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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.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Player Profile: Givanildo Vieira de Souza, The Hulk

In the story of the cartoon The Incredible Hulk, scientist Bruce Banner suffers from the effects of exposure to radiation from a gamma bomb that he created. The radiation exposure leaves him vulnerable to involuntary transformations in which he changes into the gargantuan, muscular green figure that readers fondly remember. In one rendition of the story, The Hulk’s transformations are triggered by anger and an inability to control challenging emotions.

Porto’s FC striker Givanildo Vieira de Souza, also known as The Hulk, has a corresponding mythology about his anger, power and physical strength. In December 2009, The Hulk was accused of assaulting a match steward in the tunnel following a game between Porto and Benefica that earned him a 4 month suspension. Porto successfully appealed The Hulk’s suspension after the Brazilian striker had already missed 17 games. The Portuguese soccer federation ruled to reduce The Hulk’s suspension to three games, effectively nullifying it after the striker missed January, February and most of March 2010.

Although the Hulk’s involvement in a tunnel brawl became emblematic of his anger, his suspension had the reverse effect of leading to a different explosion and transformation on the field. 2010-2011 saw The Hulk explode and claim his place amongst the top 20 strikers in the world with some magnificent performances for FC Porto that powered them to the Portuguese Primeira League title, the Portuguese Cup and the UEFA Europa League. The Hulk unleashed his rage on goalkeepers across Europe with 36 goals in 53 appearances for Porto, 23 of which he netted domestically alongside 13 assists.

For Porto, the 24 year old Hulk plays in a 4-3-3 formation on the right, with Falcao in the center and Varela or Cristian Rodriguez on the left. He drops deep into midfield or cuts in diagonally from the right flank and runs at the center of defenses. He has a passion for curling, long range strikes on goal with his touchstone left foot. He has the upper body strength of his idol Ronaldo of Corinthians and Adriano and the dribbling ability of Rivaldo and Romario. This season, he displayed a terrific attitude toward training and sportsmanship that belies his nickname’s association with rage and anger. The Hulk is waiting to explode although he has already exploded with vengeance for his 2010 suspension on Portuguese defenses during the 2010–2011 season. The Brazilian has stated his desire to play in Italy, Spain or the Premier League but FC Porto have no intention of parting with him given his 100 million euros buyout clause and its recent payment to Uruguayan club Atletico Rentistas that means Porto now own 85% of his sporting rights. Fans of The Hulk now patiently await with baited breath for his explosion onto the Brazilian team in the center of a three pronged Selecao attack flanked by Neymar and Pato.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pato's shoulder injury may leave the Copa America door open for The Hulk

Alexandre Pato's dislocated shoulder, sustained during last Sunday's 0-0 draw between AC Milan and Udinese, may create room for Porto's Hulk in Mano Menezes's 2011 Copa America squad. The Hulk has been in devastating form for Porto this year both as a striker and provider of assists to the Colombian sensation Rademel Falcao in addition to his other Porto teammates. He scored 23 goals league goals this season and contributed a total of 13 assists in spearheading Porto's path to the 2011 Portuguese Primeira Liga championship title. The Selecao currently lacks a player with his ability to muscle through defenders and retain his balance while converging on goal and dispatching the ball into the back of the net with a calmness and focus that recalls Romario's unfailing accuracy in and around the box. The Hulk most pertinently represents a cross between the dribbling ability of Alessandro Rivaldo and the muscular power and pace of Ronaldo. He could serve as an effective compliment to Neymar and Robinho, both of whom have a tendency to go to ground in challenging circumstances. This year's Copa America will be held from July 1 to July 24 in Argentina.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mano Menezes Announces Brazil Squad for Netherlands and Romania Friendlies

For a brief World Cup history of Brazil v. Netherlands, see:

Brazil v. Netherlands: A Brief World Cup History

Brazil coach Mano Menezes announced a 28 man squad for Brazil’s June friendlies against the Netherlands and Romania. Brazil play Netherlands on June 4 in Goiania and Romania on June 7 in Sao Paolo. Mano plans to trim down the 28 man squad to 22 players by June 2 for the 2011 Copa America. Robinho returns to the Selecao after having been excluded from the friendly against Scotland. AC Milan Scudetto champion Alexander Pato joins Robinho and Neymar in the list of options up front while Mano continues to ignore Porto’s Hulk in favor of Leandro Damiao, Nilmar and Fred.

In the midfield, Ronaldinho and Kaka have been ignored in what could represent the twilight of their international careers given the explosion of youthful talent into the Selecao’s midfield since Mano took over the helm of the national team from Carlos Dunga last summer.

The June 7 game against Romania is intended as Ronaldo’s farewell game.
Paulo Henrique Ganso will be considered for the 2011 Copa America squad in light of the progress of his recovery from a recent thigh injury sustained during the Copa Libertadores.

