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Technology, Tevez and Thomas Mueller

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The debate over video technology exploded into full bloom on Sunday as both Argentina and Germany advanced in controversial circumstances to set up a mouth-watering quarterfinal clash for next Saturday.

For Argentina, Carlos Tevez headed in a Lionel Messi pass when he was almost three yards offside, while England’s denial of clear goal from a Frank Lampard volley was even more damning. It is quite inexplicable why FIFA continues to insist on living in the Stone Age when technology to make such a decision is readily available to them.  Sepp Blatter’s assurance that, it will slow down the game holds little weight, but even if it does, what is the excuse for not having a referee behind the goal? UEFA’s successful experiment in the Europa League with two extra men behind the goal would have prevented both incidents yesterday. And in games of such magnitude as yesterday, it is impossible to see FIFA’s logic and rationale.

But decisions aside, England will have little to complain about. A team packed full of Premier League stars were dismantled piece by piece by a German side full of youthful vigour and swift interplay.

England’s first mistake was to play a 4-4-2, which meant that Germany playing their usual 4-2-3-1 automatically had a man up in midfield. And crucially for England, that man was often Mesut Oezil. The German playmaker is a captivating youngster, full of intelligent movement and imaginative passing. Given room to exploit, he did not disappoint, consistently proving the thorn in the English side. But he was still not the best German on show.

That honour belonged to Thomas Mueller. The Bayern Munich talent has had a meteoric rise to fame. Just last season he was playing in the lower echelons of the German third division. And on Sunday night his two goals knocked England out of the World Cup. Stratospheric.

Mueller was Germany's spark

Alongside Mueller and Oezil, Bastian Schweinsteiger also turned in an imperious display and Germany completely played England off the park in a vintage performance. The only time England had their foot in the game was for 10 minutes before the end of the first half, and to their credit they might have pulled themselves level at that time, had it not been for the dubious linesman call.

At the end though, despite the could haves, most in England were united in their belief, that they had been thoroughly outplayed.  Inquests for Fabio Capello are forthcoming, after a listless England showing devoid of any cohesion.

Tevez's bomb

In the day’s last game, Carlos Tevez’s illegitimate goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of Mexico who then proceeded to gift the Argetineans a goal with a shocking error by Ricardo Osorio.

To their credit, Mexico kept Lionel Messi well in check, but this Argentina side is packed with talent and when Carlos Tevez bombed in his second, there was little doubt as to the winner despite Manchester United recruit Javi Martinez’s late strike.

Argentina though, did not play as well as they had in their last two games and a last eight clash with Germany now gives them a chance to avenge the defeat at the same phase four years ago.

It will be a fascinating clash as both sides are packed with attacking talent but look somewhat suspect in defence, Germany slightly more so than Argentina. Goals are likely to be on the menu; which probably means it will end an insipid draw.

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Written by quazi zulquarnain

June 28, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Germany player ratings vs Ghana

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Manuel Neuer (7): Not the most assured performance from the Schalke stopper. Looked unusually nervous on a number of occasions and messed up a corner. Made a big stop though to redeem himself.

Phillip Lahm (8): Probably the best German player on the night. Bailed out the defence on a number of occasions. Not really an attacking threat going up front though, except a few occassions.

Jerome Boateng (7): A lot more solid than Holger Badstuber. Held up on the left very ably. But attack wise struggled to make much of an impact since he had to consistently check back on his right foot.

Per Mertesacker (4): Awful performance from the Werder stopper. Lost numerous challenges in the air and his positioning was suspect throughout. Really needs to pick up his form.

Arne Friedrich (7.5): Bailed out Mertesacker on a number of occasions. Started moves by confidently moving the ball into midfield. Has really grown into this central defensive role.

Bastian Schweinsteiger (8): Swiftly developing into a midfield maestro. Schweinsteiger was cool and composed in possession, swift and deadly in the tackle and controlled the pace of the game, with his almost faultless distribution. Man of the match

Sami Khedira (6.5): As seems his forte, put in a lot of legwork in midfield. Ran up and down the pitch, covered the most ground and make intelligent forays. Needs to be imposing himself more into games and taking control, but that might be an unfair comparison with Michael Ballack.

