Friday, 4 July 2014

World Cup Musings.

For the past two and a half weeks, we soccer fans around the world have been captivated by the spectacle that is the World Cup. For those of us who live in Africa, it has meant enduring late nights and making excuses at work in the morning. For sheer excitement and drama, this has probably been one of the better tournaments most of us have witnessed. These are some of the things that have stood out for me;

Africans will be Africans

The Africans brought with them their fair share of drama and colour as always. Unpaid appearance fees and bonuses, players beating up team officials, squads flying in economy class, match fixing rumours.. The list is endless. Most interestingly, a known match fixing guru from one of those East Asian cartels predicted that Cameroon vs Croatia would end 0-4 and one Cameroon player would get sent off. This is exactly what happened. FIFA, that bastion of financial regularity and zero-tolerance to corruption, has challenged the newspaper that broke the story to prove match-fixing allegations against Cameroon. At least their local federation has promised to investigate the claims. Don’t keep your fingers crossed.

This is a what Kevin Prince Boateng had to say about the state of affairs in Ghana’s camp. KPB and Sulley Muntari were infamously kicked out of camp before the decisive Portugal clash. This was a day after Ghana's president had $3m airlifted to Brazil to prevent the players going on strike. That would have been an interesting sight; Portuguese players out on the pitch with no opponents.

I have always had a feeling that most African players come to the World Cup more to get noticed by scouts or move to bigger clubs and earn more money; than to help their countries. Jordan Ayew had a chance to square the ball to Asamoah Gyan for a tap-in to make it 3-1 against Germany, a goal that would have put Ghana out of sight. He saw his name in lights.. This was a recurring theme in most matches that involved Africans.

The above displays are actually symptomatic of Africa’s general problems; officialdom misappropriating money meant for the wanaichi, Africans lacking the basic unity and discipline to compete in the global arena.. and the institutional failure that makes country's presidents the final arbitrators in every national matter At least we’re consistent. Sport mirrors life.

Break out performers

The two break out performers, for me, have been Paul Pogba and James(pronounced Ha-mez by the way) Rodriguez. The World Cup is the greatest opportunity for previously underrated or little known players to finally break into international consciousness. 

Paul Pogba looks like he’ll be the closest thing we’ll ever get to Yaya Toure 2.0. He’s a big strong lad with outstanding balance and the footwork of a much smaller man. It is arguable that he possesses greater vision than Yaya, which may be a result of two years of tutelage at the feet of the maestro Andrea Pirlo. At age 22, one would think he can only get better. Now if only he could curb his ‘Balotelli tendencies’. It still baffles me how Sir Alex Ferguson let such a gem go for nothing.

Yaya Toure 2.0

James Rodriguez’ $50m price tag should have been instructive of how talented he is. Of course if it was paid with Arab money, one has cause to doubt. Well, doubt no more. The kid is the real deal. He’s leading the Golden boot standings with 5 goals and 2 assists; two of which – this one against Japan and this volley against Uruguay- were absolute peaches. Florentino Perez must be speaking to his financial advisor..


This is the first tournament I have seen with no clear favorites. No team has actually played one of those dominant games which make people sit up and take notice. Germany has been labored and ponderous. Ozil, one of the stars of 2010, has looked particularly poor. It looks Germany have got this silly habit of retaining possession just for the sake of it; maybe as a result of over half their team being Bayern players. 

Holland and France have very rampant attacks but I am still not convinced by their defenses and the French  haven’t really been tested (save for Nigeria but we always knew how that was going to end)

Argentina is over reliant on Messi and their lack of a playmaker is obviously hurting them. Alex Sabella starts with two defensive midfielders(Mascherano and Gago) and four forwards(Messi, Higuan, di Maria and Aguerro/Lavezzi). How he expects the ball to get to the forwards is a mystery. The result is Messi dropping deep to pick up possession making it easier for the opposition midfielders to swarm all over him. I don’t know how long ‘el Catalan’ will keep bailing them out.

Brazil also suffer from a similar over-reliance on the brilliance of Neymar. Brazil also seems to play with 9 footballers and two spectators on the field. I don’t care how many times Fred scrambles the ball home, he shouldn’t be the spearhead of a World Cup winning attack. Hulk, on the hand, has still failed to score a competitive goal for the Selecao. Enough said..

Based on the football on display and the fact that Europeans DON’T  win tournaments in the Americas, I would say Colombia are looking good for this one. Unfortunately, there are rarely underdog wins at the World Cup. Somehow, the countries with more stars find a way to win it. 

Also, I have heard that the suits at FIFA, whom Uruguay’s president referred to using bad words, would really love Brazil to win this one in the belief that if Brazil goes out, riots will break out and the tournament will suffer. I see Fred going down in the box, in the Final, due to someone breathing in his direction and winning a penalty that poster boy Neymar converts to give FIFA a fairytale ending. That's just the cynic in me but don’t put anything past FIFA.

Notice I didn’t say anything about Balotelli or Suarez, those are topics for my psychiatry blog..