World Cup Awards: The good, the ugly and the uglier

Best Player Name

Siphiwe Tsabalala. Period.

Worst Marketing Campaign

Nike destroyed the future with it’s ‘Write the future’ ad.
Ronaldo, Rooney, Ribery, Cannavaro all had horror World Cups.
Ronaldinho din’t even make it to the squad.

Best Goal

Thanks for that goal!

H: I’ve always thought this is  subjective. Pretty much all of Forlan’s goals, Van Bronckhorst’s rocket, some fantastic free-kicks, but for me, the goal that stood out – Quagliarella’s 25-yard chip against Slovakia. It was unpredictable, it was unexpected, it had an element of magic attached to it – and most importantly it came in the 90th minute, when Italy were 2 goals down when this guy was making his world cup debut. Unbelievable.
A: Van Bronckhorst’s stunner. Never seen anything like that, never will – especially with a ball that no one knew how to control.

Best Coach

Oscar Tabarez of Uruguay.

Because he utilized Forlan like no other, built his team around him and ensured Forlan got the best out of himself and his team-mates. He made Forlan play a more withdrawn role and asked him to work more as a playmaker than a striker and it worked.

One might argue that he was lucky (Suarez’s handball), but that’s just winner’s luck and comes down to how you look at it. Paraguay’s missed penalty against Spain and Melo’s own goal and red-card against Brazil were just about the same for Del Bosque and Van Marwijk. Loew deserves a mention, but he got it COMPLETELY WRONG against Spain. He allowed his team to let Spain play their game and waited till Spain were deep into his half for his players to win the ball, which meant their counter-attacks were eventually unfruitful – keeping in mind that was probably the only way they were going to score, his plan backfired.

Best Celebration

In a World Cup that really (A: really really) lacked celebrations, South Africa’s after their first goal against Mexico stood out.

Best Freekick

H: Endo’s against Ghana. Because it gave the keeper no chance. It was perfect.

There some other decent free-kicks, including Forlan’s and Honda’s, but Endo’s was simply a class apart.

A: Forlan’s stunner against Ghana. It bent to the right and back to the left and then swerved to the left before moving right on its way down. Unless a keeper can dive full stretch three times in two seconds, there is no way that would have been saved.

Best Penalty

H: There were some good penalties, taken by the likes of Donovan and Gyan, but Sebastien Abreu’s winning penalty against Ghana stands out. He calmly chipped it right into the centre. His team-mates apparently used to call him insane in the dressing room….well someone clearly took their tag a little too seriously!
A: Agreed. And taking it that way right down the centre after three of the previous four attempts had missed, insane.

Best Tears

H: We saw Quagliarella, Casillas, Sneijder et all crying(for various reasons), but one man’s tears is what the World Cup is all about – Jong Tae-Se of North Korea wept his way through his country’s national anthem, as they prepared to face Brazil. Iconic.
A: Especially in a World Cup where people weren’t even from the country they were playing for (Prince Boateng), true patriotism was touching.

Best Comeback

H: Netherlands doing it the hard way against Brazil. Even the most optimistic of Netherlands’ supporters thought this game was over already (A: Not me!). Brazil had trampled all over them in the first half and were somewhat unlucky to be a only one goal up.

But like they say, you never count your oranjes before they are umm… ripe? So, with a little help from Melo’s appallingly low IQ , Sneijder & co. showed great spirit to eventually win it 2-1.

US made a comeback against Slovenia, but that’s Slovenia, this is Brazil mate.

A: Also in terms of reviving your campaign as a whole, the Germans were pretty thorough in demolishing England (4-1) and Argentina (4-0) in what were supposed to be the matches of the tournament (at those stages). Especially after two earlier German games had finished 0-1 to Serbia and 1-0 against Ghana to Germany.

Hero-to-Zero Performance Award

Felipe Melo (v Brazil).

Assisted Robinho with one of the best passes of the tournament to put his team ahead against Netherlands. Then pressed one of the 50 self-destruct buttons he had on him, as he conceded an own-goal and then punctured Robben’s lungs to get sent off.

Best Karate Kid Impersonation

De Jong’s kick against Xabi Alonso. WHAT THE HELL WAS HE THINKING?!?!?

(And in other news, Van Bommel and De Jong have been hired to replace Smith and Jackie Chan in Karate Kid’s sequel…)

Worst Refereeing decision

(Algorithm for choosing this award: Browse through any of the 64 matches. Randomly pick any one of the decisions made by the referees. And post it here)

H: Tevez’s first goal against Mexico(where in he was offside by 54,97,45,000 yards) and Howard Webb not sending off De Jong equally deserve this award.
A: I would say the De Jong thing is more a case of luck. Tevez + Lampard for me.

ROTFLMAO Award

Emile Heskey’s step-overs: epic fail! He should have been sent home, right there and then.

Worst Coach

Epic.fail.

H: Raymond Domenech. Yes, Lippi deserved it just as much, but remember Lippi performed rubbish with a rubbish bunch of players, where as Domenech performed rubbish with a bunch of world-class ones.

His French team had the maximum number of players who reached the semi-finals of the Champions League. Spectacular fail.

A: Also Domenech’s team got only one goal and zero points to Lippi’s 2 points and 4 goals.

Worst Miss

Yakubu’s against Greece.

He had enough time to control the ball, take a smoke, call his missus and tell her he was about to score a goal, update his fb status as ‘just scored against Greece’, tell his followers on Twitter the same and then poke the ball into the net.

But he didn’t.

Best long-range goal

Van Bronckhorst against Uruguay. A defensive full-back trying that – and nailing it… WOW!

Best Referee

H: Sorry, none of the nominees are deemed worthy of this award. Simply because no one was even nominated.
A: I would actually disagree and say the referee in the USA v/s Ghana match was a revelation. Simply because he single-handedly made a football match all about the football. And for me it was one of the best spectacles in the tournament. By not falling for cheap dives and allowing play to continue at a fast pace, he made the game fun to watch and importantly eliminated diving from that game. A pleasure to watch.

