Summer Blog Post Nine
Storytelling today: Summer School at Bologna University, 1-12 July 2019
Summer Blog Post Nine
Getting up at six sharp, as is my wont on days when I go to school for the third lesson, I cannot resist the impulse of finding out at once about yesterday’s last group matches. In fact, Algeria, who had been one nil down at half-time when I last heard about the game, had come back to become Germany’s next rival for the last 16, with France hovering in the background for both sides. Almost unique in the history of international matches, Algeria has not even conceded a point to Germany in their two previous encounters. The only other countries are Egypt and the GDR. While the Germans can hope to get even with Egypt, the German Democratic Republic became part of the Federal Republic of Germany on 3rd October 1990, so that this defeat as well as the winning of the Olympic Tournament at Montreal in 1976 will forever be to the credit of a federation long since defunct.
On 1st January 1964, Algeria were leading a side with Willi Schulz and Uwe Seeler by two goals to nil at half-time, winning the game with that score, a short paragraph in the local paper tells us. The second clash I only partly witnessed on 16th June 1982 when the Algerians beat an arrogant German team by two goals to one in the first group match of the Spanish World Cup. Later, on the third match day, it was what came to be called “The Disgrace of Gijon” when Algeria were eliminated by Austria vs. Germany ending with the result necessary for both teams to accede to the next round. Early on, Germany took the lead, and then everyone on the pitch seemed to stop playing properly, waiting for the final whistle to be blown. It is since 1986 that FIFA have insisted on having the last games of any one group played simultaneously. Now there is the Algerian coach as well as the press worldwide to re-invoke that “Disgrace of Gijon” both in terms of what didn’t happen between former coaching associates Löw and Klinsmann yesterday and in terms of drumming up emotions and passionate lust for revenge for the match on Monday night. Watching highlights from Algeria’s games vs. South Korea and vs. Russia, I find they will be as dangerous as Ghana’s men had been or as the Nigerians may well prove to be for the French.
Friday, 27th June 2014
After the first of four days with eight matches of the knock-out stage is over, my general prediction that both Brazil and Colombia would survive the South American “semi-final” and move on to the World Cup quarter-final has come true. Moreover, my idea that Uruguay would not be able to defeat Colombia without Suárez, suspended by FIFA owing to his vampire attack on Italy’s Chiellini, was right in principle, too. So I earned two points each. A closer look, however, shows how lucky Brazil were to survive their tie with Chile. On the one hand, the outsiders hit the cross-bar and the post of the same goal in the last minute of extra-time as well as with their last penalty in the shoot-out. On the other hand, it was Brazil who had scored by means of an own goal in the first half before dominating the match for a few minutes until a quite simple technical mistake committed by Hulk, otherwise in my view the strongest player in today’s Brazilian side, allowed Chile their first chance and also their only goal of the match.
The first half was one in which both teams refused to follow any tactical hint their coaches might have provided them with. So it was passionate tackling and sometimes over-motivated runs at each other which forced the referee, the Englishman Howard Webb, whom I didn’t like to see there, I must say, to try and calm both sides. In the end, his not sanctioning brutal fouls committed early on, was proved right, so I can write he did a very good job, not least since he saw Hulk’s handball in the second half, thus disallowing the Brazilian striker’s goal.
In the second half, though, the game changed completely, since the Brazilians were more or less kept from Bravo’s goal owing to the defensive system Chile’s team now managed to stick to. While there had been chances on the counter-attack in the first half, with Brazil in most cases unable to profit from those since Neymar, who introduced most of them, didn’t find partners he could feed whenever he brilliantly held the ball in the area. Neither Fred nor any other offensive partner succeeded in cooperating with Neymar. In the second half, Hulk tried his luck on both sides, with substitute Jô rarely able to fulfil his local fans’ hopes for another goal. At the same time, Neymar more or less disappeared in midfield or in a group of three or four Chile defenders who succeeded in hounding him out of open spaces.
Chile, for their part, did everything to conform to their flexible idea of playing football, so that the chances they created, few and far between on the whole, remained dangerous, preventing Brazil from ever putting them under pressure for a sustained period.
The same applied to the two halves of extra-time when, similar to France vs. Germany back in 1982, a shot fired at the cross-bar of the eventual winners proved the last exclamation mark of the game as such. The penalty shoot-out termed a lottery on the Internet and on the radio after Brazil had won, owed much of its suspense to several players missing their penalties, with Julio Cesar saving three, while Claudio Bravo saved one. It was Neymar, the player most often fouled and hit and kicked throughout the actual game, who finally hit home for Brazil. Hesitating, venturing dummy moves such as are mostly seen on the part of goalkeepers, he succeeded in outmanoeuvring his future teammate at CF Barcelona before the right post saved Brazil from having to continue the nightmare of a penalty shoot-out. I switched off immediately, so I missed Neymar kneeling on the pitch in tears as well as the immense roar of relief that rocked the stadium at Belo Horizonte so much that its emotional undercurrents captured me when I heard a replay on the radio this afternoon. A friend later told me of an exchange of e-mails he had with a Brazilian who he had once shared a flat with. The man, now a resident of Belo Horizonte, wrote he had not been at the match, since it was so hot. Could he have afforded to go there? I didn’t raise that question.
The second game, Colombia vs. Uruguay, witnessed two sides reproducing their well-known tactical ideas with Colombia the more active team favoured by their offensive strategy once James Rodriguez had scored the opening goal in an ingenious move between the two rows of the Uruguayan defenders. As opposed to Brazil, the Colombians know extremely well how to create pressure in a systematic way since everyone is prepared to run for everybody else. Uruguay also lost because Coach Óscar Tabárez felt unable to change the hierarchy of his side
before the match, allowing Diego Forlán an uninspired hour on the pitch until they were two nil down and he fielded Gastón Ramirez who knew at last how to fulfil the part of a playmaker. Though thoroughly tired, the Colombian side hung on to their lead, and the Uruguayans, it must be said in praise, succeeded in completing their World Cup run this year in fairness.
Sunday, 29th June 2014
 With hindsight, it is interesting to note that in the 1982 World Cup Germany first played Algeria before facing France in the semi-final. If both sides win their first knock-out match, they are going to meet in the quarter-finals this time.