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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.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Zico Accepts Offer To Coach Iraq

Brazil football legend Zico has accepted an offer to coach the Iraqi national football team. Zico arrived in the Iraqi city of Irbil on Saturday to negotiate the terms of his contract with Najih Hamoud, President of the Iraqi Football Federation. Iraq were drawn in Group A of the Asian qualifying berths for the 2014 World Cup alongside Jordan, China and Singapore.

Zico coached the Japanese national team into qualifying for the 2006 World Cup. He was also assistant coach of the Brazilian national football team under Mario Zagallo for World Cup 1998. In addition to Brazil and Japan, Zico has coached the club teams Fenerbahce, CSKA Moscow and Olympiakos. As coach, Zico is known for creating stylish, attack-oriented teams grounded in the philosophy of his coach and mentor, Tele Santana.

The former Brazilian international has been out of work since October, when he resigned as Executive Director of Flamengo citing difficulties getting along with Flamengo’s management. His resignation was all the more striking because Zico was the poster boy of Flamengo in the early 1980s as a player. He led Flamengo to victory in the 1981 Copa Libertadores, the 1981 Intercontinental Cup, and three national titles in 1980, 1982 and 1983. After a highly successful stint in Italy with Udinese from 1983-1985, Zico returned to Brazil to lead Flamengo to their fourth national title in 1987.

Nicknamed the “White Pele,” Zico ranks as one of the greatest Brazilian strikers of all time. Like Pele, Zico played as a striker from a deep, attacking midfield position and was known for his supreme ball control, clinical finishing and swerving free kicks. Zico wore the number 10 jersey for Brazil in 1982 and 1986 World Cups. He also played in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Socrates Discharged From Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paulo

Brazil soccer legend Socrates was discharged from the Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paulo on Saturday after having been admitted on August 18 for gastrointestinal bleeding. Socrates was hospitalized due to bleeding resulting from hypertension in the portal vein that transports blood from the digestive system to the liver. Widely considered one of the greatest midfielders of all time, Socrates captained the legendary World Cup 1982 team that lost 3-2 to Italy in the World Cup. Needing only a draw to progress to the semifinals, Socrates and the likes of Zico, Junior, Eder and Paulo Falcao kept attacking against Italy after Brazil had come from behind twice to level the score at 2-2.

Speaking of his health after his hospitalization, Socrates remarked: “I am well and want to launch a new campaign, the campaign for direct elections to be president of the CBF [Brazil Football Confederation].” Socrates’s remarks about democratic elections for the CBF recall his youthful commitment to democracy. In the early 1980s, Socrates and teammate Wladimir launched the Corinthians Democracy movement that established a democratic approach to club management at Corinthians as a form of protest against increasing regimentation in Brazilian football. The Corinthians Democracy Movement rebelled against rules by football clubs that dictated details of the day to day existence of players such when they ate lunch or how often they could have sex. Corinthians players emblazoned their jerseys with democratic political slogans that came to symbolize the fight against autocratic forms of government.

Today, Socrates is a widely respected commentator, outspoken critic of regimentation in sports and fan of Paulo Henrique Ganso. Socrates scored 22 goals for Brazil in 60 appearances for Brazil, typically wearing the number 8 jersey.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mano Recalls Ronaldinho and The Hulk to Brazil Squad For Ghana Friendly

Brazil coach Mano Menezes recalled Ronaldinho and the Hulk to his roster for Brazil’s September 5 friendly against Ghana in London. The call-up of Ronaldinho and the Hulk to the Brazilian national football team represented the most candid admission so far, by Menezes, of the inefficacy of his squad selections and starting line-ups, particularly in the areas of Brazil’s attacking midfield and striker combinations. Speaking of Ronaldinho, Mano mentioned that "he's been playing frequently and showing his physical improvement because we never doubted his technical (abilities).” Ronaldinho has scored nine goals in 15 games in Brazil and could very well function as the attacking midfield playmaker that Brazil desperately needs. Mano had originally envisioned Paulo Henrique Ganso as the playmaker “that would organize the team the way I want,” but the 21 year old Santos star has yet to shine in the attacking midfielder role previously occupied by the likes of Kaka, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Socrates. Mano’s inclusion of The Hulk and Leandro Damiao alongside the decision to drop Fred speaks volumes regarding his search for a center forward that can pose a dominant poaching threat and create space for a combination of Neymar, Robinho and Pato to operate on the wings.

