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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, 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.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

FIFA’s Responsibility To World Cup Host Nations

The 2014 World Cup of football, or soccer as it is called in the U.S., widely regarded as one of the greatest celebrations of sport, kicked off in Sao Paulo, Brazil on June 12. Because this year’s World Cup is hosted in Brazil, the nation most commonly associated with footballing artistry and a commitment to the conjunction of sport and aesthetics, many football fans expect or at least expected this World Cup to be something special. As a football fan myself who grew up in England watching Brazil’s epic loss to Italy in the 1982 World Cup, I am still hopeful that this year’s World Cup, unlike the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, will feature goals galore, scintillating football, comebacks from the brink of defeat and treasure troves of stories of collaboration, camaraderie, adversity, triumph and tears of joy as well as sadness. For starters, the 2014 World Cup represents the convergence of some of the strongest footballing national teams ever assembled in history. This year’s World Cup boasts the likes of Argentina led by Lionel Messi, a renovated German team including Ozil, Schweinsteiger and Podolski, four time World Champions Italy, Arjen Robben and the Netherlands, the changing face of the U.S. team under Jurgen Klinsmann, strong teams from Uruguay, Belgium and Chile, and of course, mighty Brazil, led by Neymar, the former Santos and current FC Barcelona striker known for his artistry and footballing flamboyance.

But the prospects for footballing brilliance in conjunction with Brazil’s glorious beaches and lush tropical landscape have been overshadowed by political protests related to the World Cup based on the premise that the tournament detracted government funding from hospitals, schools and infrastructure. In addition, more so than at other World Cups in recent memory, allegations proliferate about FIFA’s corruption, secrecy and its disruptive influence on local communities due to the construction of stadiums and other World Cup-related infrastructures. The combination of political protests related to bus fare increases, strikes by subway workers in Sao Paolo and different permutations on the theme of FIFA’s corrupt operations collectively cast a pall over one of the world’s greatest sporting spectacles and the resulting gloom threatens to overshadow the glories of the human potentiality uniquely illustrated by professional sports on the international stage.

The World Cup need not be so enduringly sullied by protests responding to the darker effects of globalization, whether they involve the forced translocation of indigenous people to make way for lavish stadiums, tax funding that could be used for education and healthcare, or the proposition that FIFA takes bribes in the deciding where to host future World Cups, as suggested by the questionable choice of Qatar for the 2022 World Cup, for example. In other words, the staging of the World Cup need not be a zero sum game in which the host nation invariably loses at the expense of FIFA and its capitalist proclivities to maximize revenue from organizing the tournament. PayPal, for example, recently partnered with Neymar and Waves for Water, to challenge World Cup fans to donate money to the cause of clean water in Brazil in ways that suggest opportunities for FIFA to similarly contribute to the very causes that political protesters in Brazil have brought to the world’s attention over the last year, beginning with the 2013 Confederations Cup. To be fair, FIFA does have a social responsibility program that partners with organizations around the world such as Football For Hope, whose mission is to “promote public health, education and football in disadvantaged communities across Africa” by means of the establishment of at least 20 footballing centers in Africa that tackle issues such as “HIV/Aids awareness, literacy, gender equality, disability and integration” in conjunction with the needs of the local community. Similarly, FIFA’s well known commitment to ending racism and discrimination, with the recent addition of gender-based discrimination to its roster of core values, deserves praise because basically no multi-national organization has used international venues to so consistently denounce racism, in particular, in such visible terms.

Nevertheless, FIFA needs to extend its power and influence further by partnering with the governments of host nations to minimize the disruption on local communities that results from the intrusions specific to staging a World Cup. For example, FIFA could partner with host nation governments to compensate any people forcibly displaced from their homes by World Cup-related construction using policies and economic models developed by organizations such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for decades. Similarly, FIFA should work with national and local governments to mitigate the effects of increases in rent caused by World Cup construction that threaten to render working class families homeless as a result of the World Cup. FIFA needs to drum its humanitarian mission in conjunction with the operationalization of the World Cup, in deep collaboration with host nation governments because doing so will help not only the host nation, but also the sport of football and everything inspiring that it represents. All this is not to say that FIFA can cure all ills associated with the World Cup, or that the resulting collaboration will solve issues of economic, cultural and social stratification that have deeper genealogies than the staging of a major sporting event. Regardless, the time has come for FIFA and the world to expect a deeper dialogue about how a nation and a powerful multi-national organization can work together to synergistically support each other, where possible, as opposed to the scenario we have had until now where FIFA has acted more like a bully rather than the benevolent steward which it should strive to become.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Brazil's Draw Against Mexico Leaves Them In Danger Of Not Qualifying For The Knockout Stages

