Vidal Bayern Bound As He Joins Guardiola’s Champions League Chase

Bayern Bound - Arturo Vidal (Image from PA)Losing a World Cup winning midfielder just a month before the new season begins could have the potential to derail a clubs preparations and result in a sluggish start to the new campaign as they frantically try to adjust. However this won’t be the case for German champions Bayern Munich who let German icon and recent World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger leave for Manchester United last week. It is business as usual for Pep Guardiola’s side who are already filling the void left by Schweinsteiger by purchasing Juventus and Chile star Arturo Vidal. A fee of €40m has been agreed between the clubs for the tireless midfielder who will now travel to Germany for a medical and to finalize terms. It will be a welcomed return to German football for Vidal who left Bayer Leverkausen in 2011 to join The Old Lady in Turin.

A young Vidal playing for Bayer Leverkausen  (Image from Getty)

A young Vidal playing for Bayer Leverkausen
(Image from Getty)

Vidal has been a huge success in Italy, helping Juventus lift four consecutive Scudetto’s and reach the Champions League final last year. But that defeat to Barcelona now sees a break up of the existing squad with several key players either on their way out or having already departed. Carlos Tevez has returned to Argentina with Boca whilst creative maestro Andrea Pirlo departed for the MLS. Speculation has been constant around the futures of midfielder Paul Pogba, striker Fernando Llorente and Vidal with the Chilean now set to be next out of the door. Juventus have strengthen already in several positions as Massimiliano Allegri shuffles his pack but the loss of Vidal will hit them hard regardless. Alongside two of either Pogba, Pirlo and Marchisio, Vidal has been the driving force in the Juventus midfield for the past few years. Comfortable as a defensive midfielder or in a more central position, Vidal’s no nonsense approach to the game bears resemblance to former Italian star Rino Gattuso who acted like a bulldog in the heart of AC Milan’s midfield a few years earlier under Allegri. However unlike Gattuso who was more comfortable sitting back, protecting the back line whilst others created in front of him, Vidal is more of a box to box player creating as many opportunities for his strikers as he does preventing them at the other end. He has benefited hugely from playing alongside the highly experienced Pirlo who has shown Vidal how to read the game better, involved his teammates more and pinpoint attacking opportunities before they happen. This tutelage has made Vidal a better all round player and is now regarded as one of the best midfielders in the world.

Vidal is in the same mould as Gattuso but slightly more attack minded  (Image from AFP)

Vidal is in the same mould as Gattuso but slightly more attack minded
(Image from AFP)

The chase for his signature has been going on for months now with Arsenal and Manchester United making several enquiries only to be told by the polite Vidal that he wasn’t ready. The Chilean wanted to win the Champions League with Juventus and the Copa with Chile this summer before thinking about a move. He may have failed at the first objective but was instrumental as hosts Chile beat Argentina in the final to claim their first ever Copa title. Bayern boss Pep Guardiola has been a fan of Vidal for some time now with suggestions that he attempted to bring him to Barcelona before the Chilean moved to Juventus. But the Spaniard would not lose out this time and has swooped under the radar of all other clubs to sign the player. Along with fellow new arrival Douglas Costa, signed from Shakhtar Donetsk for €30m at the start of the month, Vidal will be part of a new look Bayern midfield as Guardiola looks to build on their domestic dominance in the Bundesliga success with similar success in Europe, namely the Champions League. Vidal will likely operate as part of a new look midfield trio with Costa and the never aging Xavi Alonso who Guardiola will look to as another Prilo like figure for Vidal.

One player who may not be part of that new look team is Mario Gotze. The forward, who scored Germany’s World Cup winning goal after coming off the bench is set for talks with Juventus about a move after falling out of favour with Guardiola. The former Borussia Dortmund star would move as a separate deal but the revenue generated from his sale would help to cover the outlay for Vidal. Both players offer something different and are not like for like replacements for each other so its hard to judge which side is getting the better end of this deal. For Gotze, it’s a chance to resurrect his career which has somewhat stalled since that dramatic night in Rio. For Vidal its a chance to show that he is one of the worlds best midfielders and that with Guardiola’s help he can finally lift the trophy he has been hoping for – the Champions League.

