruyff, and came the “Total Football” along with him. The kick and run game that the British invented and lot more countries followed were slowly began to fade away. Brazil did already show the glimpses of artistry in 1962 and 1970. Now Johan Cruyff’s Holland showed a complete different way to play football than the British. Passing the ball along the ground and changing frequent positions. Movement of players along with the ball. This way ball will be kept on the ground most of the times and encounter more friction with the playing surface. This type of football was not possible with old leather balls. But as the balls became lighter and with more water-resisting synthetic material on the surface, it is more water resistant and can withstand frictional damage caused by the playing surface. The football material had evolved, the style of the game also had evolved along with it.
Now there is a story behind this structure and shape of white black panel balls. Richard Buckminister Fuller was an American architect, and he was thinking of finding ways to construct buildings using minimum amount of materials. This type of pattern of pentagons connected across a flat surface gave the idea of having maximum surface area with minimum inputs. To be exact, these types of structures contain exactly 20 hexagons and twelve pentagons , giving it a cage like fused ring structure of truncated icosahedrons. Later scientists discovered a structure like this made up completely of carbons, with carbon atom at the corner of each polygon and each polygon is joined to other polygon at all the vertex points by a bond. It was given a name “buckminsterfullerene” with formula C60 and was awarded Nobel Prize in 1985. Due to its resemblance with the soccer ball, this is often called Buckyball fullerene.
The Tango ball from Adidas first surfaced in 1978 world cup and sustained till 2000, with small changes in the outside design pattern. The initial Tango ball looked like the one below:

 In 1982, Adidas introduced a thin rubber layer just inside the stitching panels of the ball to make it even more water resistant. Also , 1982 saw the last hybrid leather ball used in world cups. Due to varying conditions of the field, and of course due to high standards of the game, the manufacturers needed to completely erase leather from the equation. If one looks into the player list of the era in early 1980s, Maradonas and Platinis and Rumeniges already entered the scenario. Football has almost evolved in such a fashion that some players , termed as ball players, need to hold the ball in their feet for longer period of time. So the players needed balls that are softer, lighter and easier to control. 1986 world cup saw a complete revolution as for the first time in a FIFA event, balls made up of 100% synthetic materials like polyurethane has been used. We all know what happened in 1986 at Mexico. It was termed as Maradona’s world cup. The ball was like a personal possession to him in that world cup, refusing to be detached from his boot. The tournament saw some great matches, great footballers, and the evolution of the football definitively brought revolution in the game.
Polyurethane made sure water will not get into the ball. But it is difficult to make a ball 100% water resistant. So now the invention was needed to drive any water if it gets inside the ball. Later stages of 1980s saw a thin polyurethane layer inside the outer polyurethane layer of a football. This double layer of polyurethane almost made any water intrusion impossible inside the ball.
As time passed by, manufacturers thought of making the ball lighter. The football turfs had undergone evolution as well over the times. Polystyrene is a synthetic aromatic polymer, which is thermoplastic in nature with low-melting point. It is inexpensive, and widely used as plastic. The unique property of polystyrene is it can be used as foam also. In the early stages of 1990s, polystyrene foam was used in football along with polyurethane. This gave the ball a feather weight like property, and the acceleration of the ball increased many-fold when kicked. The flight of the ball in the air was more difficult to judge. The swerve and curve imparted in the ball was also much more compared to earlier condition. George Hagi’s freekick against Germany in 1994 Quarter-final was an example of a perfect parabola trajectory, something unimaginable in the 60s and 70s.
Next major evolution as far texture of the ball is concerned came in early 200s, when Adidas introduced a thick inner layer inside the top surface of the ball, to make the flight of the ball more accurate and predictable. This helped the goalkeepers no doubt, but produced fewer amounts of goals. 2002 World cup was an example with 35 of 64 games saw 2 or less goals scored in a match, with goals/game 2.52 in whole tournament. This trend continued in the subsequent world cups as well, with 2006 the number reducing to 2.29 goals/game and 2010 the number reducing to 2.20 goals/game, recording the all time low beating 1990 world cups 2.21 goals/game.
The evolution of the ball has to do with these reducing numbers as well. As the decade progressed, the corner-shapes are minimized and energy distributions are harmonized in the soccer ball, slowly approaching towards a perfect round object. When it approached 2010, the Jabulani ball was made up of only 8, thermally bonded 3D panels. This made the ball perfectly round, and extremely stable in flight. This made the ball very stable in flight. Goalkeepers had it much more easily to judge the flight of the ball when in air, thus making it difficult for players to score from long range. Not a lot of goals were being scored from freekick either. Some polyester and cotton carcass was used in the inner layer of the Jabulani ball.
In last few years, the visual effect of the ball has been looked upon. Nike Maxim Hi-Vis ball, introduced across various domestic leagues in Europe, saw the visibility of the ball improved under floodlights, with an added flicker effect. This ball was softer due to cross-linked nitrogen expanded foams. The outer surface of this ball almost replaced the old polyurethane structure and had polyester coatings.
The evolution continues. Big name companies are in the fray. Now-a-days best soccer balls used in various competitions and by professionals are produced by using companies likeAI-2000, Cordley, Ducksung, Mircofiber or other types of Polyurethane synthetic leather. Soccer balls that are used for practice and promotional purposes are generally constructed with Polyvinyl Chloride(PVC) or rubber (moulded or stitched) covers.  

