After the goal rush, negativity marred quarters

July 07, 2014 - 1:31:18 am
A crowd of Colombian fans greet their national football team upon their arrival in Bogota after the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, yesterday. Colombia lost to Brazil 2-1 in the quarter-finals on Friday. RIGHT: France’s team players forward Olivier Giroud (left) and defender Mathieu Debuchy (centre) leave Le Bourget airport in Le Bourget outside Paris, yesterday. Les Bleus’ World Cup adventure came to a end with a 1-0 defeat to Germany  on Friday.

SALVADOR, Brazil: Nigeria’s football federation were voted out of office yesterday after being accused of botching up the country’s World Cup campaign but it is unlikely FIFA will recognise the hastily-arranged elections as anything more than a coup d’etat.

An extraordinary general assembly of the federation went ahead in Abuja on Saturday despite FIFA’s warning of a possible suspension for the African nation if it did not restore the old leadership to power. 

A regional high court had earlier this week ordered the dismissal of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) executive, just over a day after the Super Eagles were eliminated from the World Cup by France in the last-16 on Monday. The court also mandated the sports minister to appoint a caretaker administrator, who swiftly called new elections. NFF president Aminu Maigari was also detained by police on arrival back from Brazil but later released. 

FIFA said on Friday that if the NFF leadership were not restored to their posts by next Tuesday the country could be suspended from all international football activities. It warned against outside interference in the running of its member associations. But Saturday’s assembly endorsed the sacking of Maigari and his executive. “The Congress bemoaned the unfortunate incident of the international embarrassment caused by failure of the Aminu Maigari-led NFF to fully and firmly resolve issues of finance with the Super Eagles ahead of the championship,” a statement said. REUTERS

BRASILIA:  After the attack-minded tactics and goal glut of the group stages, the World Cup quarter-finals were predictably marked by caution and even aggression as hosts Brazil pushed soccer’s laws to the limit in dispatching Colombia.

Only five goals were scored across the four games, one a penalty and one a direct free kick, and the average per match at the finals has crept down to 2.6, still the highest since 2.7 in France 1998 but far short of the record of 5.4 in Switzerland in 1954.

The inevitable tension of the knockout phase prompted some coaches to fall back on negativity and Brazil’s ugly 2-1 win over the Colombians was a depressing comedown after some entertaining contests earlier in the tournament when a majority of teams played with ambition, style and verve.

Colombia, who had thrilled with wonderful displays in reaching the last eight, were drawn into a kicking match, with the Brazilians clearly under orders from coach Luiz Felipe Scolari to win by any means.

Scolari’s players committed 31 fouls and Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo waited until well into the second half, and for 41 to be committed overall, before he showed his first yellow card, a caution for Thiago Silva that means the Brazil captain misses Tuesday’s semi-final against Germany.

The game was also marred by the injury to Brazil talisman Neymar, who suffered a fractured vertebra after a clumsy challenge by Colombia defender Juan Zuniga, depriving the tournament of one of its most exciting forwards.

The dark side of the encounter in Fortaleza overshadowed David Luiz’s brilliant free kick that won the game for Brazil as Scolari appeared to have instructed his players to treat fouling as a tactical resource rather than an infringement of the laws of the game.

“The South American way is ‘win at all costs’,” former England defender Danny Mills told the BBC.

“Yes, they gave away lots of fouls and were fortunate to get away with them at times,” Mills added.

“As a professional footballer, you are not bothered when people say you win ugly.

“Leaving a bad taste in people’s mouths does not matter. They will cheat and bend the rules if they have to.”

The quarter-final between European heavyweights Germany and France was a much tamer affair, with the Germans taking an early lead through Mats Hummels and content to sit back and protect it on a hot afternoon in Rio de Janeiro.

France had set the finals alight after putting five goals past Switzerland and thrashing Honduras 3-0 in the group phase but that was a distant memory as Les Bleus had little to offer in attack.

Saturday’s last-eight clash between Argentina and Belgium followed a similar pattern, with the South Americans going ahead in the eighth minute through Gonzalo Higuain and showing little inclination to push for a second goal.

Alejandro Sabella’s side, desperate to make the last four for the first time since 1990, turned in a canny tactical display in Brasilia and survived a few late scares from an otherwise toothless Belgian team to set up a semi-final meeting with the Netherlands. Runners-up to Spain in 2010, the Dutch got sweet revenge in Johannesburg when they thrashed the holders 5-1 in their opening group game but despite their obvious attacking strengths were unable to break through a determined Costa Rica defence in their quarter-final.

With Costa Rica, the surprise packages in the last eight, defending desperately for long periods, it said it all that the team’s fans celebrated the end of extra time and taking the Dutch to a penalty shootout as if they had won the game. 

Bidding to become the first Central American team to reach the last four at a World Cup, they chose caution rather than playing the enterprising football that had garnered surprise wins against Italy and Uruguay and a draw with another former winner England that secured top spot in Group D.

In the end, they were undone by a ruthlessly efficient set of Dutch penalties, Netherlands goalkeeper Tim Krul coming off the bench at the end of extra time to save two Costa Rican spot kicks.

The match was more evidence, if any were needed, that negative tactics can pay off. If they fail the doubt will always remain that perhaps taking the match to your opponents, at least in the early stages, might be the better option.

However, with so much at stake, particularly for hosts Brazil, a similar approach is likely for the semi-finals.Reuters

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