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Mainz Reacts To Jara’s Loose Hand

Gonzalo Jara in trouble again for fingering Cavani in Copa match (Image from Getty)The antics of Chilean defender Gonzalo Jara during Wednesday’s crunch quarter-final Copa America clash with Uruguay were despicable. The centre back played a hand literally in the sending off of PSG striker Edison Cavani in the 63rd minute of the match that ultimately swung the balance of the game in favour of Chile. Cavani received a second yellow after appearing to lash out at the defender, striking him in the face. However on closer inspection from a different angle, the reason for Cavani’s actions can be better understood. In footage capture from behind the two players, Jara is seen approaching Cavani at the half way line and sticking his finger into Cavani’s backside. The striker, who was doubtful for the match after his father was arrested for killing a man in a car accident, reacted as most would by pushing Jara away. The act itself was not worthy of a card but the referee was fooled by Jara who fell to the ground in theatrical fashion.

With Uruguay reduced to ten men, Chile went on to win the game thanks to an 81st minute strike from right back Mauricio Isla and progress to face Peru in the semi finals on Monday. Uruguay, quite rightly so were incensed by the actions of Jara and protested saying that he had deliberately done it to get Cavani sent off. Those protests may have fallen on deaf ears with the Copa organisers Conmebal but they have been heard loud and clear by Jara’s club, German Bundesliga side Mainz 05. The side’s Sporting Director Christian Heidel has revealed that the club is appalled by Jara’s actions and is ready to take their own actions by selling the player this summer. Heidel told German newspaper Bild that Jara knows he will be sold if the club receives a reasonable offer. He went on to state that the club will not tolerate that sort of behaviour from a player who represents their club. His disgust is less about Jara’s wandering hand but more so about the theatrical spill he took in order to ensure Cavani was dismissed.

Mainz Sporting Director Christian Heidel is ready to sell Jara  (Image from Mainz 05 website)

Mainz Sporting Director Christian Heidel is ready to sell Jara
(Image from Mainz 05 website)

Jara has as yet failed to make a statement in response but it’s believed that relations between Mainz and himself have rapidly deteriorated. It is however not the first time that this has happened with the Chilean defender well-known for his lack of discipline and hot streak. His career, which has taken him from his native Chile to Germany via a five-year stay in England with West Brom, Brighton and Nottingham Forest, is littered with disciplinary action so it’s hardly surprising that his current club is having similar issues. That said, it is unusual for a club to react in such a manner based on an incident at international level. When Luis Suaraz famously bit Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup last summer, his then club Liverpool decided to once again to support their player despite several fan protests. It was only after they received a substantial offer from Barcelona that they decided to sell their prize striker but if this had not materialized he would still be at the club today. Mainz decision to sell Jara based on his actions for Chile is a radical step but one that can be rationalized if you consider players as an extension of the clubs brand. Mainz at its heart is a family club, who actively promote games to the next generation of fans with attractive family ticket packages. Having a player like Jara associated to the club could potentially send out the wrong message and damage their brand in the long run. Ridding themselves of the player now appears to be a sensible approach, with any fee a bonus given that he was signed last summer as free agent.

Chiellini shows off the bite mark  (Image from Getty)

Chiellini shows off the bite mark
(Image from Getty)

Jara and his agent will have a busy next few weeks as they start to look for yet another club for the troubled Chilean. There is an argument that the pressure placed on the Chile squad to reach the final is immense which could have resulted in Jara taking such drastic actions to gain the competitive edge in a match which they were in danger of losing. Winning the Copa at home for the very first time would mean a lot to the Chile players including Jara who have developed as a team over the past five years. For the next couple of games, Jara will give his all for Chile in the hopes of lifting the trophy and perhaps also putting himself in the shop window for a potential new club.That is as long as he keeps himself out of mischief which is still to be seen.

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Oscar Misses Out As Brazil Gears Up For Copa Run

Copa target - Brazil manager Dunga (Image from Getty)With the Copa America just over a month away, Brazil manager Dunga has decided to name his squad in preparation. There are few surprises in the squad that will likely be captained by Neymar. In a fairly balanced squad Dunga has named a majority of the players who have played under him over the past eight friendly matches. However there is a recall for former Manchester City striker Robinho after his impressive season for Santos this year. The 31 year old forward will be hoping he can inspire Brazil to yet another Copa America title much like he did back in 2007. Currently on loan from AC Milan, Robinho has racked up only five goals in 13 league appearances this past season but has contributed much more to Santos overall style of play that his return of goals give him credit for. Also in the squad is Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho who has been the shining light in what has been a difficult season for the Anfield club. Having lost Luis Suarez to Barcelona and Daniel Sturridge to injury for a majority of the season, Liverpool have failed to build on last year’s 2nd place EPL finish. That said, Coutinho’s form especially in the last few months has propelled the club back into European contention and now sit in 5th place with three matches left to play.