World cup balls since 1970:
  • First official FIFA World Cup ball in Mexico 1970.
  • Telstar Durlast R: West Germany, 1974.
  • Tango Durlast: Argentina, 1978
  • Tango Espana: Spain, 1982
  • Azteca : México, 1986
  • Etrvsco:  Italy, 1990
  • Questra: USA, 1994
  • Tricolore: France, 1998
  • Fevernova : Korea Japan, 2002
  • Teamgeist  Germany, Berlin and Final Balls 2006
  • JABULANI”, the Official Match Ball for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa

Innovation will continue..
World cup ball for 2014 World Cup is named as Brazuca. It means mirroring the way of Brazilian’s approach towards football with passion and pride, with goodwill. Let us bring passion to the game. Let us spare some innovation for future. Let us keep in mind that, innovations can only be terminated when the thinking human brain will stop to think. So the evolution of football will continue. The evolution of human race will continue. The evolution of the beautiful game will continue. In world cup 2042, may be in New Caledonia, where enormous breeze from the ocean comes through, we will need to invent technologies and materials which will counter that wind in high velocity. Tougher conditions may play host to this global celebration event in future and we have to evolve. So our inquisitive mind will continue to wander around to find the next innovation. Let the evolution continue, let the science continue its journey hand in hand with the “beautiful game”. Our enjoyment will be enhanced…

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Finally, a pre-tournament favorite wins World Cup...

Generally, at the pre tournament media-writings, lot of predictions go in, and lot of people play a safe-bet by chosing a pre-tournament favorite. Most of the times, money go wasting. As hardly a pre-tournament favorites win a world cup. Football pundits say, Brazil is always favorite at world cup soccer. I choose to differ with that statement. NOT ALWAYS. The tournaments that I remember, in 1986, there was no clear cut favorite, brazil had and advantage. In 1990, Italy was favorite to win the cup at home-soil. In 1994, Germany was favorite to retain the cup. In 1998, again Brazil was favorite, with powerhouse attacking options. 2002, Argentina was over-whelming favorite to win the cup. In 2006, no clear favorites again, though Brazil and Argentina had pre-tournament backing of pundits. If you remember, in none of the above-mentioned years, the nations that I have mentioned , won the cup. This time around, in 2010, everyone was behind Spain. They won the euro 2008, they were ranked 1 by Fifa going into the world cup..They had won 48 of 53 matches going into the world cup. No one was in any doubt about who the pre-tournament favorite was.

But spanish players gave every bookie a scare when they lost 0-1 to swiss in opening match. Everybody thought, here we go again..!! Spain already have the "choker" tag at world cup, as numerous times previously they came to the biggest stage of world football with a promise to steal the show, and they failed wel short of target most of the times.

