Colombian superstar James Rodriguez is the leading goal scorer at this World Cup with 6 goals. He’s also leading in the world in the stats category “being landed on by a giant cricket”.
Do not adjust your set, that is the actual cricket, or locust, or grasshopper. The debate rages online as to whether the bug in question is a locust or a cricket. I’m in the former camp, however, the temptation to call him Jiminy Cricket is too great and I have succumbed to the silly pun.
Regardless of the type of bug, it could not save Colombia’s World Cup. James scored from the spot to set up a tight final few minutes but in the end, Brazil gutted out a win. I say “gutted” but in reality Brazil played very pragmatic football from about the 70th minute on. And by “pragmatic” I mean “played like Stoke City”; rotationally fouling and hoofing the ball out on every clearance.
This is the ugliest Brazil team in recent memory. Jogo Bonito is out, Jogo Stokeito is in, and their pragmatism makes a certain sense. Brazil has spent about a brazilian dollars staging this World Cup under the promise of upgrading the infrastructure for the people. The reality is that most of the money has gone to stadiums that will see little or no future use (read this article on fivethirtyeight It’s brilliant), promised infrastructure upgrades have been dropped, people are being displaced out of their homes, and the Brazilian people are pissed off. Brazil is a veritable powder keg waiting to go off, which I suspect will happen if their national team don’t win the whole tournament.
Talking to the Game Podcast, Alyson Rudd and Gabriele Marcotti reported that the officials in Brazil have been told to keep the cards in their pockets. The theory goes that fewer cards equals more scoring and that was certainly the case in the group stages. But a funny thing happens in knockout phases when you refuse to issue cards: the emotions run hotter and the result is that people get seriously hurt, like Neymar did against Colombia.
Neymar’s horrific injury is the fault of Juan Zuniga. He jumped up, put his knee into Neymar’s back, and broke his spine. But I watched that whole match and I think it was an injury that could have been prevented had the referee issued a card to Zuniga earlier in the game for either one of two horrible fouls. Or maybe even those fouls could have been avoided had the referee taken control of the game by talking to the players rather than running up to them face-to-face after every foul call and standing there with an empty expression. Because, and again, not excusing Zuniga’s behavior but, he was retaliating against a Brazil side which seems to have found a rhythm in rotational fouling.
That whole game devolved quickly with Brazil targeting Cuadrado and James for a kicking and uglying up the game with fouling to stop play. Once the ref lost control of the game an injury was almost an inevitability.
That’s something I’m hoping we don’t see today as Brazil face Germany in the semi-finals. That said, the knockout phase of any tournament is hugely emotional, add to that the weight of the fans in the stadiums all supporting the home team, put the contest in a stadium like Estádio Mineirão in the far flung Belo Horizonte and I have to wonder about the psychology of the referee today.
I’m not saying that Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez (hobbies include reading the Bible) is going to cheat but rather that if there is any grey area on any call, it’s going Brazil’s way. That’s just human nature. Germany have to know this. They have to know that in order to win they will have to be inch perfect in every way.
And Brazil know that they can take advantage of the way that the officials are calling games. They did so against Chile and Colombia, targeting James and Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez¹ both times and getting away with a boatload of dirty play.
In the Chile-Brazil match, Sanchez was fouled 7 times and was dispossessed an incredible 14 times. He was dispossessed so much because he cut a lonely furrow up front for most of the game but the truth is that a lot of those times he was dispossessed would have been fouls had any other team committed those tackles.
It was a similar story in the Colombia-Brazil match. James and his partner Cuadradro (a player I have identified as a top talent here before) were each fouled 6 times and Cuadrado was dispossessed 8 times.
It’s no surprise, then, that Brazil lead the World Cup in fouls committed per game. In fact, Brazil are basically Stokeing their way through this World Cup. They are third in aerial duels won, they are joint leaders with Costa Rica with 10 yellow cards, they lead in tackles per game, they lead in fouls per game, they are second in overall defensive actions per game, third in clearances per game, and they play long ball football, averaging just 5 short passes per long pass.
|Ratio of short to long passes|
You can take all of those stats and flip them on their head for Germany. I won’t bore you with all the numbers so suffice it to say that Germany are playing like you would expect of a team comprised mainly of Bayern Munich stars: they keep possession, they pass short and quickly, they don’t foul often and they don’t clear the ball often. They also play the high line which so incenses Stewart Robson and as he likes to chirp on about constantly, they “have to earn the right to play.”
So there it is, beautiful football versus pragmatic football. Which team will win on a cold night in Belo Horizonte?
I’ve seen this movie before. I’m going with Stoke. From a long throw. With a goal-mouth scramble.
¹DUDE, Arsenal are really close to signing him! Arsenal are about to announce Debuchy, Sanchez and possibly Lars Bender! What a crazy summer!?!?!? More on that tomorrow.
|Ratio of short to long passes|