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Why this was the best World Cup yet

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Following what felt like a whirlwind of matches and goals, Kurt Baldacchino from the popular Facebook page ‘I Quote Football’ gives us an overview of the highlights from this year’s World Cup in Brazil.

Goals – Every football tournament offers memorable goals. And this World Cup provided fans around the world with some jaw-dropping strikes. James Rodriguez’s goal for Colombia against Uruguay is considered by many as the goal of the Cup, but Van Persie vs Spain, Cahill vs the Netherlands, David Luiz vs Colombia, Messi vs Iran, Jermaine Jones for the USA vs Portugal, Shaqiri vs Honduras and Schurrle vs Brazil were all spectacular goals too.

Match standard – It is safe to say that most of this year’s matches were entertaining. Nearly every team tried to play for the win, rather than trying to keep a 0-0 score. Every match had its moments; from the plenty of goals to the dramatically staged falls of players barely touched. Even non-avid football viewers enjoyed watching this World Cup’s matches.

Goalkeepers – The last Cup was surrounded by controversy regarding the ball used, called the Jabulani. In 2014 it was replaced by the Brazuca, and the outcome from a goalkeeper’s perspective was fantastic. Most of the goalkeepers gave stunning performances, especially those from North and South America. Germany’s keeper Neuer was probably the best player of the tournament. Mexico’s Ochoa and his saves against Brazil and the Netherlands and Navas for Costa Rica against the Netherlands also stood out.

Drama – Germany’s goal in extra-time against Argentina in Sunday’s final was without a doubt the most dramatic moment this year. Gotze’s goal came at a time when everyone thought the final would end in penalties. Other remarkable goals that came late in the game included the Netherlands’ penalty against Mexico, Switzerland vs Ecuador, Portugal vs USA, Argentina vs Iran, Argentina vs Switzerland, USA vs Belgium, and Greece vs Ivory Coast.

Surprises – The biggest bombshell was probably Costa Rica topping a group consisting of themselves, Italy, England and Uruguay, then making it to the quarters and nearly to the semis, only to lose by penalties against the Netherlands.  Another remarkable surprise was Algeria’s performance, especially against Germany, as well as improvements from Mexico, Nigeria, Chile and the USA. Upsets on the other hand included Spain’s terrible campaign, and obviously Italy and England both being eliminated in the group stages.

Keylor Navas in action

Keylor Navas’ impressive displays for Costa Rica have seen him linked with a move to Bayern Munich.

Revelations – This Cup served as a showcase for some talented yet not well-known players. Rodriguez, M’Bolhi, Campbell, Manolas, Medel, Navas, De Vrij, Origi and Feghouli all had an impressive tournament.

Veterans – Although considered by many as the weak point in their respective teams, several veteran players had positive campaigns. Colombia’s captain Yepes was perfect in defence, and Marquez was not any less for Mexico. Klose broke Ronaldo’s all-time goal scoring record, while Cesar, Howard, Kuyt, Cahill, and Beasley all maintained good performances. Soon-to-retire Switzerland manager Ottmar Hitzfeld also deserves a mention.

Fans – They are the ones who create the atmosphere and bring elated fun to the stadium. From costumes as Panini stickers, to countless easy-on-the-eye South American spectators; what’s not to love? The Brazilian watermelon man, the Ivory Coast statue and the banter between England fans were great too. Stadiums were always full, and there was constantly an abundance of passionate chanting while national anthems were played. But luckily no vuvuzelas!

The Brazilian 'watermelon man'

The Brazilian ‘watermelon man’

Managers – From social media chitchat after Roy Hodgson’s and Scolari’s tactics, to Capello blaming laser interference by Algerian fans as the reason to Russia’s elimination, managers also had their own shining moments. Herrera of Mexico became an internet sensation with his epic way of celebrating. Costa Rica’s manager said that winning the group was his best day since he got married. Finally, Zaccheroni and Prandelli were this year’s two resigning managers.

