Summer Blog Post Eight
Anne Frank & Tanya Josefowitz; World Cup in Brazil five years ago
Summer Blog Post Eight
Summer Blog Post Eight
Having watched all but the first thirty minutes of the Italy vs. Uruguay game, I must say that if anything my going for a draw was the best la Squadra Azzurra could hope for. In fact, they would have achieved that result only if the match had gone according to plan. First, Balotelli and Immobile proved to be no option up front. Second, the former was replaced at half-time. Third, the Mexican referee sent off Marchisio, which fact was subject to controversial comments but which also meant that Italy could put even less pressure on the Uruguayan midfield. Then, in the 79th minute, Suárez once again bit one of his adversaries. Despite Chiellini’s protest, the referee didn’t decide anything, and with eight minutes to spare it was Diego Godín’s upper back or his shoulder that was hit by a corner, allowing him to score his third crucial goal of the season. He had equalized for Atlético at Nou Camp to win them la Primera División and opened the score at Lisbon vs. Real Madrid in the Champions League Final.
Thereafter, Italy tried everything but on the one hand they had no substitutes left and on the other hand they didn’t even create dangerous set-piece situations. While they had been desperate in 2010, trying not to lose against Slovakia, they simply didn’t stop trying this time but, as Buffon later said it wasn’t enough if you fail to score in two of three group games.
Wednesday, 25th June 2014
With Spain, England, and Italy eliminated, while Greece manage to snatch a last-minute qualification at the hands of the unlucky Ivory Coast, foolish enough to field 36-year-old Drogba from the start, the question arises whether the three most successful national leagues in Europe over the past three or four decades have failed to train players who would be able to succeed in such conditions. I consider the English way of playing too simplistic. The Spanish coach in order to save the holders’ face ought to have fielded his B-team against Chile. And, Italy’s lot was probably too dependent on the duo of Montolivo and Pirlo to function in midfield. And once the former had broken his shin, visibly, Pirlo alone did not suffice to break up the defensive “bricks” of either Costa Rica or Uruguay. And if you have three strikers who are all good on their own account but aren’t reckoned to harmonize in whatever constellation, things tend to become complicated.
Interestingly, both Balotelli and Suárez played best when faced with their former or current rivals from the English Premier League. It remains to be seen how the Europeans fare in this World Cup of outsiders. Now the Dutch are favourites to reach the quarter-finals, which the Germans cannot yet dream of since they face tough US opposition tomorrow. Both sides would qualify automatically if they drew. Neither Löw nor Klinsmann admits to even thinking of that option. It’s the infamous Austria vs. Germany match at Gijon in 1982 which is frequently recalled in that context. Whoever wins that group will perhaps meet France in the quarter-finals and possibly Brazil in the Belo Horizonte semi-final. The runner-up can look forward to clashing with Argentina and the Netherlands in the quarter-final and semi-final – provided, of course, that those sides perform according to general expectations.
Only if France, unexpectedly, becomes second in their group, which means they would need to lose quite heavily tonight, would they have to move towards the Belo Horizonte semi-final with Brazil. In that unlikely case, however, they wouldn’t have been able to extend their record run of six unbeaten games against South American opposition. As such, they are the most successful European team. For instance, they beat Brazil in the 2006, the 1998, and the 1986 editions of the World Cup, then winning on penalties in Mexico, in an epic match.
Remembering all these matches in turn, I have come to admire their realism which made les Bleus wait for their chance to score even against the mythical side fielding both Zico and Socrates, the white Pele and the wise man in 1986. Platini converted a penalty to equalize. In 1998, in what was one of the first World Cup Finals I watched in a crowd packing a Münster cinema, I had timidly predicted a two to one win for France. Then they led by two goals to nil at half-time, with Zinédine Zidane heading home from two corners. And in the quarter-finals of 2006, it was Zidane again in a unique moment of playing together with Thierry Henry kicking home his skipper’s free kick who decided their third World Cup tie with Brazil.
Wednesday, 25th June 2014, on the train to Norden
It’s Thursday, the last match day for groups G and H. My six-year students of French try to misbehave in a charming way, getting up and down when I turn my back, even reacting positively to my suggestion they should do this silently. Every now and then, they start applauding whatever anyone or I had said. Still, they can be enticed to write down what we are doing. And when I mention that they are perhaps somewhat excited because of a new teacher in German, one of the boys doesn’t quite get up in his excitement, though it looks like it, before saying: “Well, sir, we do have to write much in your class, but with her, we must write much too much.” He even used a superlative phrase such as cannot be imitated in English. At some other moment, one of them disappeared in the cupboard, reminding me of my own schooldays when we obliged our youngest to mount into the waste-paper basket which we put into the cupboard for the sake of disturbing the German class of Mr. Kindermann. There was no love lost between us. Cruel as we were, we managed to make him run out in tears more than once.
