Solo efforts

German coach Joachim Loew is blessed with a talented squad.-AP

The indications are that in certain rare cases, one man can indeed make a team, a salient example being Diego Maradona, without whom and his amazing solo goal against England and Belgium in Mexico City, Argentina could hardly have won the 1986 World Cup. By Brian Glanville.

“One man can’t make a football team” is a very old adage but Portugal and their fans will trust that it is proved untrue: by Cristiano Ronaldo. His superlative performance against Sweden in Stockholm, brought him all three Portuguese goals and brought them their second play-off victory. Powerful, elusive, enormously fast with a ferocious right-footed shot and no small menace in the air, he over-shadowed even Sweden’s giant acrobatic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who promptly and in vain announced after the Stockholm game that the ensuing World Cup simply would not be the same without him and he’d take no further interest in it.

The indications are that in certain rare cases, one man can indeed make a team, a salient example being Diego Maradona, without whom and his amazing solo goal against England and Belgium in Mexico City, Argentina could hardly have won the 1986 World Cup. Which they all but did again in Rome, four years later, when had not Maradona been virtually on one leg — but still gallantly getting them to the final — they could well have beaten Germany to retain the title.

Another Argentine, Alfredo Di Stefano, never played in the World Cup finals, but there is no denying he was the fulcrum and inspiration of the Real Madrid team which won all five of the first European Cup, a tireless dynamo who covered huge quantities of ground, but was always around the penalty box to score often spectacular goals with foot and head. I see him as the second finest footballer of all time, behind Pele.

Spain did take him, naturalised, to the 1962 World in Chile, but he wouldn’t play for the equally domineering manager Helenio Herrera, though officially he was injured.

As for Ronaldo, the fact is that with all his talents, Portugal are yet to win a major tournament with him. Not even when the European finals were played in Portugal itself in 2004, when his team were lucky to scrape past on penalties against an England team whose star-turn, Wayne Rooney, was virtually kicked out of the game early on. Not in the last World Cup in South Africa, when Portugal were defeated 1-0 in the second round by their Iberian neighbours, Spain, having had their right back, Costa, sent-off.

Brazil, with home advantage, are clearly going to be very hard to beat, a team full of coruscating talents, not least the mercurial little Neymar, wonderfully elusive and able when he drifts out to the left wing to compensate in some measure for the fact that the Brazilians, who once produced the best wingers in world, have long sadly done without them, Julinho, Garrincha and Jairzinho now mere memories.

This is a Brazilian team which can also parade such attacking aces as Oscar, Ramires and Willian in the midfield and a muscular centre back in skipper Thiago Silva, who is cautiously optimistic about his team’s World Cup chances and especially pleased that in last year’s Confederations Cup, Brazil beat Spain. Who frankly, through the holders, don’t, in the image of Barcelona, look as formidable as they were even a couple of years ago. And Messi, ever the fulcrum of Barcelona’s attack, will, after all, be playing for a formidable Argentina team, always at home on South American soil. With Carlos Tevez and, above all, Sergio Aguero, in such penetrative form this season, it looks as if Messi, against his wishes, might be, denied the roving role he so formidably employs with Barca and play in the left wing.

Certainly on recent form Germany look the best of all the European teams with a plenty of excellent players; as they showed when their virtual B team strolled past England at Wembley. An England team far stronger at least on paper than the uncoordinated side which was humiliated 2-0 by Chile, four days earlier. An impressive Chilean team inspired by attacker Sanchez, superb as centre forward. Chile could well be quarter-finalists.

The Germans humiliated England without Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, the injured Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philip Lahm and Manuel Neuer in goal. The so called reserves showed an almost instinctive understanding, a calm mastery of ball and tactics, which showed the depths of the squad on which coach Joachim Loew can rely. At Wembley Sven Bender was paramount in midfield, Maximilian “Max” Kruse an elegant spearhead, Toni Kroos and Marco Reus insidious in support. The full team, days earlier, had overplayed Italy at San Siro, hit the woodwork three times and had to be content with a 1-1 draw.

There is so much talent in this German squad, with the likes of Mario Gotze and the rapid Sidney Sam available.

Italy? Much will depend on Mario Balotelli whom Marcello Lippi curiously and foolishly would not take to South Africa, while Giuseppe Rossi, once at Manchester United but now at Fiorentina, seems a valuable partner if the Azzurri continue to use two up.

Holland still have abundant strength but the memory of their inept failure in the last European championship finale remains. England? Dire against Chile with a scratch team, largely outplayed by the German but in Andres Townsend, at last they’ve found a right winger with the big match temperament though manager Roy Hodgson thinks he must improve his positioning and give more help to his defence. Joe Hart showed against Germany that his confidence and competence have returned in goal but the loss of John Terry, admitted by Hodgson, who, however, won’t try to coax the 33-year-old out of retirement, has severely weakened central defence. If only Jack Wilshere can recover fitness and form.