Rooney, Messi and Cristiano, three figures who represent the face of defeat
EL PAÍS – JOHN CARLIN – Ciudad del Cabo (English Translation)
Some people want to abolish bullfighting. After three weeks of football so brutal intensity, one wonders if perhaps it should end with the World of excessive cruelty to humans.
It is assumed that the World Cup is cause for celebration and joy, but South Africa has touched the edge of suffering that a person is capable of withstanding without bloodshed. We have witnessed one disaster after another, starting with France, a nation whose racial fissures have been exposed after the ignominious departure of your choice, and ending with the dramatic fall of Ghana, Argentina and Brazil.
In between, we have seen the terrible disappointment of the Italian players, crying on the field as orphans abandoned after being eliminated in the group stage. And the miserable and angry farewell for England, whose chances of winning the nation that invented the sport had invested, as always, tragically disproportionate expectations.
Sure. Defeat is part of football and the World Cup is, by definition, a litany of sorrows. But how unusual this in South Africa what is unprecedented is the Everest or Kilimanjaro, which so many great teams and so many famous people have fallen to earth.
Cristiano Ronaldo, considered by the most ignorant of the footballing masses as the best player in the world did nothing, except freaky score a goal against North Korea, and ended the World “broken” in his own words, and despised by their own countrymen. Wayne Rooney, another myth abruptly made man, was the big loser of an England game in the style of Franz Beckenbauer correctly characterized as “primitive.” Lionel Messi, has the most talent of the three, could do nothing against a Germany that exposed so ruthlessly efficient chaos and improvisation is going on in the minds of Maradona, for consistency tactics.
A god Maradona call him at home. For the divinity Argentina, who failed to learn that a football team needs more than one player in the midfield, has fallen to the darkness of hell. Before the game against Germany, Maradona announced that God, the other wanted a victory in Argentina and the Germans only knew “run and run.”
Then, in the press conference (after losing 4-0), Maradona looked like a man who more than broken, was empty. His infinite faith in the magical powers of inspiration which gave him many of his fellow fervent was gone, perhaps forever.
Almost as painful to see Maradona finished, “no strength at all,” but the scenes of anguish over the field on Friday night after Ghana lost on penalties against Uruguay were so terribly intimate was the only decent response away view television.
Ghana players, especially one who missed the penalty in overtime that would have led to an African team to the semifinals for the first time [Gyan], reacted as if they had just received news that his mother had died in a plane crash. The cruelty of their circumstances, the destination Uruguay brilliant, literally, I snatched the last sigh of the game, it was wild. We are accustomed to the good fortune to run roughshod in football, but what happened to Ghana meant a promotion to another level, hitherto unknown, of perversity.
Wicked has also been the style of play Brazil under Dunga’s command, in the opinion of a growing number of Brazilian commentators. The consequence will be, hopefully, that World Cup Brazil 2014 will be-or at least try to be “myth Brazil, samba football. The fury of a disappointed soccer nation can be somewhat scary.
Dunga should take into account the possibility of seeking political asylum in Borneo. The same could be raised Maradona, Capello and Domenech. When failure is so great and so difficult to endure pain, comfort can only come from those who share the suffering and despair.
Uruguay vs Netherlands
Uruguay vs Netherlands
What’s on the line:
Two teams trying to recapture past glories will face off Tuesday in Cape Town in the first of two World Cup semifinals. The Netherlands will be trying to reach the final for the first time since 1978, when it lost to host Argentina. Uruguay has endured an even longer drought. It last reached the semis in 1970 and it has been 60 years since the country won the second of its two World Cup titles.
Style and tactics:
The Dutch are one of the prime exponents of possession soccer. Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben provide some breathtaking creativity, while Dirk Kuyt does the dirty work in attack. Yet the Netherlands has proved throughout the tournament that it also has the ability to grind out results. Holding midfielders Nigel De Jong and Mark Van Bommel have displayed the requisite grit to get the Oranje through difficult moments, although De Jong’s suspension for too many yellow cards means that Demy De Zeeuw will need to step in on Tuesday. Right back Gregory Van Der Wiel is also suspended, with Khalid Boulahrouz his likely replacement.
The center of the Dutch defense is thought to be suspect, although Johnny Heitinga and Andre Ooijer played better as the Brazil game wore on, the latter performing in place of injured starter Joris Mathijsen.
Uruguay takes more of a counterattacking approach, relying on an airtight defense and the attacking verve of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez to grab its spot in the semifinals. Uruguay’s central midfield tandem of Diego Perez and Egidio Arevalo has provided an effective shield in front of the team’s backline, which has conceded just two goals in the tournament.