Nothing like that happened in my own class today. Luckily, I thought, any match between France and Germany wouldn’t happen before Friday, 4th July 2014, that date being the sixtieth anniversary of Germany first winning a World Cup Final when I would not have to teach them. We would have to reminisce afterwards, and they are still so young that they don’t necessarily think of what’s going on tomorrow. Not even tonight’s clash with the USA is mentioned once. It’s only when I leave their classroom that I hear some kids, presumably five-year students rhythmically shout U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A in the corridors! I cannot admit to fancying those shouts any more than I would if they shouted Deutschland! Deutschland! Deutschlaaand!
In the afternoon, I do some mails on the computer still enjoying both the new screen and the quick response to anything I try to do as well as the familiarity with the old programmes before helping my wife with mowing the lawn. My own task consists in emptying the grass on the grass heap, which is just lug work, while I crouch on the bricks of the drive, weeding the crevices once more. As I did so only recently, I can also turn to the pavement before the front garden, witnessing with some surprise how even beautiful flowers begin to invade the grey stones once they have grown roots in the sandy ground.
Mounting my bike to cycle to the church at Logabirum where I habitually watch the German matches I feel some suspense in the air, not exactly as in 2010 when the day had been hot and a thunderstorm could be smelled hours before it would come down upon us. No, it was quite quiet in that suburb of Leer, some people still in their gardens with children playing around the barbecues in preparation, mostly clad in the German colours, as far as I could make out in cycling past. Others were still on their way to wherever they planned to follow the event. Arrived in the church hall, I found it astonishingly empty, as if everyone had found someone to reserve seats for them, as, indeed, a young friend of mine, arriving a few minutes later, would confirm it for his family. The Lutheran Church at Logabirum is the oldest of its kind at Leer. For more than the century it was the only one, too, so that Lutherans had to walk out from town, as one might quip today Christian football fans who want to avoid the masses at public viewing in front of the local cinema need to cycle out of town, making a pilgrimage of a different kind.
Usually, before such crucial group matches, I avoid looking at all the details of how Germany would accede to the next round, while this is just the cold detachment I need to enjoy football at large. Today, this young friend recounts the conditions in such a way that I finally realize after the US had drawn with Portugal I ought not to have worried at all since goal difference plays such an important part in the FIFA regulations.
Moreover, and this has become a myth in German football since the World Cup Final in 1954, it is raining cats and dogs at Recife. So at least conditions are quite similar to those our players might encounter in our latitudes, albeit that it’s still stiflingly hot, so that Löw soon takes off his hooded pullover, allowing himself to be soaked through in his dark shirt.
The game itself evolves slowly, Germany building their attacks on the right with defender Jérôme Boateng often involved, while it is on the left that Lukas Podolski and Benedikt Höwedes fail to put pressure on the American defence. With so many white-shirted US-boys around him, Podolski neither finds room for his clear-cut runs nor for his shots from outside the area. At half-time, he is replaced by Klose, a clear admission of an experiment failed. At nil nil, Germany has a clear plus of chances created, and now Özil moves to the left, while Müller will roam on the right. The axe in midfield with Lahm, Schweinsteiger, and Kroos produces fewer mistakes than in the game against Ghana, while the US-boys only wait for unprovoked errors to start their quick counter-attacks. Before any of these have a chance to succeed, however, it is after a corner headed dangerously close to goal anyway by Per Mertesacker that Müller scores from the rebound, standing outside the area and aiming for the far corner. It’s his fourth in the tournament and his ninth World Cup goal in as many matches.
At the same time, at Manaus, the match of Portugal vs. Ghana proceeds as an epic one-man show with Cristiano Ronaldo missing many more chances than in the two games before. Typically, Portugal take the lead from a curious own goal, conceding the equalizer in the second half. As at this point Germany had just taken the lead, Ghana would have needed a single goal to kick the USA out of the tournament – as they had done in the last 16 back in South Africa – but again, typically, Portugal take the lead after Ghana’s goalkeeper had foolishly supplied Ronaldo with a chance even he could not miss. This sounds cynical but it isn’t. He alone might have allowed Portugal to come back into the tournament if only he had converted two or three of the best opportunities. So his tears at the end were justified. Couldn’t they also have been self-pity? No harm intended, I just wonder. Post-World Cup comments are more critical.
I don’t watch any of the following matches that day, reading instead predictions by a German football scholar, Albrecht Sonntag, based in France and working at the Université de Bordeaux, about the chances of les Bleus to succeed with Ribéry absent and everyone convinced they can only fail. One after another, he ticks off the players that have brilliantly demonstrated their strength in all three group matches, so that I decide to watch whatever I can get hold of on the Internet on Friday, the first day without live football for a fortnight. He also points out that France were very lucky indeed in the over-all draw for the group stage for they only played in the temperate zone and invariably in the late afternoon, while other sides had to kick off in the hot North of Brazil as well as at high noon.
Thursday, 26th June 2014