Substitutions – Joachim Low carried out perfect substitutions in the final against Argentina. In fact, the goal during extra-time came from substitute Gotze, and he was assisted by Schurrle; another substitute. However, a more unforgettable substitution was made by Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal by substituting goalkeepers for the quarter-final penalty shootout. Van Gaal’s decision turned out to be positive since Tim Krul managed to save 2 penalties, thus eliminating Costa Rica.

Comebacks – The Netherlands made important comebacks during this campaign against Spain, Australia and Mexico. Others were of Belgium vs Algeria, Algeria vs Russia to make it to the last 16, Switzerland vs Ecuador, and USA vs Portugal.

Craziness – The craziest moment was of course Luis Suarez’s bite on Giorgio Chiellini, for which he had to pay serious consequences. Joining it on a lower pedestal were Bruno Martins Indi staring at Diego Costa during a set-piece in Spain vs Netherlands, and Nigeria’s goalkeeper Enyeama shouting non-stop at his team-mates.

Unpredictability – It was one of those World Cups where there were so many teams playing fantastic football that it was impossible to predict early on the winning contenders. In the end, with Germany facing Argentina, and the Germans grasping the cup, it was a truly exciting final.

Social media – It helped football fans greatly in obtaining instant updates and statistics. It also served as a discussion outlet about the matches, being able to follow every team and player with a simple click. World Cup goals and other highlights went viral very quickly, and the level of banter during this tournament was nothing short of brilliant!

Referees – Yuichi Nishimura was a nightmare during the opening Brazil vs Croatia match. But other referees, including Howard Webb in Chile vs Brazil and Italian Rizzoli throughout the whole tournament, deserve to be praised. Rizzoli also refereed Sunday’s final.

Goal-line technology – Finally! This helped referees in making important decisions during moments of uncertainty, the most evident case being Costa Rica’s goal against Italy. Furthermore, the vanishing spray for free-kicks was an interesting addition.

Pundits – Perhaps the Maltese pundits were not ideal, but they all tried their best in covering this World Cup. Foreign channels had a number of very interesting pundits including football stars Thierry Henry, Rio Ferdinand, Alan Shearer, Clarence Seedorf, Fabio Cannavaro and Alex Del Piero.

Records – Klose became the World Cup’s all time top goalscorer with 16 goals, surpassing Ronaldo’s record for Brazil. Howard for USA made 16 saves in one match against Belgium. Colombia’s Mondragón was the oldest player at any World Cup at the age of 43. England were eliminated in the group stages for the first time since 1958. Finally, it was the first time a European team won a World Cup hosted in South America.

Miroslav Klose celebrates after beating Ronaldo's previous record

Miroslav Klose’s goal in Germany’s 7-1 drubbing of Brazil was his 15th World Cup goal, a new record.

Fans and players’ relationship – Luiz gave a Brazil shirt to a young fan, Sulley Muntari walked around the streets of Rio handing out money to the homeless, and the Mexican team played beach football with local children. Most notably, Algeria. players donated their bonus to war victims in Gaza, and Van Persie awarded his third-place medal to a loyal Dutch fan.

Watch Ghana’s Sulley Muntari hand out money to the poor people of Rio.

Posted in Features, Sport

World Cup Team-by-Team Analysis: Group B

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Spain

The reigning European and world champions, Spain are, together with Brazil, the team to beat this World Cup. Boasting world-class players in all positions, Spain are seen as tournament favourites by most people. But it should be pointed out that a European side has never won the World Cup on South American soil, and they were thrashed by Brazil in the Confederations Cup, losing 3-0.

However, the Furia Roja sailed through their qualifying group unbeaten and finished first ahead of France, Finland, Georgia and Belarus. In virtually all of the games, they dominated the midfield (as per usual) and also registered an impressive five clean sheets. However, they struggled to get goals, which is again not surprising, considering that Spain just love to play with a 4-5-1 formation where the sole striker plays as a ‘false nine’ – usually Cesc Fabregas, but Fernando Torres is often thrown into a game in its latter stages.

