Moacyr Barbosa: Brazil’s greatest villain?

Rarely in the glorified history of Brazil’s global football dominance, have they produced lasting names that were revered for presence between the sticks. Of course there were exceptions and had one of them been treasured aptly, then today’s acrobatic and out of the box keeping style would have seemed an inherited legacy from South America. This article travels down the road to the faraway land of Jogo Bonito – in the backdrop of the cursed Maracanazo that made a nation cry – to witness one such exceptional artist of the game who took the center stage of an epic monochromatic drama reminiscent of a Greek Tragedy. This article was first published in ‘Tiro: A football odyssey from Amazon to Alps’ , Rattis Books, UK, June 2016.

Intro credit

Long before the introduction of Aristotle’s theory of the ‘tragic hero’, human mind has been in a love relation with the concept of the fallen hero. From the Mahabharata’s Karna to Iliad’s Achilles, from epic tales of myth to staged drama or real life, tragic heroes tend to overshadow the protagonist in the painful teary eyes of the audience. But to become a tragic hero, one must take a fall, and often that fall is nasty.

Remember the last fight sequence in Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby? Maggie was on the verge of becoming the welterweight champion when suddenly Billie ‘The Blue Bear’ gave her a sucker punch, which eventu­ally ended her career and shattered her and thousands of her fans’ dreams. Clint Eastwood’s near perfect direction and Hilary Swank’s heart-warming acting won millions of hearts and ended up winning four Academy Awards. Interestingly, the screenplay was adapted from a real life story, which makes it a bitter pill to swallow. Moreover, if it were a monochrome screenplay, with noisy camera work and a real life story on a big stage, it would have been even more interesting. We are talking, of course, about the final match of the 1950 World cup at Maracanã, the biggest football stadium on the planet, in front of the biggest football crowd the world has ever witnessed.

He jogged to the centre of the circle for the team photo. His hands were behind his back. He refused to look at the camera lenses aiming at his face. Instead, he looked extremely serious, watching the green and yellow flag flying all over Maracanã.

Our protagonist here is Moacyr Barbosa, a man with a thin moustache and the first black goalkeeper to represent Brazil in a World Cup. Wearing the familiar white shirt, white shorts with blue trim and a green sweater, he was standing in front of the queue, leading the team. His heart was pounding faster than usual. Every strike of the beat was loud and clear to his ears. He could feel the chill going down his spine even in the scorching sun as he came out of the tunnel. He jogged to the centre of the circle for the team photo. His hands were behind his back. He refused to look at the camera lenses aiming at his face. Instead, he looked extremely serious, watching the green and yellow flag flying all over Maracanã. Auguste Comte’s motto of positivity was running through his veins: Ordem e Progresso. ‘Love as a principle and order as the basis; progress as the goal.’1 Love had taken him this far and now the goal was to make his and his country’s dream come true. Of all the people, none more than him could understand the gravity of this moment. This was the day that would turn him into a Brazilian immortal. As the national anthem started, 200,000 people inside the stadium made their presence felt with an orderly chorus. The sound took the mercury a few grades higher as Juan López, the opponent coach felt the palpable pressure.

Moacir Barbosa, Carlos Castilho and Gylmar-dos Santos, 1953. [Source: Folhapress]
Moacir Barbosa, Carlos Castilho and Gylmar-dos Santos, 1953. [Source: Folhapress]

The background story

The life of a goalie is not as easy as it seems. The goalkeeper is the one player who runs least on the pitch during the 90 minutes of the play and yet bears the heaviest responsibility to keep the score line down. A little known fact is that the modern tennis legend Roger Federer fell in love with the ‘beautiful game’ before he became the tennis superstar of today. Unfortunately, the love never lasted. As Roger famously said:

“I enjoyed the position I was in as a tennis player. I was to blame when I lost. I was to blame when I won. And I really like that, because I played football a lot too, and I could not stand it when I had to blame it on the goalkeeper.” 2

Football in Brazil used to be an affair for the upper class people. Although Afro-Brazilian players used to fill in the team sheet in club-level football but to represent the national colours, Brazil preferred a more conservative ap­proach: to play with a white goalie. Oberdan Cattani was their model. He was the tall, barrel-chested goalie for Palmeiras, the champions of the Sao Paulo league. He was understandably the first choice keeper to represent Brazil until Flavio Costa, the Brazilian coach used Barbosa to replace the injured Oberdan and presented the world with a whole new face of goalkeeping.

Barbosa was born in the Campinas city in the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil, the Mecca of football. And just like every other kid in Brazil, his dreams of becoming a footballer was no exception. Few would believe that when he first took to the leather ball, he preferred to play as a centre forward just like his Uruguayan nemesis, Alcides Ghiggia. However, this was until the day when his brother-in-law (owner of the team in the amateur league where Barbosa played football) pleaded him to fill in the goalkeeper position for a single game due to the absence of his first choice goalkeeper. The rest was history as Barbosa accumulated exactly 1300 official matches in that position, since.

When Barbosa replaced Oberdan in the national colours, the people of Brazil did not immediately approve. For them a man between posts should never be as elastic as him, but rather possess sound knowledge of the fun­damental rules of goalkeeping. Additionally, a country still fraught with ra­cial tension made it even more difficult for Barbosa, but Flavio Costa had his reasons. During his time at ‘Victory Express’ CR Vasco da Gama as man­ager, he saw the young visionary keeper at his training ground. Standing 5’10”, Barbosa was not the tallest presence in the pitch. Rather he made his pres­ence felt through his intelligence and brilliant sense of positioning. He never lacked courage when it came to stopping the ball from crossing the goal line. Journalist Bruno Freitas who wrote a book on Barbosa named Queimando as Traves de 50 – Glórias e castigo de Barbosa, maiorgoleiro da era romântica do futebol brasileiro (Burning the Goalposts of 1950 – the glories and punishment of Barbosa, the greatest goalkeeper of the romantic era of Brazilian football) has pointed out, ‘He suffered a total of six fractures in his left hand, five in his right, as well as broken legs twice, in two different places’.3 Barbosa was an exceptional talent. His preference was simple enough: make the saves as simple when possible and spectacularly elastic when required. Given his size, Barbosa realised he could not wait patiently for a shot to come on either side of the 24 feet wide goal mouth and stretch out to stop it. Instead, he set out beyond the goal, anticipating the opponent’s play. When a shot came, Barbosa would leap into action. He perfected the move where he jumped across the goalmouth against an incoming shot, reaching with his opposite hand for the oncoming ball. His arm would cross his body and stretch over his head. Thus he gained momentum by throwing himself at the ball sometimes shifting the entire body weight from one post to the other. This display of skill was fascinating to watch but something dangerous was hidden beneath it and Barbosa himself was unaware of it. Carlos Alberto Cavalheiro, Barbosa’s for­mer team-mate and fellow goalkeeper at Vasco recollected from his memory –

“He changed the way Brazilian goalkeepers played. In that era, goalkeep­ers were practically restricted to the six-yard box. But he dominated the whole area. He would come out of his goal to make saves with his feet, with his hands, any way he could, it did not matter. He was a trailblazer.” 4

Moacir Barbosa, during his Vasco days. 1958
Moacir Barbosa, during his Vasco days. 1958

And as for technical grades, his ability to grab the ball high up in the air using only one hand and capacity to fist it away, avoiding rebounds, set him apart from the rest. He was ahead of his time by quite a mile. Thinking out of the box was his strength. He created a legacy of sweeper keeper long be­fore it was first introduced to the Brazilian game. Barbosa led Flávio Costa’s Vasco to a South American club championship triumph in 1948 in Chile as they outmuscled the powerful La Maquina River Plate boasting some of the most feared names such as Adolfo Pedernera, Angel Labruna, Felix Loustau and a certain youngster called Alfredo Di Stefano in their squad. Barbosa kept four clean sheets in the tournament, more than what any other team man­aged, keeping a healthy goal difference to ensure top finish. It was only a year later when Costa chose Barbosa in the national team and evidently he became a national hero making the saves that propelled Brazil to the Copa America title, ending a 27-year-drought. The next step for Barbosa was inevitably be­coming a world champion.

The stage setup

The World Cup came back to South America in 1950, twenty years since its inception, as Brazil embraced the opportunity to host the tournament. With Europe slowly recovering from the scars of World War II, only thirteen na­tions could participate in the chase for the ultimate glory. As the myth goes, a Scotsman named Charles Miller had first introduced the rules of the ‘beautiful game’ to the Brazilian shore in 1894 but they are the ones who discovered how to play it. Finally at home, in the first World Cup in twelve years, they were ready to claim what they believed rightfully belonged to them. They were so certain of glory that O País do Futebol built the Maracanã in order to parade the Jules Rimet Trophy and claim its heritage for the first time in their football history. In order to recuperate the mammoth amount of money they spent building the stadium, the Brazilians proposed a new format of the tourna­ment to FIFA featuring more games to earn more revenue in the process. It was decided that the four group toppers would play in a round-robin format to determine the champion.

Brazil came into the final match after rampaging their opponents, scor­ing 21 goals and conceding only four in their five matches. Their final hurdle was Uruguay who were back in the reckoning despite a draw against Spain. The Uruguayans were described having the most fearless defenders of their legacy protected by the allure of their blessed shirts. Scoring goals against them would need blood and sweat from the fierce Brazilian offensive line. Though Brazil had been marked as the favourites to win the prize, Uruguay was a far more superior power in the context of the South American Football Championship. This only added more fuel to Brazil’s urge to go on top of the world. Barbosa and Brazil, with an average defence line, had the advantage of only requiring a draw to be crowned champions, while their opponents had to win the match overcoming the hostile environment of the Maracanã, which was in fact a microcosm of the bigger picture in Rio. The streets were ready for the pre-planned victory parade to welcome their heroes as millions of shirts with victory slogans written on them were printed and distributed. O Mundo, a second-tier newspaper in Rio printed a photo of the Seleção un­der the headline ‘These Are the World Champions’5 in their morning copy. Gazeta Esportiva, the local newspaper in Sao Paulo came with the headline ‘Tomorrow we will beat Uruguay!’6 the evening before the finale. The honour­able mayor of Rio, Angelo Mendes de Moraes, greeted the Brazilians over the loudspeaker even before the kick-off, announcing:

“You, players, who in less than a few hours will be hailed as champions by millions of your compatriots! You, who have no rivals in the entire hemisphere! You, who will overcome any other competitor! You, who I already salute as victors!” 7

Before the players even entered in the field, they were gifted with solid gold watches, with ‘For the World Champions’ engraved on them. That emo­tion would come out to such extent for the countrymen was quite natural but much to everyone’s surprise, FIFA president Jules Rimet had also prepared a speech written in Portuguese for the Brazilians. The match was meant to be a mere formality before the Seleção took their first step towards global dominance of football but the La Celeste captain Obdulio Varela had different plans. Just before the teams took the pitch, he motivated his team with a strong and emotional speech. Countering Juan Lopez’s defence minded strategy, he said, ‘Juancito is a good man, but today, he is wrong. If we play defensively against Brazil, our fate will be no different from Spain or Sweden.’8 He even bought as many copies as he could of the O Mundo newspaper which already declared Brazil as the champions, only to cover up his bathroom floor and en­couraged his teammates to urinate on them and shouted as they progressed towards the tunnel, ‘Muchachos, los de afuera son de palo. Que empiece la fun­cion’ 9 (Boys, outsiders do not play. Let’s start the show). Later, it turned out to have a MASSIVE psychological effect during the 90 minutes of the fateful final.

The anticlimax

Every drama has its best part hidden in the climax where most of the tension is built up. It’s that decisive moment of maximum intensity where the drama can turn upside down. People with faint heart often fail to cope with such situations. Those 22 men on the lush green pitch of the Maracanã on 16 July 1950, felt the same way.

The first 45 minutes was not eventful as Brazil were seen typically launch­ing a series of attacking waves but were denied by the mighty Uruguayans led by Varela, playing in the defensive midfield and protecting the Sky-Blue’s defence. After the game restarted, one minute into the second half, Brazil showed the brand of football they loved to play and why they were favourites to win the Cup. Friaca, the Brazilian forward received a defence-splitting pass from Zizinho, made two Uruguayan defenders look helpless on their heels and ran into the box before shooting to Maspoli’s right. Gooool do Brasil. An ecstatic Luiz Mendes, the Radio Globo announcer jumped from his chair as all of Brazil leapt to their feet. The assemblage inside the Maracanã reverberated the Brazilian colosseum and on the pitch, Friaca lived the moment of his life under a heap of his teammates. Brazil were en route to becoming the world champion, but Varela and La Celeste had other plans.

The first reply from the Sky-Blues came nineteen minutes later and with it the party went onto hold as Maracanã noticed the first glimpse of the Fatídico day’s antihero. Uruguay winger Alcides Ghiggia made a run through the right side in the 66th minute catching Brazilian defender Bigode wrong footed and before he could position himself, Ghiggia let him taste some of their own medicine. He faked right, then left, then rushed towards the goal line before completely confusing Bigode about his intention and thrashed an inch perfect cross towards the incoming Juan Schiaffino who drove the ball into the top corner with a single touch. Barbosa was left exposed by his careless defence line and could do nothing but watched as the ball rattled the back of the net.


