World Cup afterthoughts

THE CRESTFALLEN BRAZILIAN players found it hard to console each other after their third place playoff defeat to Holland.-AP

The tournament drags on at the expense of star players, not least Lionel Messi, on whom the physical demand became intolerable. That Messi should, at the end, be given the so-called ‘Golden Ball’ seemed more of a consolation prize than a proper decision. By Brian Glanville.

How great a World Cup was it? After the drama, the euphoria, the utter humiliation of Brazil, the superb, if belated goal, whereby Germany won the final, should this tournament be seen as a classic? The first thing to be said is that there was yet again surely far too much of it. Once upon a happier time, World Cup finals consisted of 16 teams. In fact, almost incredibly in retrospect, in 1950 there were only 13 teams, the likes of Argentina, France and Austria refusing to take part.

Joao Havelange, having bought and bribed his way to the Presidency of FIFA, may be said effectively to have paid off some of his debts by expanding the competition to 24. This not only clumsily enlarged it, but it did so in a way that, mathematically, it would not work. His ineffable successor Sepp Blatter bloated it again, though at least in a manner in which for all its length it could mathematically work. But now it drags on at the expense of star players, not least Lionel Messi, on whom the physical demand became intolerable.

That Messi should, at the end, be given the so-called ‘Golden Ball’ seemed more of a consolation prize than a proper decision. It is arguable that he was indeed the most talented player in the competition, but ultimately it was something you had to take on trust. True, he had some sublime moments, gliding effortlessly through a packed defence, both making and scoring spectacular goals, but by the end the demands were simply too great. To put him up there with Pele and Maradona, each of whom excelled in winning World Cups, is no more than a sentimental choice, even if he was allowed to do a great deal better than he did four years earlier in South Africa, when Maradona as manager, and a chaotic one, stuck him out on the wing and away from the main action.

The two salient features of the tournament, deservedly won by a fine German team, lucky, however, to survive against Ghana, were the amazing 7-1 German thrashing of Brazil and the scandalous Luis Suarez biting affair. The humiliating demise of Brazil transforming the hierarchy of football. Not only thrashed in Belo Horizonte — where in 1950 England had astonishingly gone down 1-0 to an American team of unknowns — but in the admittedly irrelevant third place match, destroyed by a Dutch team missing a star such as Wesley Sneijder.

Though, Germany in that 7-1 mauling were supremely dominant, ruthlessly incisive, the abject weakness of Brazil was pitiful to see. True, they were without two crucial players, the lynchpin of the defence, in Thiago Silva, the fulcrum of the attack in Neymar. Victim surely in parenthesis, of an abysmal Spanish referee, who didn’t show a single yellow card till deep into the second half, thereby propitiating the appalling knee in the back by Colombia’s Zuniga, which could have crippled the poor Neymar. But there wasn’t a ghost of an excuse for the defensive ineptitude of the Brazilian team. Exemplified by the reckless irresponsibility of David Luiz, who Chelsea have just shuffled off for a vast sum to Paris Saint-Germain. Constantly tearing heedlessly out of central defence, great gaps are left by Luiz. And over and above this, it was his inept header back into his own box which gave Holland such a soft goal in the third place game.

Big Phil Scolari may have managed a Brazilian team to World Cup victory in the past, but he surely made a dog’s breakfast of the 2014 team. Relying on Luiz in central defence was only one of his errors. How could he persist with a centre forward as ineffectual as Fred? Jeered by his own supporters, when substituted in his last unhappy game. And was there no single Brazilian striker to do better than the inadequate Jo, who limply replaced him?

We know, alas, that Brazil once produced a cornucopia of great wingers — Julinho, Garrincha, Jairzinho — no longer use them. But the time has surely come to wonder whether attacking wingbacks are the answer, given that when they advance, they can so often leave great gaps behind them. And what of the great tradition of centre forwards, Ademir, Vava, Romario, Ronaldo?

As for the scandalous case of Suarez, I feel that for all the torrent of words it engendered, the crucial point was missed. Biting Giorgio Chiellini, however, disgraceful and immoral was essentially an act of self destruction by a deeply disturbed man. Condign punishment was inevitable when the outrage, surely psychotic, was committed before a global television audience of countless millions. Since then, as we know, he has first absurdly pleaded innocence, and then recanted by apologising to Chiellini and regretting his behaviour. Leaving the virulent President of Uruguay with abundant egg on his face. Barcelona are cynical enough to buy him, but, sooner or later, he’ll bite again.

Thinking of that final, deservedly won by an excellent German team, it hardly meant much praise for manager Joachim Loew’s strategic skills. With the excellent Sami Khedira injured in the warm-up, choosing the inexperienced young Christoph Kramer made scant sense. Andre Schurrle and Mario Gotze, who worked out that superb winning goal, should surely have started the game rather than come as substitutes.

Spain’s 5-1 annihilation by Holland and a rampant Arjen Robben brought an end to their tactical tippy-tappy superiority, which had previously at club level been torpedoed by Bayern Munich to the detriment of Barcelona. England, I still say Roy Hodgson should have been made manager soon after the World Cup in 1994 and his Swiss success.