For Porto, the Hulk plays as right winger with Rademel Falcao in the center and Cristian Rodriguez on the wide left. In some of Porto’s most devastating performances, the Hulk pulls right, stretching the defense, allowing space for an attacking midfielder like Fredy Gurain to push forward. In other matches, Falcao drops deep, allowing the Hulk and Rodriguez to push forward. For Brazil, however, Mano may need to play The Hulk differently, in more of a direct center forward role given the inefficacy of Pato and Fred in that position. One option would be to replicate AC Milan’s formation with Hulk taking the place of Ibrahimovic, flanked by Robinho and Pato.

Regardless, Mano desperately needs to leverage Ronaldinho’s experience and technical ability, and The Hulk’s competitive hunger to start scoring goals and set the team back to its winning ways. After almost two decades of a golden age of Brazilian football, the performance of the team has declined to the point where it resembles a ghost of the glorious victories enabled by players such as Romario, Bebeto, Dunga, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Roberto Carlos and Cafu. Brazil has now suffered two consecutive defeats to Paraguay and Germany. Out of 14 matches, Mano can claim an unenviable record of seven wins, four losses and three draws.

Brazil play Ghana at Craven Cottage Stadium in London on September 5. The last time Brazil played Ghana was in the second round of the 2006 World Cup, when Brazil won by a score of 3-0 in which Ronaldo set a World Cup record by scoring his 15th World Cup goal.

Brazil Squad

Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar (Inter Milan), Jefferson (Botafogo), Fabio (Cruzeiro)

Defenders: Lucio (Inter Milan), Thiago Silva (AC Milan), Dedé (Vasco da Gama), David Luiz (Chelsea), Dani Alves (Barcelona), Danilo (Santos), Marcelo (Real Madrid)

Midfielders: Adriano (Barcelona), Lucas Leiva (Liverpool), Luiz Gustavo (Bayern Munich), Ralf (Corinthians), Elias (Atletico Madrid), Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk), Paulo Henrique Ganso (Santos), Lucas (Sao Paulo)

Strikers: Ronaldinho (Flamengo), Robinho (AC Milan), Alexandre Pato (AC Milan), Neymar (Santos), Hulk (FC Porto), Leandro Damiao (Internacional)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Germany Secures Historic 3-2 Victory over Brazil in Friendly

Germany 3 - Brazil 2
Gottlieb Daimler Stadium, Stuttgart, Germany
International Soccer Friendly

Schweinsteiger, Germany, 61st minute (penalty)
Gotze, Germany, 67th minute
Robinho, Brazil, 71st minute (penalty)
Schurrle, Germany, 80th minute
Neymar, Brazil, 90th minute + 2

Germany scored their first victory over Brazil since 1993 in a thrilling match where the hosts dominated possession and exposed the mediocrity of the Brazilian national football team under coach Mano Menezes. Germany's 3-2 win belies the way in which they controlled the entirety of the game even though Brazil improved significantly in the second half. Brazil were decimated in midfield and reduced to a handful of counter-attacking opportunities from which they were fortunate to convert two goals given their overall lack of possession. In the 61st minute, Bastian Schweinsteiger scored Germany’s first goal from the penalty spot after Lucio was judged to have fouled Kroos in the box. Minutes later, Mario Gotze scored his first international goal after a passing triangle featuring he, Klose and Kroos enabled him to become the recipient of a through ball from Kroos. In his debut match for his country, Gotze rounded Julio Cesar with skill and composure to give Germany a 2-0 lead after 67 minutes.

Mano Menezes started Ralf for the suspended Lucas Leiva, and Fernandinho for Ganso. Both were highly ineffective in midfield and hence, two goals down, Brazil resorted to their time honored tradition of attacking down the flanks. Dani Alves steamed into the box to encounter a foul by Phillip Lahm that earned Brazil a penalty kick. Robinho calmly slotted the ball into the back of the net to make it 2-1 in the 71st minute, but the Germans were not to be fazed by the display of life from their opponent. With ten minutes remaining, Schweinsteiger showed more hunger for the ball than Andre Santos by winning the ball in the box and passing it to the vacant Andre Schurrle, who sent a rocket of a shot into the roof of the net to make it 3-1. Neymar pulled one back for the Brazilians in stoppage time but the victory deservedly went to Joachim Lowe’s young German team.

