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..!!