Biggest losers

Adidas– Because after all that technology and latex and roundest ball ever crap, they gave us something which was half as good as the average beach ball.

FIFA- Because after all that (read above), they said it was… the altitude!

French Football team- Because they made the impossible possible.

England Football team- Because they showed us they care more about the Community shield and the Carling cup than the World Cup. (A: And they finished second in their group to a struggling USA team!)

Best Substitute Performance

Fabio Quagliarella (Italy vs Slovakia)

Take a bow!

Italy are 2 goals down in a match they can’t afford to lose.
Up comes Quagliarella, making his world cup debut.
His first shot is cleared off the line by Skrtel’s knee.
His deflected shot then sets up Di Natalie for Italy’s first goal.
He scores an equalizer, which is then controversially ruled out for being offside.
He then eventually scores a beauty of a goal in the 90th minute, with a 25-yard chip.
Italy would bow out eventually, but he alone showed more grit, determination and heart  in 45 minutes than probably the entire Italy team over the whole World Cup.

Biggest Blunder

Rob Green for dropping his balls (pun intended).

I mean… HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

There’re mistakes, then there’s just being stupid, then there’s Green’s blunder… Atrocious!

Best World Cup joke

Why didn’t the chicken cross the road?

Because FIFA said it didn’t!

Best Captain

John Mensah of Ghana.

Was inspirational throughout and played his heart out on his sleeve. Mensah = REPSECT!

Best goalkeeper

There was Kingson, Samir Handanovic, Stekelenburg, Eduardo(one of the only keepers who didn’t make any obvious blunder), but ultimately it’s Iker Casillas who wins this, simply because he made the saves that matter. Denied Robben twice, saved a penalty against Paraguay, made an unbelievable save to deny Postiga against Portugal – supreme clutch performance from the man they call Saint Iker.

Best Player

Diego Forlan.

Iniesta and Sneijder might have had a better World Cup, but Forlan came closest to what this World Cup really lacked – someone who really stepped it up, on the grandest stage of them all, a la Zidane in ’06, Ronaldo in ’02 et all.

In every match, Forlan made something out of nothing and by that I mean nothing. He led by example, inspired those around him,  brought out the best in his team-mates, he played out of position and more or less played the role of 3 different players at one time. Would Uruguay have reached this far without him – not a chance!

And lastly…

Biggest waste of space

Jozy Altidore (USA)
He kept getting chance after chance and he was dedicated 100% to his mission to prove to the world that Adebayor on crutches would make a better striker than him. Didn’t score even one chance (and instead ‘cleared’ quite a few) USA would have fancied making the semis if they had a striker who could at least tap in the ball from the goal line. Sadly, they didn’t.

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Tops & Flops

With a match that in some ways resembled Chelsea Barcelona from the Champions League a year ago (deadlocked for almost all of 120 minutes, Iniesta broke the tie out of nowhere, BallackRobben hounding the ref and Dutch players crowding the ref time and again) a lot of players played amazingly well and a lot of stars faded under the pressure and frustration. So without further ado

The Tops

Spain
Well, they’re World Champions and European Champions. Only team to win the tournament after losing their first game and they only scored 8 goals. ‘Nuff said?

The Dutch
Played well throughout the tournament. Won the same amount of games as the Spanish and even if the finals were not a great display of football from them, they did have enough grace and dignity to give a guard of honor to the Spaniards. If that doesn’t silence questions of Dutch being ugly and having no idea about how to respect people I don’t know what will. Classy.

Iniesta

A true champion

Except for a horrendous dive that was rewarded with a yellow to Van der Wiel, Iniesta was marvellous. The “engine” of the team that always starts its attacks forward, Iniesta ended a brilliant passing move to score (even if he may have been offside on the first pass). And a tribute to Dani Jarque, his ex-teammate that passed away, brilliant.

Casillas
Made saves when it mattered and even with all the problems he had with the Jabulani he managed to keep clean sheet after clean sheet, including one on the most important match day of them all.

Xabi Alonso
Took a boot to the chest and kept on playing. Still couldn’t shoot on target, but his work ethic cannot be questioned.

Jesus Navas
Came on as an impact sub and that’s exactly what he did. Infused energy into a Spain team that was starting to slow down.

Cesc Fabregas
Another impact sub, another marvellous blow to the Dutch. His runs were excellent and even though he couldn’t find the net, he did unsettle the Dutch. Another masterstroke by…

Vicente Del Bosque

The man did it!

Unlike his opposing number, Del Bosque stuck to good old football school of thought by substituting attackers when in need of a goal. By removing Villa for Torres and switching attack to the left just after Van Marwijk had put fresh legs (Braafheid) on the right flank, there is no question who the better coach was on the day.

Van der Wiel
One of the few Dutch to increase in strength through the game, Van der Wiel played at years above his age. Unlucky to be carded for a dive by Iniesta (though he did himself no favours by trying to grab at the falling chap), Van der Wiel gave Robben space to have a chance at destroying Spain’s left flank.

Sneijder

“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs”
– Rudyard Kipling, If

Seems like Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem with Sneijder in mind. Was the only one in the Dutch team to show intent and not let frustration get the better of him (except one horrible shot). Also kept his teammates (Van Bommel) from yelling the referee off the face of the field. A class act in all and unfortunate that someone who could be evil (Problem being that neither are evil) twins with Iniesta won’t be lifting the World Cup in addition to his treble.

Stekelenburg
Made save time and again to keep the Dutch in the race until he could only get a hand to the one that went in. A great goalkeeper <Arsene Wenger buy him!!> and didn’t let the occasion get to him. Fantastic.

Van Bronckhorst
An excellent display from the defender who was playing his last game. A class act in defence, he made many important last ditch clearances and tackles and can look back on pride with his career.