Alas for La Celeste, both aspects of their game have been compromised heading into the match. Left back Jorge Fucile is suspended for accumulation of yellow cards, while Suarez is also banned after being ejected for deliberate handball late in his side’s quarterfinal victory over Ghana.
The injury bug has also bitten Uruguay hard. Captain Diego Lugano, who has been a rock in the center of Uruguay’s defense, will likely be sidelined with a damaged knee ligament, while young playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro has been ruled out for the rest of the tournament with a broken foot.
Despite these absences, it seems unlikely that Uruguay will change its tactics at this point.
Players to watch:
Diego Forlan, Uruguay
Forlan has been one of two attacking weapons La Celeste has relied upon in the tournament, and with Suarez suspended, even more responsibility will fall on his shoulders. Forlan possesses a powerful shot from distance, making him a huge threat on free kicks inside 35 yards. Forlan is also dynamic from the run of play, so the Dutch will need to account for him at all times.
Diego Perez, Uruguay
Perez has been highly effective in protecting Uruguay’s backline during the tournament. Given the injuries and suspensions the team has suffered, he’ll need to be at his midfield-destroying best Tuesday. He has also proved adept at feeding Forlan into space on the counter, but in Suarez’s absence, Perez will need to make sure he gets other attackers involved as well.
Diego Godin, Uruguay
The loss of Lugano is a massive blow, but it’s one that is tempered by the expected return of Godin from a thigh injury that sidelined him for the quarterfinal. Godin will likely be tasked with marking Dutch forward Robin Van Persie, and he’ll also need to provide leadership in Lugano’s absence.
Wesley Sneijder, Netherlands
Sneijder is the attacking engine that makes the Oranje go. His incisive passes over both short and long distances are counted on to set the table for the likes of Robben, Kuyt and Van Persie. Sneijder is also plenty capable of scoring goals on his own, as evidenced by his four tallies so far. If the Netherlands is to break down Uruguay’s defense, Sneijder’s guile will be one of the prime ingredients.
John Heitinga, Netherlands
While Forlan is one of those players who drifts all over the field, Heitinga will be the man whose primary task is to keep the Uruguayan in check. The Dutch defender has pace and is solid on the ball, but given Forlan’s unpredictability, Heitinga’s powers of concentration will be put to the test.
Arjen Robben, Netherlands
While Sneijder is the team’s attacking fulcrum, Robben is counted on to provide the unexpected bit of magic by running at defenders. He prefers to line up on the right and then cut inside onto his favored left foot and have a crack at goal. Everyone in the stadium knows it’s coming, but it remains difficult to stop.
What we can expect:
With Uruguay shorthanded, look for the team to adopt even more of a hit-and-run approach, with Perez and midfield running mate Egidio Arevalo doing what they can to spoil the Netherlands’ attacks. With Suarez out, someone will have to step up to take some of the attacking burden off Forlan. This means more will be needed out of Edinson Cavani, who has been largely disappointing, as well as quarterfinal hero Sebastian Abreu.
The Dutch will likely have much more of the ball than they did in their quarterfinal win over Brazil, but they’ll need to exhibit patience in attack against an organized and physical Uruguay defense. It’s also expected that whoever replaces Fucile on the left side of the Uruguay defense, be it Alvaro Pereira or Martin Caceres, will be tested often by Robben.
The Dutch have nearly everything going for them in this match, especially now that Van Persie and Mathijsen have been cleared to play after recovering from arm and knee injuries, respectively. Granted, the suspensions of De Jong and Van Der Wiel are problematic, but such is the depth of this Dutch squad that it should be able to cope. The same can’t be said for Uruguay, with the loss of Suarez looming especially large.
Both teams will have loads of self-confidence after the quarterfinals, but Uruguay can be forgiven for thinking destiny is on its side. La Celeste clearly caught a miracle against Ghana courtesy of Asamoah Gyan‘s late missed penalty. Such luck tends to breed loads of confidence, regardless of the circumstances.
About the only thing working against the Dutch is overconfidence and their history of self-destructing. But manager Bert Van Marwijk appears to have tamped down any potential rifts, allowing the team’s considerable talent to step to the fore.