Brazilian-born Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa is a doubt for the World Cup, but it can be argued that his style of play doesn’t suit Spain’s notorious tiki-taka possession game. Xavi and Andres Iniesta will once again be pulling the strings in midfield, while Busquests will likely once again play the role of holding midfielder, triggering counter attacks. First-choice Iker Casillas is increasingly looking shaky, with his howler in the Champions League final being self-evident. Sergio Ramos, on the other hand, is in the form of his life and he will be one of Spain’s most important players.

Key player: Andres Iniesta

With Xavi now looking increasingly past his peak, Iniesta will be the lynchpin in this Spain squad, largely courtesy of his flawless passing, dribbling and uncanny ability to read the game. Since he is now 30 years old, this may well be Iniesta’s last World Cup.

 One to watch: Koke

Atletico Madrid’s march to the La Liga could not have been possible without Koke, a dynamic box-to-box midfielder who is not only a dead ball specialist and an excellent passer but is also proficient in the tackle and scores screamers from distance. One of his strengths is his versatility – he can literally play anywhere in midfield, and has even appeared as right-back for Spain against Finland.

Prediction:

Spain should reach the quarter-finals at the very least and will likely make the semi-finals, where they will probably lose to Brazil or Argentina – their loss to Brazil in the Confederations Cup plus recent friendly results point to two things: that Spain can’t really handle the South American heat and that their footballing dominance is waning.

 

Netherlands

Finishing runners-up yet again last World Cup and exiting at the group stage at Euro 2012, the Netherlands have a reputation of infighting, and there’s no sign of this tradition stopping anytime soon, as Man Utd’s Robin van Persie and Galatasaray’s Wesley Sneijder (current and former captain respectively) can’t stand the sight of each other and, reportedly, several other squad members do not see eye to eye. This was, as you might expect, the main reason for their embarrassing exit in Euro 2012. Many are already writing this Netherlands team off and it’s not hard to see why – their squad quality is poor this year compared to past previous sides such as the 2010 World Cup one, with many of their better-known players reaching the 30 age-mark. These include Wesley Sneijder, Bayern’s Arjen Robben and Milan’s Nigel de Jong. The Netherlands have also been drawn in one of the Groups of Death, with Spain, Chile and Australia. Both Spain and Chile will fancy their chances of progessing to the next round, although Australia might find the going quite tough. A further blow was added when two of their best players, Kevin Strootman and Rafael van der Vaart, pulled out of the tournament due to injury. However, their coach Louis van Gaal, recently announced as the new Man Utd manager, is wily, cunning and experienced, and might help his team provide some upsets this summer.

 Key player: Robin van Persie

The talismanic captain and favourite of van Gaal is Netherland’s best chance of progressing to the next stage together with Arjen Robben. Van Persie has struggled this season for Man Utd but has always played well for the Oranje.

One to watch: Memphis Depay

The PSV forward is being currently observed by some of Europe’s biggest clubs after an excellent season. Despite being often deployed as a left winger, Depay is naturally a striker. He specialises in taking the ball past his marker, boasting a 58% success rate in the Eredivisie last season. It is worth noting that he is just 20 and will get even better with age.

Prediction:

Netherlands can just about scrape through the group stage if they play well, but will then face Brazil in the second round. Don’t expect the Oranje to overcome the Seleçao this time round, however.

 

Chile

Coach Jorge Sampaoli has made Chile a formidable team, finishing third in the CONMEBOL qualifying group behind Argentina and Colombia. Under Sampaoli, Chile play exciting attacking football and shift tactics depending on the opposition (they regularly shift from a three-man to a four-man defence) and his only loss since taking over from Claudio Borghi was against Brazil. While Chile’s squad strength hardly compares to that of powerhouses Argentina, Brazil and Colombia, they have two of the best players in the world in Juventus’ Arturo Vidal and Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez – both coming off excellent seasons for their respective clubs. La Roja also boast several quality players in Santos’ Eugenio Mena, Valencia’s Eduardo Vargas and Juventus’ Mauricio Isla. They enter the tournament in respectable form, garnering impressive performances against England, Germany and Brazil in recent friendlies.