The Flops

Robben
Missed both chances one-on-one with Casillas. It’s amazing that he manages to find the net from outside the box and can’t do so on easy chances when set free by the amazing Sneijder. And then hounded the ref a la Ballack and Tom Ovrebo in the Champions League. Pity.

Van Persie
When Holland (really really) needed a striker, Van Persie continued to play in the support striker role. Yes, your turns, etc. are good but we need the finishing touch if you are going to be considered great, Robin.

Villa
The best striker? Couldn’t do a thing against the Dutch. Should have scored and instead sent his best chance (and Spain’s best chance) wide – straight into Heitinga’s shin. Tche tche.

Busquets
This guy reeks of epic fail every time he goes for his dive routine. And this time he brought back his finishing move: the tumbler roll. Won the referee’s heart with a yellow card for the Dutch.

Van Bommel and De Jong
Normally exceptional in their roles, they screwed it up on the day that mattered most. Mistimed all their tackles and De Jong was lucky not to be red carded early on. With early cards, both their influences on the match faded to almost nil.

Eljero Elia

Unsatisfactory

Brought on as an impact sub, he was everything but. Hardly touched the ball, showed little intent and his first important moment in the match was chipping the ball too long for Robben’s run. The occasion clearly got to the youngster.

Bert Van Marwijk
What a pathetic evening for the Dutch coach. Faced with a tough choice as all his best players were already on the pitch with the ones on the bench being of significantly lower quality (except maybe Van der Vaart), Van Marwijk finally ran out of masterstrokes (having pulled off one at almost every knockout game so far). Pulling off Kuyt was good but bringing on Elia in his place was questionable with the youngster needing to do a lot at such a big stage. Van der Vaart, who would have been ideal, came on much later. And removing Bronckhorst (maybe the strongest Dutch defender) for Braafheid (who hadn’t played in this World Cup till then) was an EPIC FAIL.

Puyol
Luck not to have conceded a penalty/free kick and been sent off. Couldn’t do anything against the Dutch attack. Again luck favoured him with Spain’s strong midfield meaning Holland’s attacks were few and far apart.

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World Cup Final – Spain v/s Netherlands: The Preview

A new nation will have it’s name engraved on the World Cup trophy come Sunday evening as the two richest footballing academies in the world clash in the final at Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium.

Where as the Dutch will be hoping it’s a case of ‘third time lucky’ after they lost in the finals to the hosts in 1974 and 78’, this will be new territory for Spain, who interestingly have never even made it to the semi-finals pre-2010.

Spain will be trying to emulate the likes of France, Germany and Brazil, who were champions of the world and their own continent (by that I mean winners of the Euro and Copa Ameria) at the same time. As European champions, one expects Spain to be slight favourites, but Netherlands are unbeaten under Bert van Marwijk and like they say, ‘If you can beat Brazil, you can beat anyone’.

SPAIN

Made in Barca?

7 of the 10 outfield players on the pitch against Germany play for Barca – Xavi, Iniesta, Pique, Puyol, Pedro, Villa and Busquets. Del Bosque has used the Barcelona formula and with it, he brings along it’s strengths and weaknesses.

Germany’s coach Loew said after the match that Xavi is the centre of Spain’s perfect spine. How many times have we heard the exact same line from coaches in La Liga after their team was defeated ripped apart by Barca?

Xavi, Iniesta,  Busquets –   the trio reprise their roles from their club and dictate the tempo of the game from the midfield. Busquets is technically the least superior and his job is simple – win the ball back and pass it to his closest team-mate and he has performed his job admirably throughout the tournament. Rarely ever taking more than two touches, he lubricates the midfield and constantly keeps it ticking – he is a vital cog in Spain’s midfield.

Xavi is the pivot – dictates play from the centre and uses his third-eye to find team-mates with relative ease. Iniesta is the intelligent one – wriggling his way past multiple opponents, switching flanks, pulling markers out of position, creating space and of course, threading in the killer ball.

Xabi Alonso plays as a deep-lying playmaker and is always on the wavelength of his Barca team-mates – thus working  in perfect tandem with his Spanish compatriots.

It’s thus not hard to see why Spain have modelled their team on Barca’s philosophy – ‘As long as the ball is at our legs, the match is in our hands’.

But like mentioned before, that’s exactly where Spain can be beaten. While people are taking about how their loss to the Swiss was a mere aberration, it’s anything but that. Spain controlled the match, dominated possession – then conceded a silly goal on the counter – went back to controlling the match  and eventually lost.  A goal up, or one down, Spain will stick to their style. After their loss to the Swiss, Torres said that there will be no knee-jerk reaction and immediate changes and that if Spain were to lose, they will go down adhering to the very same principles.

Ramos and Capdevila – A tale of two full-backs

Some might even cringe at me calling Ramos a full-back – A “right winger who defends” would probably be a more accurate description.

Capdevila does it the simple way – stays back and defends. Ramos , who played for the Spanish U-17 and U-21 teams as a centre- forward(now that explains a lot) is usually at hugging distance from the opponent’s keeper. Backheels, flicks, stepovers – and with a colourful wristband, this guy opts for the spectacular, even trying his luck at goal with a couple of shots every now and then.

While most people consider Capdevila, who plays for unfancied Villareal, as the weaker of two, a closer look reveals that it’s Ramos who is actually the weak link and pays the price for..emm not tracking back(are we actually accusing a defender of not tracking back? :O ). He actually needs reminding every now and then that he’s also supposed to defend. Ramos was widely criticized for Spain’s 2-0 loss to USA in the Confederations cup and Henry had a field day against him in Madrid’s 6-2 loss to Barca, so his defensive fragility has been exposed.

And that’s where two of the most intriguing battles lie – Capdevila against the Orange flash Robben and Ramos against Kuyt. Robben will be upto his usual trickery and Capdevila will have his task cut out against the fella. He will have to stay back and NOT do a ‘Michel Bastos’ for Spain.

