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This blog reflects on soccer qua football all over the world. The blog has a specific investment in attractive, attacking football and, as such, focuses on Brazil, the most emphatic historical exponent of the beautiful game.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Neymar Leads Brazil To Its First Ever Olympic Gold Medal

Barcelona star Neymar led Brazil to their first ever Olympic gold medal in soccer by means of a penalty kick victory over Germany at the Maracana Stadium on Saturday afternoon after the game was tied 1-1 at the end of regulation time. The game opened with spirited play from both sides with Neymar playing in a more central position than for his club team Barcelona, thereby functioning as both a playmaker and an attacker. Germany’s Julian Brandt hit the cross-bar in the 11th minute with a rocket of a shot that had beaten the diving Brazilian goalkeeper Weverton. Struck by the realization that the crossbar had saved them from a 1-0 deficit, Brazil started to impose themselves on the game by means of patient development through the midfield led by Neymar, Douglas Santos, Luan and Renato Augusto. Rather than attacking using a set of overlapping fullbacks that crossed the ball into the box in the vein of the national team from days past, Brazil U23 opted to try to take control of midfield and advance laterally up the field while Germany, on the other hand, deployed dangerous counter-attacks through the center and down the left flank led by Gnabry. Neymar opened the scoring in the 27th minute with a spectacular, curling free kick that gave the hosts the psychological boost they needed. The captain Neymar had both earned the free kick and curled it over the German wall into the roof of the net to give Brazil its first ever lead in an Olympic soccer final and offer hope that they could shake off the stigma of their humiliating 7-1 defeat to Germany in the 2014 World Cup final almost a year ago.

Before the first half ended, Germany responded to Brazil’s goal with two attempts in the subsequent ten minutes that hit the cross-bar and demonstrated their ability to find ways through Brazil’s disciplined midfield and central defense. Germany’s persistence paid off in the 59th minute when Toljan raced down the right flank and crossed to his captain Meyer, who promptly dispatched a low ball into the back of the net to level the score at 1-1 and subdue the rapturous crowd at the Maracana stadium that had begun to dream of Brazil achieving its first ever Olympic gold. With the score even at 1-1, Brazil realized they would need to work for a gold medal and methodically began exploring new ways to break down the German defense, led in large part by substitute Felipe Anderson, who entered the game in the 70th minute for Gabriel ‘Gabigol’ Barbosa. Anderson gave Brazil an additional attacking option on the right flank and down the center, allowing Neymar to withdraw deeper into midfield and vary his play by focusing on orchestrating attacks via through balls that sliced open the heart of the German defense on more than one occasion. Anderson had a glorious opportunity to make it 2-1 for Brazil within minutes of entering the pitch via a through ball that left him with only the keeper to beat, but his lack of decisiveness allowed Germany to foil the attack and keep the score level.

As the game reached extra time, Brazil intensified the pressure with Douglas Santos finding Luan on the right hand side of the box, but Luan opted to shoot through a crowd of German defenders instead of passing to Neymar, who was wide open in a central position. Germany’s Brandt had a shot sail over the crossbar in the 97th minute but it was Brazil who upped the ante for the remainder of extra time by continuing to patiently probe a German defense that packed the box and advanced via pacy but increasingly infrequent counter-attacks. As the match went to penalties, the odds appeared to tilt in Germany’s favor given the national team’s legendary record of maintaining their composure in high pressure situations as well as the pressure faced by the home team, particularly given Brazil’s inability to win Olympic gold to date. After both teams converted the first four penalties, Germany’s Nils Peterson failed to convert thanks to a brilliant, diving save from Weverton, leaving Neymar to step up to the plate with the opportunity to clinch the elusive Olympic gold medal for Brazil. Neymar took his trademark long run up with the stutter step intended to keep the goalkeeper guessing, and then fired the ball into the top right hand corner into the net to bring Olympic soccer gold medal to Brazil for the first time in the competition’s history. Neymar broke down in tears as did many of his teammates after realizing a dream that had eluded teams that included legends such as Ronaldo, Romario, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka.

While penalty shootouts are always disappointing, Brazil played better football for the greater part of the match. That said, Germany had more high percentage chances in the first half than did Brazil and, as such, could well have changed the complexion of the match in the event they had converted one of their shots on target into a goal. Nevertheless, the world witnessed an epic battle between two of the world’s soccer superpowers that signals that Brazilian football is not quite dead in the vein that many have surmised. Neymar underscored his dominance as one of the world’s best footballers by illustrating his ability to perform in high pressure situations and lead Brazil to one of its most significant victories in soccer in its illustrious history. Neymar’s tears of joy illustrated the depth of his commitment to the national team and the sport in general after leading Brazil to its first Olympic goal when many commentators had dismissed both Brazil and Neymar after their uninspiring performances in the first two matches of the group stage against South Africa and Iraq. The 2016 Olympics showcased the birth of a new generation of Brazilian footballers although the national team clearly has more work to do if it intends to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, let alone win the tournament. Kudos to Brazil coach Rogerio Micale, Neymar and the entire squad for prevailing against one of the best national teams in the world. For the purists, Brazil’s Olympic victory means that Brazilian soccer is still alive and kicking after a shameful performance at the 2014 World Cup, particularly given the nexus of Neymar’s skill, leadership and psychological strength.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Neymar And Douglas Costa Give Brazil Late Win Against Peru