Argentina has 20 years and five technicians well below expectations
EL PAÍS – CAYETANO ROS – Ciudad del Cabo (English Translation)
Diego Armando Maradona was convinced that with the select group of strikers available to Argentina and emotional control of the costumes, the title would fall under its own weight. The first thing was not his doing, but merely a chance to have Messi, Higuain, Aguero, Milito and Tevez. In another section, yes. There he felt the number one when he harangued the albiceleste both overall and individual levels.
Minutes before the disaster to Germany, the Green Point stadium, Maradona came to feel the king was to be injected one by one to his players the last emotional jab. To each, his own. “Puto, puto, puto!” Shouted the visceral Heinze as cameras picked up the Canal +. “Acordate your dad,” repeated Messi Mascherano while cradled him in whispers very sensitive. There was not a single conflict at the rally. Everyone felt loved. Maradona looked after them like their children. And they said, beating Nigeria, South Korea and Greece before take down to Mexico in the second round. Every win they celebrated as if he had grabbed the Cup By frenetic and exaggerated.
But then came Germany and stripped all the scaffolding of Maradona. Or lack thereof. He had come to South Africa without an idea of how I wanted to play, Scottish football by criticism so defensive in the qualifying round. He decided to add a third striker, Tevez, along with Messi and Higuain, at the expense of losing a wheel, Maxi Rodriguez. Argentina swept Nigeria in the best performance of Messi, Veron and licking partnering with half a dozen chances.
Winning the first date and Maradona convinced that his bet had worked and grown, dared to try another. He used muscle discomfort to recover Maxi Veron, leaving only Mascherano in the midfield. The albiceleste thrashed South Korea and began to think that was lit. The tactical subtleties, in theory, were in the hands of his assistant, Henry Black, who came to fame for giving a pass in his second goal for England in Mexico 1986. But in reality, were ideas of Maradona. No one dared to contradict him despite significantly weakened the heart of the team.
Against Mexico, Maradona was another mirage. The combination of Javier Aguirre dominated until Tevez scored with a header in one of the most vocal offsides history. Four wins in four games and thought he had found the philosopher’s stone: four rocky central defense, three forwards and two ends (Maxi and Di Maria) to attack.
In the center, only Mascherano. At first glance, the Germany coach, Joachim Löw, Argentina diagnosed split in two as it happened, controlled by Schweinsteiger, Kedhira, Müller and Özil, all midfielders and bred. Maradona had left theirs on the bench (Veron, Bolatti and Pastore) or at home (Riquelme and Banega, ruled by a clash of egos with their own coach). And he forgot that, as has happened also to Brazil, the essence of the game goes through the midfield. Veron and Messi wanted to be forgot to be Messi.
After beating Germany, Maradona was humiliated by the enemy to ill-chosen: there were polemics with Schweinsteiger (“what’s wrong, Schweinsteiger, you’re nervous?”). Well … no. There was not nervous. And neither Thomas Müller, the young man she despised him in Maradona’s friendly last March after mistaking him for a ballboy.
Although it has taken time to reflect, Maradona has the hours counted in the selection. Although the main problem of the albiceleste not be him, but, as happens in England, how to avoid being always below its potential. It happens from 20 years ago, when it fell in the final against Germany in Italy in 1990, the last great player Maradona murmur.
From the ideological confrontation between Cesar Luis Menotti and Carlos Salvador Bilardo, past champions with opposing styles, spent five coaches without getting anywhere. Alfio Basile in the United States 1994, Daniel Passarella in France 1998, Marcelo Bielsa in South Korea and Japan 2002 and Germany 2006 José Pekerman succumbed to expectations forged. The pretentious legend that made the bus traveled to Argentina to South African roads. “Last stop, the glory.”
Germany vs Spain
What’s on the line:
Three-time champion Germany will be going up against a Spanish side with a long history of World Cup underachievement in the tournament’s second semifinal in Durban on Wednesday. Spain entered the competition as co-favorite but has looked short of its best. Germany, meanwhile, has been dynamic from the very beginning, playing arguably the best soccer of the tournament in hammering both England and Argentina. Given the quality on display, it’s a match fit for a final.
Style and tactics:
No one plays the possession game better than Spain, which, despite the overtly defensive tactics of its opponents, has been content to stay patient, stick to its game plan and eventually wear other teams down. The key to La Furia Roja’s attack is the midfield trio of Xabi Alonso, Xavi and Andres Iniesta. Alonso sits deeper than the other two, and his long passes provide a nice counterweight to those of Xavi and Iniesta, who rely more on quick combinations. These players have set the table for David Villa, who has scored a tournament-leading five goals.
