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October 21, 2014
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A W. Cup full of surprises

Argentina’s Lionel Messi (left) is carried by his teammates Ángel Di María (7) and Marcos Rojo after scoring his first goal during their group F World Cup soccer match against Nigeria at the Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Wednesday.
By Eric Weil / Sportsworld
If Argentina continues the trend of improving their game, it would be another indication of chances in ‘rough water’

LONDON — There is a proverb in Argentina: “A río revuelto, ganancia de pescadores” meaning that anybody can profit from a confusing situation. Soccer’s current World Cup has so far been rather confusing with some strange surprises, the major one being the early elimination of defending champion Spain. But it did not end there. France seemed to be carrying all before them with eight goals in their first two matches, but then they were held 0-0 by apparently weaker Ecuador when a combination of results could still have eliminated them from the top two qualifying places in their group. Germany’s 4-0 win against Portugal came as a surprise for them and Portugal, but then Germany were held by Ghana.

That England finished bottom of their group can be more easily explained. In one of the few matches I could see, England, as usual, were steady in defence, but pretty useless up front against Uruguay who, traditionally played dirty with an also useless referee showing not only Spain’s team was useless, but also the referee they sent to the World Cup. Also, England suffered by giving Luis Suárez — whom they should know as he was last season’s Premier League top scorer — two chances and he converted both.

But the real explanation is that in England’s Premier League there are barely 30 percent of players who qualify to be able to play for England and that is not enough from which to pick a leading team. So, unless laws are changed to put a cap on foreign players per club, England is not likely to figure in international competition, though its clubs, with foreign players, should continue to do well.

So in this confusing situation, in rough water so to speak, Argentina’s chances increase. While never firm favourites to win the title, it’s is one of the few countries to have won its three group games. None of them were easy and Iran caused a surprise by almost holding them to a draw (and could have even beaten them) until Messi’s winner with almost the last shot. In that match, Argentina were on top despite disappointing play, but some poor passing spoilt their approach work. It was also to be noted that Di María, who earns thousands of dollars a week, has yet to learn how to shoot a ball straight and not too high, while much-criticized goalkeeper Romero saved Argentina from possible defeat on at least three occasions.

In this match, the referee was hit by a ball and instead of standing still like a statue, pushed the ball away from an Iranian player. Another surprise was that Iran were so good, though to reach the World Cup finals, teams cannot be bad.

Argentina gave an improved performance against stronger rivals Nigeria who qualified for the next round with them, but to say it was an improved attacking performance is nonsense. Argentina began the World Cup with a 5-3-2 formation, but in later games changed to 4-3-3. Was this at Messi’s request? If Argentina continues the trend of improving, it would be another indication of chances in “rough water,” Now it faces Switzerland, a team which has caused surprises, in next Tuesday’s round of 16 and against which it has not lost in five meetings.

Not welcome

The match against Nigeria in Porto Alegre on Wednesday brought an invasion of Argentines, and Brazilian police reported that some 90 percent of them had no match tickets and probably never got any. There were, of course, hooligans among them and 32 were not allowed to enter Brazil as they were on a list sent by the Argentine government of hooligans banned from entering Argentine stadiums and considered particularly dangerous. Others were caught in Brazil and also sent home, some for committing crimes. Earlier, some 85 Chileans were deported for running riot in a press centre.

Goal line technology

Goal line technology came into use early in this World Cup in France’s first match in which the referee had not given them their second goal in the 3-0 victory over Honduras. There was however another World Cup match — but I cannot remember which — in which TV clearly showed that the goalkeeper had caught the ball behind the goal line but which was not registered by goal line technology.

Meanwhile, members of the Dutch Football Association were present at the Field Hockey World Cups in The Hague earlier this month as they showed interest in hockey’s video umpire which covers not only goal line incidents. but the 23 metres surrounding the goal. This column has long pressed for this to be done in soccer also and it may come eventually ... but ever so slowly.

FIFA’s heist

Brazil’s 1994 World Cup star Romario blames the FIFA, the International Football Federation, for committing the biggest heist in the history of Brazil and future World Cup organizers will suffer the same fate. While Brazil has spent millions of dollars to organize the event — only some of the money will come back — FIFA, as usual, will make a handsome profit out of it.

Passing over the corruption investigations inside FIFA, Romario complains that people did not have to be displaced to build installations, nor did workers have to die building stadiums at speed while migrant workers have already died in Qatar to build FIFA-quality stadiums although a revote may yet be taken on choosing this venue for the 2022 World Cup.

There is no room to publish all Romario’s criticism of FIFA. He ends by saying that international soccer could eventually collapse under the weight of its own problems with corruption. Is this a requiem for the World Cup?

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