Key player: Arturo Vidal

Is there anything this guy can’t do in midfield? Pressing, marking, tackling, shooting from distance, dictating the tempo – Vidal is similar to Yaya Toure in many respects, and is a dynamo of a box-to-box midfielder and has arguably been Juventus’ most important player these past two seasons. However, his fitness is in doubt and, despite making the squad, might not be at his best.

One to watch: Alexis Sanchez

A right winger or second striker, Sanchez was thought of as a flop for Barcelona in the 2012-13 season but his performances have been impressive this season, even dislodging Neymar from the starting lineup several times. Sanchez is explosive and a wizard in the dribble, bagging three outstanding assists for Chile in their 3-2 win over Egypt.

Prediction:

It is entirely possible that Chile will beat Netherlands to second place in Group B, depending on the latter’s form and team spirit. Vidal’s fitness is under scrutiny and their squad depth is lacking. They could struggle in the second round – and one wouldn’t place bets on them going further.

 

Australia

Expectations are low for the Socceroos, especially as they were unlucky enough to be drawn in one of the Groups of Death together with Spain, Netherlands and Chile. Their qualification was not as straightforward as those in previous tournaments, but their coach Holger Osieck was nevertheless fired after suffering 6-0 defeats against Brazil and France, being replaced by Ange Postecoglou, a home-grown coach. The bad news is that the squad is an ageing one, and veterans such as Mark Schwarzer and Harry Kewell have retired from international football. To add insult to injury, Bayer Leverkusen’s Robbie Kruse – arguably their best player – has been ruled out of the World Cup due to a knee injury. Instead, Australia will look to Tim Cahill, now 34, to provide the goals, despite him being more of an attacking midfielder than a striker.

Key player: Tim Cahill

One of Australia’s best ever players and its all-time top scorer, the ex-Everton man now plays for the New York Red Bulls, and this will almost certainly be his last international tournament. His leadership, experience and goal poaching will be crucial if the Socceroos are to harbour any hopes of somehow making their way out of this group of death.

One to watch: Mitchell Langerak

Borussia Dortmund’s Langerak is the backup goalkeeper to Roman Weidenfeller but is only 25 and has actually only conceded one goal in his 10 appearances for his club. One of Europe’s most underrated keepers, Langerak’s dedication is such that he broke two front teeth when he collided with a goalpost in order to stop Lorenzo Insigne’s free-kick, in his only failed attempt to prevent a goal with Dortmund.

Prediction:

It’s just a case of damage limitation. Australia will in all likelihood be the whipping boys of the group and their target is likely to limit the scoreline as much as possible. Don’t bet against them managing a draw against Netherlands or Chile though.

Posted in Sport

World Cup Team-by-Team Analysis: Group A

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Brazil

As record five-times winners of the World Cup and this year’s hosts, Brazil need no introduction. The Seleçao enter as tournament favourites (when have they ever not?) and Confederation Cup winners – although it is worth noting that incumbent winners of the latter have never won the following World Cup. Their legendary coach Luiz Felipe Scolari (affectionately known as Felipão or Big Phil in Brazil) has an excellent track record, having previously won the 2002 World Cup back when the likes of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho were part of the squad.

This time around, Brazil can hardly claim to have an attacking prowess even remotely close to the one they had in 2002, but they do have a game-changer in Barcelona’s Neymar – whose technical skills are among the best in the world at the moment. Their main man upfront is Fred, who plies his trade with Brazilian club Fluminense. While hardly comparable to the phenomenal Ronaldo, Fred has emerged as Brazil’s most reliable goalscorer – he scores at crucial moments and in all the big matches, and was the joint top scorer at the 2013 Confederations Cup.