There are times when Spain can become predictable and try too often to thread clever passes through the middle rather than use the space on the flanks. This has seen them struggle against organized sides like Portugal and Paraguay, and it’ll need to introduce a bit more variety to break Germany down.
Almost lost in the shuffle is the performance of Spain’s defense, one that has conceded just two goals in the tournament. Center backs Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol have been largely solid, although the latter may miss the semifinal because of injury, leaving the experienced Carlos Marchena to take his place.
Germany has brushed aside the loss of injured captain Michael Ballack to deliver some scintillating displays. Die Mannschaft has been absolutely lethal in attack in all manner of ways, dictating the pace one moment, soaking up pressure and nailing teams on the counterattack the next.
Unfortunately for Germany, the suspension of Thomas Mueller because of an accumulation of yellow cards will rob the team of one of its best attacking weapons, and it will be up to the likes of Toni Kroos or Piotr Trochowski to fill the void.
Germany’s defense has been solid throughout the tournament. Center backs Per Mertesacker and Arne Friedrich complement each other well, with Friedrich’s speed providing a nice counterweight to Mertesacker’s aerial dominance. Holding midfielder Sami Khedira, along with outside backs Philipp Lahm and Jerome Boateng, have helped to cover up for any mistakes.
Players to watch:
Highlighting just one of Spain’s midfielders is like choosing the best diamond, but Xavi has shown his class once again. His clever touches, like his cheeky backheel that released Villa for the only goal against Portugal, reveal a player capable of the unexpected as well as crisp, safe passes that maintain possession.
David Villa, Spain
Spain has plenty of players to thank for its spot in the semifinals, but foremost among those is Villa. The pacy attacker leads the tournament’s goal-scoring list, and those strikes have gotten Spain out of some dicey situations. Villa has lined up primarily on the left wing but has also been stationed inside when Fernando Torres hasn’t been on the field. In either case, Villa’s trickery on the ball as well as his uncanny positional sense has seen him pop up for five of Spain’s six goals.
Fernando Torres, Spain
Torres has not looked himself since coming back from knee surgery in April, and that’s been especially evident in his World Cup performances. His touch has been subpar and he’s rarely looked dangerous. But lest anyone forget, it was Torres who scored the winner in the Euro 2008 final against Germany. While coach Vicente del Bosque may bench Torres, let’s also not forget that if he converts on Wednesday, all of his previous struggles will be instantly forgotten.
Philipp Lahm, Germany
Lahm has faced plenty of talented players before, but Wednesday will provide the ultimate test, as he’ll be tasked with stopping the prolific Villa. Lahm’s quickness should make him well suited to that task, and the best defense could be an aggressive attack, as Lahm’s runs forward could help negate Villa’s impact.
Mesut Ozil, Germany
Ozil is just one of several young, dynamic players at Germany’s disposal. The Werder Bremen attacker is often given a free role underneath striker Miroslav Klose, and has caused havoc throughout the tournament with his darting runs and ability to set up others. Given Mueller’s suspension, Ozil will need to raise his game even further.
Sami Khedira, Germany
Spain is capable of mesmerizing opponents with its slick passing game, so it will be up to Khedira to disrupt the flow of La Furia Roja’s attack with his tough tackling and mobility. While Bastian Schweinsteiger assumes most of the attacking duties out of the center of midfield, Khedira has been known to get forward as well, and he’ll have to pick his spots effectively in order to keep Spain’s midfield honest.
What we can expect:
As always, Spain will be intent on establishing its possession game. Based on Germany’s success on the counterattack against Argentina, this won’t trouble the Mannschaft at all, and Spain’s more deep lying midfielders, Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso, will need to be mindful of Germany’s ability to strike quickly.
Given Germany’s strength down the middle, Spain will have to make use of the flanks. This requires not only getting outside backs Joan Capdevila and Sergio Ramos into the attack, but also getting those players to deliver quality crosses when they get the chance, something that was a problem in the quarterfinal win over Paraguay.
Germany will need someone besides Ozil to provide some dynamic play in attack and provide service to Klose, who with four goals in the tournament has shown he still has what it takes to be effective at the highest level. Look for Schweinsteiger to assume even more of an attacking role than in games past.
Given that Spain beat Germany to claim the Euro 2008 crown, it would appear that La Furia Roja has the mental edge. Yet it is Germany who has been playing the better soccer of late, so the advantage from past encounters is not as great as it might seem at first.
The loss of Muller is significant, but so is the potential absence of Puyol. The bottom line is that there isn’t much that separates these two teams.
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