Do you believe in (Dutch) miracles?

July 2, 2010

The miracle isn’t that the Netherlands beat Brazil. Not at all, as the two nations now have the same record against each other. The miracle is that the Dutch are winning ugly. That’s never happened before in my lifetime.

So, at halftime the score was 1-0. Brazil barely had the ball in the first half, but they had all the scoring chances. In the 5th minute Dani Alves (I think) was marginally but noticably offside, though for some reason Brazil continued playing and put the ball in the net.

Robinho’s goal was the sort of goal the Dutch haven’t been giving up. Brazilian attackers just ran away from the middle of the field, all the defenders followed them, and Felipe Melo played the ball into space and Robinho slotted in home with all kinds of time. Good vision from Melo, but really that’s just a large defensive error.

My other notes at halftime were: 1) Holland hasn’t really shown up yet, 2) referee is having a great game, 3) if we’d had the same Russian ref from the Holland Portugal game 4 years ago, there would already have been 8 red cards, 4) Brazil looks strangely nervous and whiny.

Holland came out to play in the second half. I had that written down in my notebook before they scored an ugly goal, apparently written down as an own goal from Felipe Melo, although considering that the ball was headed into the net, I’d call it more of a miscommunication. A lucky goal. The Dutch second was also lucky*, as Kuyt made a near post run, skipped it on with his head, and the ball fell to Sneijder in perfect position to deflect it home.

In my opinion, the referee had a brilliant match. Japan’s Yuichi Nishimura did his best to avoid giving out cards. Truthfully, he could’ve given out a ton and been correct in doing so. The Argentine announcers thought that he should be giving out cards; I disagree. He let the players decide the game. While Felipe Melo received a red card with 20 minutes to go, it was a pretty clear red card: he tripped Robben and then purposely stepped on his leg. That’s going to get a red card like 98% of the time. I thought he also showed incredible restraint in not giving yellow cards out to Brazil for dissent in the first half. He would have been correct, but it’s better that the players can decide the outcome of the match without referee interference.

Holland will have to play its semifinals without Van Bommel and without Van der Wiel. That’s tough. And I can’t understand how Holland failed to score a 3rd goal.

Good riddance to Dunga. With the game tied, Brazil didn’t create much. Down a goal, Brazil didn’t create much. That’s the danger to playing like you did. That’s the danger of bringing Brazil’s B team.

Highlight video:

* Though also probably planned and well-executed.


Brazil v Netherlands: the 10th meeting

July 1, 2010

Tomorrow’s matchup between Brazil and the Netherlands is a strange matchup: the un-Brazil vs the un-Holland. With all due respect to Argentina, these are the two nations with the strongest commitment to playing attractive, stylish football.

It’s been a common refrain on this blog: under Dunga, Brazil plays a boring, joyless football. Despite having one of the most talented player pools in the world, Dunga chose a boring defensive-oriented team. He doesn’t seem terribly interested in who is in form, which explains how two players maintain their starting positions for la Selecao despite the fact that they couldn’t crack the starting lineup for 5th place Manchester City (Robinho, Elano). He chose Maicon over Dani Alves, only to replace an injured Elano with Dani Alves at right mid/wing, a position at which Alves looked a little lost for Barcelona the few times he played there.

Holland, likewise, is doing something they’ve never done before: win ugly. While they’re getting criticized back home, instead of attacking and leaving defending to chance, they actually defend. They don’t take silly chances. They still try to possess the ball with flowing football, but without overdoing it. Can you tell I’m a fan? Eljero Elia was right: the best from the Dutch is still to come. They haven’t even come close to their capacity.

Brazil is 3-2-4 through the first 9 meetings of these two teams. I think Holland is going to even the score tomorrow. Of course, I would say that since I have a Dutch last name…and because I’m really not a fan of Dunga. Like I indicated in my writeup of Holland, there’s a happy middle ground. If you’re up 1-0 with 2 minutes left in the game and the other team is collapsing into their end: you don’t have to attack.

I think this could be another Brazil v Holland World Cup classic. I hope the Dutch get a little luck — unusual for a World Cup — score first and come away with the win.


Johan Cruyff on Brazil

July 1, 2010

Dutch star Johan Cruyff spoke to UK newspaper The Mirror:

I would never pay for a ticket to watch the matches of this Brazilian team. Where has the Brazil team we all know disappeared to in this World Cup? I look at this team and I remember people like Gerson, Tostao, Falcao, Zico or Socrates. Now I only see Gilberto, Melo, Bastos, Julio Baptista. Where is the Brazilian magic? I could understand why Dunga has picked some players but where is the playmaker or skill in midfield? I don’t think any spectator would pay to watch them. Brazil need to play with more intensity, more bite on the pitch because they are not special, they are just like any other squad in this World Cup. Always the fans want to enjoy Brazil, enjoy their fantasy at World Cups but they do not have that this summer. They have talented players but they play in a way which is more defensive and is less exciting. It is a shame for the fans and the tournament. They are one of the teams people want to see.

Johan Cruyff is correct. This is the antithetical Brazilian team. Yes, it is true that if Brazil hadn’t always been the country (along with the Netherlands, perhaps) on which you could depend for an entertaining match, Cruyff wouldn’t say this. But Brazil always played with class, which is why this Dunga-ized joyless Brazilian team disappoints.