Brazil’s midfield boasts a plethora of world-class players such as the Chelsea contingent of Oscar, Willian and Ramires, Inter’s Hernanes and Tottenham’s Paulinho- the latter has been in indifferent form at his club but never fails to perform for his country. What really stands out for Brazil this year though is their defence – it can be argued that their captain Thiago Silva of PSG is currently the best centre-back in the world, and he is accompanied by Barcelona’s Dani Alves, Marcelo, who played a huge part in winning the Champions League for Real Madrid this year, and the imposing Dante, who plays for Bayern Munich. In goal, Brazil have the unflappable Julio Cesar, who is Scolari’s first-choice goalkeeper despite playing for Toronto in the mediocre MLS on loan from QPR last season.

Key player: Neymar

Fast, skilful and two-footed, Neymar is the most technically gifted player in the squad. He primarily plays as an inside forward, providing chances for his team-mates and his finishing is nothing to sniff at either. However, his critics argue that he goes to ground far too easily and has gained a reputation as a diver.

One to watch: Bernard

Shakhtar Donetsk’s Bernard is a left winger blessed with amazing pace, technique, and flair. Comparable to Neymar in terms of his playing style and only one year younger, Bernard has a great future ahead of him.

Prediction:

Brazil should easily qualify from their group and will likely reach at least the semi-finals. However, this is a nation which attaches huge expectations to the national side and the locals will be expecting them to go all the way and win it. However, whether they will be crowned champions come July is not as foregone a conclusion as most people think. They boast world-class players in all departments but Neymar aside, their attack leaves a lot to be desired.

 

Croatia

Finishing second in their World Cup qualifying group behind Belgium and ahead of Serbia, Croatia possess several world-class footballers in their midst – Real Madrid’s Luka Modric, Sevilla’s Ivan Rakitic (who was largely the reason why Sevilla walked away with this year’s Europa League) and Bayern’s Mario Mandzukic to name a few. Their coach Niko Kovac is an ex-captain of the national side and was a popular choice following the reign of Igor Stimac, who was largely an unpopular figure. Shakhtar’s Darijo Srna is one of the world’s current best right-backs and his likely future successor Srne Vrsaljko of Genoa is a hot prospect who is being followed by some of Europe’s biggest clubs. Croatia can also boast to have one of the most exciting young talents in Inter’s Mateo Kovacic, a playmaker who is equally adept as regista or trequartista.

Key player: Luka Modric

Gifted with amazing vision and creativity, Modric was one of Real Madrid’s best players this season, dictating the midfield with his excellent passing range and was instrumental in his club’s Champions League triumph.

 

 

One to watch: Mateo Kovacic

A similar player to Modric is Kovacic, who is only 20 but has already displaced the much more experienced Fredy Guarin from the Inter starting lineup. Despite appearing in only a handful of games this season, Kovacic is a dazzling dribbler and showed what he is capable of when he provided three assists in Inter’s 4-1 rout over Lazio and dictated the tempo in the following game against Chievo.

Prediction:

Croatia should just about make it to second place, ahead of Mexico and Cameroon, who are certainly no pushovers. However, in the second round they will likely come up against a very talented Colombia side which can prove to be their downfall.

 

Mexico

The Mexicans were hardly impressive in qualification, winning all six fixtures in a straightforward first group but struggling in a relatively more challenging second group (which included USA, Costa Rica and Honduras – hardly world powers) and finishing fourth, just barely making it to Brazil. Coach Miguel Herrera managed to steady the ship after a spate of sackings, and must be credited for managing to see the team through to the World Cup. He tends to go by form rather than reputation, and has not been afraid to axe well-known names such as Man Utd’s Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez and Villareal’s Giovani dos Santos. Striker Oribe Peralta has been the main man during Mexico’s road to qualification, and has even managed to relegate Hernandez to the bench. Their experienced skipper Rafael Marquez is always a reliable option for the defence, and Porto’s Hector Herrera is an aggressive box-to-box midfielder who will probably be pulling the strings in the middle of the park.

Key player: Oribe Peralta

Widely considered to be one of the best strikers not playing in a European league, Peralta (similar to Brazil’s Fred) scores when it matters, and is equally proficient at crafting opportunities for the other squad members. Powerful, fast and with a wicked right-foot shot, Peralta may not be playing outside of Europe much longer.

