Monday, 14 July 2014

Final World Cup thoughts

When the World Cup started a month ago I said this was the World Cup I'd been looking forward to the most in my life. A World Cup in Brazil isn't any old World Cup.

I haven't been disappointed, I've absolutely loved every minute of it. I already feel sad it's over. It's certainly been the best World Cup I've seen since my first World Cup in 86.

The Winners

Germany deserve to be World Champions. There's so much to admire about the way Germany do things when it comes to football both domestically and at international level.

Germany beat Portugal, France, Brazil 7-1 (truly stunning) before beating Argentina in the final. Any team that does that deserves to win the World Cup.

Best goal

James Rodriguez's goal was superb but I still loved Messi's winner against Iran

Best game

The Brazil/Chile game was absorbing. Such a pity it was a second round match

Best player

Because he was the break out star of the tournament, I'm going to go for James Rodriguez.

Biggest disappointment

The Brazilian crowds weren't a true reflection of the Brazilian nation. Ticket prices as is the way in modern sport were very expensive. Only rich Brazilians could afford to attend games and that meant the crowds were also exclusively white.

On a separate point why have FIFA banned musical instruments from grounds. During Brazil games I missed that Samba sound that I associate with Brazil.

The collective is more important than the individual

I mentioned this writing about the last World Cup. Germany don't have one truly outstanding individual but they have a collection of very good players and were easily the best all round team. This is what international football is all about.

The teams that performed to the best of their potential functioned as a team and not a collection of individuals.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Pre World Cup Final thoughts

Tonight's World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina will be the third final I've seen featuring these two countries.

The first final in Mexico 86 is still the best final I've seen. The second in Italia 90 is the worst.

I'm hoping for something closer to the 86 version than 1990 but on paper tonight's final has all the ingredients for a great game.

Germany are clearly favourites particularly after the 7-1 defeat of Brazil last Tuesday. They're the best team in the competition in the sense that they're the most balanced team with the least weaknesses.

Argentina on the other hand have to some extent been a disappointment. When you look at the attacking options they have available upfront they haven't really produced any sustained and exciting football.

What they've had is a solid defence and relied on individual moments particularly from the world's best player Lionel Messi.

Argentina will have to play their best game of the tournament to win tonight and although they're underdogs they have the players and Messi to win the World Cup.

Part of me feels Germany deserve to win as they are the best team in the tournament but the best teams don't always win. It's a huge match for both countries.

It's 24 years since Germany last won the World Cup and although they've come close to winning titles in the last 10 years it hasn't quite happened for them.

For Argentina the wait is four years longer. They've become real underachievers in World football in the last 20 years, routinely producing top class players but not fulfilling their potential.

1986 was the last time they were World Champions and they haven't won the Copa America Since 1993.

Tonight's final could prove to be the last great opportunity to win the World Cup for Argentina. For years they've won world titles at youth level. Six players in Argentina's squad won the Under 20 World Cup in 2005.

Unfortunately for Argentina the production line of young talent appears to be drying up. Add to the fact, this year's tournament is on their own continent, they're backed by thousands of their own fans making each game feel like a home match; there's a feeling that if Argentina can't win the World Cup this year when can they win it?

Everything's set up for a great match. My head says a Germany win but Argentina can't be discounted. I just hope this brilliant World Cup gets the final it deserves.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Brazil How does it feel?

One thing I've loved about this World Cup is the South American flavour that we've experienced.

Fans from Chile, Colombia, Uruguay and Mexico have come in huge numbers. They've been noisy, colourful and passionate. But if I had to give an award for the best fans in Brazil, it has to be Argentina.

Whether Argentina win on Sunday, this World Cup will always be remembered for Argentina's World Cup Anthem: Brasil decime que se siente? Brazil how does it feel?

This might be Brazil's World Cup, but Argentina are the noisy neighbours who have gatecrashed the party. Everywhere they've been their anthem has followed them, much to the annoyance of Brazilians.

The lyrics of the song roughly translate as:

Brazil how does it feel to be bossed about in your own home.

They then go on to reminisce about Argentina's win against Brazil in the 2nd round of the 1990 World Cup. Claudio Caniggia scoring a late winner after Maradona's dribble and pass set him up.

The song ends with the controversial taunt that Maradona is better than Pele! Argentinians already have a reputation in Latin America for being a bit full of themselves - this song does them no favours!