Not this time around though. Spain scored only 8 goals in the world cup, conceeded 2. Lowest scoring team to win a world cup. From round of 16 onwards to final, they have won all the matches 1-0. Villa scored against Portugal and paraguay, Puyol against Germany, and Iniesta in the final against Holland. Though they lacked the final punch, they were composed in the back, and sublime midfield consisting busquets-lonso-xavi-iniesta operated like a well oiled machine. Barcelona model of short passing and quick place exchange was adopted nicely. Villa did not have much support upfront, as Torres was totally off-color in the tournament. This may be the reason of Spain not getting enough goals. But they got goals that matered.

Germany progressed strongly till they met spain. They swept aside England 4-1 and Argentina 4-0. Germany played lot of passes in the midfield, and used the flank well with Oezil and Schwainsteiger changing places. Schwainsteiger shredded the argentinian defence apart with holding the ball, and pacy runs. Muller was at his best in these two matches, he came from just behind the striker position, and attacked the goal. He scored 3 goals in these two matches, and his absence in the semifinal due to card problem, cost germany dearly. Still Germany managed to win 3rd position by defeating Uruguay in an entertaining match, and left the world cup with lots of admirer.

Uruguay has been the surprise package of the world cup. No one gave them that much chance, not ahead of their illustrious latin american opponents. They got past south korea 2-1, was lucky to get past ghana, as suarez blatantly handled the ball in goal line at last minute of extra time, and Asamoah Gyan of Ghana, blasted the penalty in the post and missed the chance to take Ghana to semifinal. It would have been fitting incidence of Ghana qualifying to the semis of world cup as 1st ever african nation, on home-continent soil, where the world cup is taking place for first time. It did not happen, Uruguay won in penalties. In semis, they played an entertaining match with Holland. Holland previously defeated Brazil in one of the great display of coming -back- from -behind.

Brazil was up by 1-0 within 10 minutes, and Kaka and Robinho was runing riots in dutch defense. Stekelenburg produced few good saves to keep it 1-0 at halftime. But after half time, brazil changed tactics and started playing a more physical game, and due to that, they lost their rhythm. Holland grabbed the opportunity, sneijder was controlling the midfield, Robben was running fast down the flanks, van bommel was giving brazillians pieces of his mind. Melo scored an own goal b deflecting a Sneijder free kick to make it 1-1, and then he stamped on robben to recieve marching orders. Sneijder scored again from a corner, and Holland managed to hold on brazillian onslaught for last few minutes to win it 2-1. They beat Uruguay 3-2 in the semis, but in the final, they were totally off color. Though robben missed a easy 1-on-1 against Casillas, otherwise dutch were playing too physical game. They had 9 players booked, and one player sent off. They knew they could not match spain's ball possession and short passing game, so they employed kick-the-guy-instead-of the ball attitude. It almost worked, until Iniesta controlled a fabregas pass in the right side of the box and scored the only goal of the match in 116th minute.

Portugal was a drab affair. To see the picture, portugal scored 7 goals against south korea, and that is the only match they scored any goal. They failed to score any goals in rest of the matches. Their defence was tough though, as they conceeded only Villa's goal against spain that took them out of the cup.

All in all, this was a nice world cup, without loads of upsets, but some good entertaining football. Forlan deservedly won the golden ball, as he was clearly the best player. His runs, passes, shots, five goals, was really something that wud have inspired other 30+ forwards. Thomas Mueller won the golden boot, as he shared the 5 goals with sneijder, villa and forlan, but scored the goals with fewest shot on target among the other top scorers. South Afria was a great host, great hospitality, though the vuvuzela created some chaos. Iker casillas deservedly lifted the cup , finaly jogo bonito remains the winner at world cup, after euro 2008. It seems, justice is done sometimes after all.

Friday, June 25, 2010

World Cup 2010 : the unravelled story till now...

