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South Africa 2010 roundup

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 Match (es) of the tournament

 Argentina 0-4 Germany

Joachim Loew’s young guns comprehensively outthought, outfought and outmaneuvered their supposedly more superior opponents. Germany’s defended resolutely, bossed the midfield and attacked with precision and vigor. Their fourth goal was a class apart. The icing on the cake was that it finally put paid to the overhyping of Argentina and convinced everyone what they already knew, that Maradona as a coach is quite useless.

Italy 2-3 Slovakia

Again, for pure entertainment, nothing beat Slovakia’s renouncement of Italy. End-to-end football and an absolutely topsy-turvy encounter. You did not know it was over till it was over. It had all the elements of great drama as well; the slaying of a giant by an underdog.

Player (s) of the tournament

 In descending order:

Xavi Hernandez: With all due respect, Spain would not have won the World Cup with any other player in that position. Ran more yards and made more passes than any other player in the competition. Absolutely imperious. Without Xavi, neither Spain nor Barcelona would be the best teams in the world.

Diego Forlan: In a tournament crying out for an individual hero, Forlan was the closest thing resembling. An absolute titan for Uruguay, and a deserving winner of the Golden Ball. His goal against Germany was a class apart.

Bastian Schweinsteiger: Germany’s Xavi. Louis van Gaal has reinvented Schweinsteiger as a holding midfielder, and he performs the role to excellence. Schweinsteiger was particularly impressive in Germany’s routs of England and Argentina. His tally of passes and yards run was second only to, you guessed it, Xavi. Doesn’t hurt that his WAG is quite stunning!

Goal (s) of the tournament

Fabio Quagliarella’s feather chip against Slovakia. In a game full of highlights, the stunning strike from the Udinese forward took your breath away. Personally, I jumped off my seat, head in hands.

Diego Forlan’s side volley against Germany. Hans-Jorg Butt had no chance, he just watched it crash in. Awesome technique, particularly since everyone else had been complaining about the ball.

Gio van Bronckhorst’s belter in the semifinal. Out of nowhere, from the player you least expected it from. The surprise factor trumps the beauty of the strike.

Biggest disappointment (s)

Fabio Capello. The England manager is a highly-rated tactician and one of the best managers in the world today. His struggles with England show just how much catching up the Three Lions have to do. But that still does not excuse Capello’s insistence to use the 4-4-2, a formation long scrapped to the bin of yesteryear.

Fernando Torres. The Spaniard shows he is more of a club player. Struggled spectacularly and according to statistics was slower than even Gareth Barry. Injury cannot be the only excuse. He also failed to score a single goal in qualifying.

FIFA’s no to technology, or even extra referees. England’s disallowed goal was abysmal.

Personal highlight (s)

Germany’s thrashing of Argentina was a lesson on how to play football and how not to play football.

Larissa Riquelme’s constant promises to strip naked almost had me gunning for Paraguay

My team of the World Cup

Formation: 4-2-3-1

Coach: Joachim Loew

 (GK) Iker Casillas : His save off Robben in the final alone warrants nomination

(RB) Phillip Lahm: For me, second only to Maicon in this position

(LB) Fabio Coentrao: The most impressive Portuguese player on show

(CB) Gerard Pique: He does not draw comparisons with the Kaiser for nothing

(CB) Diego Lugano: An absolute rock for Uruguay at the back; good at set-pieces

(CM) Bastian Schweinsteiger: Germany’s best player in the finals and a revelation at CM

(CM) Xavi: Few better players in world football; his passing is phenomenal

(LW) David Villa: His best games were out on the left playing off a target man

(CAM) Andres Iniesta: Fleet of foot, quick of thought and Wayne Rooney’s favourite

(RW) Thomas Mueller: Golden Boot winner, playing as a non-striker. Only 20 years old

(ST) Diego Forlan: An absolute titan. Fabulous throughout

Written by quazi zulquarnain

July 13, 2010 at 11:12 am

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

Continuity is Loew’s byword

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Germany coach Joachim Loew today named his provisional 27-man squad for the World Cup. As has been his hallmark throughout his reign, Loew’s squad had few in the way of surprises as the Swabian predictability opted for continuity over wholesale changes.

As was widely expected, there was no spot f

Joachim Loew

or the Borussia Dortmund defender Mats Hummels or the young Schalke center-half Beneditk Howedes, with Loew preferring to stick to Serdar Tasci and Heiko Westermann.

However Loew did pull out a minor surprise. The Hamburg Germany U21 player Dennis Aogo who has been a surprise package in the left-back position has been included in the 27 man squad. While Aogo had not looked to be in the frame for a call-up, his inclusion is not that big a surprise considering the fact that Germany have struggled to fill the left-back berth ever since Phillip Lahm switched to the right.

With the Bayern full-back publicly stating that he preferred the new slot, Aogo might find himself closer to a starting spot that even he would have believed. Marcell Jansen in just recovering from an injury and he is better utilized as a winger than as a defender. If Loew does use Lahm on the right and puts Boateng on as a center-half, Aogo might just be in for a dream start come the World Cup.

Elsewhere, Christian Träsch found himself picked as a covering defensive midfielder but he will most likely be left out of the final reckoning.

Finally, given Bayern’s emphatic run to the final of the Champions League, Jörg Butt picks up the third goalkeeping spot.

Dennis Aogo

Full provisional Germany World Cup squad:

Goalkeepers: Manuel Neuer (Schalke 04), Tim Wiese (Werder Bremen), Jörg Butt (Bayern Munich)

Defenders: Dennis Aogo, Marcell Jansen, Jerome Boateng (all Hamburg SV), Holger Badstuber, Philipp Lahm (both Bayern Munich), Arne Friedrich (Hertha Berlin), Per Mertesacker (Werder Bremen), Serdar Tasci (Stuttgart), Heiko Westermann (Schalke 04), Andreas Beck (Hoffenheim)

Midfielders: Michael Ballack (Chelsea), Sami Khedira, Christian Träsch (both Stuttgart), Marko Marin, Mesut Özil (both Werder Bremen), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Toni Kroos (Bayer Leverkusen), Piotr Trochowski (Hamburg)

Attackers: Cacau (Stuttgart), Mario Gomez, Thomas Mueller, Miroslav Klose (all Bayern Munich), Stefan Kiessling (Bayer Leverkusen), Lukas Podolski (Cologne)

Also called up for Malta friendly on May 13:

Tobias Sippel (goalkeeper, Kaiserslautern), Mats Hummels (defender, Borussia Dortmund), Stefan Reinartz (defender, Bayer Leverkusen), Kevin Großkreutz (midfielder, Borussia Dortmund), Marco Reus (midfielder, Borussia Moenchengladbach)

Written by quazi zulquarnain

May 6, 2010 at 1:22 pm