There is no place however for the creative Oscar who has had a frustrating past few months with injuries, summed up perfectly by his knock out at The Emirates thanks to a wild challenge by Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina. The Chelsea midfielder was hoping that his recent injuries would be overlooked by Dunga and be able to claim a place by a call from Jose Mourinho soon sorted that out. The Portuguese coach, who spent last weekend celebrating his four Premiership title, placed a call to the Brazil manager to inform him about a thigh injury that Oscar had sustained in training. It’s a devastating blow for the 23 year old playmaker who is keen to build on his already impressive 45 appearances for his country including some standout performances at the last World Cup. Also missing out are the influential trio of Ramires, Dani Alves and Kaka with Dunga preferring to play favour with a group of players who fit more comfortably into his style of play. It may not be the style that most expect from Brazil, with attacking bias benched in favour of slower build up play with the midfield rather than the strikers playing a more significant role. This cautious approach is designed to avoid the pitfalls experience last summer.

Brazil as a nation is still reeling from the events of last summer and the Copa America, set to take place in Chile in mid June has been viewed by many in the country as the salvation. Since their 3-0 defeat to Holland in the third place playoff’s, there have been several personnel changes including the manager with Scolari replaced by Dunga. The changes have worked with Dunga’s new look Brazil side unbeaten so far in the eight friendly games they have played. They approach the Copa with confidence, with the country slowly coming back to support them in their droves. Dunga however is taking nothing for granted and knows that the memory of that 7-1 mauling at the hands of Germany in the World Cup semi final is still fresh in most Brazilians minds. The coach is always looking over his shoulder and for good reason. His first spell in charge was deemed a failure with his tactics especially in competitive matches questioned. Eight wins on the bounce is a great feat and goes a long way to mend the deep cuts inflicted by the Germans nearly a year ago. But failure to win the Copa, which is considered one of the more historic and important titles by many in South America, could result in Dunga leaving his job before the 2018 World Cup qualifiers begin in October. Reaching the final is a must, with even the semi’s not being enough to satisfy many. Dunga’s side will have to play six matches in four weeks if they are to reach the final so his team selection is designed specifically for this challenge. Instead of having a set eleven much like Scolari had at the World Cup, Dunga will use his full squad and rotate players depending on the opponent, with the only player likely to feature in all the matches being Neymar. He has strength in depth with several players in the squad able to play numerous positions which gives Dunga options in terms of tactical approach.

Brazil were humiliated by Germany in the Semi Final or The World Cup  (Image from Getty)

Brazil were humiliated by Germany in the Semi Final or The World Cup
(Image from Getty)

He has strengthen the backline, which looked shaky and unorganized last summer, with Atletcio’s Miranda coming in to break up the reliance of David Luiz and Thiago Silva at centre back. In goal, Julio Cesar has been sacrificed for  the more reliable, no nonsense Jefferson whilst Danilo and Fabinho have been drafted in to offer support from full back but perhaps not as much attacking threat as a Dani Alves. The addition of Everton Ribeiro and Diego Tardelli add attacking prowess and mark a first for Brazil by calling up players for the first time who play in the UAE and China respectively. Much rests on captain Neymar’s shoulders but perhaps not as much as in the World Cup. His absence in the semi final due to injury was a huge blow to Brazil’s attack minded approach with Fred the only real option. That over reliance cost Brazil dearly and is a mistake that Dunga is cautious to avoid making again. The Copa America offers the chance at redemption for one of the world’s best sides. How far they can go will depend on many aspects but one thing is certain – failure is not an option.