Ramos, on the other hand, will come up against Van Bronckhorst and Kuyt, who has taken care of his defensive duties excellently. Against Brazil, Kuyt combined superbly with Van Bronckhorst to nullify the threat of Maicon and Alves.

Madrid and Barca unite at the back

In Puyol and Casillas, Spain have two pillars of strength. And Pique with his tucked in shirt, oozes calm and confidence as he adventures up front with the ball.

Expect Casillas to give nothing away and by that, i really mean nothing.  He will be the toughest pair of hands that Holland have come up against yet (No Brazil, Cesar literally gifted them a goal with his handling). Puyol, who really turns it on in the big games, will leave strands of his hair all over the pitch – he will get real rough and Van Persie will come to know what he “missed out” when he was injured for Arsenal’s loss to Barca. Puyol and Pique are both a major threat from set-pieces too. Germany will tell you all about that.

Villa & co.

Goal-machine Villa combined well with Pedro last time around and Del Bosque will probably stick by Pedro, despite his..ummm ‘misunderstanding’ with Torres (Pedro later apologized, but hold on –and I quote “It was a clear chance in which I just trusted in myself a little too much. I made a bad decision to cut back when I should have shot on goal.”  DUDE, ummm, have you heard of Torres? Apparently you and him play for the same team!). Villa will want to seal a successful tournament with a goal in the finals and Pedro’s movement, combined with Iniesta being a literal pain in the a#% for opposing defences suggests Villa might have a goal in him for this game.

What to expect from Spain

Some 5910,54,89,000 passes sprayed all over the pitch?

On a more serious note, Spain will dominate possession (as they always do). What’s important is how they make their possession count. Yes, they passed Germany out of the game, but likewise, they got Tobler-owned by the Swiss. For all their passing and possession, their goal against Germany came from a corner. Xavi and Iniesta will have to create more opportunities for Villa up front and Netherlands have it in them to score goals against the run of play (just ask Brazil), so Spain better not retreat into their cozy cocoon of passing the ball around. No, Spain are not being asked to abandon their philosophy – merely show a little more urgency from the very first whistle itself.

NETHERLANDS

How they play

Short pass football with precise shots on goal from midfield and runs interchanging positinos while in attack. Van Bommel and De Jong are of prime importance to their game, winning the ball and distributing it (along with Sneijder) besides providing cover for their defence. Sneijder has been their main creative outlet. They keep possession and switch flanks by passing all the way back to defence (at times even Stekelenburg) first.

The WOW! Factor

Total Football – finally
So far Holland have eschewed their well known style of ‘total football’ (where players interchange positions very frequently) for a more solid game. But, last game, against Uruguay, Robben took on the role of creative midfielder, with Sneijder also creating late on. Everyone was treated to a sublime display of total football in the first half thanks to Kuyt not settling well on his left flank. Kuyt and Robben interchanged wings, van Persie moved back to right midfield and van Bronckhorst to left midfield for a few moments of sensational play. One fantastic moment came after Uruguay scored. Kuyt, the left attacking midfielder (LAM), started the attack playing as left back (LB) and within a few moments received the ball on the right as a right midfielder (RM). Robben also occasionally takes up the centre forward role, switching with the flexible van Persie (who plays CB while defending corner-kicks) during attacks.

The rocks of Holland
Van Bommel and de Jong have been excellent throughout this tournament and they partner each other extremely well. They have probably been the best defensive midfielders of the tournament thus far and except against Uruguay (where De Jong was absent), Stekelenburg and co. In defence have had little (VERY LITTLE) to do. Opposing teams find it hard to sustain attacks with De Jong’s rough approach followed by Van Bommel’s firm tackle. That Van Bommel picked up his first card (a yellow) in the dying moments of the last game (for time wasting!) and De Jong has picked up only two cards (given his very rough style of play) is a testament to their skill. One misplaced tackle by De Jong would probably give him a direct red, but so far he has not shied away from his duties – even making sliding tackles in the penalty box (a big no-no even for defenders). Till the end of the Uruguay match, Van Bommel had the most fouls without being carded. He has also made the most successful tackles in this world cup and has  been one of the most fouled players of Holland (along with Sneijder).

How they can be stopped
Long balls that completely cut Van Bommel and De Jong out of the game. Constant pressure (as seen from the Uruguay clash) even in defence. As for their attack, it’s pretty impossible to do anything. All four are equally capable and man-marking them is not possible. The best strategy would be to score and get 10 men behind the ball. The Dutch have still scored when teams employed this strategy (eg: Japan/Denmark) and maybe that’s the reason they are the only team yet to lose a match at this cup.

Key clashes

van Bronckhorst & Dirk Kuyt v/s Sergio Ramos
Sergio Ramos tends to find space to make runs in every match for Spain but with van Bronckhorst FINALLY returning to form and Dirk Kuyt – who is very good in his defensive duties – frequently tracking back, Ramos’ attacks may be rendered ineffective. Again.

Van der Wiel v/s Iniesta
Back from suspension, van der Wiel will be raring to have a go. Iniesta frequently moves into a LM (or CAM) position from a LCAM and van der Wiel will be responsible for cutting him out. His runs that provide Robben support (and allow Robben to switch to CAM) will also be interesting to see.

Sneijder v/s Busquets
Since Sneijder plays a LCAM position, his opposing number will be the RCDM – Busquets. LOL! (Can’t say much more)

Robben v/s Capdevila
Like Hashir wonderfully pointed out, even the strongest teams have the weakest left backs – Germany, Brazil, Holland, Argentina and Spain. This has left Robben with a delicious opportunity to run circles around the defence and work his magic. Capdevila has been growing in stature (though maybe not in defensive abilities) and with Spain playing full backs mainly as wing backs (who don’t help out in defence), it may be interesting to see what transpires.