By then the match was evenly poised but Maracanã did not panic yet. A draw would still be good enough for the Brazilians if they could hold on for the next 24 minutes. Varela and company pulled their socks up and set foot on the pedal. Barbosa was aware that he had to play the role of a custodian now. Ademir, Friaca, Zizinho had played their part and suddenly the respon­sibility to take it home came on Barbosa’s shoulder. No one had thought that this match would come to such a point but such an eventuality was always on the cards. The beauty of football, as with many sports, is that the manner in which it is played, can never be entirely controlled by any one influential figure: it belongs entirely to the collective unit who play and coach. Barbosa, who was one of the many stars in the Seleção unit earned the dependency himself. His name echoed in the air of Rio and this was not an overnight achievement. During his time at Vasco, he took the team to six Campeonato Carioca triumphs in 1945, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1952 and 1958. Moreover his re­cent performance in the 1949 South American Championship triumph raised his country’s hope even higher. He kept two clean sheets including the final match against Paraguay and despite having a naïve defence line, was beaten only seven times throughout the tournament which made him the second best goalie in the campaign. At a time when Brazil were building their repu­tation by artistic play, Barbosa became the watcher of the Fort Knox. At 4.33 PM, thirteen minutes after the first blow to the Brazilian wall, the sun fell from the sky. Maracanã saw the emergence of the antihero, from a ‘nobody’ to a huge somebody. 79 minutes into the match Ghiggia again made a blazing run away from Bigode down the right wing. As he entered the penalty area, he kicked up a little cloud of chalk. By then Barbosa had already closed in the first post. He shaped himself such that Ghiggia would be forced to cross again as other Uruguayan players were approaching the back post. The first goal had not yet left Barbosa’s mind. It was kind of a run that leaves a keeper in two minds: cover the narrow angle to the left or start inching right to in­tercept a possible cross? Had Barbosa possessed the conventional grammar of a goalie, he would have waited until Ghiggia made up his mind, but he was an exception. He took his decision before Ghiggia could make his and that’s where Ghiggia got the better of Barbosa. Ghiggia read Barbosa’s mind in that fraction of a second. Instead of a cross he drilled a powerful low ball to the near post, the one place where a goalkeeper should never be beaten. As Barbosa dove left, he caught a piece of it. But was it enough? Barbosa sunk his face in the lush green grasses for a moment and waited for 200,000 people to give him the answer. There came the most roaring silence the world had ever experienced.

2–1 to Uruguay.

Luiz Mendes described the action in his charismatic style. ‘Goool do Uruguay’, he chanted repeatedly using the same words, this time asking a question. ‘Gol du Uruguay?’ He continued, every time with a different but un­happy style, nine times in a row to his disbelief – ‘Gol du Uruguay.’ and finally to acceptance – ‘Gol du Uruguay…’ Ghiggia on the other hand often used to describe the moment saying, ‘Only three people have, with just one motion, silenced the Maracanã: Frank Sinatra, Pope John Paul II and me.’1°

Although Brazil tried to make a dramatic comeback with rapid waves of attack launched by their powerful offensive line-up, it was all too little too late as the hosts were kept at bay and with the final blow of the whistle, George Reader, the English match official indicated that the La Celeste were the new champions of the world.

Alcides Ghiggia: Who had silenced the Maracana in 1950.
Alcides Ghiggia: Who had silenced the Maracana in 1950.

‘Everywhere has its irremediable national catastrophe, something like a Hiroshima. Our catastrophe, our Hiroshima, was the defeat by Uruguay in 1950.’ 11 – Nelson Rodrigues, the famous Brazilian playwright, journalist and novelist described the outcome of the match. Coming second in a World Cup was the best ever result for the Brazilians at the time yet it felt no better than failure. They had never considered anything but victory. For the fans, the Uruguayan victory was obscure and even impious. July 16 became a dooms­day in Brazilian history like the Waterloo of the tropics. To the fans, their nation had been robbed and being the watchman, Barbosa had failed in his duty. In their lasting memory that goal was like Zapruder’s film of Kennedy being shot. The killer was Barbosa himself.

The aftermath

In the second half of the Clint Eastwood’s movie, Maggie was seen in a medi­cal rehabilitation facility where she wished to see her family members. It was only a few moments later that she came to know that her family had enjoyed the wealth she had provided until this time and now that she was on the verge of death, they would like to claim all the remaining property she had. As the days passed, Maggie developed bedsores and went through an amputation for an infected leg. She asked her friend, philosopher and guide Frankie one last favour: to help her die. When he refused, Maggie tried as best as she could to free herself from the pain but failed.

The monochrome drama of Moacyr Barbosa shares a somewhat similar picture. However, reality is stranger than fiction. When our tragic hero went through the catastrophe, he took the nasty fall. Although eleven men lost to a better opposition that day, Barbosa was the one vilified by the entire country.

The people of Brazil had deleted the otherwise brilliant career of Barbosa from their memory banks. He became ‘the man who made all of Brazil cry.’’2 Competition from Gylmar dos Santos Neves and Carlos Jose Castilho was hard enough as always, and a fractured leg suffered when playing for Vasco in 1953, put an end to his chances of playing in a second World Cup. Although he was still adored by the Vasco faithful but his presence in Vasco’s colours started creating problems. The team that once structured the base of the na­tional team and was widely admired became a hated one wherever it went. For Barbosa, it was even more painful. It became impossible for him to go to the shops or theatres without being involved in a heated discussion. Catering to his daily needs became an even greater challenge than stopping fierce goal bound shots. To free himself from this tormented life he left football. He started working as a public employee in the very sports complex where they were accommodated before the fateful final but this time in the swim­ming pools. The superstition became so strong that 1950 became the last time when Brazil wore their white jersey. They did not only change the jersey col­our. The ethnic diversity began to reflect in the Brazilian national team over the years except in one particular position. Except a single match in 1966, no coloured player was allowed to keep the goal for Brazil for more than half a century. Until on 13 June 2006, the Seleção took the field against Croatia with Nelson de Jesus Silva nicknamed Dida, as the goalkeeper. The Milan star fi­nally broke the trend. It took them 56 years after Ghiggia’s goal to introduce another black goalie.

Except a single match in 1966, no coloured player was allowed to keep the goal for Brazil for more than half a century. Until on 13 June 2006, the Seleção took the field against Croatia with Nelson de Jesus Silva nicknamed Dida, as the goalkeeper. The Milan star fi­nally broke the trend. It took them 56 years after Ghiggia’s goal to introduce another black goalie.

Over the years, various books and movies were made on that match. Arguably the best of them is Anatomy of a Defeat written by Paulo Perdigão where he said, ‘It continues being the most famous goal in the history of Brazilian football…because none other transcended its status as a sporting fact…converting itself into a historic moment in the life of a nation.’’3 By the time the old white-haired goalkeeper sat down with Roberto Muylaert, his bi­ographer in the 1990s, he had made his peace with it. ‘He did not complain,’ Muylaert said, ‘He told the stories casually, matter-of-factly. He did not have any pain anymore.’14 After he bid farewell to his love, football, Barbosa was of­fered a job of an administrator at the Maracanã. The goal frame where Ghiggia had reoriented the course of his life for worse, was still standing there. In 1963, when the frame was replaced with new round posts, he was presented with the old ones as a mark of respect to his career. He accepted the gift, took them home and invited a few friends for a barbecue at his place. When they arrived, they noticed the fire in the grill’s pit, stuffed with strange white logs, was rag­ing far more than usual. The air smelt of paint burning. ‘The steak I cooked that day was the best steak I ever tasted’15, he recollected with a rare smile.

Three decades later, after that fateful final, when Barbosa went to visit the Brazilian national team as they were preparing for the 1994 World Cup, the Seleção’s superstitious coach Mario Zagallo forbade the ostracised goalie from speaking to the players as he might bring bad luck to them. ‘Under Brazilian law the maximum sentence is 30 years,’ he said. ‘But my imprison­ment has been for 50 years.’16 On a bright sunny day in Rio, in 1970, after the greatest-ever Brazil team became the world champion, a mother pointed out Barbosa to her child, recognising him out of a busy crowd in a market saying: ‘Look at him. He was the man who made all of Brazil cry.’’7 Tired of explaining the same story to different people on different occasions, Barbosa finally gave up. He pleaded with his teary eyes: ‘I am not guilty. There were eleven of us.’18

End credit

Towards the end of Million Dollar Baby, Frankie was seen sneaking into the hospital one night. He went there to grant Maggie’s last wish, to free her from the intolerable pain. Sadly though, Barbosa did not have anyone who could grant him his wish.

In 1994, when finally Barbosa had little reasons to stay in Rio, he moved to Praia Grande. Shortly after his wife Clotilde lost her battle to cancer, he felt he was in the last chapter of his life, having no one around but the pain­ful memories. One day, as he was walking along the tide in Praia Grande, he heard someone calling his name. ‘Barbosa of Vasco.’ Not Barbosa, the one who made the country cry. The caller was Mauro Borba, a diehard fan of Vasco da Gama. He and his wife Tereza, used to manage a bar in the beach-side. Later it became the place where Barbosa found his safe haven. Tereza who had no father and Barbosa who had no daughter, came close to each other. She used to call him ‘my champion’.

Moacir Barbosa, 1982
Moacir Barbosa, 1982

Champion is indeed the noun that could describe Barbosa’s football ca­reer. For those who had seen the fateful final at Maracanã and for generations of those born much later yet dwelling in superstition, Barbosa might still carry a curse for their nation. However, for the football romantics, who had the op­portunity to witness the magnificent artist of the ‘beautiful game’, Barbosa will remain a trailblazer, an innovator in the 18 yards box. On 8 July 1962, Moacyr Barbosa Nascimento limped off the pitch of Aniceto Moscoso stadium for the very last time with the aid of the doctor of the modest club Campo Grande with a muscle injury. Despite the pain endured, he felt better than he had for a long time. It did not make any difference that only 670 people made the stands. For the 41-year-old veteran, the endless ovation from the fans felt affectionate and unexpected.

Although Alcides Ghiggia’s goal made Uruguay world champions, Barbosa remained the protagonist of that ill-fated final of 1950. Being the tragic hero, his teary eyes over shadowed the euphoria of Ghiggia’s goal. He may be still regarded as the failed protector, but the truth is that Moacyr Barbosa happens to be one of the best goalkeepers Brazil has ever produced.

On 27 March 2000, Tereza threw a party for Barbosa on his 79th birthday. The white haired weak man could not remember the last time when he had felt so happy. A week later, Barbosa finally bade farewell to life. As Tereza walked along the rows of numbered vaults in the cemetery, standing twenty feet tall into the sky, she noticed some with nameplates. It was an uncanny place filled with great loneliness. She turned down to row 300 and stopped before Barbosa’s finely kept granite vault. Its assigned number: 50.


  1. Daniel, 2012, p. 264.
  2. Rao, 2007, ‘Interview with Roger Federer’.
  3. FIFA, 2014a, ‘Barbosa the innovator’.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Montague, 2014, pp. 235-236.
  6. Bellos, 2014, p. 49.
  7. Robinson, 2013, ‘The Defeat That Brazil Can’t Forget’.
  8. Hughes, 2014, ‘In Brazil, It’s Time for the World to Play’.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Bellos, 2014, p. 52.
  11. Ibid, p. 43.
  12. Wilson, 2009, p. 112.
  13. Perdigão, 2000 [quoted in Bellos, 2014, p. 54].
  14. Robinson, 2013, ‘The Defeat That Brazil Can’t Forget’.
  15. Yousif, 2013, ‘The Tormented Soul of Moacyr Barbosa’.
  16. Robinson, 2013, ‘The Defeat That Brazil Can’t Forget’.
  17. Yousif, 2013, ‘The Tormented Soul of Moacyr Barbosa’.
  18. Bellos, 2000, ‘Moacir Barbosa: Goalkeeper who made a mistake his nation never forgave or forgot’.

A Copa Of Resurrection for the Seleção

The “Mineirazo whack” plunged footballing behemoth Brazil into a dark abyss of mediocrity and shame last year. The Copa America thus takes critical importance as they strive to reclaim pride and their position in the Leaders’ Quadrant. In this installment of our COPA immortal stories, Dhrubajyoti Ghosh delves into Brazilian football history’s amazing sinusoids as they aim for continental glory in Chile. You can read the other stories of the ‘Copa America’ series here.


Brazil and the word football have been synonymous in many ways ever since I started appreciating the beautiful game. Be it the legend of Pele and his Cosmos team paying Kolkata a visit, or his celebrated national teams and their world cup coronations or the myriad stories heard from my father’s generation, the Canarinhos were always the definitive yardsticks in football. That feeling was cemented by the time the Copa Mundial paid a visit to the Spanish climes in 1982. If ever there was romance in soccer, it was Jogo Bonito of Tele Santana’s boys in Spain. It was poetry, nay ballet, in motion, stuff that I have never seen again on a soccer pitch. Realists would say that it lacked a winning theme or a strategy to win, but in those days when tactics or strategy took a backseat to ball-playing and sublime skills, teams threw caution to the wind and played attractive soccer to win the masses over. Silverware, though important, was not the showstopper that led to divergent philosophies and strategies of the modern day, an example of which is parking the bus and trying to score on the counter.