 

 

One to watch: Javier Hernandez

Scoring 35 goals in 57 appearances for Mexico, Hernandez is not experiencing the best of times, with every chance of him starting on the bench for his country and in addition will very likely be leaving Man Utd this summer after largely being used as a substitute by David Moyes this season, something Herrera recommended. However, you underestimate this striker at your peril and don’t bet against him providing a response to both club and country in Brazil.

Prediction:

Unless Mexico seriously step up their game, they will likely be packing their bags in the group stage this summer.

 

Cameroon

Traditionally one of Africa’s better teams, Cameroon did not impress during their qualification despite finishing top of the group and unbeaten against Libya, DR Congo and Togo. Notably, a 2-0 defeat against Togo was overturned when the latter fielded an ineligible player. They beat Tunisia in the final round over two legs, routing them 4-1 at home. However, they were thrashed by Portugal 5-1 in a friendly back in March, and many are (perhaps unfairly) prematurely dismissing the side’s chances in Brazil. The other teams in their group (bar Brazil) have similar talent pools to Cameroon and it is entirely possible that Les Lions Indomptables will manage a minor upset by edging the group stage.

Key player: Alex Song

The engine of this Cameroon side, Song plays for Barcelona and is accomplished as both a holding and box-to-box midfielder. Seemingly inexhaustible and an extremely hard worker, Song is an absolute powerhouse and he will need to be at his best if Cameroon are to progress to the knockout stages.

One to watch: Joël Matip

Matip is a highly-rated centre-back who plays for German club Schalke 04. He towers over most players at 193cm, and is quite frankly a beast both in the air and on the ground.

Prediction: Cameroon will likely battle it out with Croatia for second place. If they perform to their best there is no reason why they shouldn’t reach the knockout stages.

Posted in Sport

Brazil’s home advantage: comfort or curse?

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With just under 25 days to go until the opening of the FIFA World Cup on Thursday, 12th June, many football enthusiasts are considering Brazil as favourites to win the title. It is easy to see why: World Cups held in South America have always been won by teams from that continent; Brazil are the most successful country in the tournament; they won the Confederations Cup last year beating reigning world and European champions Spain 3-0 in the final; and they will be playing at home. But can all this put Brazil under too much pressure?

While the home advantage is undoubtedly something good, it is also a burden. The team will not want to disappoint in front of their fans, and when the home advantage belongs to a powerhouse, they become clear-cut favourites. In such a position, winning will impress no one, but losing will disappoint everyone. Brazil, of all countries, know this better than anyone.

The FIFA World Cup has been held in Brazil on one previous occasion: in 1950, the first post-World War II cup. The tournament was unique because it is to date the only world cup which did not include a knockout phase. Instead, the four semi-finalists played in a round-robin format and the team with most points at the end would take home the trophy.

Heading into the final game of the tournament, home nation Brazil was leading the group with four points, having humiliated Sweden and Spain 7-1 and 6-1 respectively (a win was worth two points at the time). Sweden and Spain were to play each other on the last day, but both were mathematically out of the race for the world cup. In second place, one point behind Brazil, were Brazil’s opponents for the final game, Uruguay. They had drawn with Spain and only managed a late win against Sweden. This coupled with the fact that the final game would be played in Rio de Janeiro made Brazil clear favourites.

Throughout the three days between the second game of the round-robin and the final game, everyone was proclaiming Brazil the winners. On the day of the final, 16th July, 1950, Brazilians filled the streets of Rio de Janeiro, organizing a carnival and chanting for hours. Newspapers printed photos of the Brazilian team captioned ‘These are the world champions!’ The Confederação Brasileira de Futebol (CBF) prepared 22 gold medals with the names of the players on them. A song entitled Brasil os Vencedores (Brazil the Winners) was composed. Not wanting to miss the historic moment of seeing their country lift its first world cup title, Brazilians stormed the Maracanã stadium, with an estimated 210,000 people in attendance, around 40,000 more than there were paid tickets.