Van Bommel & De Jong v/s Xavi & Iniesta
THE clash of the match. The best defensive midfielder pairing in the world (at the moment) against the best attack midfielder pairing in the world (at the moment). A mouth watering clash is sure with Xavi and Iniesta frequently engaging the Spanish team with arrays of short passes, just the kind Van Bommel & De Jong have become experts at stopping. Against Brazil we mentioned that the winners of this battle would win the match and that statement can’t be more true than it is now – against Spain. Xavi is the motor of the Spanish team and Iniesta creates all their attacks. They both win the ball (with Busquets being pretty inadequate in that department) and ‘restart’ attacks. Spain’s attacks have been few this tournament, but almost all have started with Iniesta. An early yellow card to any of these players would significantly tilt the scales in the other team’s favour!

Substitute strength

Holland’s substitutes are the strongest in the tournament (or maybe second to Spain). Eljero Elia, Huntelaar and Afellay are the usual 3 substitutes. They have been exemplary with their only flaw being inexperience. Elia, like van Persie, frequently uses his collection of tricks, turns and fakes before running past full backs like they don’t exist. Huntelaar is a typical poacher and although he is capable of making runs, he is best when the ball is giving to him in the box. Afellay’s crosses and midfield magic are capable of confusing opponents just from the sheer difference from the first-team players but he has yet to reach the heights he was playing at in the pre-world cup friendlies with inch perfect crosses to van Persie creating Holland’s goals.

Vital statistics

Predicted match rating: 4/5
Predicted winner: Holland (don’t change this)
Dive?:
H: 1/5
S: 5/5 (Busquets playing and Spain not keeping possession)
3/5 (If Spain manages to keep possession or Busquets doesn’t play)

Blunder watch:
H: 2/5
S: 1/5

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The match no one cares about

At first we were going to write a preview for the third-fourth place playoff, like we try to do for the other matches, and then we hit a wall. Writers block? Nope, it’s this “match” they call the third-fourth place playoff. In a nutshell, it is a totally pointless game (how much sense does it make to pit two losers against each other in a knockout tournament!?!?!). Even the teams participating give little or no value to this match. Dejected at having lost the chance to lift the World Cup (at such a late stage!) and receiving the ‘cruel’ reward of having to play a “best of the losers” match is no consolation.

How the teams line up

Will he get another chance?

Most teams decide to field their second string of players (read: subs/reserves), giving them their first chance to play at the World Cup. A few first team players, who are on the verge of a milestone (Miroslav Klose) or don’t need any rest, complete the starting line up.

Audience reception

With the build up and anticipation for the final, it’s tough to care for a third-fourth place match. Most people (read: the average football fan) don’t even realise that such a match takes place a day before the final! News coverage is generally low and even the most devoted of fans don’t take up much interest.

World Cup ‘legacy’

South Korea - 2002: 3rd place.. or 4th?

More than anything, both teams are remembered for making the semi-finals. Many people don’t remember who the third place winners were specifically, but they’ll be able to list out the losing semi-finalists (Germany/Portugal in 2006, South Korea/Turkey in 2002, Holland/Croatia in 1998). Even a win is generally played down with little or no celebration. Basically, the only legacy they leave behind is a tiny imprint in history books.

PREDICTION: Germany to easily win this. A poorly motivated Uruguay will stand no chance!

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Germany vs Spain: Player ratings

GERMANY

NEUER: 6

Could do nothing about the header. Was solid otherwise, and stifled Villa in the early stages too.

PHILIP LAHM: 6

Could not “eliminate” Iniesta from the game altogether. Went up front, but was restricted by his defensive duties a little too much for him to have any effect up front.

FRIEDRICH: 7

Germany’s centre backs had a good game and Friedrich was strong and solid at the back, trying his best to stop Spain’s incisive passes up front.

MERTESACKER: 7

Again, played deep in his own half and won a lot of balls in air. Got his legs in some weird positions more than once and intercepted some brilliant passes.

BOATENG: 4

It was surprising to see him surprised at being substituted. Committed too many fouls, gave Ramos a free hand and did nothing about Iniesta’s cross in the first half, which (fortunately for Germany) Puyol headed over.

SAMI KHEDIRA: 5

Nothing spectacular, was forced into a more defensive shift than usual. Won some balls, but not a game he’d remember for long.

SCHWEINSTEIGER: 5

Along with Khedira, Schweini was happy to let Spain come deep in his own half and then win the ball back. Which meant even when Germany got the ball back, they were 80 yards away from Klose to actually start a decent counter. Should have pressed more and made more telling passes.

MESUT ÖZIL: 6

Should have been awarded a penalty in the first half, or at least a free-kick. Played up front, and tried his best to make Germany’s counters bear fruit, but he couldn’t. Some good passes, some good runs. That’s about it.

TROCHOWSKI: 5

Went on an excellent run and fired in Germany’s only shot on target with an attempt miles from the goal. His cross was headed out for Germany’s first corner. Was no Mueller though!

LUKAS PODOLSKI: 6

Drew a horrible foul from Ramos, who escaped uncarded (though Ribery got sent off for the EXACT same thing in the CL). Was bogged down by his defensive duties a little too much for his own liking.

MIROSLAV KLOSE: 6

In all honesty, he din’t have one decent chance to actually justify his reputation as the guy one goal behind Ronaldo’s all time record. Held the ball up well, and his speed even at this age allowed him to beat the likes of Puyol and Capdevila. If there ever was a striker starved of service, it was him.

SUBSTITUTES:

MARCEL JANSEN: 5

Came on for Boateng, was only slightly better.

TONI KROOS:3

Fluffed Germany’s best chance, when they absolutely could not afford to. Made Casillas look good with his weak shot, when he should have blasted it into the top corner.

COACH – JOACHIM LOEW: 5

Should have learned something from Paraguay’s match against Spain. Should not have allowed Spain to play their way into Germany’s half and his midfield to press higher up the pitch. Germany were most likely to score from a counter, but they were winning balls too deep inside their own pitch to make it count.

SPAIN

IKER CASILLAS: 7

Realized he had real issues with catching the Jabulani, so resorted to punching the ball away. Solid otherwise.