Brazil squad for Copa America

Goalkeepers: Jefferson (Botafogo), Diego Alves (Valencia), Marcelo Grohe (Gremio)

Defenders: Fabinho (Monaco), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Filipe Luis (Chelsea), Danilo (Porto), David Luiz (PSG), Marquinhos (PSG), Thiago Silva (PSG), Miranda (Atletico Madrid)

Midfielders: Luiz Gustavo (Wolfsburg), Fernandinho (Manchester City), Elias (Corinthians), Casemiro (Porto)

Attackers: Everton Ribeiro (Al-Ahli), Douglas Costa (Shakhtar Donetsk), Willian (Chelsea), Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool), Robinho (Santos), Neymar (Barcelona), Diego Tardelli (Shandong Luneng), Roberto Firmino (Hoffenheim)

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Why Platini’s Tinkering Could Destroy UEFA

All smiles from the joker (Image from PA)With the application phase firmly underway, there appears to be no turning back on Platini’s revolution of the European Championships. The next event, due to be played in France in 2016, will be the last of its kind as a new format is adapted for the 2020 tournament. No longer will a single country host the entire tournament, instead 13 cities will host various games in an attempt by Platini to mix things up. His argument is that no country alone can afford to host the games on its own, with infrastructure alone being a huge cost to the host nation. Added into this falling attendances and partially filled stadiums at some of the less glamorous games highlight a need for radical change. Platini is convinced that a revitalized European Championships that encourages smaller nations to join in with by hosting games can reignite the passion and generate more money. The fans will benefit too in his eyes, with hotel chains and airlines unable to hike up their prices specifically to the host country. Instead low cost airlines will profit by ferrying passengers between the various cities where the games are being played.

13 venues across Europe will host Euro 2020  (Image from Skyscraper.com)

13 venues across Europe will host Euro 2020
(Image from Skyscraper.com)

It’s another hair brained idea by Platini which on paper looks sound but in practice makes little sense. Logistics aside (organizing a 4 week tournament across 13 countries with consideration for fans, TV broadcasters and players would be a nightmare for anyone), the idea of ripping up the framework of the world’s second biggest football tournament and starting from scratch is crazy. This isn’t the first time that Platini has been found guilty of making strange suggestions and he has many wondering if he is a football genius or a buffoon. Orange Cards, sin bins, Gulf World Cups and a newly created Nations Leagues to replace international friendlies are all straight from the Frenchman’s head whilst goal line technology which the game is crying out for is ridiculed by Platini as Playstation football. His support of the switch to the winter for the Qatar 2022 World Cup also shocked many, none more so that the leagues that play in his own organization who will see major disruptions to their domestic schedules that will take seasons to rectify. Platini appears to have too much time on his hands and too much of that time is spend on his own thinking up new ways to change football “for the better”.

Platini compared goal line technology to Playstation Football  (Image from PES)

Platini compared goal line technology to Playstation Football
(Image from PES)

Granted the European Championships needs a fresh coat of paint and some additional glamour added to it, but starting from scratch is not the solution. Yes the cost is intrusive but can limited if the country selected already has the stadiums in place. It should be pointed out that some countries in Europe have the facilities and infrastructure in place to stage a tournament tomorrow. England, France, Germany, Spain and Italy could all host with ease whilst Turkey would only require spending on infrastructure like roads and airports which is already doing. The problem sits with Platini and his inability to listen to reason or any other argument other than his own. Many saw Platini as the man to save football from the clutches of a corrupt FIFA and the eventual successor to Sepp Blatter but now many are hoping this won’t happen as given a bigger remit, his damage could be on a grander scale. Imagine a World Cup split over five continents or a new international Super league that pits Scotland against New Zealand or Chile against Japan on a frequent basis. As crazy as it may sound, it could be a possibility if Platini got his way. Like Napoleon, there is a danger that Platini believes he can conquer the world and change it for the better. His world however is football and needs to be protected. Football fans across Europe will be hoping that common sense returns to this once great man and he returns the European Championships back to its original format just in time for the 2020 tournament.

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Deconstructing Brazil – What Went Wrong

Down and Out - Brazil crashed out of the World Cup in stunning fashion (Image from AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)With the dust now settled on what was a stunning World Cup, the inquest into what went wrong for Brazil can now begin. Whilst other teams like England, Spain and Italy exited earlier than expected and before Brazil, it was the nature of the home teams implosion in the semi finals against eventual champions Germany and their failure to recover for the irrelevant third place playoff game that has many talking. Expectations were high going into the tournament off the back of winning the World Cup warm up event, the Confederations Cup. A spectacular demolition of Spain in the final by 3-0 lifted the hopes of a nation and set about creating a false dawn ahead of the World Cup. How could they not win? With Neymar playing well, the defence solid as a rock and Fred finishing top goal scorer, Brazil fans started to plan the victory parade before the World Cup had even began. After a group stage that taught us little except for Neymar’s brilliance, Brazil went into the knock out stages with more belief that ever before. But after crashing out in the semi finals to Germany by a score of 7-1 and then throwing away the third place playoff against Holland, many are wondering exactly what went wrong?

