Monday, July 14, 2014

The team I wanted to win the World Cup final won!

So, Germany won. It was a tense game, settled by a flash of brilliance from the youngest player on the field deep in extra time.

I'd wanted Germany to win from the outset. England were uninspiring from the off and, apart from the USA, there was no one else I really wanted to root for. In any given game I'd go for the underdog - which was tough when Germany went up against Algeria, a genuine underdog that divided my loyalties slightly.

But generally the best team won, playing the consistently best football of the tournament. They scored the most goals (helped by the crazy 7-1 thrashing of Brazil). Their totemic oldest striker broke the record for goals scored in finals. Their goalkeeper won the tacky-looking Golden Glove award. All round they performed at a level worthy of world champions.

They also have a young team that is still growing and maturing together. They have got to be favourites to win the European Championships in France in two years time, and I think they have every chance of retaining the World Cup in Russia in 2018.

But for now the World Cup is over and normality resumes. What will we watch now?
Sad times as Cathy takes down the World Cup wallchart!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Brazil 1 – Germany 7: Watching history being made in a World Cup semi-final

Previously I’ve blogged about how I wanted Germany to win the World Cup and about my antipathy towards Brazil. So, the semi-final had an edge for me, mainly because this was the test whether Germany were going to have their fragilities exposed in a harsh, partisan arena.

The general reaction to the result and the manner in which it was achieved has been a semi-stunned ‘Wow’. A lot of people thought Brazil were poor (for Brazil), and that Germany were good, but this was the kind of epic walloping nobody ever thought possible.

The sequence of the German second to fifth goals was so fast the TV replays couldn’t keep up. They would cut from the slow motion to real-time and the Germans were passing it into the net again. It reached a point where the Germans seemed to stop celebrating. It felt awkward; embarrassing even.

So, what went so ballistically wrong for Brazil. Here are my thoughts:
  1.  They weren’t very good. This sounds simplistic, but you can achieve quite a bit in football without being particularly skilful as long as you are well-organised and calm (see the USA in this World Cup for an example of that). Brazil weren’t a very good team, but they didn’t know that. So they were poorly organised and hot-headed, particularly David Luiz, who has to be one of the most wayward defenders ever.
  2.  Brazil let the emotion get to them. From the way they held up a shirt as a tribute to the injured Neymar in a way that looked like they were mourning the fallen war dead, through to the bellowing of the national anthem’s second verse once the music had stopped, the team were being governed by their emotions. The game-plan, if they had one, went south early on, people forgot what they were meant to be doing, and they couldn’t compose themselves once the Germans started tapping the goals in.
  3. They couldn’t regain their balance. Losing five goals in the first 30 minutes is terrible. But the reason Brazil let in so many is that after the third goal – a wonder strike from Toni Kroos – they didn’t get their heads together. They looked to be in shock, uncoordinated, almost in denial of what was happening.
  4. Germany were ruthless. Although it has subsequently emerged that the German players decided not to push too hard in the second half, there was no hesitation in the way they took advantage of Brazil’s multiple failings before the break. Some teams might have eased up earlier, but Germany weren’t screwing up in the semi-finals again.

This match was historic. Brazil’s biggest ever defeat. It was the biggest ever victory in a World Cup semi-final. Someone said that it was Brazil’s first home defeat for 25 years. Miroslav Klose’s goal made him the all-time top scorer in World Cups, overtaking the Brazilian legend, Ronaldo – just to add extra despondency to the Brazilian defeat.

There’s a sense when you watch an event like this unfold, that you get the feeling you are watching something a bit special. It’s a moment that will become iconic in the history of the World Cup and maybe football itself. I can’t remember the last game that felt this way – maybe the England semi-final against West Germany in 1990, the one with Gazza’s tears. Like that, this game has now been burned into my memory. A historical moment I was lucky enough to see.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

World Cup secret confession: I'm supporting Germany

It started in South Africa in 2010. The team of the tournament for me weren't the Spanish game-stranglers with their tiki-taka yawn-off brand of non-football. It was Germany.

They played with verve and vim, bursting forward with pace to hit teams on the break. They hammered England. They stuffed Argentina. Then they were stifled by Spain, who won with a header at a corner from a defender coming from deep. I was gutted.

So this time around, I wanted Germany to do well. Even though this left me very conflicted in the second round when they faced genuine underdogs Algeria. I have that compulsion to support the little guys against the behemoth. But anyway, they won.

How did this happen? When I was a kid I, along with everyone else, regarded the Germans as the ultimate villains. (Argentina threatened their position as most hated international opponents for a while. Maradona's hand of God and all that. But it always came back to the Germans.)

There was the penalty shoot-out in Italia 90 and at Euro 96. There was Jurgen Klinnsman who was your typical continental diving cheat in the late 80s and early 90s although he has redeemed himself in later life. There was just the boring, automatic progression to final after final. The moment of respite that we all enjoyed was the defeat to Bulgaria in USA 94.

Funny story, that game took place on a Sunday when we had an evening service at our church. Like many others I was a few minutes late to the service because I stayed to watch the last few minutes of Bulgaria's win. As others sheepishly drifted in after us, I remember making eye contact and mouthing 'Bulgaria?' to them, receiving nods and smiles in return. Everyone was happy to see Germany lose. Twenty years later, "Letchkov!" still brings a smile to my brother's face.

I guess my change of heart is a sign of the way Germany changed their game. Although with the forward-running gameplan, they no longer look invincible at the back. In fact, against Algeria, a team prepared to run directly at them, they looked distinctly vulnerable. They have swapped that stereotypical German rigidity for resourcefulness, cheerless grit for exciting guile. Above all the tag 'efficient' no longer applies as it did for several decades. It's not about being efficient - the German trait that makes every BMW look like a lurking Decepticon - it's about entertaining.

So maybe that's it. Maybe it's because they now look beatable. When they were titans they were our enemies. But now we can see they are human and flawed they are easy to love. #

I don't think they will win this World Cup. Someone will exploit their tendency to go forward and punish them for their forwards not tracking back and protecting the defence. But I would love to be proved wrong.