Goalkeepers:

Victor (Gremio), Jefferson (Botafogo), Fabio (Cruzeiro), Julio Cesar (Inter)

Defenders:
Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Maicon (Inter), Thiago Silva (Milan), David Luiz (Chelsea), Lucio (Inter), Luisao (Benfica), Andre Santos (Fenerbahce), Adriano (Barcelona)

Midfielders: Ramires (Chelsea), Sandro (Tottenham), Lucas Leiva (Liverpool), Elano (Santos), Thiago Neves (Flamengo), Henrique (Cruzeiro), Jadson (Shakhtar Donetsk), Elias (Atletico Madrid), Anderson (Manchester United), Lucas (São Paulo)

Forwards:
Robinho (Milan), Alexandre Pato (Milan), Neymar (Santos), Leandro Damiao (Internacional), Nilmar (Villarreal), Fred (Fluminense)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tele Santana's Brazil 1982 team: Brazil v. Italy in the 1982 World Cup in Spain

July 5, 1982
World Cup 1982. Barcelona, Estadio Sarria
Brazil v. Italy, Group 3 (Qualifying round for place in semi-finals)

Contemporary football fans who have the privilege of viewing the Brazil World Cup team of 1982 will find it challenging to absorb the rhythm, tempo and formation of the Brazilian team because it resembles virtually no other team in the history of football. Coach Tele Santana played a 4-2-3-1 formation with Junior, Luizinho, Oscar and Leandro in defense, Falcao and Cerezzo deep in midfield, Eder, Zico and Socrates in attacking midfield and Serginho as the lone center forward and pure striker. But to say that Santana fielded a 4-2-3-1 formation fails to encapsulate the fluidity, ball control, trickery and attacking mindset of Socrates's team. Full backs Leandro and Junior marched up and down the flanks in ways that resembled Cafu and Roberto Carlos, but they cut diagonally into midfield as well. Socrates meandered all over the field. Zico trekked back deep into midfield to spark attacks and Eder provided a left sided striker complement to Serginho by owning the left flank and barreling in thunderous free kicks as well. In practice, however, Santana's formation represented a free flowing formation that attacked relentlessly on all fronts. Brazil fans who watched the Brazil v. Italy match of 1982 will painfully recall how Brazil did almost no defending in the match against Italy, choosing instead to try and win through ball possession, one touch passing, and streaming attacks on goal that defied any predictable formation or pattern.

Score: Italy 1 – Brazil 0

Clad in short blue shorts and tight golden shirts, Brazil started the match lacking the arrogant flair they had demonstrated in earlier matches of the tournament. The best attack in the tournament knew it was pitted against the best defense. In the early minutes, Brazil attacked primarily down the right side with Leandro, Socrates and Paulo Falcao. The Italian defenders knew Falcao from his time in Italy at AS Roma but that didn’t stop the Brazilian number 15 from showing some bite on the tackle and launching forward to spark one of Brazil’s early attacks. But in the fifth minute, Italy scored out of the blue. Graziani attacked on the right flank before passing to Cabrini on the far left. Cabrini whipped in a wicked curling ball that Rossi headed into goal from close range. Rossi’s selection for World Cup 1982 after a two year ban for failing a doping test had caused considerable debate within the Italian media about whether he merited a place in the national team. Little did anyone know that Rossi would go on to score one of the most famous hat-tricks in the history of the World Cup against the favorites Brazil. Brazil came into the match against Italy unbeaten on 24 occasions, with 20 victories and 4 draws. Their last defeat had been against Uruguay in January 1981.

Score: Italy 1 – Brazil 1

Down a goal, Brazil calmly gathered themselves and returned to their passing game. Serginho squandered a golden chance after a through ball from Socrates bounced off Zico's boots and put him clear in front of the Italian defense. Seconds later, and seven minutes after Rossi’s goal, Socrates played a give and go with Zico by starting deep in midfield, and bursting forward to the right of goal near the touchline. Zico got away from his marker Gentile and flicked a delicate through ball past three Italian defenders to the racing Socrates. The Brazilian captain kept his composure and netted the equalizer from an absurdly narrow angle by the near post. Zico and Socrates celebrated the success of a play that returned the script back to normal, with the favorites Brazil, needing only a draw to go through, back in command.

Score: Italy 2 – Brazil 1

The match turned into something of a stalemate. Brazil kept attacking despite having drawn level with Italy. Eder’s free kicks clattered off the wall and failed to find the swerve for which they were renowned. Gentile manmarked and manhandled Zico, battering him from behind and, late in the first half, tearing Zico’s shirt on the edge of the box. Italy defended deep and moved forward on the counter-attack. Brazil pressed the attack but refused to defend, allowing the Italians to string together passes when they moved forward. Only Paulo Falcao—who had learned about defending from his spell in Italy—tackled in tough against the Italians on occasion and stole the ball for Brazil. In the 25th minute, Cerezzo lazily mislaid a pass across the field that Rossi intercepted and promptly dispatched into the back of the net for his second goal.