World Cup winners, Germany  (Image from PEDRO UGARTEPEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images)

World Cup winners, Germany
(Image from PEDRO UGARTEPEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images)

Over reliance on Neymar

Neymar’s brilliance was on show from day one but so was Brazil’s apparent over reliance of their boy genius. Even from the first kick of the ball against Croatia, it appeared as though the tactic was simply give the ball to Neymar. The Barcelona star was at the heart of every play that Brazil made and in the beginning it was mesmerizing to watch. But as the tournament progressed, it gradually turned into predictable. Oscar, the creator of many of Brazil’s best moves cried out for the ball but his teammates instead chose to pass the ball to the heavily marked Neymar. The once unpredictable Brazil had become routine and beating them became obvious – nullify the threat of Neymar and the game is there for the taking. Brazil had little else in the locker – no Kaka to turn to for inspiration, no Robinho to add some flair or Ronaldinho for that matter to provide some brilliance. They may have breezed through the group stage but in the knock out rounds, Brazil dangled too close to the edge for comfort. Both Chile and Colombia tried to shut down Neymar and managed fairly successfully though tight marking although the latter took that too literally. A late and high challenge by Juan Zuniga ended Neymar’s World Cup and with it Brazil’s Plan A. Unfortunately a Plan B was not in the bank for them to turn to meaning defeat against Germany was inevitable.

An over reliance on Neymar cost Brazil dearly  (Image from Getty)

An over reliance on Neymar cost Brazil dearly
(Image from Getty)

The £50million mistake?

As a centre back, David Luiz is vulnerable. Against Germany his defending was laughable, his positioning more so. Against the Dutch his attitude to amend for previous mistakes was commendable but again his positioning let him down. Why a centre back was on the left wing with his team trailing by two goals was anyone’s guess. Too often Luiz was anywhere but at centre back leaving Thiago Silva stranded. Its easy to blame Luiz for all seven goals against Germany and that would be unfair as the entire team minus Oscar were culpable but against Holland the argument is vindicated. For the first goal, Luiz was found wandering at the half way line when the ball was played to Robben who was then dragged back by Thiago Silva for a penalty which Van Persie duly converted. Holland’s second came directly from Luiz who chose to clear the ball with his head into the middle of the pitch and onto Daley Blind’s left toe rather than head it out of towards the side line. And to cap off his bumbling display, he was again found out of position for Holland’s third stranded at left back which forced Fernandinho into defending against Janmaat’s cross. Unfortunately Scolari’s decision to place his faith in David Luiz as a centre back failed miserably and the player looked out of his depth and badly out of position. Luiz secured his dream transfer to Paris Saint-Germain for a record fee of £50 million just days before the tournament began with the view to him partnering Thiago Silva at the back next season but surely now even they must be having second thoughts?

Luiz looked lost against Germany and too often out of position  (Image from PA)

Luiz looked lost against Germany and too often out of position
(Image from PA)

Lack of options upfront

When naming his squad, Scolari chose to name only two out and out strikers – Fred and Jo out of a possible five. The other three positions went to winger Bernard, the all-rounder Neymar and forward turn winger Hulk. Playing with one upfront and Neymar in a floating role, Brazil and Scolari put a lot of faith in one striker in particular, Fred. The 30 year old Fluminense front man was rightly picked as his starting number nine after an impressive season with his club and an even more impressive Confederations Cup which helped to silence many of his critics. But unfortunately for Brazil and Scolari, on the world’s biggest stage Fred was posted missing. Ineffective in the group stages, misfiring in the knockout rounds Fred at times looked more like a liability than a goal threat. Foolishly Scolari kept faith but to no avail as Fred finished the tournament with only a single goal to his name. Why Scolari stuck through him is up for debate but looking at the other options available to him may give the answer. Substitute Jo may be effective in the National Championship but against tough tackling defenders, he became the player who badly failed at Manchester City all those years ago. Bernard, for all his tricks on the ball, is not an out and out striker but yet was thrown into the mix against a rampant Germany with the hopes of scoring a goals or two. As for Hulk, the player who gained his name from his formidable physique and love of the green skinned monster, was more timid than ferocious during the World Cup leading to many questioning if his nickname was indeed appropriate.