Brazil played to a goalless draw against Mexico in their second match of World Cup 2014 and as a result, the host nation is in grave danger of not qualifying for the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time in the tournament's history. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has failed to field an attacking midfielder by positioning Oscar on the flanks and allowing Paulinho to play deeper in midfield with little to no effect on the game. Moreover, Brazil’s centreforward Fred has been woefully ineffective in both matches to date and, as a result, the burden of the build up to attack has been shouldered by fullbacks Marcelo and Dani Alves in contrast to a creative midfielder in an attacking position. After the match against Mexico, Scolari hinted that he may make several changes to the Brazil starting lineup. One obvious reshuffling of the squad would be to replace Paulinho with Hernanes and Fred with Chelsea’s Willian, while returning Hulk to the squad because of his ability to add width to the Brazilian attack. Meanwhile, Oscar needs to be positioned in the center of the attacking midfield if Brazil are to have any chance of progressing in the tournament.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Brazil Struggle To 3-1 Victory Over Croatia In Opening Game Of World Cup Thanks To Neymar Brace

Brazil carved out an unimpressive and controversial victory over Croatia in the opening match of the 2014 World Cup to earn themselves three points and keep intact their record of remaining unbeaten in competitive games on home soil since 1975. The match got off to a firecracker of a start when Brazil, the host nation, was shocked by an own goal in the 11th minute from Marcelo after Croatia’s spirited play resulted in a low cross from the left flank from Olic that his teammate deflected into the path of Jelavic, who flicked the ball into the path of the onrushing Marcelo. The Real Madrid defender inadvertently walked the ball into the back of his own net to give Croatia an early lead after Croatia had begun the game with lively, attacking play. The goal in Croatia’s favor stunned the crowd and the home side, but Brazil remained true to their footballing pedigree by responding with possession football and creative probing marked by impressive combination play in the middle of the park as well as down the right flank.

In the 19th minute, Oscar threaded a ball to Paulinho who had a point blank shot on goal denied by the Croatian keeper Pletikosa. Minutes later, Neymar found space on the right touchline to deliver a cross that rebounded to Oscar, whose left footed shot was expertly parried by Pletikosa. Brazil continued ramping up the pressure by attacking down the center and their persistence bore dividends in the 29th minute when Oscar’s relentless up field defensive pressure allowed Neymar to pick up the ball in the latter third of the pitch and run at the Croatian defense before dispatching a perfectly placed shot past the diving keeper’s left hand. With the score at 1-1, Brazil continued to own possession and attack the Croatian goal. Dani Alves had a free kick sail just yards over the crossbar and similarly, a spate of Brazilian corner kicks failed to deliver high percentage threats on the Croatian goal as if to confirm coach Luiz Felipe Scolari’s pre-match observation that the Brazilian team had significant work to do on set pieces.

The second half, however, represented a different match entirely with both teams coming out of the tunnel with lackadaisical aplomb. Brazil failed to attack the Croatian goal with any sustained vigor and creativity until the 71st minute, when Fred tumbled in the box and the home side were awarded a penalty by referee Yuichi Nishimura, despite replays indicating little to no contact on the Brazilian striker. Neymar stepped up to the spot kick and made it 2-1 for Brazil, sending the crowd into cheers of delight as the host nation restored the expected script for the match in the form of an impending Brazil victory. Brazil spent the greater part of the remaining 15 minutes of the game defending some furious attacks from Croatia. In the 83rd minute, Croatia had the ball in the back of the net but the referee had already blown his whistle for a foul on Brazil keeper Julio Cesar by Olic that disqualified Perisic’s goal. Brazil continued to fend off intense Croatian attacks until Oscar picked up the ball near center circle and raced toward the edge of the box before sending a toe poke of a shot into the left corner of the net to make it 3-1 and seal a Brazilian victory.