Italy 2 – Brazil 2

Down again, needing a draw to go through to the semi-finals, Brazil played their attacking game as usual. It took Tele Santana’s team over 40 minutes to find the equalizer, but these are 40 of the most sublime minutes in the history of football. Save for some isolated outbursts of frustration from Zico about Gentile’s rough play, Brazil concentrated on the task at hand and unfurled its magnificent attacking machine. Socrates started to play on the left in addition to the center and right. Fullbacks Leandro and Junior emerged into midfield and Falcao pressed the attack to compensate for stranglehold the Italian defense had placed on Zico. On the bench, viewers can see Tele Santana with his flourish of sideburns calmly watching his team do what they knew best: work together as a team and find a way to win. Not a blade of grass in the Italian half was left untouched. Eder and Junior pressed down the left flank along with Socrates. Zico dropped deep in order to elude defenders and unleash Falcao and Cerezzo. Socrates, meanwhile, kept control of the team as Brazil probed and probed in order to find the weak link in the Italian defense. The moment of glory came in the 68th minute. Junior darted up the left flank and then cut in toward midfield sharply. He found Falcao to his right on the edge of the box. Falcao collected the ball with his right foot, and—just at the moment when the Italian defenders expected him to move right—took the ball on his left foot and sent a rocket into the roof of the net for the equalizer. All of Brazil’s attacking power had seemingly paid off and now all they had to do was play out a draw for the remaining 22 minutes.

Italy 3 – Brazil 2

Santana had readied a substitute in the minutes before Falcao in the form of Paulo Isidoro, an attacking midfielder intended to give more grief to the Italian defense. Falcao’s goal meant that Brazil no longer needed an attacking substitution, but Santana wanted Brazil to end the game in style. The Brazilian coach took out Serginho, pushed Socrates into the center forward position and then played Isidoro as an attacking midfielder alongside Zico. The new formation ushered in 22 more minutes of unabashedly attacking soccer as Brazil went in search of the winning goal. But in the 76th minute, tragedy struck. Bruno Conti’s corner was deflected by Marco Tardelli to Paulo Rossi, who the Brazilians had amazingly left unmarked in the box. Rossi scored from short range to complete an unforgettable hat-trick. Try as they might, Brazil failed to find yet another equalizer even though they kept bursting forward in waves in the heat of the Barcelona sun.

Notable shirt numbers:

Zico: 10
Serginho: 9
Socrates: 8
Eder: 11
Falcao: 15

Monday, May 9, 2011

Congratulations to AC Milan on Winning the Scudetto

We extend our congratulations to AC Milan for winning their first Scudetto since 2003 - 2004 and the days of Andrei Sevchenko, Kaka, Nesta and Maldini. This year marked an extraordinary team effort featuring attacking, stylish soccer marked by notable contributions from three Brazilians: Pato with 14 goals, Robinho with 12 goals and Thiago Silva, with one goal and the distinction of anchoring the Rossoneri defense. We commend Kevin Prince-Boateng, Gattuso, Seedorf, Nesta, Ibrahimovic, Ambrosini and the entire team more generally. The remarkable thing about Milan's victory is they won the Scudetto without a classic number 10 playmaker in the role played by Ronaldinho. Boateng played the closest thing to Dinho's role, but he did his fair share of defending as well. The key to Milan's victory came from strong defending and goals flowing freely from Ibrahimovic, Pato and Robinho in varying degrees of form and fitness throughout the season.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Flashback: Garrincha and the lost art of dribbling. Brazil v. Soviet Union, World Cup 1958

Lionel Messi may be the greatest dribbler in the modern game, but his shifts of pace and effortless sidestepping of opponents should perhaps more aptly be termed gliding rather than dribbling. Dribbling refers to an array of tricks for outmaneuvering an opposing player that include zig-zags in ball direction, rapid changes in the ball's point of contact with the foot, step-over moves, exceptional ball control and a passion for entertaining fans. Alongside Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo qualifies as an effective dribbler as does Santos's Neymar. That said, given the retirement of Ronaldo of Corinthians, and the sunset over the career of Ronaldinho and Rivaldo, dribbling is rapidly becoming a lost art. Spain's pre-eminence in modern football was built on a passing game as opposed to dribbling skill. Brazil constitutes the leading contemporary candidate to resurrect the art of dribbling owing to a long dribbling tradition epitomized by Garrincha in the 1950s and 1960s and members of the great World Cup team of 1970 such as Clodoaldo and Rivelino.