Lukas Podolski (5.5): Quite shocking from Podolski. Was almost a black-hole in possession and made countless wrong choices; shooting when he should have passed and running when he should have shot. Put in zero crosses, although that might also be a consequent of Germany not playing a traditional center-forward. His 90 minutes on the pitch is a mystery.

Thomas Mueller (7): Not as effective as in the Australia match, but still had numerous bright moments and delivered when the going got tough. Made the pass for the Oezil goal and looked to make things happen. Put in a few decent crosses as well.

Mesut Oezil (7): Despite his absolutely wonderful goal, Oezil often struggled to impose himself in this game as he tried to free the shackles imposed by the Ghana midfield trio. Missed a glaring one-on-one chance, but redeemed himself later with a goal to savor.

Cacau (6.5): Worked his socks off and made several intelligent runs. But not the same threat with his movement as Miroslav Klose is, but that is mostly down to him being more of a second striker than a leading the line player.

Written by quazi zulquarnain

June 24, 2010 at 9:33 am

Posted in World Cup 2010

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Win tempered by injuries; Ingurland next

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A 'Mesut' Oezil

Germany kept their record of never having failed to make it out of the first round in a World Cup with a nervy 1-0 win over Ghana at Johannesburg yesterday. A fantastic strike from Werder Bremen midfielder Mesut Oezil ensured qualification for the Germans, in an entertaining end to end game that petered out in the final 15 minutes as both sides accepted the scoreline.

The win sees a humdinger of a clash in the second round as Germany will face of against England on Sunday. The game has all the makings of a classic after England struggled through to round two courtesy of a Jermain Defoe goal that saw them edge out Slovenia. England might have finished top of the group and hence avoided the Germany clash, but Landon Donovan’s late strike against Algeria meant that the US grabbed top spot and arguably a much easier passage to the semifinals.

The English may be wounded and under pressure, but it would be folly to underestimate a team stacked with talent and the tactical acumen of Fabio Capello. Germany will be very much the underdogs in the encounter, and even more so after the Ghana win was tempered by the news that three of the best performers on the night may have picked up injuries.

If either of Mesut Oezil, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Jerome Boateng fail to make Sunday’s game, it will be an already uphill battle for a very youthful Germany side. After having lost nearly half a dozen central midfielders even before the tournament began, Bastian Schweinsteiger’s loss will be Germany’s biggest worry.

The one-time winger, now excels in central midfield and is absolutely the heartbeat for this side. He control possession, distributes from the back and sets the pace of the game. And the worse thing is, that Germany do not have any viable alternatives in his position. Toni Kroos, who came on in his place is more of an attacking midfielder and an alternative to Oezil than to Schweinsteiger.

Bastian's fitness is key

Oezil’s injury might be even more of a headache. Oezil is the man who provides the X factor for this Germany side, and his role oscillating between the midfield and forward line makes him difficult to pick up and thus hard to stop.

And while Boateng can be ably replaced by Holger Badstuber, the Bayern Munich man is not a left-back. Hence, while he may hold his own against James Milner, he does not have the pace to cope with fast direct wingers like Aaron Lennon, as the game with Serbia showcased.

Their are other problems for Germany. Per Mertesacker had an absolute shocker in the center of defence and players like Wayne Rooney might have a field day against him. He really needs to pick up his socks.

All in all though, a victory sees Germany top a relatively difficult group, and that is more than England managed. Going by that alone, this Germany side should have no fears. They have nothing at all to lose, whereas England can throw it all away.

Sunday cannot come soon enough.

Written by quazi zulquarnain

June 24, 2010 at 8:08 am

Putting myths to bed

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Brazil's defensive shield

YOU have heard it all before. The Brazilians play joga bonito, more samba dance than football; the Italians are defensively solid, cateneccio reigns supreme; the Dutch are cavalier, they play with élan and imagination; the Germans are mechanistic and clinical, they take every chance that comes their way. African teams are tactically naïve, and their goalkeepers are very poor. And Asia? People in this part of the world are small hence they fail to replicate the strength of European and African sides. And I nearly forgot the Americans, but of course, they are not interested in soccer. So why bother?