The world cup 2010 is at its crossroads. The 1st round of matches will end today, and the knock-out phase will start from tomorrow. We have already seen almost all the things needed to make this event a memorable one. French revolution, expulsion of Anelka, re-emergence of Uruguay as footballing power, return of Diego Maradona in world cup stage with full flare and color, explosion of Lionel Messi and his "jogo bonito", drab display of England in 1st few matches, Germany's total change of palying style, asia over europe , expulsion of an ageing Italy from 1st round, play-acting, fewer goals, defensive tactics, Spain's failure to break swiss jungle, well this list will go on and on. In a nutshell, this world cup has already too many variations in its plate. Oh I almost forgot to mention, Zabulani and Vuvuzela. The two biggest villains in this world cup. Zabulani is swinging around unpredictably, vuvuzela is making unbearable noises..even defenders cannot listen to each other.
Players coaches alike wanted to ban vuvuzela but Fifa did not want to play with local people's sentiment in south africa. So the irritating sounds are on.
This world cup has already seen the exit of the finalists of 2006 edition, Italy and France. These two sides have not adjusted to the football that has progressed a lot in last 4 years. For France, it was a total disaster. The players were totally against adamant Domenech, and it seemed no one wanted to play in the world cup. We all remember that their entry to the world cup at the expense of Ireland was full of controversy with Henry's handball pass to the winning goal on aggregate. Well, for them, it is Karma, what went around, came back around. Ribery emerged in world football seen in last world cup . He formed a great partnership with Zidane and helped France to reach the world cup final. Well there is no Zidane, ribery is total flop after a great club season, Henry was non-existent(much like his season at Barcelona), defence was full of miseries, Samir Nasri was left at home, and a footballing nation that has seen great heights over last decade is on complete decline, and reached nadir. Hope Laurent Blanc will be able to pull them up from ashes when he takes charge after the world cup.
Italy's story is different. They received two major and significant blows at the beginning of their campaign. Gianluigi Buffon, who conceded only one goal in open play in last world cup, and was pillar to their success last time, has to be taken off the field with back injury in the match against Paraguay. Andre Pirlo, their main architect and ball player in midfield, hasn't even got the chance to play the 1st two games. Without these two, Italy looked completely out-of sorts in the field. The attack lacked god finishers, there is no Baggio, no altobeli, no Paolo Rossi, not even any Luca Toni or Francesco Totti or Del Piero calibre players. Iaquinta, Zillardino, Quaglirella, Di Natale..they still have a long way to go before they can claim themselves successful International strikers. The defence , which was Italia pride over last century, is now a pale shadow of its glorious past. Cannavaro, the golden ball winner four years ago was leaking balls and forwards every minute. This inept defender now has totally lost interest i football, and it is a crime on behalf of Italian football federation and team management which carried him to south africa. Chiellini tried his best, but he is not the person to carry forward the legacy of Maldinis, Barresis, Nestas. Intermilan, which won the champions league this year, did not have a single Italian player in their starting line-up. Montolivo is the only layer who can be taken as positive emergence for the new-generation of Italian football. Serious re-thinking is needed to be done in Italian football if they wish to remain as footballing superpower in coming years.
That brings me to discuss the other groups and big teams that are on display in this world cup. One can write a lot about Argentina, as that team is looking most colorful in this world cup. Not only on-field but off-field as well. Diego Maradona is their coach, and we need not say anything more about the reason behind their colorfulness.
They had a disastrous qualifying campaign, but cometh the world cup, the plethora of attacking stars led my Messi and ably supported by Tevez, Higuain, de Maria, Aguerro, Milito have exploded wonderfuly. Though they have scored 7 goals in 3 games, with Messi yet to open his account, they have created numerous chances, and showed perfect display of hold-create-pass-shoot football. The strikers have been opportunistic, and conversion rate became good after 1st match. Yet I think Argentina will not win this world cup as their defence looks weak, really weak. With Samuels injured, it looks even weaker. But hey, things with Argentina, specially when Diego is involved in the equation, never went according to the "so called" plan.
South Korea impressed with their fast run and passing ball play. They will be a good fight against Uruguay at the round of 16. Uruguay seems to have found its lost glory to some extent. Diego Forlan is undoubtedly one of the best strikers in the world right now, and Luis Suarez is a good converter of chances as well.
In Group C, England came with lot of expectations with Rooney, Gerrard, Lampard, Terry etc donning the headlines. They claimed to be serious contender, and coach Fabio Capello has already won big accolades in club level and no stranger to success. They started of well against USA , scoring with-in 4 minutes of the start, but then the Green howler came. Then the Algerian howler came where they failed to score. And suddenly England found them on the brink of elimination if they fail to beat Slovenia, who was almost in last 16 without doing much. England defeated Slovenia 1-0, wasting 16 more chances to score, and with USA's last gasp winner against Algeria, they face Germany in last 16 clash.
England vs Germany. Yah, with all the history, politics, battles, football, culture everything associated with it, Sunday 27th June will see a classic. The quality of football that will be on display may not steal the limelight, but the magnitude of the event will. Ghana is the only african nations to have qualified for the 2nd round, and looks to be the only one as other african nations have been already eliminated and Cote d'Ivore have a huge 9 goal deficit over Portugal. Holland did not get a chance to explode, but showed enough to suggest that they can be a serious threat to Brazil if they meet in QF according to the schedule. Robben did not play the 1st two matches , but played for last 15 minutes against Cameroon and already shown glimpses of what is about to come in next round here they face Slovakia.
Ah, Slovakia..a complete fairy-tale story. When Kiwis scored an injury time goal to equalise against them, no one thought that 2 weeks later, they will be the team in last 16 from this group and they will be the team to send the defending world champions packing. Robert Vittek emerged as a strong striker, and defence looked organized against Italy. Hamsik led the team well against azzuri's and they deserve a place in last 16, which looked next to impossible before their match against Italy. Kiwis are one team going out of world cup without losing a match. They drew all three matches, and should feel proud of their achievement in this world cup.

