Friday, June 13, 2014

Pre-Weekend World Cup Ramblings, etc. (Brazil 3 - Croatia 1)

Now come on. That was NOT a penalty.
I took in the game (4am Singapore time) whilst ironing a pile of dried laundry that consisted of my clothes, my wife's, my son's, my daughter's and my in-laws'. I didn't manage to finish the entire pile (the other half will be left for tonight's Spain-Netherlands match, 3am tomorrow early morning).
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I managed to download an excel file where you plug the scorelines of the matches of the tournament, which in turn update the rankings in the group tables and eventually fill up the brackets in the elimination rounds. In filling it up and exchanging notes with some colleagues in the office, I was startled by how the groupings allow Brazil a very good chance of making it into the finals and winning it all. In my 'excel simulation', they reach the final to face either Spain or Argentina.
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Opening matches tend not to be great contests (I didn't watch South Africa's opening match in the last WC, and saw Germany steamroll Costa Rica in 2006). Brazil-Croatia was a proper contest though. Croatia had enough quality players to bother the hosts and it really looked like that when the match started.
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Brazil need to sort out how their fullbacks bomb forward. They can't just be all gung-ho about it because soon enough, someone will exploit them for it. Before Marcelo's 'opening (own) goal', Olic had already raided Brazil's right flank and sent in a dangerous cross as a 'warning'. Brazil didn't heed it and duly paid for it with Olic creating the tournament's first goal.
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The match for me was pretty balanced afterwards even after Neymar's great equalizer - and this was a great way to start the second half. Let me say it though: it was NOT a penalty. Lovren barely touched Fred who in my opinion should have been yellow carded for simulation instead. The decision altered the game completely. Oscar's goal (to make it 3-1) wouldn't have been possible if Croatia had not gone into full attack mode to get the equalizer - making the 3-1 scoreline too harsh. 
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A few things that bothered me about Brazil:
1.) Defensive coordination is a joke. When a fullback bombs down the flanks, the defense needs to adjust to the space left behind, it will be exploited by good teams and Brazil can end up paying a dear price for it.
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2.) The CB partnership isn't solid. This will be next season's PSG CB partnership... and it looks shaky. Luiz doesn't convince on clearances, last ditch interceptions / tackles, etc. Thiago Silva does NOT look like the world's best CB out there. A team with a great #9 can give this CB partnership problems if they carry on like this.
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3.) Center of midfield is dull. Gustavo and Paulinho offered no dynamism. No great passes, no ability to keep possession in advanced positions, no dynamic runs. There is way too much reliance on Neymar and Oscar alone to create. 
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My Man of the Match: Oscar
Everyone will be talking about Neymar for sure. Given the #10 shirt, he's the undisputed star player of Brazil and scored 2 goals in the opener starring for his country on home soil. That #10 shirt however, should have gone to the real #10 in the team instead: Oscar.
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He ended the season poorly for Chelsea but I have to say that I really like what I saw from the baby-faced playmaker last night. Without the ball, he was all over Modric, refusing to give Croatia's chief creator any time or space to create anything. This aggressiveness without the ball is what saw him barrel through 3 Croata players to send the ball into space for Neymar to tie the game. His tireless running is also what saw him create and capitalize on that half chance to seal the game 3-1. 
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He's got a great knack for finding a pass to open up the defense and create a scoring chances it was there for all to see last night.
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Final Thoughts: Cesc to Chelsea? Really???
Cesc wears 4 as a tribute to his idol Pep Guardiola. He instead should probably have selected #8 jersey Frank Lampard left behind.
My wife will be mighty pissed off to see this. I'm honestly surprised that this happened and a few questions / criticisms come to mind.
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1.) This is a real 'egg-in-your-face' moment for FC Barcelona. Today's bandwagoner fans of FC Barcelona will probably not remember that their club's bandwagoner fans of the past were at a state of righteous indignation when Arsenal were trying their hardest to hold on to Fabregas. They argued that it was some sort of birthright of Barca for Fabregas to return (which IMO is ridiculous). A Barca player of the time (I forgot who) even suggested that Cesc was being treated like a slave. Now they let him go to the club managed by one of their mortal enemies.
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2.) This tells me that the Fabregas signing was a tactical failure, just like like the Ibrahimovic signing (speaking of which, I read his autobiography, and it's magnificently entertaining). They signed Ibra to have a proper striker leading the line for them, only to throw money into the ocean when they decided to allow Messi to lead the line and use their most expensive signing (at the time) as a spare tire - selling him to Milan on the cheap. In a similar vein, they signed Fabregas presumably as an alternative to Xavi, or as some part of their midfield 3 but just couldn't make it work. The price paid for this process of forcing this tactical intent to work was the loss of Thiago Alcantara to Bayern (who looks much more convincing as a Xavi alternate). Cesc has instead seen plenty of time as part of the front 3 (where Barca have plenty of choices). The signing of Rakitic from Sevilla looks more likely for Barcelona now. It might turn out to be a Croatian vs. Croatian battle in midfield for the next clasico.
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3.) Is Fabregas going to become Mourinho's new Frank Lampard? Mourinho's Porto and Chelsea both made use of a 4-3-3. Having been gifted with genius-level #10s in Inter (Sneijder) and Real Madrid (Ozil / Kaka), he then found himself using a 4-2-3-1 after. Now that he has dispatched Juan Mata to Man U, the only #10 left on his team is Oscar, who has the work rate for a midfield place in a 4-3-3 and can play as part of a front 3 (like Joe Cole during Mourinho's first spell at Chelsea). Having signed his new Makelele (Nemanja Matic) in last season, while closing in on his new Drogba (Diego Costa), will Cesc become the new Frank Lampard in Mourinho's re-booted 4-3-3 in Chelsea?

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