Every four years the World Cup swings into town and brings with it unwanted hacks who inundate you with clichés and stereotypes. But then again, it is the World Cup and so everyone is interested and wants to sound relevant. Fair enough. Hence, even the most ignorant football follower will spew to you his favourite hyperbolic cliché, and you have to be man enough to take it. Tough, but you can handle it. What you can’t is generally how people; and even intelligent, self-respecting, open-minded individuals, are reluctant to shed their prejudices and re-work their stereotypes. Myths are seemingly imbedded into our psyche, to the extent that no amount of convincing with cold hard facts will set it straight.

Take the case of Argentina. A recent poll at our very own The Daily Star website showcased that the Albiceleste were the most popular team in the country. (Chances are if you are Bangladeshi, you support either of Brazil or Argentina). That is reasonable since, Diego Maradona exploded into the world scene at about the same time that the mass population had access to television in Bangladesh. What is not understandable, however, is the most popular myth doing the rounds which states that Argentina has always been an attacking, attractive side, loaded with creative and talented players. While the current side is full of players in the Lionel Messi mould, history begs to differ about past Argentine teams seemingly loaded with talented stars.

Heinze, certainly not cultured

On the contrary, Argentina have always been a tough-tackling, tactically organised side, boasting more of players like Gabriel Heinze than Lionel Messi. In fact, the Argentina side of Italia 90 was so universally despised for their thuggish style of play, that the popular vote in the final fell to the Germans! They nearly had more men sent-off than goals scored in their run to the final, and their play was particularly so negative that FIFA held it up as an example of being forced into incorporating the back-pass rule! But try telling this to a fan.

And on the topic of Germans, they are supposed to be ruthlessly efficient and clinical, taking the few chances that come their way. Statistics will tell you otherwise. Since 1966, the Germans have created more scoring chances in the World Cup than any other team. Yes any, Argentina included. So consequently, holding stereotypes intact, they should be the highest scorers?

But no, that honour belongs to Brazil, who should then automatically be the side who play the most attractive football, right? Wrong. The truth is Brazil has probably not had a side boasting of creative dribblers since 1982. In their last 11 World Cup games, the Brazilians have kept seven clean sheets. In 1994, the tough tackling duo of Dunga and Thiago Silva precipitated their triumph, and in 2002, Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho succeeded on the basis of a rock-solid defence led by Lucio, Edmilson and Gilberto Silva. The truth is, the last time the Brazilians tried to recreate joga bonito, was in 2006 and we all know how that ended.

And I can go on.

The Dutch are supposed to be cavalier and enterprising but defensively suspect. Yet, they had the best defensive record of all sides qualifying for the World Cup and in 23 of their last 24 World Cup games, they have never scored more than twice. On to African teams who are supposedly tactically naïve, yet Ghana are 1-0 specialists and kept out a Serbia side who had finished above France in qualifying. And for those who believe that African goalkeepers can’t field a ball, I give you Victor Enyeama, who almost single-handedly kept Lionel Messi out.

If you are looking for goalkeeping gaffe’s England is your answer, although they are traditionally known to have safe hands manning the post. The Asian’s are supposedly small and frail, but both Japan and South Korea garnered victory over traditionally supposedly physically stronger teams in Cameroon and Greece, who by the way might be European champions but have never won a game in the World Cup.

Personally, I understand stereotypes. People crave reason, and “stereotyping” something helps them make better sense of the world. It’s always easier if someone or the other is supposed to fulfill a specific function and does exactly that. But in doing that if you tell me that England is stronger at the back since Fabio Capello took over, I will tell you that they kept more clean sheets under Steve Mclaren than they did under the Italian. Strange, but true.

In the end, it is all gloriously uncertain, which is just how it should be. Is that not why we watch sports?

But I know at least one person agrees with me.