Brazil came away with a 2-1 victory against Peru in their opening match of Copa America to extend their unbeaten streak to 11 matches in a match that showcased Neymar’s leadership and vision while concomitantly underscoring the death of attacking talent with the squad that Dunga fielded. With the match barely underway, Peru’s Christian Cueva opened the scoring by capitalizing on David Luiz’s weak back pass to Brazil goalkeeper Jefferson. Brazil retained their composure, however, and equalized scarcely two minutes later after a Dani Alves cross found an unmarked Neymar in a center-forward position from which he headed the ball into the back of the net for his 44th goal for the national team. The game continued at an electric pace with Brazil dominating possession and attacking through the center by way of nifty combination play featuring Chelsea’s Willian, midfielder Fred and skipper Neymar, who classically threatened on the left while cutting diagonally inside towards goal at every opportunity.

Peru soaked up the pressure well and attacked on the counter-attack by threatening Brazil’s nascent central defensive partnership between Miranda and David Luiz. Shocked by their early defensive sloppiness, Brazil tightened up defensively with Fernandinho and Elias trekking back to help cover spaces exposed by the team’s attacking forays down the center of the park, with occasional wide play from the likes of Fred, Dani Alves and Filipe Luis. The match continued in much the same vein throughout the second half and Brazil appeared headed for a draw until Neymar, in extra time, deftly found Douglas Costa on the right of the box, who subsequently slid the ball past the Peru goalkeeper’s left hand to give coach Dunga an impressive record of 11 consecutive victories. Brazil fans should be impressed by the cohesiveness and skill of this young team but wary of the lack of a creative playmaker or attacking midfielder to complement Neymar’s brilliance. In today’s match, the Barcelona pair of right full back Dani Alves and Neymar represented the most threatening combination on Brazil’s team and Peru can feel rightly disappointed not to have eked out a draw against the five time World Champions.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

CBF Appoints Carlos Dunga Coach Of Brazil National Team To Succeed Luiz Felipe Scolari

The Confederation of Brazilian Football (CBF) today confirmed its selection of Carlos Dunga as coach of the Brazilian national team. Dunga succeeds Luiz Felipe Scolari, who resigned after Brazil’s disappointing performance at the 2014 World Cup. Dunga’s appointment to the position of coach of the Brazilian national team constitutes his second stint in charge of the Selecao after coaching Brazil to the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup. As a player, Dunga captained Brazil to World Cup victory as a player in 1994, and similarly captained Brazil to the 1998 World Cup final in France. In his previous tenure as Brazil coach, Dunga led Brazil to victory in the 2007 Copa America and the 2009 Confederations Cup. Nevertheless, he is largely remembered for Brazil’s 2-1 defeat to the Netherlands despite having led 1-0 at halftime thanks to a goal by Robinho.

Upon his appointment as coach, Dunga acknowledged that the landscape of global football had changed in recent years such that Brazil were no longer the best team in the world in the world as follows:

I'm not going to sell a dream. It's reality. The reality is there is a lot of work needed. So when you create high expectations for the fans, football is unpredictable. Nothing is for sure.You have to win every day, every second, every minute, and every time football is growing all over the world and more people are getting better and more competent. They are very engaged. There will be a lot of work too. We can't act like we're the best. No. We were the best, but we have to save this capability that we have. We have talent to do this, but we aren't humble enough to recognise that other national teams have worked very hard, for many years, to get where they are today and where they've got to, and we have to work very hard to be able to get back to where we once were, and to have the right to be within the best in the world.

As a player, Dunga was known for his tough tackling in midfield and inspirational leadership on the pitch. When he was first appointed coach of the national team in 2006, many purists feared that he would lead Brazil away from its tradition of attacking football toward a defensive, counterattacking, highly pragmatic approach that prized winning above all else. But after Scolari’s deplorable results with Brazil at the 2014 World Cup, illustrated most spectacularly by a 7-1 defeat to Germany in the semifinals, Dunga’s return is likely to stabilize an off kilter Brazilian national team and infuse it with fresh tactical thinking in contrast to Scolari’s reliance on player loyalty, team spirit and industriousness. As coach from 2006 to 2010, Dunga created one of the most tactically disciplined Brazilian national teams in history that was known for precision passing and one of the swiftest transitions from defense to offense in the modern game.