A Chequered Past

Brazilian football history, almost like the duality of the 24 hour clock, can be bifurcated into two logical periods viz. PM and AM, with the fulcrum being the unfortunate Maracanazo in 1950, a national tragedy of gargantuan proportions that altered the Brazilian footballing ecosystem in many ways. In the Pre Maracanazo (PM) era i.e. from ~1914 (when the national team started playing) till the 1950 home World Cup (WC), Brazil were not even the 2nd fiddle in Latin America with the 2 powerhouses viz. Uruguay and Argentina topping the charts in continental supremacy. Brazil was possibly the third  best team in Latin America, though they had won three South American Championships (SACs) in this period (Argentina had already won nine and Uruguay eight Championships). Brazil’s first win came when they hosted the Championship in 1919. That Brazilian team had arguably the sport’s first outstanding black player, Arthur Friedenreich, the original “El Tigre”. Born of a German father and an Afro-Brazilian mother, he faced many racial prejudices but that did not hamper his goal scoring prowess. He is said to have scored more goals than Pele in his short but illustrious career wherein he participated in four SACs only. Arthur was the top scorer in the 1919 edition, with the winner against Uruguay in the final. This final match, which was actually a replay, happens to be the longest match in Copa history. Four extra time periods of fifteen minutes each were played, making it a 150 min match with Arthur scoring the winner after 122 minutes. After the match, his “golden” boots were on display in the window of a rare jewel store in Rio de Janeiro. Meanwhile, on the world stage, Brazil finished a creditable third in the 1938 WC, in which neither of their Latin rivals participated. 1938 marked the unveiling of the first Brazilian global star in the form of “Diamante Negro”, the Black Diamond, Leônidas da Silva. Leônidas, is credited for showcasing the first “Bicycle kick” on the world stage during the WC, though the inception of the same is mired in controversy, especially with two other Latin teams viz. Chile and Peru claiming to have invented it much earlier and taking pride in their respective colloquial names viz. chilena and chalaca. Leônidas was the star and the highest scorer in the 1938 WC but was strangely rested by manager Pimenta for the semis against Italy, confident that they would qualify for the finals. Such arrogance has often marked Brazilian football, and Italy made them eat humble pie that day winning the semi-final match 2-1 and going on to retain their 1934 WC, beating Hungary 4-2. Brazil defeated Sweden 4-2 and won the third  spot. Therefore, by the time they hosted the WC in 1950, there was unbridled optimism that they could win the Cup; especially as two of the earlier three hosts had successfully done so.

before Pele they had Arthur Friedenreich - the hero of Brazil's first Copa america triumph
before Pele they had Arthur Friedenreich – the hero of Brazil’s first Copa america triumph

The first FIFA WC after WWII was also the first, where the trophy was referred to as the Jules Rimet (JR) Cup, to mark the 25th anniversary of JR’s FIFA presidency. Brazil as a venue for 1950 was a given, because most of Europe lay in tatters after the devastating war. Brazil and Italy qualified automatically as host and defending champion respectively. The Azzuri were, however, severely weakened as most of their first team squad from the fabled Torino team had perished in the Superga air disaster one year before the start of the tournament. The Italians eventually agreed to participate, but travelled all the way by boat rather than by plane. With many exclusions caused by the war, plus a new format, Brazil advanced to the final stage comfortably where they then won their first two matches, a 7–1 thrashing of Sweden and 6–1 rout of Spain. The stage was thus set for a riveting decisive match against Uruguay, who at  second position, was a point behind. Brazil needed just a draw to win the WC at the majestic Estádio do Maracanã. It was going as per script, in front of an estimated ~ 200,000 people (biggest ever in a football match) when the hosts went ahead in the 47th minute, thanks to a goal from Friaça. Uruguay equalized through “Pepe” Schiaffino, an Italian-Uruguayan footballer who played in famous clubs like Peñarol and AC Milan, often referred to as one of the best Uruguayans of all time. Then, with just over eleven minutes left to play, disaster struck. Alcides Ghiggia squeaked a goal past Moacyr Barbosa and Uruguay were crowned WC champions, for the second time.

Uruguay equalizes through Juan Alberto “Pepe" Schiaffino in the 1950 World Cup
Uruguay equalizes through Juan Alberto “Pepe” Schiaffino in the 1950 World Cup

Maracana and Brazil were numbed into misery. The shocking defeat provoked numerous reactions, demonstrating the magnitude of the devastation. Some distressed fans committed suicide while many died from heart attacks. Outside the stadium, a group of Brazilian fans knocked over the bust of the mayor, reviled due to his premature congratulations. The defeat influenced the Brazilian team heavily; they did not play any match for two years, and even after resuming play didn’t play in the Maracana for two more years. The most visible consequence of the defeat was the fact that the national team adopted the now famous yellow and green shirts (and blue shorts) instead of the white shirts that it had worn during the match. The defeat also had an emotional and psychological impact on the Brazilian people as a whole and on Brazilian society in general. The stunning defeat against Uruguay, nicknamed the “Maracanazo” (meaning the Maracana Blow) is considered to be a national tragedy by Brazilians. The Maracanazo was particularly tragic because it hampered Brazil’s efforts to show the world that it was a country worthy of the respect and admiration of its peers and impacted the country’s self-esteem for a long while.

Turnaround and Transformation

The “Maracanazo”, however tragic, steeled the Brazilian resolve to do wonders. For the 1954 WC in Switzerland, the Brazilian team was almost completely rebuilt, with the team colours changed as earlier mentioned. Brazil reached the quarter-final, where they were beaten 4–2 by tournament favourites Hungary in one of the ugliest matches in football history, known as the Battle of Berne. In the same decade, Brazil reached the finals of the SACs thrice, losing twice to Argentina and once to Paraguay. The team was slowly building up a crescendo with established players like Nilton and Djalma Santos, Didi, Julinho, Gylmar and upcoming stars like Garrincha, Zagalo, Vava and a soon to be soccer legend named Pele. The loss to hosts Argentina in the final of the 1959 SAC is of special significance. Brazil, having excelled at the 1958 WC, had a glittering line up comprising most of the above names and had swept aside all opponents, with Pele being in majestic form and emerging as the top scorer in that SAC. However, in the final match against Argentina at the famous Monumental, a winner takes-all match, Brazil managed to only draw and La Albiceleste took the championship pipping Brazil by a single point. A similar scenario had unfolded in the preceding SAC in 1957 in Peru when Brazil had again lost to Argentina in their final match to lose the championship to their bitter rivals; however it was before the emergence of Pele.

In the same decade, Brazil reached the finals of the SACs thrice, losing twice to Argentina and once to Paraguay. The team was slowly building up a crescendo with established players like Nilton and Djalma Santos, Didi, Julinho, Gylmar and upcoming stars like Garrincha, Zagalo, Vava and a soon to be soccer legend named Pele.

In the 1958 WC, Brazil were drawn in a group with England, the USSR and Austria. They beat Austria 3–0 in their first match, and drew 0–0 with England. Before the final match against USSR, coach Vicente Feola made three changes that went a long way in reshaping Brazilian football history, bringing in Zito, Garrincha and Pelé. From the kick off, they kept up the pressure relentlessly, and after three minutes, which were later described as “the greatest three minutes in the history of football”, Vavá gave Brazil the lead. They won the match easily, 2–0. Pelé scored the only goal of their quarters against Wales, and then they beat France 5–2 in the semis. Led by the teenage wonder Edson Arantes, Brazil then beat hosts Sweden in the final, 5–2, thereby winning their first WC, also becoming the first nation to win a WC title outside their own continent.

It was the start of a soccer expedition of sorts that would make Brazil synonymous with the beautiful game. And though, the ghosts of Maracanazo would be exorcised, under equally painful circumstances, more than 60+ years later, this was the start of a turnaround for Brazil. From sore losers and also-rans they were going to be the benchmark of football for the next half century and beyond. In the 1962 WC, Brazil earned their second title with Garrincha replacing Pele as the star player, a responsibility laid upon him after the regular talisman was injured during the group match against Czechoslovakia and unable to play the remainder of tournament. Pele’s substitute Amarildo, performed well for the rest of the tournament and even scored the equalizer in the final after Brazil went down by a goal. However, it was Garrincha who would play the leading role and carry Brazil to their second WC title, beating the Czechs in the final.

A small blip in the journey came in the 1966 WC, with Brazil’s worst performance till date. In a tournament remembered for its excessively physical play, Pelé was the most affected. Against Portugal, several violent tackles forced Pelé to leave the match and the tournament, seriously injured. Brazil lost and were eliminated in the first round, thus becoming the first defending champions to be eliminated so early. After the tournament, Pelé declared that he did not wish to play in the WC again. However, he returned in 1970 at Mexico, as Brazil won their third WC. Brazil fielded what has arguably been considered one of the best football squads ever, led by the talisman Pelé, captain Carlos Alberto, Jairzinho, Tostão, Gérson, Clodoaldo, Rivelino among others. They won all their games – against Czechoslovakia, England and Romania in group stages, and against Peru, Uruguay and Italy in the knockout rounds crushing the twice former champions Italy, 4-1 in the final. Jairzinho, who scored in each match ended with seven goals, though Gerd Muller took the Golden Boot, and Pelé finished with four and the Golden Ball. More than the scoreline and their six consecutive victories what is remembered is the brand of football they dished out. After the Magical Magyars in the 50s, no side had been so adroit while sweeping their opponents off their feet. Brazil lifted the coveted JR trophy for the third time since it was christened during their devastating 1950 home campaign, which meant that they were allowed to keep it. Though not entirely, it would somewhat soothe the pain of the catastrophe that was Maracanazo.

Pele scoring in the 1970 World Cup final
Pele scoring in the 1970 World Cup final

Lull Before The “Joga Bonito” Storm

Brazil, by now, had captivated the world stage and were being considered one of the best football teams in the world. Strangely, this was not translating in the South American championships where Brazil were still drawing a blank. After their last final appearance in 1959 where they lost to arch rivals Argentina it took them another 24 years to reach the Copa final in 1983. The golden generation led by King Pele was also bowing out of the game and though the “fantastic football factories” continued to churn out talented Brazilians on the world stage, Team Brazil played ordinary football in the 70s. However, another talisman was slowly being nurtured to take Brazilian and world football by storm. “King Arthur”, a sobriquet given to him much later during his coaching career by Fenerbahçe fans, Zico and his wonderful team of gladiators were on their way to be the most feted group of Brazilian footballers since Pelé’s generation. A creditable third place finish in 1978 was followed by a shock exit in Copa 1979 when, a team comprising Zico, Falcao, the good doctor Socrates, Eder and others lost to eventual champions Paraguay in the semi-final, played on home and away basis. However, all these were the genesis of Jogo Bonito or “Beautiful Game” that was to be showcased from the early to the mid-80s, a phenomenon that would create, cement and transform fans into die-hard Brazilian supporters for life. Coached and managed by Tele Santana, considered by many as the “last romantic of Brazilian football”, they displayed pristine skills, sorcery, magic and scored fantastic goals that left a world of football fanatics agape and astounded. Their extremely eye-catching brand of football had been matched only by their 1970 compatriots or the Magical Magyars in 1954, but in 1982, televised to a much wider global audience, it had a more telling impact. Forget the ‘best team not to have won the WC’ label –  in my honest opinion the best team in the history of WCs was Brazil 1982. Period!!! Unfortunately, they were so good they had to beat themselves to lose. But football, specifically World Cup, is full of such ironic events that typify the romanticism of the game.

They steamrolled their group opponents, the Soviets, the Scots and the Kiwis, scoring ten goals in the bargain. Brazil’s game was about flicks, tricks and sublime footwork, exquisite passing, magical off the ball play and dummies sold, turns and body feints and what not, all at a blistering free-flowing, one-touch pace. A few goals stood out viz. Zico’s thunderous, acrobatic, scissor-kick volley from Leandro’s cross, or Eder’s beauties against the Soviets and the Scots, the latter a delightful chip that drifted into the net, and the former which was an end product of sheer fantasy football. Falcao sold a dummy through his legs, Eder collected the ball, flicking it up with his left foot and seamlessly volleyed a dipping shot past the brilliant but hapless Dasayev, almost a training ground routine scored in the cut and thrust of a WC match.

Zico’s amazing scissors kick against NZ in the 1982 World Cup
Zico’s amazing scissors kick against NZ in the 1982 World Cup

However, the best moments of the Brazilian team were saved for the crunch match against Italy in the quarters, a match which in many ways, changed Brazilian football forever. Brazil needed a quick response after Paolo Rossi got Italy the lead, and Zico and Socrates combined to architect one of THE goals of the tournament. Socrates receiving the ball in the midfield passed it to Zico, who with an incredible Cruyff turn flummoxed the rash and brash Claudio Gentile, and then threaded a defence splitting, inch-perfect return pass to Socrates, who beat the legendary Dino Zoff for the equalizer. It was a moment of class and vision that highlighted just how gifted Zico was. And it was definitely a case of foreplay beating the climax. Unfortunately callous defending, with just a draw needed, meant that the magical side would bow out.

An almost exact replica of those events happened in 1986, when with the core of the 1982 team, under the able tutelage of Santana, Brazil flattered to deceive yet again, losing out to another giant of that edition, France in a QF tiebreaker. The irony of it was the great Zico muffing a penalty in regular time which would have ensured a Brazilian win. The great conductor would never don a Brazilian jersey again, as the magical team of the 80s would pale into oblivion. The sad truth of these dual blows, was that Brazil have never been as exciting to watch since and will probably never be so again. Socrates, ever the philosopher, said it changed football in Brazil forever and saw them try to copy European pragmatism. If only they had triumphed in either WC, the face of football could have been different today. Mourinho would be teaching PE to Portuguese teenagers and Scolari would be running a pub, no offence meant to either.

Resurgence Followed by a Brutal Fall Once More

The debacle of these two WCs meant that there would be a massive change in Brazilian football philosophy. The next few WCs would confirm the desertion of stylish play and invigorate the partisans of a pragmatic and loss mitigating pro-European football style. In the 1990 WC, Brazil coached by Sebastiao Lazaroni, had a very defensive outlook (led by CDM Dunga and three full-backs), lacked creativity and were eliminated by Argentina. Change had percolated into their game; flair was sacrificed for practicality plus some individual brilliance to win games. The 1994 WC was emblematic of that approach, as a boring side bulked up their midfield early on hoping for the best from superstars Romario and Bebeto, a tactic which worked its magic with a fourth  WC win, but did not leave Brazilians happy, ultimately ashamed by the disappearance of jogo bonito that their soccer embodied. Brazil did reach the final in 1998 and won the cup again in 2002, the elusive Penta, where success was once again based on defensive solidity and the brilliance of a few players like the 4Rs; Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Roberto (Carlos), Ronaldinho. To Brazil’s credit they had a more balanced side, with better goalkeepers and defence and the emphasis was on organisation and discipline rather than exuberance and flair. It was an irony because Brazil had won two WC championships in eight years and reached the final of the third, yet the purists weren’t happy with the direction Brazil football was taking.

Ironically to start off this successful period, there was some Copa panacea too!!! In 1989, 40 years since the country’s last continental triumph, with four defeats at the final hurdle In between, Brazil’s fourth turn as hosts ended in celebration, when six goals from Bebeto inspired them to the trophy. More than 100,000 spectators flocked the Maracanã to witness Brazil defeat an Argentine side (including Maradona and the cream of the 86 and 90 WC teams) 2-0 in their first game of the final round, with Bebeto and Romário on target en route to the title. Interestingly, all of Brazil’s triumphs in the championship till then had come when they had hosted the same, viz. 1919, 1922, 1949 and 1989.