CAPDEVILA: 6

Went up front, but then again he’s no Ramos. Was not needed in defence and he provided width up front.

PUYOL: 8

Missed an easy header early on, but made amends with that bullet of a header. Holy crap, I doubt if people can kick with that much power! Solid defensively too.

PIQUE: 7

Took the ball up front and made decent tackles and interceptions. Kept his marker busy, allowing Puyol to head in the goal from the corner.

SERGIO RAMOS: 6

Typical Ramos performance. Let his hair loose and had one big party up front. Gave Boateng a horrible time and covered up for his center backs when necessary. Lucky not to concede a penalty for tripping Ozil.

SERGIO BUSQUETS: 6

For a change, he didn’t need to dive. Kept their midfield ticking, with his simple and quick passing. Nothing special, but ‘nothing special’ is exactly what’s asked of him.

XABI ALONSO: 6

Good passing, but most all his were shots off target. That apart, he combined well with his teammates to keep hold of the ball.

XAVI: 8

Assisted Puyol’s goal. And a bunch of other clichés, like Spain’s heartbeat blah blah their back bone blah blah, which he was more than happy to live up to.

INIESTA: 7

Same story. Passing intelligent passing incisive passing probing passing *add adjective here* passing….Had a tough game against Lahm, who was the best defender he’s come up against so far. Nevertheless, Iniesta was one of Spain’s most important players.

PEDRO: 7

Was a spark in Spain’s attack, his quick passing and movement clearly troubled Germany. He was substituted for being selfish (and leaving Torres kicking air). Walked away in shame hoping the ground would swallow him. Negative marks for messing up a sure chance.

VILLA: 6

Had two great chances – Neuer cleaned up one and Villa could not make contact with Iniesta’s brilliant pass in the second half.

SUBSTITUTES:

TORRES: 4

He must have said something to Pedro in the dressing room, for which Pedro didn’t pass to him in the second half =P. That said, he barely did anything otherwise (though he did yell at Pedro!!).

SILVA & MARCHENA: Brought on to waste time.

COACH -DEL BOSQUE: 7

Gamble to start Pedro did pay off. Good game otherwise, though he needs to organize his defence against set pieces.

REFEREES: 5

Should have at least awarded a free-kick for Germany in the first half, when Ramos fouled Özil.

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Uruguay vs Netherlands: Player Ratings

URUGUAY

MUSLERA: 5

Couldn’t do much about the goals, as all of them were perfect – went in off the upright. For the first goal though, he used his right hand when diving to the left. He was able to get his fingers to the ball and had he used his left hand, he might have saved it. Made an excellent save to deny Van der Vaart later on.

M.PEREIRA: 6

Extra marks for scoring a late, late goal. But his attempt to block Sneijder’s shot helped it into the goal past Muslera. Yellow carded for fouling Robben (who hasn’t?).

DIEGO GODIN: 7

Solid as ever, won his tackles and commanding in air. Uruguay needed him, and his presence made a difference.

VICTORINO: 5

In for the captain and he was at times made to look good by Godin. Nervous and shaky, Uruguay missed their inspirational captain. His positioning was not impressive too.

MARTIN CACERES: 6

GOAL-SAVING tackle on Robben. Then carded for breaking De Zeeuw’s face later on.  Had his moments.

DIEGO PEREZ: 6

He tried his best, but Netherlands were technically superior for him to worry them. Was efficient when they were searching for the equalizer in the first half, but that’s about it.

WALTER GARGANO: 7

Did a good job closing down the Dutch in the first half. Showed energy and enthusiasm as he admirably denied his opponents space and time. Maybe the best of Uruguay’s midfield, at least in the first half.

AREVALO RIOS:6

Was handed the task of marking Sneijder, and one cannot deny he did a good job, especially in the first half (much like all his midfield compatriots, who somewhat disappeared in the second half). As the match reached it’s latter stages, he slowly faded away.

ALVARO PEREIRA: 6

A bundle of energy he was, but wasteful with his end product. Either too heavy a touch he took, or he got himself into positions from which it was impossible to cross. SHOULD have passed to Forlan when Stekelenburg left his line.

CAVANI: 6

Known for his intelligent runs, and there was plenty of that. Tried his best to get into smart positions, working well with Forlan, but with Suarez missing, a little too much for him to do.

DIEGO FORLAN: 8

Maybe a bit too high, but once again he lived up to the billing. He was starved of any real service throughout the match, but made space for himself, and took a rocket of a shot. Made a goal out of absolutely nothing.

COACH – OSCAR TABAREZ: 6

Can’t be blamed much, there’s a reason why they call him “The Master” and he’s performed admirably throughout. Captain Lugano and Suarez missed the match and he was deprived of players that would have made a difference.  That said, he did not respond in any way to his opposite number bringing on Van der Vaart at half time.

NETHERLANDS

STEKELENBURG: 6

Should have done better with Forlan’s  goal. And was caught miles from his goal, but was not punished.

KHALED BOULAHROUZ: 8

Van der Weil was not missed. Not one bit. A somewhat silly pass to Stekelenburg, but apart from that, he was excellent in defence.

MATHIJSEN: 7

He was guilty of giving Forlan too much space for his goal, but was solid otherwise, rarely looked troubled by the injury that kept him out of the Brazil game.

HEITINGA:6

Was caught out of position one times too many. Did his best to stop the opposing attacks, and played a good game either ways.

VAN BRONCKHORST: 8

Some goal that was! Made lots of tackles, giving Kuyt more freedom up front. Beautifully exploited space on his flank, never the more when he scored that screamer of a goal.

DE ZEEUW: 4

De Zeeuw shares one word with De Jong’s name, and that’s where the similarities end. His only real highlight was his face getting ripped apart by Caceres – after which whatever small influence he had went down to zero – and he was unsurprisingly substituted at half time.