Dunga coached Brazil for 60 games, earning 42 wins, 12 draws and six defeats. He will be accompanied by assistant coach Andrey Lopes, with whom he worked at the Brazilian club Internacional. In the press conference where he was presented by President Jose Maria Marin and Technical Director Gilmar Rinaldi, Dunga acknowledged that he had to work on building his relationship with the press given his historical tendency to lose his temper or respond curtly to questions from journalists. Brazil fans can feel comfortable that the Selecao is now back in the hands of a young, experienced coach who knows Brazilian football at the highest level. All things considered, Dunga is the best Brazilian available to coach the Brazilian national team although only results will tell whether he has the tactical acumen to resurrect a Brazilian footballing culture that is now, officially, in ruins.

Monday, July 14, 2014

4 Quick Thoughts On The 2014 World Cup

The 2014 World Cup of football (soccer) ended in spectacular fashion with Germany securing a 1-0 extra time victory over Argentina in the final thanks to a sublime goal by substitute Mario Gotze. In the 113th minute, Gotze received a pass in the box from Andre Schurrle on the left flank and took the ball softly on his chest before volleying a rocket of a shot into the right hand corner of the Argentine goal. By most metrics, the tournament was a smashing success. The 2014 World Cup featured 171 goals from the run of play and thereby tied France 1998 for the record number of goals in the tournament’s history. Colombia’s James Rodriguez prevailed as the tournament’s most prolific goal scorer with 6 goals to win the Golden Boot, while Germany’s Thomas Muller scored 5 goals and Lionel Messi, Neymar and Robin van Persie each scored 4 goals. Muller’s achievement of 5 goals in the 2014 World Cup was all the more remarkable because he scored 5 goals in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa as well. Meanwhile, his teammate Miroslav Klose broke Ronaldo’s record for the total number of goals scored by a single player in the World Cup by bringing his tally to 16 after scoring goals against Ghana and Brazil.

Aside from finalists Germany and Argentina, the tournament also witnessed admirable performances from Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and the Netherlands. But amidst the goals and celebrations, we also saw the darker side of football as exemplified by Luis Suarez’s bite of Italy’s Chiellini and the harrowing scenes of Neymar screaming in pain as he was escorted off the field by the medical crew, only to subsequently learn that he had fractured his third spinal vertebrae after being kneed in the back and would miss the World Cup from the semifinals onwards.

The host nation, Brazil, delivered one of the most disappointing performances in their World Cup history and, as such, enabled a reconfiguration in the geopolitics of world football as noted below:

1.World champions Germany deservedly secured their fourth World Cup championship, and their first since 1990. Alongside Brazil and Spain, Germany becomes the third nation to win a World Cup outside of their own continent, and the only European nation to win the World Cup on South American soil. Germany has reached the semifinals of the World Cup a record 13 times in their history and can now stake a legitimate claim to the title of the greatest footballing nation in history. True, Brazil has won 5 World Cups in comparison to Germany’s 4, but Germany has been more consistent over the course of the last twenty years, in particular, by reaching the semifinals for the last four World Cups (2002, 2006, 2010, 2014) and the quarterfinals in 1994 and 1998.

2.Brazil no longer occupies a place amongst the list of the great footballing nations in the world today. They delivered a shameful performance not only in their 7-1 demolition by Germany, but also in their 3-0 defeat by the Netherlands and the tournament overall. Part of the problem here was that they tried to play “European style” with tough tackling and a defensive midfield as opposed to a creative one, but the irony is that their European counterparts had advanced in their tactics with demonstrations of the triangular passing and possession football for which Brazil was once known. Footballing historians will recall Brazil’s disgraceful performance at the 1990 World Cup, where they tried to emulate their European counterparts after the failed exploits of Tele Santana’s attacking teams of 1982 and 1986. European football does not suit Brazil, but another part of the problem was simply the quality of their players, with the exception of Neymar.

3.Spain can no longer be considered in the running for the best ever designation in the history of football. Winning the 2014 World Cup would surely have qualified Spain for serious inclusion at the top of the list of footballing greats amongst the likes of Brazil 1970, but their ignominious exit in the group stage marked by a 5-1 defeat to the Netherlands and a 2-0 loss to Chile means they earn the title of one of the greatest teams in the history of football, as opposed to the greatest. Nevertheless, the footballing community gives thanks to Spain for their contribution to world football and their famous brand of tiki-taka, possession football that Germany took to the next level at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