Fred's ineffective performances up front cost Brazil (Image from AFP)

Fred’s ineffective performances up front cost Brazil (Image from AFP)

Failed to learn lessons of the past

Brazil’s rich history in the World Cup is nothing to scoff at with a record five World Cups already in their locker. Learning how to win from them is one thing but learning from the mistakes of past failed Brazil teams is another. Scolari knew how to win the World Cup having won it before in 2006 but the fear of losing it never crossed his mind. He should have looked at past teams like that of the 1982 Brazil World Cup squad that went to Spain and learned from their mistakes. After all the similarities are painfully obvious. Clear favourites leading up to the tournament, they feared no one and rightly so as they were arguably one of the best Brazil sides never to win the World Cup. With a squad that included the ever talented Zico alongside the likes of Socrates, Eder, Serginho and Junior, Brazil ran through their group stage with ease which excited the Brazilian people into believing that this would be their year. But like the 2014 squad, Brazil crumbled in the knock out rounds with some startling similarities. Like Neymar, Zico was Brazils star player and the one who they looked to when they needed inspiration. He too was targeted by opposition numbers for rough treatment and almost missed the crucial tie against Italy after a horrendous challenge against Argentina threated to end his World Cup. But Zico managed to play against Italy but could do little to prevent Brazil from crashing out. Upfront Serginho, who had been in superb form for Sao Paulo in the Brazilian Championship in the run up to the tournament was misfiring and with no real option on the bench, Brazil were struggling in front of goal. Added into that Italy exposed Brazil’s defensive frailties on a too frequent basis for the game to end in their favour. Paolo Rossi ran riot with Italy eventually winning 3-2 and knocking Brazil out of the World Cup.  The harsh lessons that head coach Tele Santana learned from this experience should have been glaring warning signs for Scolari but for whatever reason he chose to ignore them.

Scolari could have learned something from the Brazil 1982 team who lost to eventual winners Italy  (Image from Getty)

Scolari could have learned something from the Brazil 1982 team who lost to eventual winners Italy
(Image from Getty)

Why he picked a squad with so few options upfront and little to no support characters like Kaka or Ronaldinho that could shoulder some of the burden from Neymar is unknown. Or why indeed he placed so much faith in David Luiz at centre back despite having a more than reliable alternative in Dante is even more baffling. Ultimately it was Scolari’s decision and one that has cost him his job with the CBF terminating his employment last week along with his coaching staff. Former Brazil manager Dunga and Corinthians manager Tite are rumoured to be the favourites to take over and regardless of which coach gets the job, both will look towards younger players like Oscar as they rebuild the Brazil squad. One man he wont be able to call upon is Fred who decided to retire from international football after being made into a proverbial scapegoat by many in the Brazilian media.  After the collapse in 1982, Brazilian football took a long time to recover focusing more on getting a result rather than playing attractive flowing football, the Brazilian way. For the sake of the world game and for the watching public, many will hope that history does not repeat itself and that Brazil can bounce back from this and show the world once more that they are a team to be feared in international football.

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End Of An Era as Ineffective Spain Crashes Out

Sergio Ramos cna barely watch as Spain crash out (Image from Getty)

This was meant to be their fairytale send off, a chance for a group of genuine legends in the game to make history once more by becoming the first team to win four major international tournaments in a row. But instead Spain looked their age and crashed out of the World Cup thanks to a spirited and lively Chile. The beautiful passing game that has characterized Spain’s playing style was officially posted missing against Chile. Tiki Taka was replaced by misplaced and misjudged passes from an uncharacteristic Spanish team as Del Bosque’s team became only the second team (behind Australia) to be eliminated. It’s the end of an era, one in which Spain dominated the international game and entertained the masses with some of the slickest and most effective football we have ever seen.