Carlos Dunga tackling Diego Maradona in the 1989 Copa America
Carlos Dunga tackling Diego Maradona in the 1989 Copa America

Brazil finished runners twice in the next 3 championships, first in 1991 to a Gabriel Batistuta inspired Argentina and then again in 1995, to a rejuvenated Enzo Francescoli driven hosts Uruguay. Then, just when winning a Copa on foreign soil was turning out to be almost jinxed, Brazil broke the hoodoo, by winning the 1997 tournament at the “heights” of Bolivia, defeating the hosts in the final by a 3-1 scoreline. This tournament saw the emergence of Ronaldo, selected as the best player, and his “Ro-Ro” partnership with legend Romario. This was the start a Brazilian golden era in Copa championships. Brazil travelled to Paraguay in 1999 as reigning champions and took a huge step towards defending their title by coming from behind to beat Argentina in the quarter-finals. Juan Pablo Sorín’s opener for la Albiceleste was negated by goals from Ronaldo and Rivaldo, who also emerged as joint top scorers in the tourney. Rivaldo was also named MVP in the tournament and was given his adequate due by coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo.

This tournament saw the emergence of Ronaldo, selected as the best player, and his “Ro-Ro” partnership with legend Romario. This was the start a Brazilian golden era in Copa championships.

Heartbreak and shame compounded Brazil’s woes in the next Copa in Colombia (held under controversial circumstances with the withdrawal of Argentina and Canada in the wake of kidnappings and security woes), when Brazil slumped to an all-time low, shocked 2-0 by Honduras in the QFs. Even with a weakened team without players such as Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos, Romario, Cafu etc. loss to minnows Honduras, a last minute replacement, with non-existent preparations was unimaginable. It was a shocking year for Brazilian football as they also lost to minnows like South Korea, Ecuador, Australia, Bolivia etc. and put manager Luiz Scolari on the line of fire, though he successfully managed to douse it by next year, winning Brazil’s Penta.

However, Brazil successfully turned the tide in Peru in the 2004 Copa, starting with an unconvincing 1-0 win over Chile and then an Adriano aided hat trick to sweep Costa Rica 4-1. Adriano was again on target in the semis against Uruguay, but it was Captain Alex who scored the winning spot-kick in the tiebreaker to book a final showdown against red-hot favourites Argentina. The final, a Superclásico de las Américas, proved to be just as dramatic; Brazil came from behind twice, Adriano’s equalizer in the third minute of added time took the final to penalties after a 2-2 draw. La Albiceleste missed their opening two spot-kicks and there was no way back for them as the Seleção maintained a 100 per cent conversion for a 4-2 shoot-out win. It was the third time that Brazil had been crowned champions in four editions of the Copa America, a feat which somewhat obliterated their lacklustre Copa history. Yet, the Brazilian juggernaut was to go on even further, in the 2007 Copa held by first-time hosts Venezuela. Mexico proved to be Brazil’s nemesis yet again in the group stages, where Robinho started his goal scoring spree that would bring him both the Golden Boot and Ball. Brazil swamped Chile and yet again scraped through a tie-breaker against Uruguay in the semis. The final, yet again, was against arch-rivals Argentina, who had swept away all their opponents till then, scoring sixteen goals. However, a determined Selecao breezed past their challenge winning by a convincing 3-0 margin and landing the Copa for their  eighth success and four times in their last five attempts.

Meanwhile, in the WCs post the Penta, Brazil continued the trend of dour football. Players plying their trade abroad seemed immune to the requirements of samba soccer or the Brazilian emotion. The selection of coaches like Parreira, Dunga and Scolari resulted in predictably dire results. In the 2011 Copa América, Brazil lost to Paraguay and were eliminated in the quarters. In 2012, for the first time since it was created in 1993, Brazil slipped out of the top ten ranking. They were on a vicious downward spiral. Though they did win the Confederations Cup in 2013, the victory is considered as a mere mirage. With gifted, young and exciting players like Neymar, Oscar, Willian etc. and experienced folks like Kaka and Robinho, Big Phil had the chance to build a talented attacking side. Instead, he resorted to archaic tactics. Fred up front (sans creativity and mobility), depending on two or three CDMs  and Neymar  being asked to carry the whole attacking burden as Oscar retreated into a shell with the hapless Hulk upfront. Scolari eschewed the typical flamboyant Brazilian style of play. Instead, he introduced a philosophy of winning at all costs, without understanding the players’ limitations and a belief that Neymar could do it all alone.

Minierazo And A Look Forward

Ever since Brazil got the rights to host the 2014 WC, the Maracanazo was definitely on the minds of many Brazilians. Many felt, albeit mistakenly that winning the tournament would finally exorcise the ghosts of Maracanazo. Having won the Confed Cup in 2013, the Brazilian team had become one of the favourites too. However, Brazil’s dreams of winning their home WC were crushed after an ignominious 7-1 loss to Germany in the semis. The game, which took place in Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, set a record for the largest victory margin of a WC semi. The humiliating match has since been dubbed the Mineirazo. That defeat was a disaster-bubble waiting to burst, coming from the accumulation of ~30 years of neglect. It symbolized Brazil’s loss of identity, and its decline as a football superpower. Towards the end of the match, the home crowd began to “olé” each German move, and booed their own players, a footballing travesty of sorts. Mineirazo was a sad comedy, an utter humiliation, NOT a Maracanazo tragedy. But it finally put to rest the tragedy of 1950. Many felt that the humiliating loss could actually  bolster Brazilian football.

“Mineirazo” Emotions @ 2014 World Cup
“Mineirazo” Emotions @ 2014 World Cup

The iconic Dunga was brought back at the helm of affairs after the shock of the WC. Many considered   it as a move backward with Dunga not exactly advocating attacking soccer. However, he has removed the bulk of the national team, except some core players of the 2014 WC squad and infused a lot of fresh blood and thinking. Surprisingly, Brazil’s form since Dunga came back has been enterprising. He has had a 100% win record before the Copa in eight matches played, including ones against strong opponents like Argentina, France, Colombia.

This year’s Copa America, has immense significance for Brazilian football, already reeling from the Mineirazo whack. Rebuilding Brazilian soccer’s brand equity from the dark abyss of mediocrity would be Dunga’s utmost priority, and thankfully, early results are showing. If Brazil can have a successful Copa it will go a long way in erasing the darkest chapter of their history, and putting them back on the right track again. It would give them back the much needed self-confidence that they are still the undisputed champions everyone knows them to be. Annexing a fifth Copa crown in the last seven championships, and ninth overall can only happen by overpowering the other great teams like arch rivals Argentina, continental powerhouse Uruguay, hosts Chile and a magical and talented Colombia. So here’s hoping this Copa in Chile could turn out to be Brazil’s Copa of Resurrection – one that could slowly pave back their way to the Beautiful Game. Good luck Selecao!!!

P.S: By the time the article surfaces, readers will be aware of the result of the first two games played by Brazil.  The situation is not very cheerful. Their only hope Neymar is out of the tournament following a post match brawl with the Colombians. Even qualification for the knock outs lies in doubt. But life begets life, hope begets hope, adversity brings out the best.  Let’s hope Selecao will bounce back and prove their doubters wrong. After all romance, unpredictability, football and Brazil can never be separated from each other!!

Rant of a Seleção Fan


For someone who’s watched the Samba magic from the 80s, through the insipid 90s till the 7-1 thrashing in this edition of the World Cup, it’s heartbreaking to see the marked decline of Brazilian football. But Sumit Sarkar lives in hope – his team will lift the trophy a sixth time.

One summer afternoon a little more than 32 years ago our household in suburban Kolkata, then Calcutta, received a black-and-white television set with immense joy. My uncle had applied for the TV more than a year ago hoping to see the World Cup. With the world’s most expensive player in the team, he was confident that his favourite Argentina  would be able to defend the title, just like Brazil did 20 years ago. For the 10-year-old boy that I was, that success of Brazil some 20 years ago, or even their triumph in 1970, was like an event from the history book. So, Argentina became my team too. Like I had no choice but to be a Mohan Bagan supporter, I had no choice but to be an Argentina fan. This is the uncle who introduced me to Kolkata Maidan, and would  take  me to watch Albicelestes at the Eden Gardens 18 months later. But by then I was a convert.

Doordarshan, the only television broadcaster those days, eventually failed to broadcast group stage matches and decided to air live matches only from the semi-finals. My uncle arranged for boosters and a  special kind of antenna to make sure that we receive the broadcast of Dhaka TV from neighbouring Bangladesh. Dhaka TV was broadcasting live matches from the second group stage.  Thus, on a rainy night, we sat in front of a black and white TV to watch Argentina play against Brazil. An hour before the match was scheduled to start, there was a power cut. When power came back, the match was already in the second half and Argentina was down by a goal. On the grainy screen, I noticed a tall bearded Brazilian player, wearing the No. 8 jersey, making some awesome passes. No. 6 of Brazil, another tall bearded fellow, intercepted the ball from the centre circle and passed it to No. 4 who made a through pass to the No. 8, who passed the ball to a tall man with flowing curly hair on the left flank wearing No. 11. No. 11 dribbled passed one Argentina player and passed it back to No. 8. This time No. 8 received the ball on his right foot, did a body faint, and then passed the ball forward diagonally to his right. This forward pass was all it took me to convert. That No. 8 was Socrates. That forward pass completely ripped apart the Argentinian defence. There were  four defenders between Socrates and Zico. Zico, the No. 10, received the ball well inside the penalty box and crossed left. No. 9 Serginho, a tall dark man, scored with a simple header.  No. 6 was Junior, who later scored another goal from another defence ripping forward pass diagonally to the left from Zico. The No. 11 was Eder.

Brazilian World Cup Squad in 1982
Brazilian World Cup Squad in 1982

That was my first exposure to international football and I was completely mesmerized by the dazzling passing game from Zico, Socrates, Eder, Junior, Falcao and Serginho. I couldn’t sleep that night. The excitement was too much for me to handle. I fell in love with the Seleção Brasileira. I didn’t know that I’ll have to cry within three days. I was told that Brazil needed a draw against Italy to reach the semi-final. On the match day again there was a power cut and we missed 10 minutes of the match. Brazil was already down by a goal. Then came another magic moment – two forward passes between Socrates and Zico. Socrates passed the ball forward to Zico, who beat one defender with a half turn and passed it forward to Socrates. That was magic for me. After passing the ball forward to Zico, Socrates sprinted past the defence to receive Zico’s forward pass that cut across the defence. I didn’t know football could be that brilliant. Socrates didn’t make any mistake in slotting the ball past Dino Zoff. Brazil went down again due to a defensive lapse and  a superb finish by Paolo Rossi. Then came the waves of attack. The score was levelled by Falcao halfway in the second half. Brazil needed a draw, but they kept attacking. Rossi scored another goal from a corner which knocked Brazil out of  the World Cup. And I cried that night. Just like the spectacled plump boy who was trying to hide his face in a paper glass, in the stands of Arena Mineirão on  July 8, 2014.


But from that day,  July 5 1982, I  have been a Seleção fan.  Four years later, Diego magic inducted most of my friends and possibly most of Calcutta to the Maradonian Church, but didn’t get the scope to convert me back as I gave the remaining tournament a miss. For me the World Cup was over as soon as Julio Cesar’s penalty hit the post in the quarter final against France. Before that my hero Socrates too had missed his penalty during the shootout. By 1990, Telê Santana was replaced by Sebastião Lazaroni and the magic was gone. But my love remained unshaken. After a pathetic group stage wherein they scrapped past minnows Costa Rica and Scotland and a weak Sweden, Brazil met Argentina in the round of 16. With a solo run from the centre circle, dribbling past  three in canary yellow, Diego finished my dream with a final pass to Claudio Caniggia. By then my friends used to tease me that I am outdated, as in 1990 it was hard to find anyone around, below the age of 30, following the samba boys.

So, as you see, I have experienced the heartbreaks of ’80s and the insipid ’90s. But 8th July 2014 is a very different day in the life of a Brazil fan. This piece is supposed to bring out that difference. Am I qualified to do  that? Do I know how the Brazilians felt  in the galleries of Arena Mineirão? How did Clovis Acosta Fernandes, who has attended each and every World Cup match of Brazil since 1990, feel? Or the ladies who cried their hearts out? I think I do. Seeing your country concede  four goals in  six minutes in a World Cup semi-final at home should not be very different from seeing your national cricket team lose  seven wickets for 22 runs in a World Cup semi-final at home. I was there at Eden Gardens on that fateful March evening of 1996, when Sanath Jayasuriya and company had India reeling at 120 for 8 chasing 251.

Clovis Acosta Fernandes, after Brazil's defeat against Germany
Clovis Acosta Fernandes, after Brazil’s defeat against Germany

In the last 20 years Brazil have added  two stars on their shirt, played  three finals. The younger generation who began following Brazil from 1994 or 1998 or 2002 have seen all the success and have grown  up with a feeling of being the best, if not invincible. Many might have forgotten the pangs of 1998 final. Despite failing to reach the last  four in the previous two World Cups, the hangover of success continued. Indian, fans of other nations think of Indian Brazil fans as high-headed. Superciliousness from the champions is acceptable, but not from the fans of a team that got knocked out  in the quarter finals in the  last two World Cups. They were ecstatic on 8th July. The ecstasy is same as that of the crowd at a bullfight after the killing. The Seleção have fallen. FIFA’s most successful child failed miserably. The bull has been killed. The nation that dreamed of making a Hexa conceded a Hepta! The team that last lost a competitive game on home soil back on  September 30, 1975, lost again in the same Arena Mineirão.

The initial feeling was that of disbelief, followed by numbness. Many must have thought that it was a one-off bad day. Many believed in Scolari’s black-out argument. Indeed it is possible that they didn’t know what to do after conceding the second or the third goal. But the problem in Brazilian football is much deep-rooted. What about the third place play-off against Netherlands? The Seleção conceding  two goals within 13 minutes in that match, too, made me think; made me ask a few questions.

