Monday, 14 July 2014

What a Bloody Brilliant World Cup, Eh?

Well done the Fatherland!! Congratulations on winning the World Cup and being the best team int the whole competition. That was a handsome game to finish proceedings too: pass and move v hold and break, with the right team nicking it.

A German victory is always the cue to reviving some well-worn cliches. Efficient, organised, ruthless... there's an insinuation behind those words that we all understand - in other words, a footballing version of what Adolf Hitler wanted to do.

All right it doesn't help when Joachim Low says his team will rule football for years to come but... Enough already! This a team that despite its talent fell short in every tournament since 2002 (when they overachieved). Far from vorksprung durch technik - although a damn sight better than our lot. It's been a while a-coming but they have fostered and trusted their youthful talents, brought through intelligent players capable of interchanging and thriving in the process: look at Lahm, Muller, Schurrle, Gotze... thrilling, inventive, and - even in the midst of totally humiliating Brazil - respectful and humble.

They've been a great team in the making and we'll have to put up with them being this entertaining for a quite a while to come.

So, before a defeatist melancholia kicks in and we're left to pick over the debris of British sport for signs of life, let us dwell a little longer on an utterly brilliant tournament. I have enjoyed every minute of it, save for Iran v Nigeria and that bloody awful tentative semi-final between Argentina and Holland.

So here are the genuine winners of the awards that count:

Player of the Tournament: James Rodriguez. Obviously. Six goals, one a minor masterpiece, the other utterly sumptuous. Relentlessly positive, even during the Brazilian bundle he withstood in the quarter-finals. Not Lionel Messi. We know what Messi can do and it's a lot more than what he did. It's like rewarding Sir Christopher Wren for designing a garden shed. There was so much more he could've come up with!

Goal of The Tournament: I dunno James's goal was magnificent but for sheer pictorial wonder I still love Robin Van Persie leaping up like a Great White Shark pouching a seal to drop that header over the hapless Casillas. Staggering.

Golden Gloves: And here I have to agree with Mark Lawrenson - this is the worst trophy I have ever seen. It looks like it's been snapped off the arm of C3PO. Neuer the rightful winner although again I will remember more the saves of one Guillermo Ochoa, who I swear saved at least two point blank efforts with his bollocks.

Team of the Tournament: Neuer; Lahm, Thiago Silva, Hummels, Blind: Mascherano, Kroos, Rodriguez, Messi; Robben, Muller.

Runner-Up Team of the Tournament: Ochoa; Zuniga, Gonzales, Vlaar, Vertonghen; Schweinsteiger, Schurrle, Neymar, Rooney (heh-heh-heh... sorry, I've just made myself laugh too much... gimme a moment....) Not Rooney... ermm, Cuadrado, Sanchez, and oooh, I dunno, Muller again given the bloke can play wherever and it's like having two men on the pitch any road.

[NB Okay it might be tricky to have Zuniga and Neymar in the same side, plus there are better times to consider making Neymar part of the spine of your team but hey this is my B team.]

Dumbkopfs XI
A side chockful of hopeless nanas who really could have done with some aversion therapy pre-tournament to avoid some of their dopier moments.

Iker Casillas - a career full of glitter slides down the shitter. Del Bosque was horribly guilty of the crime of blind faith. Or loyalty if you want to be kind. As Iker made howler after howler Del Bosque failed to turn his old basset-hound jowls in the direction of his substitutes, in particular David De Gea, who David Moyes had ensured had had a busy and effective season. Madness.

Glen Johnson - probably a tad unfair but he's not up to it is he?

David Luiz - all the positional sense of a kitten in a dog pound, the appearance of a startled sheep, and the calm composed rationale of Justin Bieber. Luiz is an accident waiting to happen. Indeed the reason Thiago Silva makes my team of the tournament is cos of the way Brazil played without him. Luiz was the skipper who kept on sailing that boat into the rocks. PSG (Perhaps Sanity's Gone) are paying £40 mil for him.

Pepe - which is Portuguese for 'short fuse'; no one much like Muller's play-acting but when you could wind a bloke up this easily why not try? I use to have a p[air of Pepe jeans a while back and if I remeber rightly I used to get irrationally angry every time I put 'em on. Twerp.

Marcelo - Another muppet from Madrid. Yes, he gets up that flank and causes a 'real threat' but it's almost always to the people cover his over-adventurous arse. A terrible tumbler and play-actor too. Cack.

Steven Gerrard - look I like the bloke too, and I'm sure the younger lads in the squad can learn a lot from him but he was pretty bloody awful in is pitifully brief stay and he needs to stand aside. I mean, thanks and all that, but enough already.

Alex Song - Wasn't there a time when this bloke was half-decent? He spent the tournament trotting about like a demented cyborg, screws coming out of his ears. Maybe watching all that tika-taka has driven him hat-stand n all.

Xabi Alonso - perhaps responsible for one of the worst central midfield displays of the competition against Chile. When a skilled craftsman like this loses his bearings you can see just how desperate Spain were.

Gonzalo Higuain - another of these blokes who seem somehow to have been bracketed amongst the best without really ever having been any good. His glaring miss in the final was entirely predictable. He runs around like someone has chained him to a post.

Fred - fuck me where do you begin? They could've put a cardboard box upfront and you wouldn't have noticed the difference.

Luis Suarez - ah what does he care? He could eat his way through the Spanish Royal Family and he'd still get a gig at a huge club on a massive wage. I  think - and I'm absolutely serious despite the mocked-up humorous pics that did the rounds - that Barca should make the bloke wear a mouth guard or a scold's bridle or some such to stop him from harming others.

