Sunday, July 04, 2010

Do Cry for Me, Argentina (and Brazil)!

Germany's ruthless dismantling of Argentina 4-0 on the world's biggest sporting stage will haunt the South American nation for decades to come. Somewhere down the road, there maybe revenge or redemption but not anytime soon. Diego Maradona relied far too much on the artistry of Messi and Tevez and perhaps a few others but ignored the fact that he also had to defend his fort. His "attack, attack, attack" style of play could not mask the holes in his defense and midfield. Argentine defense was porous and second-class at best, and the Germans exploited it to the hilt.

The inventive and unselfish Germans had two advantages going into the quarterfinals: a) Michael Ballack's absence and b) the loss to Serbia 1-0 in the group match. The first meant that the predictable and ponderous Ballack would not stymie the free-flowing game of the young and the relentless Germans. The second was a wakeup call that only increased the fierce resolve of the team to win.

But perhaps the greatest asset of the Germans is the mix of their players. Mesut Ozil is a Muslim of Turkish descent. Sami Khedira and Jerome Boateng have Tunisian and Ghanaian fathers., respectively. Cacau is a naturalized Brazilian and Dennis Aogo boasts a Nigerian heritage. Combining forces with Klose, Mueller and the rest of the team, they ran Messi and company ragged for 60 minutes. The last 30 minutes of the game was painful to watch as the Argentines simply folded. They were outrun, outhustled, and outperformed in every aspect of the game. Messi's weak shots were easily blocked. In all, he took 30 shots on goal in the tournament and not one went in, a deeply disappointing performance. Messi may yet redeem himself in 2114 but that's an eternity away.

As for Brazil, although its defense was also poor overall, the player responsible for the perennial favorite to get the boot in the quarterfinals was Kaka. This "star" also failed to score a single goal in the World Cup. The moment of truth came deep into the second half against Holland when Kaka fielded a ball in the penalty area and had ample time to take a look at the goal to line up the perfect shot. He took the shot and ... what a letdown! There was no curve to the ball as it floated harmlessly away. At that moment you knew that Brazil would lose. The only player who lived up to his billing was Robinho but even he proved to be not a finisher like Romario or Ronaldo.

Brazil will have to remain content with the "five-time champion" label for years to come. The 2114 World Cup will be held in Brazil but unless players like Romario or Ronaldo (too much to expect a Pele or a Garrincha) arrive to lead a young and energetic team who can change strategy as the dynamics of the pitch demands, quarterfinals will be as far as the host nation will go.

Brazil and Argentina remind me of India and Pakistan in field hockey. Until the '70s, these two nations always met in the final in the Olympics. Then other nations began investing in the sport and now India and Pakistan are often eliminated even before reaching the quarterfinals stage.

The German brand of soccer we are now witnessing is the result of a decade-long investment in developing new talents and new approaches to the game. German players seem to combine the flair and flamboyance of the South Americans and the athleticism and work ethic of the, well, Germans. It is unlikely that Spain, which was unconvincing in its 1-0 wins against both Portugal and Paraguay, can hold back the irresistible German force. Look for Germany against Holland in the final and for Klose and his rainbow team to hoist the World Cup after a hard-fought game.

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