4.Lionel Messi advanced his case for the title of greatest footballer of all time by scoring four goals and leading Argentina to its first World Cup final since 1990. Nevertheless, once again, Messi failed to deliver on the international stage at the level at which he performs for Barcelona. Part of Messi’s failure to deliver for his country in the way he performs for his club has to do with the way in which Barcelona’s formation sets him up for success in a way that Argentina has never been able to do, whether under Maradona or Sabella. That said, one wonders whether Lionel Messi will ever truly make his mark as the greatest player of all time without winning a World Cup, or otherwise having a fantastic World Cup tournament marked by a plethora of goals. At the age of 26, however, the clock is ticking for Messi and time will tell if he will ever grip a World Cup by the scruff of its neck and lead Argentina to glory.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Tears Of Joy For Julio Cesar, David Luiz And Neymar As Brazil Beats Chile On Penalties

Brazil carved out a last minute victory against Chile on penalty kicks in the first match of the elimination stages of the 2014 World Cup. Brazil went ahead in the 18th minute thanks to a David Luiz flick from a Neymar corner, but Chile equalized roughly a quarter of an hour later after Vargas intercepted Hulk’s pass to Marcelo from a throw-in and allowed Chilean striker Alexis Sanchez to dispatch a low shot past the diving Brazil keeper Julio Cesar to make it 1-1. The rest of the match represented an intense, highly physical encounter between the two sides with Chile resorting to tactical fouls to disrupt Brazil’s traditional free flowing style of play. Hulk had a goal disallowed in the second half for handball and represented Brazil’s most dangerous player in the latter stages of the game. Meanwhile, Chile’s Pinilla rattled the bar in the closing minutes of extra time.

In the ensuing penalty shootout, Julio Cesar saved spot kicks by Mauricio Pinilla and Alexis Sanchez before he, David Luiz, Neymar and others burst into tears of joy after Chile's fifth penalty taker Jara hit the post. Neymar covered his face as he lay face down on the field, David Luiz burst into tears and Julio Cesar wept in an emotional interview where he reflected on his widely criticized performance in the 2010 World Cup quarterfinal against the Netherlands. After the match, coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said that Brazil had been too polite in defending as the host nation and noted that the time may have come for Brazil to return to his more aggressive style of play. Scolari further enumerated how the match sharpened the determination and conviction of the players to win the World Cup and enhanced team unity as they prepare to face Colombia on July 4 in the quarterfinals.

Chile deserve commendation for bringing pace and an attacking mindset to the match but Brazil showed courage and composure, not only in the penalty shootout but also in extra time. Brazil started the match with Fernandinho instead of Paulinho in defensive midfield, but the Manchester City midfielder failed to take control of the center of the park and was substituted for Ramires in the second half. Scolari and the Brazil coaching staff will have lots to think about ahead of Friday's quarterfinal clash against Colombia because Neymar was injured in a 4th minute challenge by Chile's Aranguiz, Luiz Gustavo will miss the quarterfinals due to a second yellow card, and David Luiz is still nursing a back injury. Meanwhile, on the tactical front, Fred continues to deliver unimpressive performances, leaving the door wide open for Scolari to juggle his lineup for the next match.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Brazil Flank Attack Crucial To World Cup Knockout Match Against Chile

Brazil will need to take advantage of their strength down the flanks to defeat Chile. Unlike Spain, which resorted to combination play in the center of the park against Chile, Brazil will need to spread the Chilean defense and then switch the point of attack to create high percentage scoring opportunities. Chile are known for their pace and high pressing up the field but can be restrained by a Brazil attack marked by width and speed led by the likes of Marcelo, Oscar, Hulk and Maicon. Meanwhile, Fernandinho will need to run midfield and play more of a defensive role to ensure Brazil win the ball and attack. Expect Maicon to start in lieu of Dani Alves and Fernandinho instead of Paulinho for the first match of the knockout stages of the 2014 World Cup in Belo Horizonte. Hulk will be absolutely crucial to Brazil in blocking the right flank.

Key players for Brazil: Marcelo, Oscar, Hulk, Dani Alves, Maicon, Fernandinho, Neymar

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Brazil Defeat Cameroon 4-1 Thanks To Goals By Neymar, Fred and Fernandinho

Brazil marched to an impressive 4-1 victory over Cameroon on Monday thanks to a Neymar brace and goals by Fred and Fernandinho on Monday. The victory over Cameroon left them top of Group A and set up a round of 16 match against Chile on Saturday. After two indifferent performances against Mexico and Croatia, an inspired Cameroon team attacked Brazil with gusto from the opening whistle but found few answers to Brazil's disciplined tactical marking and Neymar’s creativity and attacking brilliance. Brazil fans can expect a firecracker of a match against a pacy Chilean side on Saturday that has already beaten World Cup champions Spain. Chile lost 2-0 to the Netherlands in their final group match on Monday. Neymar now leads the tournament in goalscoring with four goals after three matches.