Friday, June 13, 2014

The 2014 Fifa World Cup Brazil welcomes you.

After years of waiting, the 2014 Fifa World Cup kicked off between hosts, Brazil, and Croatia in Sao Paulo. It was inevitable a Brazilian was going to be first on the score sheet, albeit on the wrong side. Real Madrid’s Marcelo swept in a low cross from the left within the early minutes of play. The second scorer was a Brazilian in Neymar after some hassling and tussling by Oscar.

How did the goals occur? The normal Samba way is to attack strong and in numbers. This exposed the defence as both wing defenders scamper down the flanks. Many players get ahead of the ball and the central defenders played wide apart. After winning the ball in their defending third, Croatia quickly played wide and crossed a hard and low ball that touched a few feet and that fatal one from Marcelo.

A series of errors occurred. At the centre line, Paulinho was supposed to stand his ground, not dive in and then delay the attack. As the pace of the Croatian was high, the body shape would be to show the ball carrier inside where there is already traffic. This did not happen. The ball went to the wing. At that point, the delivery of the cross must be denied. Unfortunately, the cross came, and the first man was supposed to deal with that cross and he did not. Neither did the third man. Marcelo was the fourth man and he touched the ball home.

Given the first two steps after losing the ball were wrong or bad decisions, it is immaterial that the defenders played that phase of the game facing their goal. Delaying the man on the ball would allow recovery runs to get players between the ball and the goal, and gain territorial advantage where the defenders have their back to their goalkeeper.

Croatia were guilty of letting Oscar’s confidence overflow. The Chelsea midfielder won two ball in succession, the first while on the ground. His first touch was woeful, but he was left to recover, beat a few players, fall and pass the ball to a team-mate who lost it, steal it and play it to Neymar. Two defenders were supposed to stop the Barcelona talisman. They failed and the goalkeeper could not do much despite the poorly executed shot. There was more direction in the shot that power in that effort, and just about enough accuracy to escape the fingertips and to touch the upright.

Both sides employed 1-4-2-3-1, with Brazil employing a very patient but usual approach and Croatia naturally counter-attacking. The first few minutes saw Brazil pressing up-field, trying to win the ball where they had lost it. The transition from attack to defence as well as defence to attack slowed down drastically leading to that opening goal. The Europeans were a little urgent and much more efficient, producing very clear-cut scoring opportunities. Their direct play produce sight at goal several times before Brazil could settle.

A settled game grew a little tactical and boring for spectators until a soft touch on Fred led to the penalty that Neymar converted for his brace. It was not that the big striker was a threat as he had his back to the goal. Letting the ball get there in the first place was bad defending. The home side played much better with less pressure but their vulnerability was obvious. They exhibited nervousness in counter attacks as their opponents threw kitchen sinks and all at them.

They utilised one counter attack of their own after a toe-poke by man-of-the-match Oscar who picked a long clearance from David Luiz. Goalkeeper Julio Cesar had a few long-range saves before that moment. That final goal followed one wicked block in injury time when Luka Modric’s troops were probably smelling blood and sensing an equaliser. They got exposed by a single long clearance and the attacking pace that ended with a crowning of that man of the match performance by 22-year old Chelsea man. It was a case of nerves and keeping check on the temperament in the final stages of the show that would be enjoyed by the hosts for the days to come.