Coming into the match, Mano Menezes shrugged off Brazil’s failure to win more games under his tenure by noting that the team had never been dominated in play, even amongst their losses. The match against Germany, however, marks the first time Brazil were thoroughly taken apart by their opposition in recent memory, the 2010 World Cup included. Mano talks a good talk but his squad selections have been inconsistent. Brazil fans should expect the Selecao to accumulate more losses as long as the coach plays roulette with the midfield by changing the line-up in almost every game.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Germany Squad for Brazil Friendly Includes Gundogan, Reus But Not Ballack

Germany coach Joachim Loew’s squad for the Brazil v. Germany friendly on August 10 in Stuttgart features the following highlights:

●Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira have been omitted from the squad given the intensity of their touring commitments for Real Madrid
●Borussia Dortmund midfielder Ilkay Gundogan gets his first call-up to the German national team
●Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Marco Reus hopes to get his first start for the German national team
●Brazil born striker Cacau faces the country in which he was born
●World Cup 2002 star Michael Ballack has been omitted from the squad after failing to get along with coach Loew

Germany have not beaten Brazil since 1993 and can claim three victories, five draws and twelve losses against the South American powerhouses. The August 10 friendly offers Joachin Loew a golden opportunity to redress the win-loss ratio in the direction of Germany's favor given the strength of the German midfield and Brazil's recent difficulty scoring goals.

Germany Squad

Goalkeepers: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Tim Wiese (Werder Bremen)

Defenders: Dennis Aogo (Hamburg), Holger Badstuber (Bayern Munich), Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich), Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich), Benedikt Howedes (Schalke), Mats Hummels (Dortmund), Christian Trasch (Wolfsburg)

Midfielders: Sven Bender (Dortmund), Mario Gotze (Dortmund), Ilkay Gundogan (Dortmund), Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich), Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Lukas Podolski (Koln), Marco Reus (Monchengladbach), Simon Rolfes (Bayer Leverkusen), Andre Schurrle (Bayer Leverkusen)

Strikers: Mario Gomez (Bayern Munich), Miroslav Klose (Lazio), Cacau (Stuttgart)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Brazil v. Germany: A Brief World Cup History

Brazil 2 - Germany 0 (Ronaldo, 66, 78)
2002 World Cup Final
June 30, 2002
Yokohama International Stadium, Yokohama, Japan

Brazil and Germany have met just once in the World Cup, namely, in the 2002 World Cup final in Yokohama, Japan. In advance of the final, many commentators characterized the match as an epic confrontation between Brazil’s Ronaldo and German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn. Ronaldo sailed into the final against Germany having scored six goals. Kahn, meanwhile, had conceded only one goal prior to the final in a group match against Ireland. The actual final turned out to be more complex than a Ronaldo-Kahn match-up.

In the first half, Germany disrupted Brazil’s free flowing football through a combination of tight marking and hard challenges. The Germans knew that Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho posed the principal goalscoring threats and marked them appropriately. Thomas Linke man-marked Ronaldo while Carsten Ramelow and Christoph Metzelder did well to close down space enjoyed by Rivaldo and Ronaldinho. Rivaldo and Ronaldinho played deeper than they often had in the tournament behind Ronaldo, the lone striker. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari played Ronaldinho in a deep, attacking midfield position akin to the role currently played by Paulo Henrique Ganso for Brazil under Mano Menezes. As in the quarterfinal match against England, however, Brazil’s Kleberson emerged as the wild card that Germany failed to fully anticipate and strategize. The Brazilian midfielder carved out space to hit the cross bar in the first half and play a pivotal role in the Brazilian attack in the second half.

The early minutes of the second half witnessed two important goal scoring opportunities for Germany. Jens Jeremies directed a bullet of a header on goal that was cleared off the line by Edmilson. Moments later, Oliver Neuville whipped a swerving free kick around the Brazilian wall that seemed to be sailing into the back of the net were it not for a spectacular touch on the ball by goalkeeper Marcos. Having survived these early scares, Brazil gradually began to figure out how to penetrate the German defense by bringing defenders such as Roque Junior, Lucio and Kleberson forward to join the attack.

Ronaldo initiated the scoring in the 66th minute by scavenging to win back a ball from the German defense and passing to Rivaldo in anticipation of a give and go. Rivaldo directed a curling strike at the German goal that Kahn spilled into the path of the opportunistic Ronaldo who buried the ball in the back of the net to give Brazil a 1-0 lead. Twelve minutes later, Kleberson raced down the right flank and crossed to Rivaldo, who, seeing his partner Ronaldo behind him, dummied the ball so as to let it run through to his teammate. True to his billing as the world’s greatest striker, Ronaldo converted the chance by sending the ball low to Oliver Kahn’s left to make it 2-0 Brazil. Ronaldo’s eight tournament goals punctuated a fitting victory for Brazil who became five time World Champions with the best team they have fielded since Pele and the great team of 1970.

Starting Line-Ups:

Marcos (GK), Lucio, Edmilson, Roque Junior, Roberto Carlos, Cafu, Kleberson, Gilberto Silva, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Ronaldo

Kahn (GK), Linke, Ramelow, Metzelder, Frings, Schneider, Jeremies, Hamann, Bode, Neuville, Klose