This brings us to the group of death. Portugal started of with a 0-0 draw with Cote d'Ivore in the 1st match where Drogba came as substitute with metal cast wrapped around his broken hand. He failed to make any mark on the pitch. Brazil got past DPR Korea 2-1, with the little Koreans showing signs of real fight in future games. Brazil has changed their style of play. With lot of players playing european league, the latin american flair has given way to result oriented football, which is adapted by most coaches now=a=days world over. Jose Maurinho has shown the way that results are important in football match, so hang your "Jogo bonito".
Its a philosophers debate as beauty vs business, and though personally I prefer the former, I have to admit that business-like Brazil means business. They look the most complete team with Lucio Maicon in defence, Elano, Melo in midfield, and Kaka-Robinho-Fabiano leading the attack. It will take really something extra-ordinary from anyone to beat Brazil in this world cup. Dunga has done his homework.
People went ga ga over Portugal hammering 7 past DPR Korea, but I see that more as complete inexperienced display from Koreans rather than Portugese excellence. Indeed the Ronaldos and Simaos played well, but the real test for them awaits in next game against Brazil, and possible R16 match against Spain....
...if Spain qualifies. A big IF. Spain's loss to the swiss' is one of the biggest world cup shocks. Spain displayed barcelona model football over last few years . Barcelona model has won Spain euro 2008, barcelona model has won FC Barcelona 7 trophies in last 1and half years. So this model is successful. Model of passing the ball, keeping it in ground, change places off the ball swiftly, and clinical finishing. David Villa, Torres, Iniesta, Xavi, Ramos, Capdevilla, Silva, Jesus Navas...the names are good enough to succeed..right?
Well swiss took a leaf out of Maurinho's book, and park their team bus in-front of their goal. Spain failed to find the door-key of the bus, and Swiss score on the break to win 1-0. Shocking.!! So shocking that spanish media brought Iker Casillas' journalist girlfriend as distractor in the stands for their skipper keeper when swiss score. Though Spain came back in winning ways against Honduras, their match against Chile will again define their campaign. There is one thing developing a model in training ground, but it is completely different thing to execute that model in actual playing field, with the task more difficult if the stage is world cup.
After the 1st round, some interesting trends have been developed. Mediocre European countries are lagging behind emerging asian countries. Japan 3-1 Denmark type scoreline was largely unimaginable thing a decade ago. Time have changed. Though teams play in safety-first modes lot of times, coaches have found ways to break defences. There is a tendency of teams to not work properly for creating a chance. Teams like Slovenia, Slovakia, NewZealand, Algeria, Serbia...instead of working creatively, they hit the ball in the air, and hope for the best. This type of football is not effective anymore. Aussies realise that in last match, played well. Algeria tried to create chances on the ground against US, played well. You have to work for your chances, pass the ball, change place, go the wing and cut back.
Latin America is also doing well. Paraguay & Uruguay along with Brazil Argentina already qualified for Round of 16, Chile already has 6 points. Attacking flare has won over defensive style so far, though number of goals are not soaring high. 95 goals from 44 matches. Though 70 goals have been scored in last 28 matches , as 1st round of matches in 8 groups produced only 25 goals.
Seemingly easy groups were complicated, Group F was considered to be easiest for Italy, in which they finished last, group H was very easy for Spain which is going down to wire in the last day. Group C was supposed to be a cake walk for England, which is won by US with a last minute goal. Group of death Group G on the other hand almost is decided with one round of matches to go. So, the unpredictable nature of world cup continues.
So, the stage is set for Messi, Forlan, Park Ji Sung, Landon Donovan, Lukas Podolski,Ozeil, Mueller, Wayne Rooney, Arjen Roben, Keusike Honda, Kaka, Ronaldo and others who will join them in knock-out phase, to explode and make this memorable world cup even more exciting..
The real battle is about to fasten your seat belts..!!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