From 2010 to 2013, each year Brazilian clubs won the Copa Libertadores, the annual continental club championship of South America – the counterpart of the much-coveted UEFA Champions League. But this year, for the first time since 1991, no Brazilian club made it to the semi-final. Only Cruzerio made it to the quarterfinals. Atletico Mineiro won the continental championship last year but at the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco they lost to local outfit Raja Casablanca in the semi-final. That must be news to many Brazil fans outside Brazil, but it indicates that the problem is not just with the Brazil national team, but with Brazilian football in general. Alright, Corinthians defeated Chelsea in 2012 to lift the FIFA Club World Cup. Exactly how did they manage that? I saw the match. Corinthians gave Chelsea a taste of their own medicine – a tightly organized defence, or what is commonly called ‘parking the bus’, which is a far cry from the magical jogo bonito.

Corinthians - The most successful South American club in FIFA Club World Cup
Corinthians – The most successful South American club in FIFA Club World Cup

I don’t know what people mean by jogo bonito but I haven’t seen Brazil play fluid, passing football, as a team, after the 1986 World Cup. The failure of 1982 and 1986 gave birth to the strategic idea of organized defence and fast counter attack along the wings. The idea was conceived by Lazaroni and later perfected by Carlos Alberto Parreira. The role of defensive midfielder was never so important before the arrival of Dunga, followed by the likes of Gilberto Silva, Felipe Melo and now Luiz Gustavo. Emergence of attack-minded full backs like Branco and Jorginho, followed by Cafu and Roberto Carlos made the strategy work. Of course there were the individual brilliances and flairs of Romario, Bebeto, Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho. But, as a team, Brazil never played the one-touch fluid passing game wherein they used to play 10-15 passes amongst themselves to reach the opposition box. But the strategy was successful, primarily due to supremely talented individuals. And there were moments of magic. At times Romario and Bebeto were in perfect harmony in 1994. So were Rivaldo and Ronaldo in 2002. It was not only the big names. Denilson used to come off the bench for the final 15 odd minutes and no one could snatch the ball from him. Scolari used to bring him to entertain the crowd in matches already won. Do you remember Viola? A desperate Parreira brought him in at the 106th minute in the 1994 final to pull up a Houdini.

Where are the talents now? Possibly in the underbelly of the Brazilian metropolises, getting wasted in gang wars and drug trafficking. The generations of great Brazilian footballers from Pele and Garrincha to Ronaldo and Rivaldo were born as underprivileged children. But they made their way to the clubs and the national team. In the 21st century, players predominantly  come from academies. It has become a requirement of modern football for players to be properly trained in academies. Also the success of Romario followed by that of Ronaldo and Rivaldo in European club football made Brazilian parents dream big about their sons. The academies started mushrooming across the country since mid-1990s and became footballer producing factories. This assembly line production had a single point agenda – exporting footballers to Europe. The academies are not very expensive, but even then the poorer section cannot afford it. In the absence of scouting among the underprivileged and stipends for them, only boys from middle class and above could reach the academies and beyond. It’s not that there cannot be enough talent amongst the middle class. There is. From Kaka to Pato to Oscar, they all came from the middle-class and came through academies. But exclusion of the poorer section reduces the pool from which you scout the talents.  This perhaps is the biggest tragedy of Brazilian football, as these boys learn the tricks of survival from day one during their difficult upbringing and hence have an innate talent to mesmerize in tight match situations.

We all know about the Brazilian passion for the game. But we don’t know that for club matches the spectator attendance is as miserable as in India. A few derby matches like Fluminense-Flamengo or Corinthians-Sao Paulo are played in near full arenas, but other matches are played in front of a few hundred spectators only. Average attendance in Brazilian top flight Serie A matches is 15000, which is less than the average attendance in MLS, the top flight of USA, where football is yet a minor sport. Serie A matches often start at 10 PM. In Spain too weekday matches kick-off at 10 PM to accommodate the spectators who will attend the matches after work. But in Brazil it is to accommodate for novelas – soap operas that must get the prime air time! So much  for the love of the beautiful game of futebol!

Clubs are in  dire financial situations. They don’t earn much revenue from either gate-money or from TV rights. Footballers don’t want to play in Brazil. Given a chance they will go even to Russia, or Japan, or China, or some place in the Middle East, than play in Brazil. Playing in Brazil means playing 80 odd matches in a year for peanuts. The clubs not only play Serie A, but top flight clubs also play local leagues like Paulista, Carioca, Gaucho, Mineiro etc. Even in India we have reduced the number of matches in local leagues like the Calcutta Football League. But in Brazil they play the local leagues for  five months before the national league kicks off!

The academies focus on exporting players to Europe. After Ronaldinho, who are the most successful Brazilians in Europe? Thiago Silva, David Luiz, and Dani Alvez.All defenders. Then there are the holding midfielders, box-to-box midfielders and defensive midfielders like Fernandinho, Ramires or Gustavo. Not a single striker or attacking midfielder. Neymar and Oscar may have a bright future, but the current crop of attackers playing for the national team are not earning their daily bread in the major European leagues. Hulk, Fred, Bernard or Jo are just not good enough for those leagues. The players left out like Lucas Moura or Coutinho are not out and out strikers. Lucas scored  three for PSG and Coutinho scored  five for Liverpool last season. Neymar, too, is not a striker and scored only  nine goals for Barcelona in La Liga matches from 1738 minutes of playing time, which means a goal per 193 minutes. Chile’s Alexis Sanchez scored a goal per 125 minutes for the same club. That leaves us with a very uncomfortable question – given that Diego Costa suddenly realized that he is Spanish, who will score the goals for Brazil? I have heard people saying that this Brazilian defence is the worst ever. At least in presence of Thiago Silva it doesn’t look too bad. But this Brazilian attack is the worst I have seen. Even Careca, Muller, Silas were better than Fred, Hulk, Bernard.

Where do Brazil fans and Brazil go from here? Brazil fans may go anywhere they wish. The Indian and Bangladeshi Brazil fans may join Argentina. The Brazilian fans may give up futebol and watch beach volley. But Brazil National Football Team needs to go back to basics. Brazilian Football Confederation CBF (Confederação Brasileira de Futebol) needs some cleaning up and the bosses need to rethink their long term strategy. With re-selection of Dunga as the national coach, it doesn’t seem that CBF is going in the right direction in the short run. But it is the longer run that matters and CBF needs to work on the youth system. Brazil cannot invest as much as Germany or Spain, but they can surely tap into the talent existing among the poorer sections of the society .

I shall live in hope. As my favourite song-writer Kabir Suman wrote:

Protidin surjyo oothey tomay dekhbey boley,            (Ignite my fire, once again,

O amara agun, tumi aabar otho jwoley.                     Every day the sun rises to see you)

Tik Tact Tales

World Cup 2014 is still fresh in our memory. So what new did we come across? Which teams impressed us with their discipline or attacking flair? And which managers did impress us with their tactical maneuvering? Debojyoti Chakraborty analyzes all these and more here with GT.

With the FIFA 2014 World Cup finally coming to a close, there has been a great deal of debate going on about whether this World Cup was the greatest ever. There were several indications that it was definitely one of the best in post world war era. If on the one hand we had loads of goals  (at least in the group stages), plenty of drama and endless emotions, captivating us for more than a month, on the other hand we also witnessed some fascinating tactical battles throughout the campaign. Let us take a look at some tactics that left a lasting impression.


Germany started the competition in 4-3-3 formation with Philipp Lahm, possibly the best right back in the world playing as midfield anchor. Joachim Löw had a fluid front three of Mesut Özil, Mario Götze and Thomas Müller with the licence to roam and interchange at will.

Germany formation in the final - dictating the middle of the pitch
Germany formation in the final – dictating the middle of the pitch

Germany stormed through to the second round but looked slow and susceptible against an attacking opponent. In the round of 16 match against Algeria, the German full backs –Höwedes and Shkodran Mustafi, centre backs in their club teams, started venturing forward but without any substantial impact. It exposed their centre backs and Löw , the mastermind, unleashed Manuel Neuer in an extremely aggressive sweeper keeper role. It was a move which could have backfired but he trusted his keeper who never let him down with 17 perfectly timed clearances outside his penalty box. Germany, however, looked more threatening and settled as Lahm moved to his natural right back role to replace the injured Mustafi, thus paving the way for Sami Khedira in the midfield. The latter added much needed pace in the Die Mannschaft middle third while Bastian Schweinsteiger looked far more comfortable in the deep ball playing role than his captain –  the move ultimately elevated Germany to another level but happened more by chance than planning.

Löw made another decisive switch in the next match against France by introducing an out and out striker in Miroslav Klose upfront. He provided a focal point to the German attack, and allowed Müller to start at his usual right hand channel and drift inside. Although Klose had little impact on the game in the attacking third and more precisely, inside the penalty box, he helped push back the French centre backs, and thus freed up the space for German midfielders to maintain the goal threat.

With Khedira getting ruled out during warm up and his replacement Christoph Kramer having a poor game before leaving the field due to an injury , Germany were set back in the final with the shortage of central midfielders. Özil had to fall back to the midfield trio where he was never at ease. Löw  though had the final say as his super subs André Schürrle and Götze combined to clinch the title.

Germany had a very peculiar team – from an ultra-modern goalkeeper to the old-fashioned goal poacher. But just like the previous two winners Italy and Spain, Germany also had a variety of attacking threats– they seemed to find a goal scorer from virtually every corner of the field during critical moments. Joachim Löw should be credited for not only winning the World Cup, but also nurturing so many young talents en route.


Alejandro Sabella made a huge tactical error as he started the campaign with a 3-5-2, but he quickly went for damage control at half-time. With Bosnia and Herzegovina using only a lone striker upfront, Sabella spared an extra man from the back to add more solidity and control in the midfield. Lionel Messi definitely enjoyed the hybrid 4-3-3 formation and his own false 9 role.

Angel di Maria taking on Swiss defenders succesfully – Source: Squawka

Sabella drastically changed things around in his next match and moved to a 4-2-4 system against an Iran side expected to sit back and defend for their lives. Iran showed tremendous discipline and robbed Argentina of any space. Once again Argentina failed to impress.

Finally Sabella addressed the core issue, albeit through an injury to front man Sergio Agüero. Ezequiel Lavezzi was introduced and though he did not produce a tangible end product, he was honest in his wide position and provided a proper 4-2-3-1 balance to the team which gave Messi the licence to roam around. Messi, as expected, was heavily marked throughout the World Cup. However, he constantly managed to drag at least two of the opponent midfielders out of position, which was opening up a vast area between the lines for others to drift into. Unfortunately, more so after the injury to Ángel di María, none of his team mates managed to take advantage. All of Argentina’s movements were distressingly linear playing into opposition hands.

Messi dictated much of the tempo for Argentina. His reserved, calculated and sudden burst of speed while attacking meant that Argentina’s tempo changed from the qualifiers, where they preferred breaking quickly. This tactical shift was very critical for La Albiceleste – the more classic eloquent Latin American display with Messi playing  an archetypal Argentine #10 devoid of any strong European influence.

Pegged by injuries to key players, Sabella opted for Lavezzi and Enzo Pérez– a central midfielder –on the wings, semi final onwards. Lavezzi, a forward, was naturally more effective venturing forward. It showcased how two makeshift wide players, given virtually similar roles, carried them out quite differently. Especially against Germany in the final, Sabella missed a trick by not asking Lavezzi to stick to the right side taking on an uncomfortable German left back Benedikt Höwedes, a right central defender.

In the finals against Germany, Sabella made an inexplicable change at half time, a switch which tilted the balance of the game in Germany’s  favour – in came a half fit Agüero for a very lively Lavezzi and Argentina changed to a midfield diamond.  They lost all the width and pace down the flank, and played to the German hands by being extremely narrow in the central areas. Sabella opted for a star player sacrificing the team shape and it cost him the World Cup.


Louis van Gaal deployed three centre backs with a high-risk strategy – high defensive line, ready to keep possession in deep areas in own half and launch direct balls forward bypassing the opponent midfield and defensive lines. There was clear instruction for two outside centre halfs to track down the two most forward players from the opponent team, even if it meant going beyond own midfield line. This paved the way for a high pressing game with an open channel for kick starting quick counter attacks.

This strategy had some loopholes though. Australian midfielders were ready to make runs deep from their own half to exploit the zone vacated by Dutch centre backs high line. But this, in effect, opened up the game more as Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben found themselves one on one against the opponents’ mid fielders. Van Gaal closed down the game by bringing in a pacy winger Memphis Depay to keep the Australian full backs more occupied. A change of formation to 4-3-3 also deprived the Australian front three any open space, resulting in a slower game, where gap in quality eventually won.

Dutch center backs - de Vrij and Martins Indi - tracking quite high up the pitch in both the halves against Spain
Dutch center backs – de Vrij and Martins Indi – tracking quite high up the pitch in both the halves against Spain – Source: Squawka

One masterstroke by van Gaal was using Dirk Kuyt, a forward by position, as an auxiliary wing back. It allowed the Oranje to transit seamlessly from a three centre back to classical 4-4-2 during different phases of the match. This was pretty apparent in the round of 16 match against Mexico. After a stalemate in the first half where both the teams cancelled each other out in a 3-5-2 set up and were producing a slow drab game, Van Gaal switched Kuyt to a conventional full back and introduced an out an out winger. The team played an immensely attacking 4-2-1-3 formation, though at the cost of a weaker midfield , as the Dutch won the game through wide areas by pushing the opponents’ wing backs even further – rather 3-4-1-2 to very attacking 4-2-1-3.

A very courageous move was already made by substituting Van Persie for Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, a natural penalty box poacher, perfect for getting on the end of crosses. But the move of the match came during the water break, after which Kuyt moved upfront from his right-back position, with Georginio Wijnaldum covering the right of the pitch. This tactical switch resulted in the late Dutch dominance and a 2-1 comeback win.