The Uruguayan coach had similarly almost given up. Prior to the beginning of the game, he told his players to play defensively so as not to be humiliated by Brazil’s attacking style. However, after he left, Uruguay captain Obdulio Varela famously told the team ‘Juancito [the coach] is a good man, but today, he is wrong. If we play defensively against Brazil, our fate will be no different from Spain or Sweden’.

The first half of the game played out much like expected, with Brazil dominating the game, but the score was still level at half time. That changed quickly, with Friaça putting Brazil ahead just two minutes into the second half. The Maracanã stadium roared in triumph, but Uruguay would not give up. The players took Varela’s words to heart and attacked Brazil ruthlessly.

Brazil’s weakness, concealed for the entire tournament, was finally revealed. Their attacking style left them exposed defensively. Twenty minutes after Friaça’s goal, Schiaffino equalized for Uruguay. The Brazilian fans were still joyous. Being one point ahead in the group, a draw would still crown Brazil football kings of the world. But thirteen minutes later, Ghiggia put the ball into the net to give Uruguay a 2-1 advantage. For the remaining eleven minutes of the game the silence in the Maracanã stadium was deafening. The fans were dumbfounded as the referee whistled for full-time and Uruguay became world champions!

Although it was Brazil’s best-ever placing in the world cup at the time, the 1950 tournament is a good example of how being clear favourites can result in unbelievable disappointment. Many of the players retired. Others were never called up for the national team again. Some journalists retired as well, and most tragically some fans committed suicide. Brazil decided to change their home shirt from white and blue, which they considered to be cursed, to the now-famous yellow and green. Perhaps this worked, as Brazil went on to win three of the next five tournaments.

64 years later Brazil will do everything to exorcize the demons of 1950. The only question left is: “Can they do it, or will history repeat itself?”

Posted in Sport

The woes of Serie A

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Ten years ago, if you asked any football fan which football league was the best, most of them would have instantly answered ‘Serie A’ (although the English Premiership would have come a close second). Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Since then, the Italian football elite has taken one hell of a beating, which can be attributed to several factors all occurring at once – the wake of the Calciopoli scandal (the shadow of which Serie A has still not fully recovered from), the economic downfall still being experienced in Italy, the reduction in the number of Champions League places from four to three, poor spectator attendance and overall poor club management. The Serie A is still nevertheless considered to be one of the top four football leagues in the world, with more players winning the Ballon d’Or while playing for a Serie A side than any other league.

Where the English Premier League is renowned for its fast, furious and physical style, the La Liga for its emphasis on technical skill and the Bundesliga on its excellent infrastructure and spectator attendance, the Serie A has been traditionally known as the most tactical and defensive league (non-fans commonly use the phrase “slow-motion league”). This has often been used as an excuse to explain why several players favour a move to other leagues over the Serie A, but this is arguably no longer applicable since differences in playing style between the leagues are far less readily apparent, with the emergence of attacking Italian teams such as this season’s new-look Roma, Fiorentina and Napoli.

In addition, football fans are increasingly criticising the La Liga and Bundesliga for their poor competition; with the latter being currently a Bayern Munich monopoly (even last year’s rivals Borussia Dortmund are looking poor this season), and the former has been dominated by Real Madrid and Barcelona for several years now, and it is only a resurgent Atletico Madrid under Diego Simeone that has looked capable of dethroning the duo and removing them from their pedestals. Serie A has no such problems – sure, defending champions Juventus are currently laughing their way to a third consecutive Scudetto, with only Roma looking capable of challenging, but the rest of the table is an absolute death pit, with just ten points separating fifth-placed newly-promoted Hellas Verona and thirteenth-placed Sampdoria.

So why does Serie A continue to struggle? A major reason is the fact that none of the Italian elite teams bar Juventus own their own stadiums. One of the main factors why Juventus have re-emerged as the dominant force in Italian football is their new home, the Juventus Stadium, which is owned by the club, allowing the bianconeri to directly collect revenue from spectator attendance and giving them total control over the stadium facilities. The rest of the clubs do not own their home grounds, but merely rent them from the respective cities. An example is the Giuseppe Meazza stadium in San Siro, which is owned by the Milan council, and to add insult to injury, the two Milan-based clubs, AC and Inter, have to share it. Italy is one of the few majaor footballing European countries to still allow this – in other countries such as England, this is not only intolerable but unthinkable. However, improvements are being made, with Roma and Inter planning to build their own stadiums within the next few years.