Despite sticking to the same starting XI that won the Confederations Cup, Scolari is clearly experimenting with a different formation than his usual four man defense marked by Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Marcelo. Instead, Luiz Gustavo occupied a deeper role and the roaming fullbacks have been largely freed of their defensive responsibilities. Meanwhile, Neymar began to take up more of a position in an attacking midfield position, in front of Paulinho, that allowed him to score the first goal, for example. Scolari’s basic strategy may be to add more width to the Brazilian attack while concurrently disrupting the scouting plans of opposing teams who are used to seeing Neymar on the wide left, Oscar in the center, Hulk on the right, and Luiz Gustavo in defensive midfield. Brazil struggled today but came away with a victory, which is often the sign of a really great team. That said, Scolari has some thinking to do in order to close some of the vulnerable spaces on the flanks that resulted, for example, in the first goal in Croatia’s favor. Regardless, the home team and favorites will be ecstatic to have earned three points as they gear up for a confrontation against Mexico on Tuesday June 17.

Monday, June 9, 2014

5 Things To Watch About The Brazilian National Team At The 2014 World Cup

As the 2014 World Cup begins the group stages of the competition, fans across the world will understandably focus their attention on Brazil, the host nation and five time World Cup champion. Unlike years past, however, this Brazil side lacks a gamut of stars that have made their mark in European competition in the vein of Romario, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho or Kaka. Although Brazil does claim bragging rights to FC Barcelona striker Neymar, the truth of the matter is that Neymar has yet to make his mark in European football in the same vein as some of his aforementioned compatriots. Because the hugely talented Neymar remains in an embryonic stage of his footballing career, at least as of yet, the strength of the Brazilian national team lies in its overall cohesion, defensive prowess and a midfield bursting with pace and creativity. Fans should watch for the following five components of the Brazilian national football team’s play as the tournament kicks off with Brazil v. Croatia on Thursday June 12 and as the tournament unfolds.

1. Neymar.

All eyes should, of course, be on Neymar, the Barcelona striker wearing Brazil’s famed number 10 jersey, the shirt number worn by Brazilian footballing greats such as Pele, Zico, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho. His dribbling skills, pace and acceleration render him very difficult to mark, particularly given his tendency to vary his play by retreating into midfield and pop up all over the pitch to lose his assigned marker. Like Pele, Neymar is more of a team player than Brazil footballing legend Ronaldo and dictates the rhythm of the game more so than most pure strikers. This is Neymar’s first World Cup on home soil in an environment where he has the confidence, trust and admiration of the coaches and trainers who brought him to the verge of footballing greatness. Expect him to shine on the world stage just as he did at the 2013 Confederations Cup, when he scored crucial goals against four time World Cup champions Italy and World Cup champions Spain.

2. The marauding fullbacks, Marcelo and Dani Alves.

Watch closely the degree to watch Marcelo and Dani Alves run forward and join the Brazilian attack. With Alves and Marcelo unleashed from their defensive responsibilities, Brazil play with six attackers in the form of the two fullbacks, Neymar, Fred, Hulk and Oscar. Alves represents one of the more experienced players in the squad and can shoot from distance as well as set pieces. Marcelo, meanwhile, should be expected to cut diagonally inside from the left flank and supplement the Brazilian attack just as he did in inspiring Real Madrid’s comeback victory in the 2014 Champions League final against Atletico Madrid. Marcelo and Alves take over from the legendary Roberto Carlos and Cafu from Brazil's World Cup 2002 team and are crucial to giving width to the Brazilian attack.

3. Oscar.

After a disappointing latter half to the season at Chelsea, Oscar has continued his poor run of form in the two warm up games against Panama and Serbia. That said, his wife just gave birth to their first child and he is also widely regarding to be recovering from the effects of a long, hard season for Chelsea in which he played extensively in their league and European competitions. At his best, he runs the midfield like a maestro in addition to applying relentless pressure in the latter third of the field to win back the ball. Like Neymar, Oscar sees the entire field of play and can craft combination plays and ways of breaking down defenses that qualifies him as one of the world’s most creative midfielders.