The Dutch were good against teams taking the game to them which meant more space to work in counters. But in the quarter final they faced Costa Rica, a mirror image of themselves,  albeit with less attacking flair and prowess. It could have produced a stalemate but not with Netherlands involved. Van Gaal moved his wing backs further up to push back the opposition wing-backs, stretched his forwards with Wesley Sneijders’ across the pitch and kept the Costa Rican centre backs occupied to basket their build-up play.

Costa Rica were content at keeping their shape at the back, and hence did not have anything to offer going forward. The Dutch were controlling the game but had a redundant defender in a 3 v 1 at the back, with none of the three centre backs stepping up into midfield to dictate the game. The Oranje, surprisingly took second half of the extra-time to address this issue, but rightfully changed from a 3-4-3 to a 4-2-4, with and Huntelaar coming on up front at the expense of Bruno Martins Indi.

Then came the most talked about substitution of this World Cup. within the 119th minute, van Gaal substituted sub goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen  with Tim Krul. It was more of a psychological move than anything else : Krul is not a penalty specialist, but the iota sub convinced Costa Rica that he was.

And what an inspired substitution it was! Except for the first kick, Krul came out of his goal every time the striker walked towards the penalty spot to place it, normally walking to one side. Then Krul dived in the opposite direction of his walk. And Krul guessed it right every time, saving two in the process.

Netherlands were brilliant throughout the tournament, with van Gaal relying upon an uncommon, tight man-marking system. He was refreshingly flexible to change his formation each game to match his opposition midfield, with wing backs dropping back to have an overload in defence.


Luiz Felipe Scolari changed the way his three attacking men lined up, a tactic that surprised everyone. Oscar, most effective when operated centrally, was drifted to a wider role on the right. Neymar loves to operate from left but he was effectively used as a support striker to centre forward Fred. Hulk, who started right behind the lone striker Fred during, last year’s Confederations Cup win was shifted to the left wing. This change may be due to Neymar’s increased stocks since last year which prompted Big Phil  to offer his star player more time with the ball. But this overhaul complicated things for their most creative player, Oscar, who was visibly not comfortable playing out of position.

There is no denying the fact that nowadays Brazil lacks real skilful, creative, attacking footballers, and Scolari, hence, rightly set up the Seleção as a primarily counter-attacking team. He showed his experience by playing a midfield shuttler in Ramires and sacrificing one of the front men against teams fielding three men at the back.  But sometimes he was let down by the inexperience of Neymar, who played more like a second striker than a number 10, making himself vulnerable to marking.

Brazil front four heat map during first 30 min of match against Germany
Brazil front four heat map during first 30 min of match against Germany. Not tracking back even when the defence surely could do with some help – Source: Squawka

In the annihilation at the hands of Germany, everything that could go wrong for the hosts went wrong. The most perplexing decision was the inclusion of Bernard  in the starting XI. There has been questions on whether it was solely because he is a local Belo Horizonte boy, and Scolari, having lost Neymar already, was desperately trying to cash in on his popularity.  The whole team performance was bizarre. Brazil were atrociously broken into two sections –six defenders, four attackers, and no midfield link between them. The defence could not pass the ball to the attackers, and the front four could not retain possession much longer to ease the pressure on the back six.

In the second half, Scolari made some changes – Paulinho and Ramires replaced Hulk and Fernandinho, switching to more of a 4-3-3, with Luiz Gustavo behind Ramires and Paulinho. In hindsight, this is probably the team and shape Scolari should have started with.


Chile were one of the most versatile sides in the tournament. Jorge Sampaoli dished out a midfield diamond with plenty of variations. Marcelo Díaz, the holding midfielder would often drop deep making it a three centre back allowing the full backs to operate more like wingbacks. From there, long diagonal switch of play across the width of the field was one of the characteristics of quick Chilean counter attacks. Up front, at top of the diamond, Jorge Valdivia played further up more like a false nine rather than in a number 10 role. Striker duo of Alexis Sánchez and Edurado Vargas regularly drifted wide dragging the opponent centre halves with them and creating space for Valdivia to run into. Sampaoli also proved his worth as a clever tactician by introducing a fast, direct centre forward Jean Beausejour late in matches and switching to more traditional 4-3-3 to exploit tiring defences.

At times, Chile showed they can be reactive and can adapt very quickly. Sampoli fielded 3-4-1-2 against Spain, to replicate the Dutch pressing game against Spain. He was not copying blindly though – Chile were cautious, giving due respect to Spain as often they sat back deep to form a five man defensive line. But they overloaded when attacking and quickly changed play by passing the ball from one flank to another, a highlight of their famous win.


Jose Pékerman, the veteran Argentine coach, was widely expected to field a narrow 4-2-2-2 in the World Cup but was handicapped by last minute injury to star forward Radamel Falcao and shifted to a 4-2-3-1 formation. Star of the campaign was James Rodríguez – not only he dazzled forward but always came deep to collect the ball and play some glorious through balls. Rodríguez was thought to be uncomfortable in a converted winger position but he showed tremendous adaptability and his longitudinal awareness was absolutely brilliant. It also helped that they had two skilful full backs in Juan Camilo Zúñiga and Pablo Armero who besides providing width and making overlapping runs, were comfortable with the ball deep in opponent territory, holding and dribbling past defenders. Colombia displayed tremendous discipline with the back four and the two holding midfielders, and lit the stage with Rodríguez and another trickster in Juan Cuadrado. But they suffered up front as both Jackson Martínez and Teófilo Gutiérrez failed to impress. Had they got a decent striker in the final third to support Rodríguez, Colombia might just have gone all the way.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica shocked everyone the most with their honest and disciplined display of tactical football. Jorge Luis Pinto, in his second stint as the national team coach, deployed a back three in a counter attack based system. This was in stark contrast to all other teams in the tournament having a three centre half system – Netherlands, Mexico et al were comfortable with the ball, pressed higher and had a possession based approach. On the other hand, Pinto’s team defended deep and relied on direct counter attacks – not through long balls but refreshingly eye catching speedy passing to wide areas. Sometimes they did press high up but generally they allowed the opponent teams to come at them, get exposed at the back and then break free.


Costa Rica were brilliant at setting up off side traps – their tally of 41 successful traps till the quarter final stages was more than double of the second ranked team (Germany) in this category. It shows how cohesive their defensive unit was. But the same unit struggled to switch to a conventional flat four after going down to ten men against the round of 16 match against Greece. Pinto’s tactical shift to 4-4-1 took a while to get going as the wing backs continued to play very wide instead of playing close to the centre backs. They eventually rectified themselves by playing narrow, helping out the stoppers and leaving the flanks to be taken over by the wingers. They eventually won the match on penalties, but did not have enough tricks up their sleeves to progress further in the competition.


Didier Deschamps succeeded in bringing France out of the 2010 World Cup debacle and spearheaded a well-knit unit. France’s star performer was Mathieu Valbuena who occupied the right-sided position in a three men attack but often drifted inside into pockets of spaces in more central positions. He carried out the double role of a right winger as well as a perfect #10 – on top of a midfield diamond – with aplomb.

Benzema did not track back and his passing also was lacklustre when played wide - again Nigeria in Round of 16
Benzema did not track back and his passing also was lacklustre when played wide – against Nigeria in Round of 16 – Source: EPLINDEX

But Deschamps struggled to fit in his striker duo of Karim Benzema and Olivier Giroud in the starting XI efficiently. First of all, Valbuena had to be shifted in the left wing where his utility was compromised. Then, Giroud could not hold up the ball up front effectively enough, and often he mistimed his runs to create space for others. Benzema also became less effective whenever asked to operate from the left in a 4-3-3 system, did not offer any width at all, and could not go behind the last defender into goal scoring positions. In effect, his narrowness resulted in Valbuena’s diminished return.

But Benzema playing as a wide man was even more problematic due to his minimal defensive contribution. Against less disciplined teams such as Switzerland (at the group stage) this approach was still workable, since Swiss right-back Stephane Lichtsteiner was regularly getting caught in the French half and Benzema could exploit the space in counter-attack. But against more tactically sound sides like Nigeria in the round of 16 match, Efe Ambrose had a more balanced role to carry out. He attacked the French left wing with no one tracking him and combined well with Peter Odemwingie to create problems for Patrice Evra.

Les Blues were playing a lop-sided 4-4-2 and were going nowhere. Deschamps addressed the issue by taking off Giroud, introducing Antoine Griezmann, and shifting Benzema upfront in a classic 4-3-3. This move changed the game – Griezmann’s directness and verticality in possession proved decisive as he linked well with both Benzema and Valbuena. France won courtesy a Paul Pogba header from a corner but ran out of ideas in the quarter final against eventual winner Germany.


Marc Wilmots biggest tactical genius was perhaps the use of his substitutes. In the opener against Algeria he struggled in the first half with a 4-4-1-1 and an inept toothless attack. At the half time, Kevin de Bryune was shifted to a central position, and Belgium now had a potent target man with super sub Marouane Fellaini playing as the second striker. Fellaini did not disappoint and pulled Belgium level with a brilliant header.

Wilmots then put up an example for everyone – he did not hesitate to start with Divock Origi upfront, ahead of his number 1 striker, an underperforming Romelu Lukaku in the knock out stages. But he was not stubborn to prove himself right as he changed things whenever required. The round of 16 match against USA was turning out to be a frustrating one for the Belgian faithful. USA kept on losing the ball frequently and Belgium kept on squandering chances against an impregnable Tim Howard. Wilmots could do nothing much but still he shook things up by introducing a bit of pace by introducing Kevin Mirallas in place of Dries Mertens. In extra-time Lukaku was called off the bench to inject even more pace upfront at the expense of Origi. And Belgium finally got the crucial breakthrough as Lukaku teed up De Bruyne on the break. Ten minutes later the reverse sequence happened and Lukaku’s cameo helped Belgium overcome a stubborn USA side. Belgium created a lot in the match, but a clinical striker made all the difference late in the match.

Wilmots was handicapped with the lack of natural full backs – everyone in his back four was a centre half.  So there was no consistent overlapping runs, no overload in the wide area and one cannot succeed at the World Cup without such a basic weapon.

Notable mentions:

    • England coach Roy Hodgson excited all of us with four attackers in a 4-2-4 system. But obvious downside of this formation was lack of defensive responsibilities and less protection for full backs which cost them a lot. Also Wayne Rooney’s positioning was an issue – he was shifted constantly during and in between matches from either flanks to the behind the striker position. World Cup was no place to decide the best position for the team’s most influential player.
    • Paulo Bento used Cristiano Ronaldo more as a second striker and shifted Raul Merieles towards the left to cover for his vacated space. This was effectively a 4-4-2 but with neither forwards tracking back, it was always a lost battle in the central midfield where the opponent always created a 3 on 2 overload.
    • Greece are one of the most defensive sides the World has ever seen. But they showed their attacking flair too against a 10-man Costa Rica while trailing by a goal. Like any other side, they introduced strikers, moved up the # 10 to play more like a 4-2-4. But they did not simply hit the long balls – instead they pushed the ball wide, stretched the play, forced Costa Rica to work hard, tired them out, and lashed some brilliant crosses into the box. They were patient throughout and finally were able to equalize.
Greece chasing the game in last 30 min against Costa Rica in Round of 16 - Long balls to stretch the play
Greece chasing the game in last 30 min against Costa Rica in Round of 16 – Long balls to stretch the play – Source: Squawka
    • This World Cup saw a return of three centre back formation. But at the end, many of the teams shifted from 3-5-2 to 5-3-2 as the wing backs were instructed to be more responsible defensively. At the end of the day, it was evident that the same system could look very different by the roles carried out by individual players.
    • Another notable aspect was that how cagy an affair it can become when two sides fielding the same 3-5-2 formation lock horns (Uruguay vs Italy in the group stage, Netherlands vs Costa Rica in the last eight). Strikers become well marked by the insurance of an extra sweeper; there is no free width to be exploited as the wide areas are well guarded by the wing backs creating 1 v 1 all the time. Midfield area becomes too predictable and three CMs cancel each other out.
    • As we advanced in the tournament, teams got more cautious. Full backs / wing backs were instructed to track their opposite numbers more closely rather than being used as an outlet for attack. This reduced the possibility of having a 2 v 1 overload in the opposition wide areas and the game got more predictable.  Same was the scenario in the middle of the pitch – the midfield triangles were formed much lower; sometimes entirely well within own half by the central midfielders and very few ambitious balls were played forward.  As a result goal scoring opportunities diminished and so did the goals.

At the end of the day it really comes down to the individual players. The coach can always come up with the best of plans to tackle the opponent. But it depends on the players’ adaptability and discipline if they can execute that plan. And how well individuals can execute the tactics differentiates the winner from the rest of the bunch.

Goalden Times top few moments from World Cup 2014

Every World Cup brings in some unique moments. Some just fade away with time, some gets engraved in the football lovers’ memory forever. Subhashis Biswas from GT handpicks 11 best moments of World Cup 2014.

11. Guillermo Ochoa’s goalkeeping


During the second group match of the World Cup against Brazil, the world suddenly took notice of the long curly-haired head-band wearing Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. He saved a Neymar header when the ball was about to enter the goal, by flying to his right, ala Gordon Banks in 1970. He then saved a David Luiz header from point blank range in the second half, by sheer reflex. He again saved a shot from Hulk which had a goal written all over it. The ball did not enter the goal. Brazil were held to a 0-0 draw with Mexico largely due to Ochoa. Ochoa’s heroics continued in the next match against Croatia as well, and he denied Mario Mandzukic and Luka Modric from scoring as Mexico won 3-1 to enter the round of 16. In that match against Netherlands, Mexico was 1-0 up against Netherlands till the 87th minute. Ochoa again saved two close range efforts from the Dutch offense line, and one of the saves were as incredible as it can get, with pure reflex denying the Dutch a sure shot goal. . Finally a Wesley Sneijder thunder and an Arjen Robben theatrics denied Mexico further progress in the World Cup, but Guillermo Ochoa, the ex-AJ Ajaccio goalkeeper, now free agent at that, had won many hearts and applauds for his performances in the World Cup. Big clubs are already lining up to get the signature of this keeper on the dotted line.