Questions will be asked about Del Bosque's tactical decisions  (Image from EMPics Sport)

Questions will be asked about Del Bosque’s tactical decisions
(Image from EMPics Sport)

Now the inquest will begin as to why Spain has made an early exit. Strange tactical decisions made by Vicente Del Bosque heading into the game will be questions. Deciding to drop Barcelona duo Gerard Pique and Xavi Hernandez from the starting lineup that was shocked by Holland in the first game was unusual, but more so was to keep faith in Diego Costa upfront. The Chelsea bound striker has looked less like the formidable front man that he has become at Atletico and more like a lost boy, unsure of exactly what he is supposed to be doing. Ineffective against Holland and dithering in the first half against Chile, Costa was replaced on both occasions by Fernando Torres, who himself hasn’t had the best few years for club or country. Tactical adjustments made in the two games will also be under the microscope as Del Bosque failed to make full use of the talent at his disposal. Two games played and still no game time for David Villa and Juan Mata. The latter has had a difficult season at Manchester United but possess the vision and talent to pull any team out of a death slide. But the shun of Villa is the one that makes the least sense. The 32 year old had a fantastic season with La Liga winner Atletico, partnering Costa up front so many anticipated that Del Bosque may deploy the duo together for Spain as well. It would have made perfect sense given that Costa operates better as part of a strike force rather than as a lone striker. But Del Bosque resisted and Spain suffered. Trailing 2-0 to Chile at half time, Villa would have appeared to have been the obvious choice with Spain switching to a 4-4-2 formation but again Del Bosque resisted. Preventing Spain’s all time record goal scorer from coming onto the pitch, not even for 20 minutes was criminal by Del Bosque and cost Spain their chance of retaining the World Cup.

The backlash on Casillas from the media has been unwarranted given what he has done for Spain over the past 10 years  (Image from Getty)

The backlash on Casillas from the media has been unwarranted given what he has done for Spain over the past 10 years
(Image from Getty)

The international careers of Fernando Torres, David Silva, Xavi, Iniesta, Xavi Alonso and Iker Casillas are surely over given their disastrous exit. Questions too about Del Bosque, who despite signing a two year extension before the tournament started will be under the spotlight after Spain became the first ever defending champions to lose their first two games. Despite Spain’s glorious history under his reign, which included 1 World Cup and 1 European Championship, the humiliation of exiting this early from a tournament they were one of the favourites to win may result in his exit. Spain need a fresh start, a rethink of their formation and style of play and Del Bosque may believe he isn’t the right man to do that. Chile to be fair were superb. Fast, innovative, creative and effective to the end, Chile has shown the world that they are to be feared in this competition. Hammering Australia was expected but the way that they played against the current world champions with confidence from the start was breathtaking. They now face Holland to see who tops the group and it will be difficult for anyone to call that one. But for Spain, they must pull themselves together for a meaningless game against Australia, competing for only pride before boarding a plane home. It’s not the exit that this legendary team neither wanted nor expected but ultimately it’s the one they deserved for the way that they played in their first two games. Spain will recover, regroup and as a new revamped team take on the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign with a renewed passion as if they have to prove something. For true football fans however, Spain have nothing to prove, for they will always be the team that show the world through tiki taka exactly how the game should be played and how to win with style.

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England Hold Their Breath As The World Cup Draw Nears

Getting ready for the draw (Image from FIFA)With the World Cup draw happening tomorrow, nerves in the England camp are at an all time high.  England’s fate will be decided at 5pm (GMT) in Bahia, Brazil so in advance BOTN explores what could be England’s worst group.  Using the existing pools (England are in pot 4) and based on the various rules and regulations attached to the draw itself, here is the “Group of Death” for England. It features Spain from Pot 1, Chile from Pot 2 and Mexico form Pot 3 with England filling the final place from Pot 4.

Current World Cup holders, Spain  (Image from Getty)

Current World Cup holders, Spain
(Image from Getty)

The current World and European champions are amongst those in pot one that could pose a real threat to England’s chances. In fact all eight teams, with the possible exception of Switzerland will be a serious threat to England’s qualification hopes. Spain have talent in abundance and are incredibly hard to break down due to their intense passing game. Xavi and Iniesta are likely to dominate the play with Fabergas and Mata as support options. At the back, they have a solid backline with centre back pairing Barcelona’s Gerard Pique and Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos causing problems for opposition strikers, roaming just in front of Casillas, Reina or Valdes in goal. Upfront Spain’s rich talent pool continues with the likes of Fernando Torres, David Villa, Fernando Llorente and  Roberto Soldado to name a few offering options. Adding to this mix is newly converted Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa who has been in blistering form so far this season. The Brazilian born striker, who recently pledged his allegiance to Spain instead of his homeland, has forged a successful partnership with David Villa for Atletico. This surely gives Spanish head coach Vicente del Bosque food for thought on whether he should unleash the pair for Spain during next summer’s tournament.