Honourable mentions go to Hulk (footballing wardrobe, minus the subtlety) Paulinho, Palacios, Djourou and the blokes running Ghana's shambolic campaign.

But these freaky sideshows can't detract from the best World Cup ever. The hosts have somehow mustered a triumph from the powder-keg formed by mixing social unrest with abject footballers. And for that they deserve great credit. What's more it was a torunament where fans of opposite persuasions nestled side by side in hassle-free enjoyment. It was, like Gotze's immaculate Bergkampesque winner, almost unreal in its glory.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

La Jogo Feia

Reality Bites. 

What do they call it? Jogo bonito? The beautiful game? Well last night the well-past-it mother country lifted up her skirts and the truth made really rather unpleasant viewing. 

When Germany tonked us 4-1 four years back, we could always point at Lampard's ghost goal and say 'Who knows?' When Holland hammered Spain in the first game here, the Spaniards could always point out that had David Silva stroked home a second then Spain might still be in with a shout of four out of four this weekend. 

Brazil don't even have the tiniest wisp of solace in this defeat. Nada. As that great language mangler Glenn Hoddle might have put it "They've been left clutching at the final straws in the wind." (Why Glenn has such an awkward relationship with English is difficult to fathom although I'll hazard a guess that it's got something to do with poor behaviour in a previous life). 

I really didn't want Brazil to win this tournament. Not cos I've got anything against the nation itself, or the way they've hosted the tournament in neglect of its poverty-stricken (hell, every nation does that when hosting a big tournament). Indeed the pre-match singing of their wonderfully preposterous operatic chorus of an anthem, the overwrought emotions the players have shown, notably when holding up the shirt of the one player capable of maintaining the national traditions of their football - all of this almost made me want them to go all the way. 

No, it's only when they started to actually kick the ball, and their opponents, around the park that I actually realised I wanted them to lose. They've been bloody awful. Really bloody awful. Their journey to the semifinals seems like a work of fiction now, or a cruel delusion that a fine German side took 29 minutes to shatter. The team looked like a happy drunk who woke up in a ditch to find he was being pissed on from a great height. 

So, good, a crap team have not won the World Cup. But it's a terrible shame that that team should have carried the name Brazil. There's a poetry to those great names from the past: Zagalo, Garrincha, Vava, Pele, Jairzinho, Rivelino, Socrates, Eder, Zico, Falcao, Romario, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho... This lot have been personified by Hulk, Fred and Jo - lumpen, blokey names you'd give to the regulars down a local pub in Doncaster. Except them boozers might have played better. 

I know German supporters who started to look away, who couldn't even begin to gloat, as Khedira rolled in the fifth. Every time they started to enjoy it, the camera would cut away to another crying child, looking for all the world like a promotional campaign for the NSPCC, and all the triumphant Germans could feel was guilt. 

But hey, you can only beat what's put in front of you - or in the case of the Brazilian defence, some way behind you - and Germany did it with class and elegance. I know there are commentators still encumbered by watching too many war films who saw their performance last night as 'clinical' and 'ruthless'. Shut up, now. It was utterly beautifully brilliant was what it was. 

Of course, as many suspected, the biggest miss was Thiago Silva, not least cos when consigned to the stand with a ridiculous, if sincere, baseball cap on his head he looked less like the second best central defender in the tournament and more like an over-sized kid on a jolly at Disneyworld Florida. 

Juninho, and by the way little man it was never this bad at the Riverside, said there may be some out there who will never wear a Brazilian shirt again. Well here's a list, mate: 

Julio Cesar (he came, he swore, he got conquered);

Maicon (he sounds like an enemy of Dan Dare, plays like a friend of Dandini);

Marcelo - a joke of a player, like somehting created by Pixar - diving, whining and easier to avoid than Bulgarian jazz-funk. Hopeless; 

Paulinho - the epitome of what a Brazilian midfielder has become, pedestrian, clumsy, witless;

Fred - Here's what he's good at [                                                                                                         ] He's the worst Brazilian I've seen since the wife took up a two for one offer with her sister fro a beauty parlour that shall remain nameless in Stockton-on-Tees. I thought that rash'd never clear up.

Hulk - big, strong, shit. 

Jo - No! 

I don't much for Dani Alves either. And as for David Luiz, well he's a conundrum isn't he? Great passer, great passion, great free kicks, but Great Scott what is the bloke doing halfway up the pitch when the Germans have just gone 4-0 up? 

So how do Brazil proceed from here on in? Look at your opponents - promote the next generation as soon as possible, retain Neymar - who I'm beginning to think broke his back because of the strain of carrying the rest of the team around the country for five games - and keep em together until they can ally their flair with a calm game-playing authority. 

Because for all that Brazil were pants, Germany were faultless for 90 minutes - and Neuer was furious that Oscar nabbed a late consolation in the 91st minute (I say 'consolation' but given that Oscar was inconsolable afterwards that's completely the wrong word). 

They have the best keeper, right-back, centre-half, centre-midfielder and roving false number 9-cum-winger in the tournament. And that's a conservative estimate. Clearly they are favourites for the final but who might they have to beat on Sunday?  

One carefully aimed De Jong patella in the small of one Lionel Messi's back might be all it takes for Holland to win. It's certainly going to be a much tighter affair, with both teams thriving off good defensive organisation. Word is that Van Persie has gut-rot which means that the Dutch might be over-reliant on the tripping slaphead trickster, Robben. And that might be enough. 

So I'm going for an Argentina win, somehow. 1-0. After a bit of a grind for the neutral. A proper semifinal in other words. With two evenly-matched teams. As they say in Brazil it will be a case of the 'Jogo Feia'. (I think). 

And yes, Germany to win the final, whoever makes it. And for once I won't be remotely unhappy about it.