Stéphane Lannoy is a disaster

June 21, 2010

The French are in ruins, having mutinied against their joke of a national team coach today. But perhaps even worse was the performance of French referee Stéphane Lannoy. Despite looking in another direction, the fact that Kaka did nothing, and the fact that it was all an act.

Lannoy handed out the red card. Technically, the second yellow, but the first yellow was almost as undeserved as above.

I’m still going to call taking back the US goal as the Worst Call of the World Cup, but Brazil and Ivory Coast was the worst refereed game of the World Cup so far.

Here’s an abbreviated list of egregious refereeing errors:
1. Luis Fabiano’s goal where he committed a handball foul TWICE. Keep in mind that I almost never in agreement with calling unintentional handballs, which many referees call. Not calling either handball is absolutely unforgiveable.
2. Drogba’s jersey being pulled twice in the box on the same play, extended away from body. Sorry ref, I hate calling penalties because I believe referees should never decide matches, but that was a penalty.
3. The first Kaka yellow card.
4. The second Kaka yellow card.
5. The foul on Elano that went without a yellow card when a red was probably more appropriate.
6. Lots of Ivory Coast reckless challenges that went uncarded.
7. The acting by Brazilians that started before the Kaka red card.
8. Losing complete control of the game in a way I rarely see in any level of football. If this had been a mere league game and not the World Cup, I think a brawl could’ve been a possibility.

I read around the web about what a great victory it was for Brazil. I agree, because Ivory Coast has alot of great talents. I think that just because the score was 3-0 before Drogba scored an amazing late goal, people look at it as a big Brazil victory.

It’s pretty hard to do counterfactuals in football, but I personally feel like that fact exagerates the fact that Brazil’s 2nd goal shouldn’t have counted. So 2-1 Brazil. Given Ivory Coast either the penalty I think the ref should’ve given or the header Drogba missed from the 6 yard line…I think calling it a big Brazil win is overrating it.


Halftime: Brazil 0, North Korea 0.

June 15, 2010

Wow.

As I sat down to write this, I realized: it is possible to choose a better Brazilian team than the one starting against North Korea even if you exclude all the people on the field.

That is, if you give me Brazil’s bench and the Brazilians not on the national team’s roster, I think I could make a team that would beat Brazil’s starting 11 more often than they lose.

Let’s make it even harder: restrict me to only being able to choose defenders from Brazil’s bench, and the rest have to be players Dunga didn’t select for the 23 man roster.  I could still beat Brazil’s starting 11.

Not only does Dunga make Brazil play ugly, boring Italian-style football, but he hasn’t picked nearly the best starting 11.  Wow.

The crazy thing is that even with Dunga as manager, there is a reasonable chance that Brazil wins the World Cup.


Interesting games tomorrow, Ivory Coast, Brazil, Portugal

June 15, 2010

Italy’s 1-1 draw with Paraguay wasn’t completely unexpected.  Paraguay beat Argentina and Brazil in qualifying, and led all of South America for a long time during qualifying.  They are good on the counter, organize well defensively, and actually have a ton of attacking talent.  Oscar Cardozo, Lucas Barrios (who is actually an Argentine), Roque Santa Cruz…

* At one point during the Italy Paraguay game, there were two Argentines from Buenos Aires on the field, one for each team: Lucas Barrios and Camorenesi.

It was a little disappointing that there was so much rain, but there’s no doubt Italy controlled the game.  The goal for Paraguay came against the run of play, although I didn’t find it surprising, having seen Paraguay play.  Italy had to press, but to my mind they didn’t really create that many clear chances.  When they get behind, the lack of a playmaker like Giuseppe Rossi is pretty apparent.  Italy got its goal by what was basically a goalie error.

All this leads into tomorrow’s first game: Slovakia v New Zealand.   Those are two of the biggest minnows of the World Cup and are very unlikely to advance.  Still, Marek Hamsik is someone who could definitely help himself get to a big club in Europe with a solid performance.

Following that is probably the best game of the “first games” of the first round.  England v US was pretty big, but Ivory Coast and Portugal is pretty massive.  The other two teams in that group are North Korea and Brazil: arguably the worst and best team to qualify for the World Cup finals, respectively.   I would argue that Ivory Coast is probably one of the most underrated countries heading into the World Cup, although they have had alot of recent adversity, including the injury to Didier Drogba and replacing their coach with…yikes, Sven Goran Eriksson (not someone I rate).

Portugal has had a couple important injuries recently as well, but still boast a team that doesn’t have too much pressure on it, has Cristiano Ronaldo and his diving ability, and pretty well rested.  Compare that to a squad like England and Portugal has some intangibles on its side.

To date, African teams haven’t seemed to have any great home advantage, but it will be interesting to see the crowd tomorrow.   It will be a killer if FIFA doesn’t allow Didier Drogba to play (although the play in which he injured himself was his own fault as he essentially karate scissorkicked the opposing player).

Finally, it’s not impossible that Brazil, Ivory Coast and Portugal end up in something of a three way tie, so beating North Korea by alot could be key for goal differential.  I would expect Brazil to pump in 5 goals or so, which could help determine who scores the most goals in the World Cup.

To tell you the truth, I think Portugal is likely to have the edge, in large part because of manager, but I will be rooting for the Ivory Coast.


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