In his book Garrincha: The Triumph and Tragedy of Brazil's Forgotten Footballing Hero, Ruy Castro helps us recall the magic of Garrincha and the lost art of dribbling in a moving excerpt about Brazil's clash with the Soviet Union in the 1958 World Cup. At the time, the Soviet Union was feared because of their legendary fitness and scientific approach to both training and tactical deployment on the field. Brazil fitness trainer Paulo Amaral called up Garrincha to the first team because he knew only Garrincha could run the Soviets in circles and enable Brazil to take the lead in scoring. True to Amaral's instincts, Garrincha shocked the Soviet defenders with his looping runs that tied them up in knots in the opening seconds of the match. Within three minutes, Vava scored for Brazil. Castro describes Garrincha's effect on the Soviets as follows:

"And there were still 87 minutes to go. Had it gone on that way for the rest of the game the Soviets would have been looking at a season in Siberia. Their proud "scientific" football had never before been so demoralised, and by the most improbable source: a poor Brazilian peasant -- dark-skinned, small as a bird, cock-eyed and with ridiculously crooked legs. Garrincha was a perfect example of anti-science; he was anti-Sputnik, anti-electronic brain, Kessarev, Krijveski, Voinov, Tsarev and especially Kuznetzov were all taken to the cleaners by the little man at some point during the game, either one at a time or in pairs or threes, or sometimes even one after another.

At the start of the game, after those ferocious opening three minutes, the Soviets still thought their problem was with marking, and they began to fight among themselves. But if they did tighten up it wasn't noticeable because Garrincha continued to run rings round them. Then the Soviets resorted to trying to bring him down, largely unsuccessfully. In one memorable incident, after leaving a defender on the ground Garrincha put his foot on the ball and with his back to the player offered his hand to help him up. He lifted the player up and then started running again as it were the most natural thing in the world.

Brazil would score just once more, when Vava doubled his tally 31 minutes into the second half. But it felt like the biggest hammering in World Cup history. At no time did the Soviets threaten to score; Gilmar had only one save to make. It was a different story at the other end, where only Yashin's brilliance had helped avoid a catastroph. Brazil mounted 36 attacks, 18 of which were dangerous, and they hit the woodwork twice. Garrincha had arrived, and not just for those watching live but also for those listening in at home. From that day on there were no more Botafogo fans, Fluminense fans, Flamengo fans, Corinthians fans or Gremio fans. Everyone was now a Garrincha fan, even when he played against their own team.

In the dressing room after the game, Garrincha had no ideas who had been marking him. And why would he? He hadn't been marked by one man but by many, and all their names ended in ev or ov. What did he care? The only thing he said, which summed up his performance perfectly, was, "I was hungry for the ball today."

(Castro, 122-123)

Here, Garrincha leaves a Soviet defender for dead on the Swedish turf before returning to extend a hand to help him up and darting forward toward goal once again. Garrincha had been left out of the earlier group matches against Austria and England, but was included in the match against the Soviet Union to counteract their alleged ability to run for 180 minutes. The Soviets were favorites to win the 1958 World Cup in the heyday of the Cold War, having won Olympic gold in Melbourne in 1956 and launched Sputnik in 1957. But out of the blue, Garrincha's passion and playfulness with the ball enabled Brazil to defeat the Soviets and march towards its first ever World Cup championship.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Santos beats Sao Paulo 2-0 as Neymar and Ganso combine again; Corinthians defeats Palmeiras on penalties

The Neymar, Ganso and Elano combination continues to scintillate in Brazilian football in both the 2011 Copa Libertadores and the Sao Paulo state championship. In Saturday's Sao Paulo championship semi-final, Santos struggled to impose their rhythm over Sao Paulo in the first half despite a bevy of scoring opportunities for Neymar, who repeatedly exploded down the left flank and then cut diagonally inward after dribbling through a maze of Sao Paulo defenders. The complexion of the game changed dramatically in the 61st minute when Paulo Henrique Ganso received a pass from Neymar in the box from the left. Ganso collected the ball, moved to his left and then turned and lifted the ball onto the crown of Elano's head on the right flank. Elano made no mistake and headed the ball past the keeper's right hand into the back of the net to give Santos a 1-0 lead. Roughly ten minutes later, Neymar latched onto a magnificent through ball from midfield that sent him clear of all but two Sao Paulo defenders. Unable to circumvent the Sao Paulo defense, Neymar skillfully maintained possession until he saw Ganso burst toward goal from the center of midfield. Ganso coolly collected Neymar's pass and dispatched a left footed rocket into the top of the net in a play that recalled Ganso's goal against America in the first leg match of their round of 16 game in the Copa Libertadores. Santos now play Corinthians in the Sao Paulo state championship final. Corinthians defeated Palmerias 6-5 on penalties after regular time goals by Amara (Palmeiras) and Willian (Corinthians) tied the match at 1-1. Santos now go into their May 3 clash against America bursting with confidence as the Neymar-Ganso partnership picks up steam.