After labouring to a somewhat fortuitous 2-0 win over Denmark in their first game, the Netherlands midfielder Rafael van der Vaart, made an interesting comment: “We played like the Germans,” he said, a twinkle in his eye, “and they played like us.”

Times a changing.

Written by quazi zulquarnain

June 23, 2010 at 7:13 am

Germany player ratings vs Australia

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Manuel Neuer (7): An accomplished showing by the Schalke man. Had little to do in the entire game but when called upon was solid in his handling and distributed well.

Holger Badstuber (7): The picture of calm. Good passer of the ball and retained possession well. Defended stolidly, although had little really to contend with.

Arne Friedrich (7.5): Mixed it with Garcia and Kewell on a number of occassions. One of the busier German center-backs. Looked solid mostly.

Per Mertesacker (7): Quiet, unassuming game considering Australia hardly posed a threat. Lost a few headers and had to make a few risky tackles, but overall never unduly worried.

Phillip Lahm (8.5): Captain’s performance. Combined brilliantly down the right. Set up Klose’s goal with a great cross and rarely beaten to the ball by an Australian man.

Lukas Podolski (8): Willing runner, came short to get the ball. Whipped in dangerous crosses and played some super pases. Overall, this was the Podolski of old. And what a shot for the goal.

Bastian Schweinsteiger (8): Stepped admirably into Ballack’s shoes. Retained possession with aplomb. The heartbeat of the entire team and not afraid to get stuck in there when needed.

Sami Khedira (7): Looked a little lost at the start of the game. Needed to step up to get a good grip on the game and did so in the second half, although the task was made easier by the sending off.

Thomas Mueller (8.5): Loew called him cheeky. Super game from Mueller. Ran the line, cut intelligently inside and combined superbly with Oezil and Lahm. And took his goal superbly. My man-of-the-match.

Mesut Oezil (8): Classy in everything that he did. The complete playmaker. Germany have not had a player like him in ages. Insightful, intelligent and with superb vision and balance. The complete playmaker. Now just has to improve his finishing; and cut ot the diving.

Miroslav Klose (7): Got his goal, but missed glaringly. Made some good runs that troubled the Australians and as always an unceasing worker. 11 goals in the World Cup now, 7 with headers. Super record.

Subs:

Cacau (7.5): A goal within one minute and 52 seconds of coming on. Took his first chance and generally combined well. Booked for diving and deservedly so.

Gomez (6): Did little of note, but in truth the service was lacking as Germany took it easy by that time. Had one chance from a Marin cross, did not make much of it.

Marin (–):

Written by quazi zulquarnain

June 14, 2010 at 8:54 am

New dawn for Germany

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Admittedly, the first question many would ask is what would have happened, had Phillip Lahm not cleared off the line from a Ricardo Garcia shot so early on in the game. For the moment though, the answer will be moot, after the German’s heralded in a new dawn, with a breathtaking display of attacking football that tore the Socceroos asunder in their opening match at the World Cup.

To put Germany’s win into perspective, consider this. They made more passes in one half than South Africa, Uruguay, USA and Nigeria completed in their entire matches. They tactically out-thought the Australians and displayed a maturity in attack and defence that belied their status as the third youngest team in the tournament.

At times, Germany were irresistible. Classy, one and two touch football, moving the ball from side to side and most importantly, intelligent running between the lines. The performance was revolutionary in a German context.

And the face of this revolution was Mesut Oezil. The Werder Bremen playmaker was orchestrator in chief, with clever movement, intelligent running and cerebral play altogether. In midfield Sami Khedira battened down the hatches with Bastian Schweinsteiger, as the duo, picked, received, passed; dictating play in a way as to make Michael Ballack’s injury negligible.

But what shone through was that this is a new Germany. Multi-cultural, brash, brave, daring, pretty and sometimes even spectacular. None are adjectives usually associated with the national stereotype but adjectives that held stead after a performance that will have made the world sit up and take notice.