VAN BOMMEL: 6

Was their only real defensive midfielder, especially after De Zeeuw was subbed off.

The commentator at one point said, “Exactly WHAT does Bommel have to do to get booked?!”.

And the answer  to that question – time wasting. What a way to go, after over 13 tackles without getting carded. Was sloppy, but did his job.

WESLEY SNIPER SNEIJDER: 7

Distributed the ball well, finding Kuyt and Robben whenever they were in space. Couldn’t control the match as much as he would have liked, but he eventually scored ot kill the game.

DIRK  KUYT: 7

Unsettled at first, he had a better night after switching wings. Must have thanked his lucky stars that Uruguay had no one of Maicon/Alves quality. Played hard and was efficient. Set up Robben’s third goal with a beauty of a cross.

ROBBEN: 8

Scored a goal, and instead of Sneijder, he took the brunt of making opportunities. Always looked like creating something. Fluffed a chance later on, but it didn’t matter.

ROBIN VAN PERSIE: 7

Made one unbelievable tackle in the first half, which even the commentator didn’t expect. His amazing turn and pass set up Van der Vaart. Never lost the ball and smartly set up his team-mates. Assisted Sneijder’s goal.

VAN DER VAART: 6

Had one shot parried, nothing else worth remembering. But, along with his other team-mates, he was too much to handle for Uruguay’s defence. Did a good job defensively too.

COACH – BERT van MARWIJK: 8

His half time substitution tipped the balance in Netherland’s favour, and his team came out in the second half with all guns blazing.

REFEREES: 5

Should have booked Van Bommel earlier. Fluffed quite a few offside/onside calls.

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Germany vs Spain – THE preview

Germany

Germany have made it to the semifinals against the odds, having been favourites to “trip up” against Argentina. After ripping that notion to shreds, Joachim Loew’s side are now up against the European champions and pre-tournament favourites Spain.

Importantly, Germany have faced tough teams through the tournament and their road so far has not been easy. Well, at least not on paper. They ran through Australia, England and Argentina – scoring four goals in each game – and ground out a difficult 1-0 victory over quarter-finalists Ghana in the group stage. Their only ‘hiccup’ was their 1-0 loss at the hands of Serbia.

Defence
Germany’s defence has been shaky at times, but their performance in the last game against Argentina proved that they can stop even the best on their day.

It's Philipp (double p)

Rock solid; PLEASE.DONT.STRIP.

Philipp Lahm (RB, Captain) has been exceptional through and through and has made some very important challenges where a central defender should have done. Not far behind his defensive abilities are his offensive abilities – his runs down the flank, ending with crosses into the box have led to many goals. The best full back on the pitch, he will have the unenviable task of containing David Villa – a goal machine. His defensive error (as LB) having let Torres score Spain’s winning goal in Euro ’08, Lahm will be looking to make amends and I have the feeling that he will be successful this time round.

The German CBs though solid in the last game, have proved shaky in earlier games. Friedrich and Mertesacker will be able to get by if Torres continues his poor run of form, but with Iniesta pushing up the field, they will have to be alert. Germany’s LB – Boateng – is their weakest link in defence but, luckily for him, he will mainly have to look out for Spain’s RB (Ramos) and not their RF (Torres).

Midfield
Schweinsteiger and Khedira play the holding midfielder roles in Germany’s 4-2-3-1 formation. Schweinsteiger has been in excellent form (at club and country level) and his distribution has been near perfect so far. Not as great as winning the ball as many other defensive midfielders, his ability to join the attack and shoot from long distance allows him to orchestrate play on the field. Khedira, on the other hand, is by far the weaker of the two. Mostly leaving Schweini behind, he often runs up to join Ozil in attack. Although he has been pretty ineffective in most games, he does manage to confuse defences as Germany’s players quickly interchange positions while attacking.

Sami Khedira: The dark sheep

Podolski, Ozil and Muller play Germany’s attacking midfield roles. However, Muller will miss this match due to suspension and Germany’s attacking influence down the right flank will mainly be Lahm. Podolski frequently moves up the field to play alongside Klose and Ozil switches over to the left to cover more space. This switch from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2 (or vice versa) has very cleverly been employed in counter attacks and opposing defences (trying to deal not just with six rampaging Germans, but six rampaging Germans that are constantly switching position) have regularly crumbled. Podolski’s left foot has amazing power and his shots on goal will trouble Casillas. Ozil plays a central role and his runs have set up and sustained the German attacks. Kroos may start instead of Muller and coming on as sub against Argentina, he unleashed a ripper of a shot that Romero did well enough to stop. Kroos is another product of the German youth academy and like the rest, he plays at levels above his age.

Upfront

Klose just celebrated his 100th match – with two goals – and expecting him to get slower with age seems to be as unrealistic as wishing Arsenal would win a trophy this season (sigh). He will have to contend with Puyol and Pique and they will be much tougher than any central defenders he has come across so far in this tournament. Luckily for him, they will also be rougher than the others and with his ability to get into dangerous positions, he should be able to easily draw fouls – and win penalties. There is nothing to say about his finishing that has not been said and the only reason very few people know him (compared to say Torres or Villa) is because he has been in Ronaldo’s shadow for the past two World Cups. He has already won one Golden Boot (World Cup 2006; finished second – World Cup 2002) and I bet he’s just itching to get his hands on one more.

Spain

That people still think Spain are favourites is, more than anything, frankly disturbing. They have lost to Switzerland, struggled for goals against relative minnows and at times looked like a flashy version of… England. Yet, maybe because of an easy draw or because of favours from the referee, they find themselves in the semi-finals against Germany. It is ironic that the European champions look a shadow of their ’08 selves and with papers hailing Germany’s performance in their victory over Argentina as “one of champions”, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Spain’s players end up crying post 90 minutes.

[PS: Some people watching Chile-Spain thought Chile were Spain because they were playing well and wore red jerseys]

[PPS: I was not one of those aforementioned people]

[PPPS: I swear]

Defence

What is it with full backs and stripping?

