Monday, July 5, 2010

Assorted World Cup thoughts (post Quarter-finals)

* I initially tipped Spain for the title prior to the Cup starting, but I must say I'm not so sure. They are winning, but seem to lack the ability to steamroll teams in the way that Germany and previously Argentina have done. The reasons? Partially the form of Fernando Torres, a superstar who is woefully out of form following injuries this season, and needs to be dropped. Spain are too one dimensional - they can pass you to death in midfield but lack strength up front and penetration on the flanks. They seem to want to mimic Barcelona, but without Lionel Messi to provide the moments of brilliance.

* I've never been a fan of German football teams, but sign me up for this one. Never has Die Mannschaft been so entertaining for the neutral observer. Their key in this World Cup is in scoring first; it forces opponents to commit numbers forward to chase the game, leaving them vulnerable to the Germans' devastating counter attacks. The two most eye-catching players have been young starlets Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller (aged 21 and 20 respectively); it is hard to fathom that just over a year ago Muller was an unknown player in the Bayern Munich reserve team.

* Argentina is a prime example of an affliction suffered by many national teams that club teams usually do not; an imbalance of talent in position-wise. The Argentines have 5 amazing strikers, 2 of whom can barely get a game; yet they are only a little better than average in defence and midfield. Thus the strikers have to do much of the creative work on their own.

* This World Cup has seen two incidents of handball on the goal-line leading to red cards and penalties, both by opponents of Ghana. However, the outcomes were vastly different and example of the cruel nature of the football's current rules. Harry Kewell's handball in the group game was clearly not intentional, and thus the straight red and subsequent penalty seemed a little harsh; particularly as it likely cost Australia a victory. On the other hand, Luis Suarez's handball in Ghana's game against Uruguay was entirely deliberate; had he not done it, Ghana would have won without a doubt as it was in stoppage time. Instead, Asamoah Gyan missed the penalty, Uruguay survived into extra time and eventually won via penalty shootout. Kewell was unlucky to be standing in the wrong place with his hand slightly extended; Suarez deliberately cheated and sacrificed himself to keep his team in the competition. Yet the two men received the same punishment, which seems unjust. FIFA should look at an alternative approach; here is my suggestion. If a handball stops a ball that is definitely goal-bound; award the goal automatically. Then award a red or yellow card to the offender according to whether it was deemed avoidable or deliberate. Players would then be less likely to cheat in such a way (since the element of chance from a possible penalty is removed); and it would not unduly punish a player who did not deliberately cheat.

* The contender for the Golden Boot that few would have predicted from the outset? Wesley Sneijder, who is at the heart of everything good the Dutch team do. The victory by the Netherlands over Brazil was not vintage football in a purist sense, with both teams tiring markedly in the second half; yet the desperation and tension made it a great game to watch. It was precisely those qualities whose absence marked the group stages as dull and uninteresting.

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