As for Joachim Loew, he will feel vindicated in his decision to field both Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose in the side. Both of the much maligned strikers scored and in the former’s case, he also put in a stellar display full of pace power and initiative. This was the Podolski of the 2006 World Cup, one who was at that time (hard as it is to believe now) better than both Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney.  Klose scored, but he will be cursing himself for not having got atleast one goal more. Even a hattrick was not beyond him just as three or four more goals were not beyond Germany.

At the risk of getting carried away, it should be remembered that Australia were quite poor and their tactics played totally into Germany’s hands. Pressing high up the pitch meant that they left enough room behind the defence for the Germans to exploit, and for once, true to stereotype, the Germans ruthlessly did; time and again.

Germany will face tougher opponents and they will not win this World Cup. It is too soon for this bunch of talented players. But they will win fans, hopefully overturn stereotypes and herald in a new dawn.

Highlight: First goal Made in Turkey, scored in Poland, to put Germany 1-0 up. The multi-cultural make-up of the World Cup is showcased here. Mesut Oezil, of Turkish origin, strives for space on the right, manufactures an inch of room and slides in a superb pass for the Bavarian Thomas Mueller, who cuts the ball behind for the Polish-born Podolski to hammer home via the hands of the German-born Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer. Brilliant start.

Written by quazi zulquarnain

June 14, 2010 at 8:32 am

No Madiba and karma is a bitch (Day 1)

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The man they call Madiba was missing in grievous circumstances, but the Bafana Bafana used that as in inspiration to play out a high-octane tournament opener against Mexico. Elsewhere, karma (or the ghost of Rep. Ireland past) came back to bite Thierry Henry as the French, for the third tournament running, managed only a draw from their first match.

Mexico have played more tournament openers than any team in history, and it showed as they came out all guns blazing terrorizing the South African’s with some intricate movement. Chief architect was Giovani dos Santos and he and Carlos Vela combined superbly to run the host’s ragged. The occasion

Thabalalalalalaalala....

seemed to overawe the South African’s and they were lucky to go into the break all square. All that changed in the second half as South Africa came out all guns blazing and a swift counterattack soon ended with Siphiwe Thsabalala blasting home a beauty from just inside the box. As far as opening goals go, this will take some betterment and 80,000 vuvuzelas trumpeted their approval in the deafening din of the stadium. South Africa have never lost when Tshabalala have scored, and that record remained intact even as Mexico grabbed an equaliser through captain Rafael Marquez. The match the developed into an end-to-end affair devoid of tactical discipline and both sides could have grabbed a winner, although none did. At the end, both sides will rue not getting three points from the game but the hosts will be satisfied to have kept the World Cup tradition of host’s not losing openers intact.

In the day’s second match, the French also kept up traditions. Les Blues had not won opening games in 2002 and 2006 and they did not this time either.

It was a dull, insipid showing from the French whose tactical make-up left a lot to be desired. Thierry Henry was on the bench along with Florent Malouda but both entered the fray for the relatively anonymous Yoann Gourcuff and Nicolas Anelka. That changed little in the grand scheme of

Sparks flew, but no goals

things even as Uruguay’s Nicolas Lodeiro managed to be sent off in less than twenty minutes of on-pitch action. The French had missed a glorious chance in the first half after Franck Ribery had shrugged off his marker and put in Sidney Govou, but the Uruguayans could count themselves as unlucky after Diego Forlan hurried his volley wide of the post. It was evens to the end, when Thierry Henry drew a blatant handball inside the box from an Uruguay player. Believers the world over, had a field day, as the referee waved play on. Henry could only smile ruefully.

The Good:

  • After a stunned start, the Bafana Bafana made a game of it against a technically superior Mexico side, with some attractive and energetic play
  • Giovani dos Santos was cerebral; his passing and movement always a threat
  • Diego Forlan missed a glorious chance, but aside from that, he showed all the skills required of a top class forward. His turn at the half-way line to leave Abou Diaby on his back, was world-class

The Bad:

  • Raymond Domenech. It takes a certain level of genius to get so many high-quality players to play this poorly (circa Raphael Hoingstein)
  • Vuvuzela’s. They should be banned, period.

Written by quazi zulquarnain

June 12, 2010 at 7:34 am