Ramos, Pique, Puyol, Capdevila. Ramos has hardly been in defence – he’s always attacking – but at least this time his attacks are proving effective. Puyol has at times left Spain open to counters when he’s gone on his runs up front. Pique has been solid so far except for a dumb penalty conceded to Paraguay. And Capdevila is only in the team because his name has ‘Vila’ in it and Del Bosque was too dumb to realise that he isn’t the one that plays an attacking position. So now to cover up for his foolishness, he’s made him start. Thanks to Podolski, this time that gypsy-hippie Ramos will be forced to stay back and give defending a shot (which he can’t do for nuts). He should be pretty successful with his attacks though, considering his recent form and Germany’s pathetic excuse for a LB in Boateng. Pique and Puyol play extremely rough and somehow SOMEHOW Spain manages to escape getting carded. Their only cards so far were against Paraguay and how convenient that all yellow cards will be thrown out, meaning none of their players have started the game with anything to worry about – in all their games so far.

Midfield

Xabi Alonso plays the role of CDM in Spain’s 4-4-2 formation and he has been good at doing what he has to do. At times though, he has played like an absolute nincompoop though I wouldn’t know where he gets that from (*cough* Busquets *cough*). With that we come to Spain’s best actor – Sergio Busquets. His skills as defensive midfielder cannot be questioned because no matter what, he manages to win the ball every time – much to Alonso’s frustation. His technique, however, is very unorthodox. As soon as Ozil/Podolski/Schweinsteiger or any German with the ball comes within a radius of 1m of Busquets, he will start scratching his back on the ground while facepalming. No matter where the ball has hit him, or the player has hit him he will be clutching his 1. face 2. knee (choose one). What is more surprising is that every referee actually believes that Busquets has been smacked on the face (err.. I see why that is easy to believe) and I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising since these are the same referees that don’t see monsters like Tevez standing offside or balls crossing the goal-line. You see the thing is Spain press for the ball with their whole team so they can afford to use just one defensive midfielder with a joke as relief.

A little ahead play Xavi and Iniesta, a duo if you can ever think of one (get the joke?). Xavi has transformed himself into a ball-rebounder, no matter who passes the ball to him he will have it out of his system with a one-touch pass in less than one second (or it’s free – get the joke?). Unfortunately, this has led to Spain forgetting that the aim of football is to get the ball into the opponent’s goal so don’t be too surprised if Spain keep passing the ball for 89 minutes and then Germany score 5 on the counters in the last 5 minutes. Xavi has created a lot of goal scoring chances for Spain and he should be able to easily implement his style on the game considering Paraguay’s defence are probably stronger than Germany’s. Iniesta, his attack partner, has looked like a real rockstar on the pitch. Always looking to set up chances and at times taking shots himself, Iniesta is the real co-ordinator of Spain’s attacks. Philip Lahm may pose problems to Iniesta, but I assume Spain will tackle that by having Iniesta run down the centre.

Upfront

Will he be celebrating again?

Villa has been a literal goal machine so far. Either the goalie is high (Chile) or the defence decides to go for a walk (Portugal) or just a bit of magic from Villa himself (Honduras) but Villa always manages to find his name on the scoresheet when Spain score. While Spain needed to come up with an intricate tactical plan that requires near perfect implementation of possession, pressing all over and finishing to increase male viewership, Villa has single handedly managed to do all that with the opposite gender by just ‘looking good’. This time around he will have to contend with the tough Philip Lahm, a true master of the game who definitely can tie Villa down. I was doubtful about how good Villa was, but then Barcelona bought him so he must be good really Spanish (though this means that next season he will be utter bull…). He seems to be the only Spaniard actually interested in getting the ball into the back of the net because…

Torres surely isn’t. His girlfriend must be in Row Z of the stadium with Torres very intent on sending balls there. In fact, Villa, Ramos and Iniesta need to worry more about Torres than any of the German defenders. He is the strongest defensive force on the pitch. He will clear balls (on the goal line) that are destined for goal and head balls out of danger. It’s a pity to see someone with so much talent playing so.. grandmother-like, but he’s definitely a tiny, minute shadow of the player he was. He needs to buck up – and fast. Only two games to go and if he doesn’t “bring it”, the second of those games will be the third-fourth playoffs.

Special mention: Old grand-daddy Del Bosque

It's old daddy Del Bosque 😀

Why this team needs a coach is a question no one can answer. A bunch of monkeys eating bananas could do the same thing Del Bosque has done so far – nothing (Note: By doing nothing, he is better than Maradona – who drives teams into the ground). A lot of people have been clamouring for Fabregas’ inclusion into the team but sadly, the old bald Colonel Sanders lookalike is right about this one. Think about it… where would Fabregas fit? Without a change of formation he wouldn’t, but Del Bosque seems oblivious to the fact that a 4-1-3-2 with Fabregas would probably turn Spain into a footballing bulldozer. Somehow, Busquets still manages to get picked over Fabregas and another substitute, Pedro, still can’t manage to replace Torres – because Del Bosque won’t let him. This is Del Bosque’s chance to come up with a tactical masterstroke without which, it is very tough to see Spain winning.

Vital Statistics

Predicted Match Rating: 4.5/5
Predicted Winner: Germany
Start time: Midnight IST
Dive?: Germany 0/5 Spain 7/5 (with Busquets) 4/5 (without Busquets)
Blunder watch:
G .5/5
S 1/5

Hashir: it’s impossible to make a case for Fabregas’ inclusion dude. Busquets is their only true defensive midfielder (Alonso is a defensive playmaker) and Busquets plays with Xavi and Iniestia in Barca, so there is no way Del Bosque will risk sacrificing his only out-and-out def mid and change something as fundamental as team chemistry. If Fabregas does start (hypothetically), I guarantee you it will not be at Busquet’s expense. Sacrificing Torres for Fabregas is the only option.

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