Diego Costa and David Villa  (Image from AFP Getty Images)

Diego Costa and David Villa
(Image from AFP Getty Images)

Chile tested England in their last trip to Wembley just under a month ago as Alexis Sanchez backed up his talking off the pitch with a sublime performance. The Barcelona striker made a sly remark about England’s pathway system for future footballers stating how it was too easy for youngsters to join academies and automatically play for a club in the future. In Chile the academy system is nowhere near as advanced as it is in England but appears to be producing the goods. At Wembley they convincingly beat England 2-0, throwing Roy Hodgson’s plans into disarray. Although England chose to field an altered side for the match allowing them to test some new faces, it was a huge win for the South American’s who have shown with the emergence of star players like Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, Felipe Gutiérrez and Gary Medal that they are a future force in world football.  Pot 3 may be considered to be the weakest pot but within them lies the stinging tail of Mexico who could relinquish all hope for England. With a squad made up of established stars and Olympic winning youthful exuberance, Mexico are considered to be one of the tournaments dark horses. Despite taking a rocky path in qualifying, Mexico’s strength is their desire to succeed which makes them a dangerous opponent.  Upfront, Mexico can call upon Manchester United’s  Javier Hernandez, Valencia’s Giovani Dos Santos or Santos Laguna’s Oribe Peralta to score the goals needed to progress.  In midfield, head coach Miguel Herrera mixes experience in the form of Andres Guardado (who is one game off his century for his country) with up and coming stars like Porto’s Héctor Herrera with some success. He could also spring a few surprises with his final squad selection if Erick Torres or Marco Fabian make the cut. Both players are good examples of the rich talent that Mexico is producing and that England needs to be aware of if they draw them in the World Cup.  

Chile ran out victors the last time they faced England  (Image from PA)

Chile ran out victors the last time they faced England
(Image from PA)

In the World Cup, there is no such thing as an easy team as England have found out in the past. There are various other teams who pose a threat to England’s chances of progression, most noticeably host’s Brazil, a Messi inspired Argentina and arch rivals, Germany. But some of the dark horses could also cause problems such as the Ivory Coast or Ecuador. Ivory Coast has plenty of talent including Manchester City’s Yaya Toure, former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, Roma’s Gervinho and CSKA Moscow’s Seydou Doumbia. They will be no pushovers, nor will Ecuador who are an improving side and will be a lot tougher than the last time England played them in 2006. Antonio Valencia and Vitesse’s Renato Ibarra are two talented wingers with lots of pace to burn plus with Felipe Caicedo up front, Ecuador could be a real threat. The country is still hurting from the death of legend Christian Benetiz so will be approaching the World Cup with a desire to do well for his memory. The USA are also amongst the group of teams who could be a potential danger as England found out in 2010 in South Africa. Coach Jürgen Klinsmann has spent the past few years experimenting with different players but now has established a nucleus of talent like Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley that he is building his team around. Added into this the emergence of Brek Shea, Terrance Boyd and Sunderland’s Jozy Altidore, Klinsmann has a strong group that is ready and prepared for the World Cup next year.

Hodgson will be hoping that he is still smiling after the draw  (Image from Getty)

Hodgson will be hoping that he is still smiling after the draw
(Image from Getty)

Hodgson and England will be hoping to avoid such a nightmare by drawing a generous group such as Switzerland, Algeria and Iran. Based on previous draws, England has had luck on their side but can it hold for Brazil? Interestingly one team in pot 4 will be moved into pot 2 just before the draw starts. This is to allow for 4 groups of eight and a somewhat easier drawing process. That said, it is still quite confusing as FIFA will not allow a group to have more than two European teams in it so adjustments will need to be made, ruling out the three European teams in Pot 1 being pulled.  If England were chosen for Pot 2, it could play in their favour or perhaps not. Either way, Hodgson is unlikely to get any sleep tonight as he worries about who his team will face next summer.

Blog by Richard Waterhouse

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