Foreign leagues such as the English Premier League have also been boosted by the cash influx generated by new foreign investors arriving, such as Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich and Manchester City’s Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, while the majority of Italian clubs are still owned by locals. However, with foreign investors recently arriving (such as Inter’s new Indonesian owner Erick Thohir), things are looking up.

In hindsight, while Serie A is looking bleak right now, one can’t help but feel that the night is darkest just before the dawn – progress is constantly being made and the Italian government has in fact recently agreed to step up a campaign to quickly improve the outdated football stadia. Time will tell if Serie A will regain its former glory, or will forever remain in the shadows of its rival leagues.

 

Posted in Opinion, Sport

In the long run: Meeting Luke Bezzina

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Luke Bezzina exudes energy wherever and whenever and so it is ,when we are chatting away, just days before we start University. Before we know it we’re speaking of his past collections, his future girlfriend but most of all his past, present and future ‘’passion’’ –athletics.

By Francesca Zarb and Rachel Powell

Q: What were you like as a child?

L: I was very energetic. At the age of 5 my parents decided to sign me up for most sports. I did swimming and gymnastics and obviously athletics. Until fourteen years of age I still juggled with all three. I also studied drama and piano. Then I decided to pursue athletics simply because I liked it best. It gave me most satisfaction. My coach is currently Zeljko Aras.

Q: You make an effort to be in the best physical and mental condition possible for the purpose of athletics, do you feel pressured sometimes?

L: I do. I sacrifice a lot to be fit. My food, sleep, shoes, social life are all under control. It’s very demanding yet it is also rewarding especially when I win during competitions.

Q: While you’re running do any thoughts occur to you?

L: When I am at the starting blocks, my aim is to cut the finishing line first. The world just shuts down and all I think about is me. I am very focused. Not even if my opponent sprints ahead of me, I don’t look at him I only look towards the finish. I feel free.

Q: Speaking of finish and relating to one of your popular photos, do you usually stick your tongue out at the end of the competition?

L: I know which photo you’re referring to. That was in Malta when I had crossed the line first with the fastest time of the season. I had also done a personal best of 22.24 in the 200 metres. I sometimes do it at the end of the finish line. It is such an indescribable feeling.

Q: You were one of the few juniors i.e. under nineteens’ to ever break the 11 second barrier in the 100m sprint. What can you tell us about that?

L: The word is overwhelming. I am always the type who studies my mistakes and see what I missed out on. I work my hardest to better my performance at every competition. The fastest record ever was that of 10.8 seconds and mine was 10.93 .. getting close.

Q: This year you’ve done the GSSE Games , the European Team Championships and the European Junior Championships. What are you hoping or wishing for in your next season?

L: I am already thinking of the University Games in South Korea in two years time. I am very willing to go for such a competition. It is well known, in fact many Olympics representatives will be there and it is famous for being a fair and clean competition.

Q: Is it true you sat for your last intermediate on your way to the Small Nation Games?

L: Yes. It was I.T intermediate. I still passed and will be reading B.Com next year.

Q: Where you always interested in the commerce or economics sector?

L: At a young age , I wanted to take up different occupations. I wanted to become a bus driver because I liked the large doors and I also wanted to become a priest to take the big host not the small one.

Q: Do you collect anything except for your medals?

L: I used to collect old coins although I’ve stopped now. I have the old Maltese money collected. I also collect watches, shoes ,blazers and electronics. I change my mobile phone once every six months.

Q: Any celebrities you’d like to be stranded with on an island?

L: I’d go for Mila Kunis or Jennifer Aniston who is one of my favourite actresses. I wouldn’t mind Megan Fox either.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Features, Sport