K'NAAN - Wavin' Flag (Coca-Cola Celebration Mix)

The arrival of "Copa Mundial 2010"

I will start this by a wonderfull celebration mix by K'naan at
The celebration time of the most beautiful game on earth has arrived. Football is one round object that can unite the whole world in a time like this when the whole world seems like a boiling pot. Political tensions, fight over natural resources, fight over religious issues, fight over controlling the world. Everybody seems like always tensed, and forgot how to celebrate, how to rejoice, how to enjoy the little time they have on earth.
Well, here is your chance. We all know the global celebration of the most beautiful game on earth, that is, football , takes place in every alternate 4 years. 2010 happens to be one of those years. This year the celebration is taking place for the 1st time in African continent. South Africa is the host nation from 11th June from 11th July. Yes we are talking about the world cup football. This month we hope all the tensions will be erased, all the bad blood will be on halt-flow temporarily, all the sorrow will be put aside. We hope this month we all will celebrate the colors, the flags, the goals, the celebrations. This one month we will celebrate the "Copa Mundial"...
Since already all the pundits , players , ex players, reporters, everyone is out with their own versions of who will win the cup, I am not going there. From time to time it has been proved that how wrong it is to predict the world cup winner. Brazil is always favorite going into a world cup. They say, if you are born in brazil, you dont need to learn footballing skills. You are born with those skills. Its a part of Brazil's system. World cup, goals, yellow green flag, samba dances. Thats how they live. No matter who is the coach, which players are playing in the starting eleven, who is opponent, that country whose capital is Brasilia will always be tipped to win the world cup. So 2010 is no exception. Lot of people is taking names of Spain, England, some saying Germany and Italy with their history. Some saying Diego Maradona's Argentina will end their 24 year drought with Lio Messi, arguable the best player in the planet right now, in their ranks. But as I think of does not matter who win's it. It does not matter which country's captain holds the cup aloft on 11th July at Soccer City Stadium at Johannesburg. The world cup, a glittering small golden trophy, came to Kolkata as one of its stop-over destination during its world tour. I had the privilege to watch it closely and got a picture taken with the trophy.
After that moment, I realised that this whole month is bigger than anything else in life. A round object, bringing so many nations together , uniting so many nations with so many different colors , and personalities, just based on one object. All these nations are part of the biggest celebration that takes place once in 4 years. All these nations , atleast for a month, can dream wild, no matter even it does not come true. There can be only one "campion". But there can be so many dreamers. So this is also a month of celebration of all thoe people, who loves to dream, who loves to shed all the inhibitions and boundaries.
So, vamos Messi, Vamos Kaka, vamos Ronaldo, vamos Rooney, vamos Drogba, vamos Robben, vamos Eto'o, vamos Pirlo, vamos Kiesling, vamos everyone who will take part in this celebration. Here is to all those lion-hearts..where passion never dies..!!

Friday, February 13, 2009

The re-incarnation of football God

Football is the only object in the world that truly speaks universal language. No physical, geographical, political barrier can discriminate or distinguish between two football players. Just the ball, a ground, and you are good to make friends with another person of similar possessions.