Personally this is what I want to see at a World Cup. With high ticket prices and FIFA's demands on how host countries should manage a World Cup. There's a risk that World Cups becomes bland and homogenised - each one looking and feeling the same.

You can't say this about Brazil. Argentina and other Latin American countries have brought a raucous, edgy and colourful presence to this World Cup and that's something I'm always going to remember.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Brazil Character Lab

During the World Cup I've been keeping up to date with all things Brazilian through a great Twitter account called Brazil Character Lab.

After I visited the country last year, I decided I wanted to keep in touch with stories emerging from Brazil. That's how I found Brazilian journalist Sérgio Charlab's twitter feed where he writes and shares English language stories on different aspects of Brazilian life and culture.

Here's a selection of a few of the stories I've been reading this week.

If the World Cup has sparked your interest in all things Brazilian, Brazil Character Lab is a great place to start learning more about this amazing country.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Shocking Brazil: Brazil 1 Germany 7

At the beginning of this World Cup I started reading a book by Brazilian football writer Fernando Duarte called Shocking Brazil: Six Games that Shook the World Cup.

The book looks at 6 of Brazil's World Cup campaigns that ended in failure and how those failures altered the face of Brazilian football. After last night's result the book is already out of date and needs a new chapter written.

Like millions of football fans around the world I was absolutely stunned by what I watched last night. It's the most shocking result I've ever seen and probably the entire history of the World Cup.

To watch a team capitulate in a World Cup Semi Final like Brazil did was painful and embarrassing to watch. After half an hour I considered turning the tv off as I felt like I was going to cry.

How could this possibly happen to Brazil?

I've been thinking about this a lot today. Firstly lets give credit to Germany who were superb. After the first goal by Muller they sensed Brazil were there for the taking and ruthlessly exposed all of Brazil's flaws which we suspected might be there.

This is what Germany are so good at and some of the seeds of last night's result were sown in the last World Cup in 2010.

In South Africa, Germany did to England what they did to Brazil last night. They brutally exposed all of England's faults and failings when they beat England 4-1 in the Second round.

They did the same thing in the Quarter Finals against Argentina who were humiliated by Germany, partly helped by Maradona's tactical naivety.

Brazil were also knocked out in the Quarter Finals by Holland. Seemingly in control of the game and 1-0 up late on, a mistake by the Brazilian keeper Julio Cesar allowed Holland to equalise. After that they seemed to collapse mentally and the Dutch went on to win.

Immediately after last night's game I heard a few comments saying that Brazilian football needed this result. There are clearly major problems with the structure and organisation of domestic Brazilian football.

For too long Brazil have been complacent over the state of their game, consoling themselves that they have been World Champions 5 times.

But something is wrong with Brazilian football - they're not producing the quality of players as in previous generations. How else do explain how the likes of Fred and Hulk can play upfront for Brazil.

Brazil have a lot soulsearching to do, something England seem to do every couple of years. Every team suffers failure and at times humiliation, the question is how you react and what lessons you learn. We'll find out from Brazil in the next few years.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

A Question of Style: Brazil winning ugly

Brazil take on Germany tonight in the first Semi Final of this World Cup.

Brazil have moved a step closer to achieving their dream of winning the World Cup in their own country but they're not winning friends with their style of play.

Millions of football fans around the world have grown up with the idea that Brazil play the 'beautiful game' or Jogo Bonito. We live on images of Brazil's great teams of 1970 and 1982. When we watch this current Brazilian side we don't see beauty - instead we see a functional pragmatic team getting results.

The Brazilian public are happy with this as it's all about the winning the World Cup, for the neutral we look at this Brazil team and think: Where's the Brazil we dream of watching?

Brazil can't continually play football like the 82 squad.

This is the problem Brazil face everytime the Selecao take to the pitch. Brazil are held to a higher standard than any other football nation. They're not just expected to win, they're expected to win with style and beauty.

During this World Cup I've started thinking that the rest of the world needs to get over this mystique that's held about Brazil. During their Quarter Final win over Colombia, Brazil played at times like a more glamorous Stoke City in the Premier League.

Aggressive, in your face, Brazil continually fouled and targeted Colombia's James Rodriguez quite cynically. For the purists this isn't what Brazilian football is all about. For Brazil as a country they don't care.

This World Cup has given us so much of a chance to learn more about Brazil as a country but perhaps what we've also learnt is that in football's spiritual home winning and getting results is just as important for Brazilians as any other nation.