10. Flying RVP



In their first group match, Spain was up 1-0 in the match, via a controversially awarded Xabi Alonso penalty following which Diego Costa went down in the box after minimal contact. Netherlands was desperate for an equaliser. Just before the halftime, in the 44th minute, left wing back Dale Blind received a ball near the centre line, towards left side of the pitch. He quickly noticed an advancing Robin van Persie near the Spanish penalty area, with three defenders backtracking towards their goal. Blind delivered a perfect left-footed cross, which took a parabolic trajectory and was going towards the Spanish penalty area. van Persie realised he was a little behind the ball, and also realised that Iker Casillas was way off his goal line. He threw his body in front, as if he was taking off to fly, and headed the cross with his body a good 2-3 feet above the ground, in a flying position. The header exploited the gap Casillas had left behind him and the ball looped inside the Spanish goal leaving the goalkeeper hopelessly stranded. The flying picture position of Robin van Persie was symbolic as it signalled the taking off of the Dutch Wrld Cup campaign (they won the match 5-1, and eventually finished 3rd in the World Cup

9. Spain’s disastrous campaign and early exit


The signs were evident in last year’s Confederations Cup. Yet victories in the qualifying campaign forced Vincente del Bosque in denial mode. But the shortcomings of Spain finally got brutally exposed in the final round. Spain ruled the world of football for 6 six years winning everything wthat was there to be won – . 2008 Euro, 2010 World Cup and 2012 Euro. They were drawn in a tough group with Netherlands, Chile and Australia, but pundits expected them to win the group. Little did they expect that an ageing midfield, ineffective defence and nonexistent forward line would be unable to put up even a fight against the Dutch and Chile. Xavi, Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets can no longer execute the “tiki-taka” brand of football with perfection they used to do around three years ago. Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos were never on the same page when an attack came towards Spanish defence. Add the embarrassment of Iker Casillas to this. The legendary goalkeeper, winner of several accolades in his illustrious career, was literally scrambling in kneel-down position inside the penalty area for most of the time against Netherlands and Chile. He conceded seven goals in two matches (in 1-5 loss to Netherlands and 0-2 defeat against Chile), and Spain exited the World Cup just after 180 minutes of football. The future, though, is bright for Spain with a lot of young talents like Ilaramendi, Isco, Thiago Alacantara, David de Gea, waiting in the ranks. But first, the football association has to get out of their self-denial mode.

8. Tim Howard’s heroics


USA always comes up with a fighting and spirited display in the World Cup . This time around, it was no exception. They were grouped with eventual winner Germany, always dangerous Portugal, and last edition’s quarter finalists Ghana in Group G. They emerged from that group with four points, defeating Ghana 2-1, sharing spoils with Portugal 2-2, and losing to Germany 0-1. Their inspirational goalkeeper, Everton’s Tim Howard was the mainstay as the last line of defence, making some incredible saves during the group stage, especially against an attacking Portugal side and eventual champions Germany. But Tim Howard’s heroics scaled a different level in the round of 16 match against Belgium. He denied Divock Origi several times; including a fist to clear a thunderous 20-yard drive by the striker. He denied his Everton colleague Kevin Mirallas with his feet in the 76th minute. Vincent Kompany then headed in Kevin de Bruyne’s cross goalwards but Howard’s heroics again denied him. These are just glimpses of Tim Howard’s monumental performance that day. He marshalled the whole defence, and took the game to extra time, only to succumb to goals from Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku. He made an incredible total of 16 saves – an all time record for the World Cup in recorded matches (since 1966) – , many of which would have been goals with any other goalkeeper on any other day. USA bowed out losing 1-2, but Tim Howard’s performance will remain as one of the greatest performances by a goalkeeper in a World Cup match.

7. Chile fans stormed media center


Chile faced Spain in Estadio Maracana on 18th of June in their second group match, with Chile having a chance to qualify for the next round with a win and knocking Spain out of the World Cup. But chaos is an understatement to what had happened just before the match. About 100 Chilean fans, without tickets to the match, and wearing replica Chile jerseys, broke into the media center inside the Maracana stadium. The fans ran through the media center, then broke a glass door, and took out temporary doors, partitions, TV sets – whatever came their way. Some of the fans started taking photos with their mobile phones as if it was a moment to savour for life!. A group of fans were shouting slogans and flaunting posters. The part of media center was not heavily guarded, and the fans got a free passage, and almost were in the hallway which lead to the field and locker room. The chaos lasted for about 20 minutes before the security personnel cordoned the area and forced about 85 fans to sit in front of a wall. Most of these personnels were later deported from the country within 72 hours. Chilean fans accused FIFA of making the ticket price high in Chile, and selling tickets illegally. According to them, all Chileans should be allowed to enter inside the stadium during a “Chile match” !

6. Klose world record


This was his fourth World Cup. Miroslav Klose had already scored five goals each in 2002 and 2006, and four goals in 2010. He needed two more goals in 2014 edition to surpass Ronaldo as all time leading scorer in World Cups. Germany heavily relied on their midfield in this edition of the Cup, with Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil providing the attacking threat upfront. Klose, therefore, was not the main target man, according to Joaechim Loew’s plans. He was an unused substitute in the first match against Portugal, where Muller stole the limelight with a hattrick. Klose came in as substitute for Mario Goetze as Germany was trailing 1-2 to Ghana in their second group match (only time Germany trailed in the whole tournament). Within two minutes of coming in, he tapped in from close range after a corner, to equalise the score at 2-2. Having equalled the goals tally on 15 with Ronaldo,. Klose had to wait till the semifinal match-up against Brazil to score again. Germany routed Brazil 7-1 in that match. Klose scored the second goal for Germany in the 23rd minute in a 7-1 rout. Brazil’s meltdown stole all the limelight , but the silent assassin had done enough to register himself permanently in the World Cup history books.

5. Neymar’s fracture


The game between Brazil and Colombia in the round of 16 was not for the purists a clean one. Total 54 fouls were committed. Brazil started the brutality with a series of fouls on Colombian youngster James Rodriguez – and ended that match with a staggering 31 fouls — the highest in a World Cup match since they were recorded from1966 – and slowly Colombian defenders and midfielders started to return the favour . Defender Juan Zuniga was probably the most hostile of them all. He committed a foul on Hulk in the first half which should have resulted in a yellow card. But the defining moment came on the 87th minute of the match. Brazil was winning 2-1, and Colombia was in search of an equaliser. An aerial ball came towards Neymar, and Zuniga was just behind him. Before Neymar could reach the ball, Zuniga leap-frogged over Neymar’s shoulder and tried to reach the ball. In the process, Zuniga’s knee collided fiercely with Neymar’s back. Immediately the poster boy of Brazilian football fell to the ground, writhing in pain. Medical help arrived, assessed the seriousness of the injury, and stretchered him off immediately to the hospital. The doctors diagnosed that there is a fracture at the transverse process below third lumbar vertebra, which means the fracture is at the spinal cord ! Had it been a couple of inches lower, Neymar could have been paralyzed for life. The fracture did not require surgery, but needed rest and minimal movement for recovery. Neymar was out of the World Cup, and so was Brazil, a match later, against Germany in the semi-final. Neymar lying on the ground, writhing in pain, became symbolic with Brazil’s exodus from the cup of their dreams.

4. The viral image of David Luiz cheering up James


Brazil faced Colombia in the quarter final, with one James Rodriguez hogging as much limelight as Neymar Junior before the match. James Rodriguez had scored five goals in four matches prior to the QF match, with a brace against Uruguay in the round of 16 match. His dazzling runs, dribbles, quick passing, left footed volleys and intelligent positioning had impressed football lovers around the world, and a tough match was on the cards against the Brazilians. Brazil did not give him much space though,; with Fernandinho and Marcello marking him tight during the match, Rodriguez was at the receiving end of many fouls committed by Brazil. Brazil took an early lead via Thiago Silva from the corner, and David Luiz doubled the lead via a free kick in the 2nd half. Rodriguez scored his sixth goal (and would eventually win the Golden Boot) via a penalty in the dying minutes of the match, but Colombia lost 1-2 to bow out of the tournament. Colombia won many hearts through their display of attractive skilful football. James Rodriguez cried inconsolably after the match, as the dream of a budding youngster was shattered by the host nation. David Luiz then walked up to embrace Rodriguez, exchanged jerseys with him, and pointed towards him and encouraged the crowd to appreciate the efforts of this sensational young player. The image of Luiz pointing towards Rodriguez went viral across social and print media, and became a symbol of affection and sportsman spirit during the World Cup.

3. Brazil’s fan handing cup to German fan


Clovis Acosta Fernandes,the 58-year old man with the hat and moustache, as the whole world recognises him, has been to every World Cup since 1990 and many a Copa America, totalling to over 150 international matches. He travels with the Brazil team and this is his seventh World Cup, the first one at home. Clovis carried a replica trophy of the World Cup, which is almost exactly of the similar size of the original. Only difference according to him, was that his trophy was “kissed” much more times than the original. He is often known as Brazil’s 12th man.

He was in the stands at Belo Horizonte, on 8th of July during the semi-final between Brazil and Germany. He could not believe what was happening before his eyes. Germany won the match 7-1, leading 5-0 after only 30 minutes of football. The whole country was weeping, crying. Clovis was crying. Clovis hugged the trophy with tearful eyes, as if he did not want to let his dream evaporate and was instantly labelled the the Saddest Man in Brazil all over the international media. But this man has a golden heart. After the match, Clovis walked up to a lady, who was a German fan, , handed the trophy over to her, and said ”Take this trophy with you to Maracana. It is in good hands with you. Congratulations.“ His gesture won him admiration from across the world, and showed everyone that football is all about sportsman spirit and big heart.

2. Ghana cash convoy


A series of three cars, flanked by five police cars- a convoy of total of eight cars were moving along the highway entering Brasilia, where Ghana was supposed to play Portugal in their last group match. The unusualness of this incident was that- those cars were carrying more than $3 million in cash! Yes, this was probably the only instance in World Cup history where the national federation of a country had to pay that large amount in cash to its players, that too in the face of an imminent threat to boycott just before they took the field in a World Cup match. According to their star player, Kevin- Prince Boateng, the preparation for the World Cup was a shambolic one. The Ghana team had to fly economy class on a a 12-hour flight, and stay in hotel rooms where the ceilings leaked and the rooms were flooded. The players were not paid their dues, and Ghana’s football federation did not use the money they received from FIFA for World Cup preparations. Immediately Boateng and fellow senior player Sulley Muntari were suspended and sent back home by Ghana Football Fedeartion. Ghana’s president John Mahama had to intervene and the “cash convoy” arrived in Brasilia, and the players then agreed to take the field against Portugal. Social media was flooded with the images of the cash convey arriving at the hotel with armed escort and defender John Boye kissing a stack of money after it arrived by armed escort. Apparently the players wanted the money in cash as most of them did not have even bank accounts back home! Ghana lost the match 1-2 and bowed out from the tournament with only 1 point. They were the only team not to be beaten by Germany though (2-2 draw), and only team who actually led eventual winner Germany during the World Cup.

1. Suarez Biting


Italy and Uruguay – both the teams were on three points having defeated England and lost to Costa Rica ! The superior goal difference meant Italy needed a draw where Uruguay had to win the match to qualify for the next round. The match was never entertaining, as both the teams were really aggressive and frequent fouls stopped the game from gathering any momentum. . Claudio Marchisio was sent off in the 59th minute, and the Italians were fighting hard to hold off Uruguay for rest of the match. Around the 79th minute of the match, an off the ball incident left the world completely in shock. Luis Suarez had jumped on to Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder, then covered his face with his palm and fell on ground. Chiellini was on the ground as well, but immediately got up, exposed his shoulder from his shirt and showed the bite mark to the referee. Suarez was sitting on the ground holding his teeth!! Referee did not punish Suarez, a bemused and shell shocked Italian team conceded from a corner through Diego Godin two minutes later, and had to go back home.

Suarez and Uruguay team tried to downplay the incident initially, but later, after criticism poured in from around the world, FIFA took the matter seriously. After investigation, FIFA handed a four-month and nine- match ban to Luis Suarez. Uruguay lost to Colombia 0-2 in the round of 16 match and bowed out of the competition.

FIFA World Cup With Bollywood Curry

With World Cup just around the corner we re-imagined few of the cult Bollywood movie posters and gave them a football twist in a a humorous, cryptic and minimalist way to wish luck few of the popular nations. This is nothing official but to spice up the month long journey coming ahead. Enjoy – Football in Filmy Attire (in short we call it FIFA).

Argentina – Will He or won’t He be a witness this time?


Brazil – The zeal for beauty


England – For the Lion hearted


France- Head vs heart. Can they overcome the battle within?


Germany – Can they steel a win?


Italy – What’s cooking, Pastafarians?


Netherlands – Thirsting for a win


Spain – Will the bull run continue for the reigning champions?


Road to the World Cup – Brazil

With the football World Cup, 2014 a couple of days away Tamal Kanti Santra looks into the preparations of the host nation and the options available with Scolari to give Brazil the best possible chance in winning their 6th trophy.

“Only three people have ever silenced 2,00,000 people at the Maracana with a single gesture: Frank Sinatra, Pope John Paul II and I.” –Alcides Ghiggia, scorer of the winner in the decisive final round match against Brazil helping Uruguay win the 1950 football World Cup.

Generations have passed since the 16th of July, 1950, but the Seleção faithfuls still remember each and every moment of that eventful day. The decisive goal from the Uruguayan Alcides Ghiggia shattered the hearts of millions of Brazilians who dreamt of lifting the FIFA World Cup trophy in their backyard. 63 years on, the fire stills burns within the Pentacampeões to lift the coveted trophy in front of their home crowd. As the World Cup returns to the Mecca of Football after 64 years, the Brazilians have got another opportunity to fulfil their dream.