Thus, football often creates a notion of brotherliness, an atmosphere of enjoyment among players. Football extracts all the available emotion out of a fan. Football is a game that define our lives. It is simple as life. We all have goals in our life, and we are living to fullfil our dreams, or in other words, achieve our goals. This is just what players do in a football match. 11 individuals with a common goal. Everyone performing their duties to fullfill the common goal of the the match. So football is our life. In life we believe in separate religions, and we believe in God. As football fanatics, there is a football God as well.

And we all know who that person is, Diego Armando Maradona. The person is a living legend no doubt, but more over, his football epitomises the magnitude of the word "Football God". The way he played the game, the way he made everything look so simple, the way he dribbled his way past several defenders in-humanly, the way he scored goals which others cannot even think of, makes him the God of Football. Whoever accustomed or associated with this beautiful game, will appreciate this statement. You can hate or like Diego Maradona, but you admit it, Diego Maradona played football in a different level than normal human beings can play.
He was a passionate person on field in his playing days. He was a star at the age of 16, he was emotionally devastated when he was not picked by Cesar Menotti in the Argentina squad for world cup 1978 at home soil. Argentina won that world cup, and Diego issue was almost sinking into oblivion. But Diego Maradona was not born to sink into oblivion. He lead Argentina to 1979 youth worldcup victory in Tokyo. Then came the 1982 world cup, and his skills were already being studied by other coaches. Italy and Brazil knew there is only one way to stop Diego, foul and kick him. They succeeded in doing that, and Maradona was shown red card against Brazil, and Argentina bowed out of the cup. He was involved in a big fighting scramble with Athletic Bilbao players in 1984 Kings Cup final while he was in Barcelona, another outburst of an emotional person.
But he played some of his best matches for Barcelona. Everyone was mesmerised by the left foot of this curly big haired dwarf boy. Then came the famous move to Napoli. He moved to Italy, and he became a legend for that club. But the tournament that made him soccer god, was 1986 World Cup. The 56 year history of the tournament never seen such enormous incredible display of soccer by a single player. The world cup was never so dominant by a single player. 1986 World cup, many considers, to be the best world cup till date. One of the reason behind this consideration is also for the plethora of stars played in that World cup. To name a few, Michel Platini, Joel Butts(France), Kareka, Zico, Socretes, Junior, Alemao (Brazil), Altobelli, Baresi (Italy), Butragueno(Spain), Peter Shilton, Linekar(England), Rumenigge, Schumakher, Voeller(West Germany), Franciskoli (Uruguay). These players are all excellent performers, and can change the outcome of a match with their own performance. But when Sun shines brightly, we dont see other stars. Such was Diego's dominance on the field. Koreans tried to kick him like hell , and he swiftly moved past those morons to beat them 3-1. He scored one of the ebst goals in the tournament against Italy, the match ended 1-1. He easily assisted for two goals to beat Bulgaria 2-0. Argentina snubbed past Uruguay 1-0...and met England at the quarterfinal, first time after the Falkland war.
These two countries hate each other. The match was goalless in the first half, and Diego's hand fooled everyone in 51st minute. The goal, known as, done by "Hand of God". Later England coach Bobby Robson admitted that it is Diego's credit that he fooled everyone in the ground with that spot-jump over shilton's head.

4 minutes letter, in 55th minute, Héctor Enrique passed the ball to Maradona some ten metres inside his own half. Maradona then began his 60-metre, 10-second dash towards the English goal, leaving behind five English outfield players – Hodge, Beardsley, Reid, Butcher and Fenwick. Maradona finished the move by dribbling round Shilton to make the score 2–0 to Argentina. About the goal, Maradona said, "I made the play to give it to Valdano, but when I got to the area they surrounded me and I had no space. Therefore, I had to continue the play and finish it myself."

