Monday, July 14, 2014

My World Cup in review

I'd written previously about my desire for a World Cup to re-ignite my passion for the event and I surely got one.

One caveat I would add is that I have watched the past two Western hemisphere events from Asia and to be honest it's a slog that people in this part of the World (Australia I feel your pain) will understand perfectly.

This time however I was lucky enough to spend around 3 weeks out of 4 in the European time zone and there is little doubt that watching the World Cup in a social environment and with a beer in your hand makes it a far better experience than in the middle of the night and on your TV at home alone.

That aside, I think this was a tournament to remember for a myriad of reasons. Clearly it's still fresh in the mind but I think this WC is one for the shelf along with my other favourites, '82, '94 and '98.

The group stages were exactly what everyone wanted. Upsets, goals, drama and controversy. We had woeful performances from England, Italy and Spain, Brazil stepping on to their rollercoaster (those always finish at the bottom), Suarez's teeth and magic from Messi.

What was very interesting was how the tournament took shape. The European teams looked to suffer in the opening round with only really Holland (with France and Belgium looking good against lesser opposition) convincing as even the Germans were run close by Ghana and USA.

The pleasing displays came from Colombia, Chile, Mexico and even the excellent Costa Rica came to the party. Adding to the Latin beat was the belief that just maybe Messi or Neymar was going to attempt to win the tournament on their own.

Spain's exit looked to be the big story early on as they were thrashed by the Dutch in their opening game before being dumped out of the tournament by the excellent Chileans.

Luis Suarez of course then took centre stage demonstrating the two traits he has been recently famous for, scoring against English defences and biting opponents.

His punishment was swift and severe but he has a 75M transfer to Barcelona to cheer him through his extended holiday.

Everyone expected the goals to dry up once the knockout stages began and they duly did. The drama however increased with game after game providing bitten nails aplenty.

First Brazil edged past Chile in the most tense of penalty shoot outs. Brazil appeared to be existing in a bubble containing adrenaline, hope, nerves, euphoria and Neymar.

France and Colombia were relatively comfortable but Argentina, Germany and Holland all toiled before securing passage to the quarter finals.

The quarters again saw Brazil living on their nerves as they saw off Colombia courtesy of David Luiz's howitzer but unfortunately losing Neymar in the process.

Germany were far more comfortable against a timid France than the 1-0 score line suggested.

Louis Van Gaal has been embraced by the English press (nothing to do with him joining ManYoo....) as a tactical genius. Of course, after a tedious 0-0 they required penalties to see off  Costa Rica. There would be little respite in the following match.

Argentina beat the much fancied and vaunted Belgians as they continued their progress in unspectacular fashion courtesy of Gonzalo Higuain.

It was the semi final between the hosts and Germany that of course produced the most shocking result that at least I think I have ever seen given the context and venue of the match.

Thinking back to the game, I still find myself shaking my head at just how badly Brazil lost the plot.

There is little doubt that this was a limited Brazilian team and that Scolari felt the need to galvanise them in any way that he could.

It's hard to know what was really going on inside the Brazilian dressing room but the air seemed to be one of desperation rather than some kind of steely resolve that you would expect from a well fostered siege mentality.

I would never criticise anyone for whichever way they wish to display their own faith - unless it involves hurting others - but I cannot help but think that Brazil's players took things far too far. The Neymar shirt waving was possibly the last straw.

They looked like a team with no plan and no structure tactically. I am sure the discussions in the German dressing room prior were mainly of a tactical nature making sure everyone knew their roles.

Given what I saw in that match, I cannot for one moment believe that anything like that went on within the Brazil changing room.

Faith and prayers were not going to stop Kroos and Mueller, organised defensive tactics were what was required to effect that.

The other point to make was of the fragility of the Brazilian mentality. They played in such an expansive manner in the first ten minutes only to utterly implode on conceding Mueller's goal.

The second goal instilled blind panic even though they had ample time to regroup, tighten things up and get back in to the game. Maybe deep down they knew how poor they actually were, especially without Neymar and Silva.

Professional football teams at this level are not 5 down after half an hour and lose 7-1 (it could easily have been 8-0) unless there is something far wrong at the core.

Such was the destruction, it is almost impossible to tell what was German brilliance and Brazil being entirely abject but I lean towards the latter even if feels harsh on Germany.

The last 14 shots on target in the tournament against the hosts yielded 11 goals. That's quite staggering and shows the ease of the chances they allowed.

The other semi final was very different with another extra time 0-0 involving Holland, this time without even a shot on target from the Oranje. Argentina held their nerve in the penalty shoot out to come through to contest a third World Cup final against Germany.

The final itself was not a classic - they rarely are - but it wasn't a bad one either with the first half in particular very entertaining. Argentina's finishing was woeful and they eventually paid the price with Goetze's wonderful extra time winner taking the trophy for Germany.

Argentina will point to challenges from Neuer and Howdes that maybe deserved red cards but it would be churlish to suggest that Germany were anything but worthy winners.

On the subject of refereeing I think the whistlers at this World Cup deserve a mention. There were of course a plethora of bad decisions and there always will be in a sport played at that pace without recourse to the technology that the watching world has.

But I do think that the directive that I presume was given to let the games flow was welcome and made the matches and football far more enjoyable.

It was definitely a tournament of two halves with an almost care free group stage of matches followed by an incredibly tense and tight knockout stage (Brazil's spanking aside).

It is also worth noting that Europe has just won its' third tournament in a row (they don't win in Latin America remember) despite their earlier woes in the group stages.

Unfortunately, both Africa and Asia seem to be going in the wrong direction right now and one must hope that this trend reverses to keep it a truly World Cup. Come on lads, the talent and passion is there!

The USA it should be mentioned are also showing that they are starting to take a real and genuine liking to the World's tournament and their progress from here will be interesting. They performed admirably in Brazil.

As always it is over too soon and it is far too long to the next one but that's also why we love it so much. Time and reflection as well as personal opinion will decide whether it becomes a 'classic' but for myself, I enjoyed it thoroughly - No Nonsense.