4. The partnership of David Luiz and Thiago Silva

Watch closely to understand the chemistry between Thiago Silva and David Luiz in central defense. Luiz is legendary for having an off day, but is otherwise one of the best central defenders in the world playing alongside the world’s greatest central defender in the form of Thiago Silva, the team captain. If Silva and Luiz gel, opponents will find it exceedingly difficult to score against Brazil, particularly since they will have to face the likes of Luiz Gustavo dropping back to help out with defense as Marcelo and Dani Alves surge forward.

5. Fred

As Brazil’s principal centreforward, Fred is known for his ruthless, predatory instincts in the box that leave him lunging for the slightest touch on the ball that will send it into the back of the net. Whereas Neymar and Oscar are concerned about artistry, Fred concerns himself with goalscoring, whether it be from a rebound, a carom, a fumble in the box or a clear cut opportunity to strike on goal. Fred seems to have recovered from a lengthy thigh injury that left him indisposed for Fluminense for several months and finally appears fit and hungry for goals. Brazil needs Fred to shine in order to complement the off-game in which Neymar struggles.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Neymar Challenges World Cup Fans To Improve Water Quality In Brazil Via Partnership With PayPal

Brazilian and Barcelona FC striker Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior has partnered with Waves for Water and PayPal to help Brazilian communities in need obtain clean water in conjunction with the kickoff of the World Cup in Brazil on June 12. Neymar’s “Neymar Jr. Project Institute” will collaborate with PayPal to enable PayPal users to make donations on behalf of any of the 32 countries that qualified to participate in the 2014 World Cup of football, hosted in Brazil. The donations made by PayPal users will be counted by the country targeted for donation in order to encourage donors to compete for the designation of the country that solicited the most contributions toward clean water in Brazil. Donations will be stewarded by Waves for Water, an international NGO, to buy water filters to purify water in each of the 12 cities in which World Cup matches will be played, in addition to surrounding locales in need. The partnership between the Neymar Jr. Project Institute, PayPal and Waves for Water recognizes continued economic inequality and poverty in Brazil despite Brazil’s explosive economic growth in recent years.

Neymar commented on PayPal’s support of Waves for Water as follows:
I am extremely proud to work with PayPal to support Waves for Water. It deeply saddens me that so many people from my home country of Brazil have limited access to clean water, a gift so many of us take for granted. Through this campaign I hope we can touch people’s lives in a meaningful way and raise enough funds to bring safe, clean water to communities in need across my beloved Brazil.
Waves for Water purchases and distributes water filters to facilitate the purification of water for communities that face challenges associated with procuring clean water such as cholera, dysentery, girardia, and contamination by sewage and urine. Filters can be installed on indoor or outdoor faucets, or containers that hold water used for public consumption. PayPal users can donate funds toward the goal of clean water in Brazil at the Competition for Good website between now and July 13 or through their PayPal mobile app between June 12 and July 13. Users of the Competition for Good website simply pick a country and the amount of the donation to allow the website to display comparative statistics on which country has donated most toward the humanitarian cause of clean water.

The collaboration between the Neymar Jr. Project Institute, PayPal and Waves for Water represents the first time in the history of the World Cup that organizations from the public and private sector have pooled resources toward the end of improving water quality within the host nation. The effort to bring clean water to Brazil as a result of the World Cup represents a notable counterweight to the protests against the World Cup last summer that originated from the position that the World Cup fostered economic inequality in Brazil. The collaboration to fund clean water underscores the possibilities for the World Cup to foster economic and social development and suggests ways in which FIFA and other global sponsors could follow the lead set by Neymar by developing analogous programs that illustrate the World Cup’s potential to serve as a win-win scenario both for FIFA, the host nation and the Brazilian people. Meanwhile, World Cup poster boy Neymar touchingly exhorted fans to contribute by noting in a blog post, "PayPal and I will announce the winning country the week of July 14th. We hope we can touch people’s lives in a meaningful way and raise enough funds to bring safe, clean water to communities in need across my beloved country – but we need your help!"