This goal is considered goal of the century, and truly "greatest goal of all time scored by a single individual."
He mesmerized poor Belgium with his left foot in the semifinal, scored two goals. It was almost a mis-match for an world cup semifinal. In the final, WestGermans appointed Lothar Matheus as the man marker behind Diego. Poor Germans didn't know that Gods cannot be man-marked..!! Maradona created free space for Buruchaga and Valdano who ran riot for first 50 minutes of the match. Argentina were 2-0 up in the 50th minute, and everyone thought this one is in the bag for Albicelestes. But Germans are a different race than others not for nothing. The fighting spirit is in their blood. Rumenigge pulled one back from close range around 68th minute, and Rudi Voeller equalised from a deflected header around 80th minute. Score tied at 2-2 and momentum is shifting towards the germans. But when God is on the field, he make changes on his will. Diego delivered a slick pass from midfield to unmarked Buruchaga at the right side of the midfield, and Buruchaga ran with the ball like hell, and placed it past the advancing Schumacher to the back of the net.Argentina 3, Westgermany 2. Final whistle was blown after 2 minutes and Argentina became world champion for the 2nd time, and Diego Maradona put a permanent mark on the world cup trophy. This one is mine..!!

4 years later, He took Argentina to the final again. This time the team was completely different, inexperienced, but Maradona still showed his brilliance and determination. Argentina defeated Brazil 1-0 in the 2nd round, and Diego was architect behind the Caniggia goal. The Argentina won both quarter final against the the Yugoslavia and Semifinal against Italy via penalty-shoot out,and Goicochea the goal-keeper was hero in both of them. Diego missed the penalty against Yugoslavia and converted against Italy. In final they again met WestGermany. Germans were no doubt the superior side in the final, but they couldn't score. Goicochea was standing farm, and Diego with his team was fighting. But the referee made sure that Argentina will not win the world cup this time. Klinsman's theatrical dives caused Monzon to elave the game with a red card, and then finally another dramatical dive by Rudi Voeller inside the penalty area in 85th minute earned them a penalty. That was how the German's won that world cup, and Beckenbauer admitted after the final that they did not want to win the world cup this way. The penalty was disputed, he admitted.

Anyways, Diego was targeted by Italy. Just because Argentina defeated Italy in the semifinal, and italy was out of the world cup on home soil. So all the anger was hurled upon Maradona.They plotted the drug scandal against him, and in 1991, Diego was suspended from football for 15 months. He came back in 1992, but never the same player he was before. He played in some small clubs, played in Newell Old Boys in Argentina, played few matches in Sevilla. Surprisingly he was in 1994 Argentina world cup squad though he was without any club at that time. He scored in the 1st match against Greece and assisted in both the goals in Argentina's 2-1 win over Nigeria. But the world cup was taking place in US. Diego is a good friend of Fidel Castro. US cannot stand Fidel Castro. So you can guess what will happen. Another conspiracy plot, another drug charge, and Maradona was banned from playing football. Argentina went out against Romania in the 2nd round, and so poor was refereeing in that match that FIFA suspended the referee , after that match. The same referee was later banned due to involvement in the Serie A bribery scandal involving Juventus, AC Milan in 2006.

Then slowly Diego's life was taking difficult turns. He was under drug, and hard drugs. He had problems in nervous system, he put on some serious weight. He retired from football in 1997, playing his last games at his old club Boca Juniors. But then he had serious drinking and drug problem, and his health deteriorated. He was admitted to hospital in 2004 after serious heart attack, and was in ICU for several days. He almost came back from jaws of death. He started his rehab program then, stopped drinking, started to host a talk-show at the Argentina Television, where he had guests like Pele, Zidane. Slowly he was coming back to normal life.

Diego as a person is always emotional. He was always involved in graphic conversations with referees, he always had the warmth to greet team-mates as well as opponents on and off the pitch, he was also involved in on-field brawls. He is an expressive mind.

Recently AFA has appointed Diego Maradona as the Coach of the Argentina national team. That is something he always dreamed of. Under his coaching, Argentina played two matches, both friendlies, beating Scotland 1-0 , and beating France 2-0. In both matches, we have seen the same old emotional Diego. He hugged every players at the half time, at the end of the match, when they came out of the pitch. He hugged every player when they are substituted. He hugged the opponent managers and players as well. To him, football is life, and he is the ultimate creator of the art of football. To him, football is the passionate object through which he expresses his mind. That is why he does not get bogged down by political diplomacies, and hug every one, team-mates, players, coaches, opponents. Cause , everyone is part of the world , that he created, and he is the authority of. Football. The world is a better place, when the game of football is played, and when Diego Armando Maradona is drenching the globe with his emotions.
We are all delighted because we have witnessed the re-incarnation of the football god.