Alcides Ghiggia after scoring the winner against Brazil in the 1950 Football World Cup in the Maracana
Alcides Ghiggia after scoring the winner against Brazil in the 1950 Football World Cup in the Maracana

Target 2014

Brazil2After a string of disappointing performances in consecutive World Cups in Germany, 2006 and South Africa, 2010, the Confederação Brasileira de Futebol (CBF) required a proper roadmap to give the Brazilians a decent chance of lifting their sixth trophy in Brazil. As Carlos Dunga resigned after the quarter-final exit in South Africa, the reins of the Brazilian National Team were handed over to the then Corinthians coach, Mano Menzes. The Brazilians progressed little under him. The fans did not find his football attractive enough. Finally, after a disappointing couple of years, compounded with a series of poor performances in the Copa America, 2011 and London Olympics, 2012, Mano Menzes was shown the door on November, 2012. With less than two years remaining for the World Cup, the Brazilians were in disarray. After a lot of deliberations, Luiz Felipe Scolari was appointed as Brazil’s new manager on November28th, 2012. The legendary Carlos Alberto Parreira, coach of the 1994 World Cup winning Brazil team is also assisting Scolari as the technical director. People expected a lot from Scolari. The last time Brazil won a World Cup in Japan-South Korea, it was under the veteran Luiz Felipe Scolari.

Being the host nation, Brazil automatically qualified for the World Cup, 2014. The only effective way of measuring their progress was a few remaining international friendlies and the Confederations Cup, 2013. With very little time in hand, Scolari started rebuilding the team. His first match as the coach of Brazil saw the team slump to a 2-1 defeat to England. Leading up to the Confederations Cup in June, 2103, Brazil dropped to their lowest ranking ever, 22.

Luiz Felipe Scolari
Luiz Felipe Scolari

A very few believed the Brazilians could defend the Confederations Cup against the mighty Spaniards. However, their performance in the tournament surprised a lot of people. They reached the knockout stage defeating Japan, Mexico and Italy convincingly. In the semi-final they defeated the Copa America champions Uruguay. The final was a mouth-watering clash against Spain. The Brazilians dismantled the Spaniards with relative ease. A mesmerizing performance from Neymar along with a couple of goals from Fred saw the Spanish slump to a 3-0 defeat. Neymar was adjudged the player of the tournament.

In the Confederations Cup the Brazilians gelled as a team and the fans saw how destructive this bunch of players can be if they played up to their full potential. The magic of Scolari seemed to work again.

The Current Squad

The Goalkeepers

Goalkeeping has always been an area of concern for the Brazilians. The current first choice keeper Julio Cesar, 34, performed well in the Confederations Cup. He was named the best goalkeeper of the tournament. However, the recent developments around him have been an area of concern. With QPR getting relegated to the Championship and Julio Cesar failing to secure a move away meant he won’t be playing in a more competitive league which would have helped him to be on top of his game. He was not even guaranteed a first team place in QPR. Eventually he was loaned out to Toronto FC in Canada. Jefferson, 30, captain of the Brazilian club Botafogo FR is a strong contender for the number one spot. He has been a consistent performer in the Brasileirão and features regularly in the Brasileirã, Team of the Year. Victor, 31 from Atlético Mineiro was selected for third goalkeeping position in the final 23-man squad.

Diego Cavalieri, Julio Cesar & Jefferson
Diego Cavalieri, Julio Cesar & Jefferson

The Defenders

The core of the defence has been built around Thiago Silva and David Luiz with Daniel Alves on the right and Marcelo on the left. Thiago Silva, 28, from PSG has been leading the Seleção for the past couple of years. His performances with AC Milan made him a transfer target of the top European clubs. But, he made a shock move to big spenders PSG in 2012. PSG lead by Thiago Silva was crowned the champions of France. The French League is not the most competitive league in Europe. The UEFA Champions League was the only place where he could test his defensive skills against the top clubs of Europe. David Luiz, 24 from Chelsea was one of the star performers for Brazil in the Confederations Cup. His goal-line save in the 3-0 triumph against Spain was spectacular. His ability to adapt to the centre half or the central defensive midfield position makes him a good addition to the squad. He even took some wonderful free-kicks for Chelsea. But, he is not one of the strongest defenders in the world football. For Jose Mourinho, David Luiz is not his typical no-nonsense center back. However David Luiz strengthened his defensive skills under Mourinho in a more physical English Premier League and helped Chelsea keep 18 clean sheets (highest in the league) and concede only 27 goals (lowest conceded in the league).

David Luiz and his amazing goal line save
David Luiz and his amazing goal line save

Dante, 30 from Bayern Munich & Henrique, 27 from Palmeiras are the other options for the centre back position. Dante played an instrumental part in Bayern’s 2013 Champions League triumph. His regular appearances for Bayern under Pep Guardiola in the Bundesliga helped him strengthen his defensive skills. He is now regarded as one of the finest defenders in Europe. Henrique from Napoli in the Brasileirão is a formidable centre back who can also double up as a central defensive midfielder.

Marcelo, 25 and Daniel Alves, 30 are the two first choices left and right wing-backs for Scolari. Marcelo for Real Madrid has been a consistent performer. His ability to move forward through the wings makes up for his lack of defensive skills. He has consistently been used as an attacking option through the left wing. Alves is a key member of the Barcelona squad. He is equally good while defending or moving forward. His exploits on the right wing and ability to provide accurate crosses in the box makes him Scolari’s first choice wing back.

Maxwell, 32 from PSG and Maicon, 33 from AS Roma are good options with Scolari for a more defensive left and right wing-back position. Maxwell has also played as left defender during his tenure with Ajax, Inter and Barcelona and also brings in vast experience of playing at the highest level for the top clubs of Europe. Maicon, after his move away to Manchester City from Inter Milan, failed to live up to the expectations. He struggled to get in the starting eleven and finally moved away to AS Roma, Italy in 2013 to have regular playing time. He helped AS Roma to a second place finish in the Italian Serie A 2013-14 season. He prefers the right wing back position and was called up for the international friendlies against Australia and Portugal.

The Midfielders

Traditionally Brazil has produced some of the finest midfielders in the history of the game. The current crop of midfielders are good, but they are not of the class we have witnessed in the recent past. With Ronaldinho and Kaka nowhere near their personal best, the midfield was becoming an area of concern where the Brazilians traditionally excelled. With limited resources Scolari started working on the midfield. Ramires, 26 from Chelsea, Paulinho, 25 from Tottenham Hotspur & Luiz Gustavo, 26 from Wolfsburg are entrusted upon with the defensive midfield duties. Ramires is a regular in the Chelsea squad and has the ability to accelerate swiftly to begin an attack. His speed and agility gives him the ability to fall back quickly and land crucial interceptions to break any attack. Paulinho’s impressive performance in the Confederations Cup interested a lot of top European clubs. He finally secured a move to Totenham Hotspur from the Corinthians in 2013. His box-to-box movement and powerful running makes him a complete midfielder. Luiz Gustavo played a very important role in the Confederations Cup final against Spain. His strength in the air and ability to break attacks did not allow the Spanish midfielders to get into a rhythm. He also played a crucial part in Bayern Munich’s success last season. Bayern’s recent purchases forced him to move away to VfL Wolfsberg to have regular playing time. The impressive performance of Fernandinho, 28 as a defensive midfielder for Manchester City forced Scolari to include him for the International friendlies against South Africa and Croatia. His wide range of passes along with his ability to play box-to-box gives him the capability to participate in attacks as well as the defence.

The Midfield
The Midfield

The attacking midfield is headed by Oscar, 22, from Chelsea. Oscar is one of the finest midfielders in Europe. His quick accurate passing, sleek movement in the box and dribbling skills makes him a potent weapon to complete an attacking move. He has successfully cemented his place in the Brazilian starting line-up. Hernanes, 28, from Internazionale, Bernard, 21, from Shakhtar Donesk and Hulk, 27, from Zenit Saint Petersburg are the other options in the attacking midfield. Although Hulk plays as a centre forward for his club, Scolari uses him as a right attacking midfielder. His is now linked with a move to Chelsea in the English Premier League Hernanes, who played for Lazio and Inter last season, is a seasoned professional. Hernanes mostly plays from a central attacking position and has the ability to lay out accurate passes to the wingers. Bernard is the most promising player of the lot. He possesses quick feet and is an excellent dribbler of the ball. Bernard brings in a lot of pace from the right wing and can easily penetrate strong defensive line-ups with ease. He has already secured a €25 million move to Shakhtar Donetsk away from Atlético Mineiro. Willian, 25, from Chelsea has been a revelation. He has been a work horse for Mourinho. His fast and penetrating runs from the wings helped Chelsea unlock stubborn defensive line ups. His willingness to help his team even in the defense makes him a classic Mourinho favourite. His recent exploits with Chelsea as already earned him a position in the final 23-man Brazilian squad for World Cup, 2014.

The Strikers

Fred, 29, from Fluminense is the first choice. He is the typical striker, always exploiting spaces between defenders in the box. His physical power allows the midfielders to use long balls in an attack. His recent injuries ruled him out for three months and have created a problem for Scolari. A record 44 goals from Fred helped Fluminense clinch the 2012 Campeonato Brasileiro Série A. The other options for the strikers are Jo and Pato. Jo, 26, from Atlético Mineiro plays as a cover for Fred. With the limited opportunities he got he displayed great skill and composure and scored important goals. Alexadre Pato, 24 from the Corinthians is a talented technical striker, but has consistently under performed. He has recently been called up to the Brazilian squad due to an injury to Fred. With Fred recovering from his injury, Pato was finally left out of the final Brazilian squad. The developments around Diego Costa are quite interesting. Diego Costa has been instrumental in the success of Atletico Madrid in the current season and gradually established him as a striker in the Brazilian national team. He made his debut for Brazil on March 2013 against Russia. However, his willingness to play for Spain in the World Cup instead of Brazil prompted Scolari to express his displeasure.


And Neymar

The 21-year-old prodigy from Santos is the most talked about player in recent times. Amid intense speculation he finally moved to Barcelona in the summer of 2013. Scolari built the Brazilian Team around him. He prefers a position on the left wing but has been given the freedom to play a broader role in building attacks. His exceptional dribbling skills along with his clinical passing and creativity have been instrumental in Brazil’s recent success. He started the Confederations Cup with a stunning volley and capped it off with another brilliant performance in the final against Spain. He continued is impressive performance against Australia and Portugal. Neymar’s blistering pace and ability to spread quick passes makes him extremely dangerous against opponents. His recent involvement with Barcelona gave him an opportunity to work with some of the best midfielders of recent times along with one of the best players of all time, Lionel Messi. Although he did not have a great season with Barcelona, this experience in Europe would help him immensely in preparing for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.


The recent development in the Brazilian squad under Scolari is a positive sign for the Seleção. Scolari has managed to take the team in the right direction. In such a short span of time he guided the team to a third consecutive Confederations Cup victory. The continuous improvement in his squad was visible in the international friendlies against Australia, Portugal and Chile.

With a pool of talented players, Luiz Felipe Scolari has managed to transform the Brazilian National Team to a formidable force. The recent international friendlies against Switzerland (0-1 defeat), Australia (6-0), Portugal (3-1), South Korea (2-1), Zambia (2-0), Honduras (5-0), Chile (2-1) and South Africa (5-0) are a proof of the progress they are making under Scolari.  Scolari revealed is final 23 man squad on 7th May with only 2 friendlies remaining against Panama and Serbia. The Brazilians regrouped after three months since their last match against South Africa. However, they were right on top of their game against Panama where they won 3-0. Neymar was again the star of the match where he scored one and assisted one. Hulk, Dani Alaves and Willian also scored one each. The match against Serbia displayed another very important side of this Brazillian squad. The found it very difficult to work the Serbian midfield and defence, but they persevered and kept their composure. They took their time to play the ball around and finally broke the deadlock with a solitary goal from Fred with an assist from Thiago.

Scolari worked his magic again. He managed to build a closed-knit team from the same bunch of players who were struggling to play some quality football less than 2 years back. Scolari converted his 23 players into a happy team where the players are enjoying each and every moment with each other on and off the field. They have truly established them as the favourites for the tournament.

Brazil has suffered a lot while trying to organize the World Cup, 2014, touted to be the greatest show on earth. People have objected to the exorbitant amount spent preparing for this gala event while a vast majority still lacks the most basic infrastructure to get through the day. Amidst all this chaos, the millions of Brazilians once again are dreaming of seeing their team winning the coveted trophy in Brazil. The euphoria of seeing their beloved team lift that trophy in Brazil will be worth all the hardship endured.


Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar (Toronto FC), Jefferson (Botafogo), Victor (Atletico Mineiro)

Defenders: Marcelo (Real Madrid), Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Maicon (AS Roma), Maxwell, Thiago Silva (both Paris St Germain), David Luiz (Chelsea), Dante (Bayern Munich), Henrique (Napoli)

Midfielders: Paulinho (Tottenham Hotspur), Ramires, Willian, Oscar (all Chelsea), Hernanes (Inter Milan), Luiz Gustavo (VfL Wolfsburg), Fernandinho (Manchester City)

Forwards: Bernard (Shakhtar Donetsk), Neymar (Barcelona), Fred (Fluminense), Jo (Atletico Mineiro), Hulk (Zenit St Petersburg)

A for Abidance

So, we are all set to embrace the mother of all tournaments, the World Cup 2014, to be held in its spiritual home, Brazil. Goalden Times is bringing you group wise preview, analysis and prediction. Starting off with Group A is Riddhi Roy Chaudhuri.

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The Holy Grail returns to Brazil for the first time since 1950. Generally anything less than a final appearance in World Cup is considered a failure for the Selecao by the football crazy nation. One can understand how much expectation from the national team will be there this time as World Cup is held in Brazil itself. After the embarrassing second half capitulation against the Dutch in quarter-final in 2010, manager Dunga had to face the axe. Mano Menezes replaced him and he tried to make a radical change to the national team setup. Menezes envisaged a free-flowing football with more technical, skillful and particularly young players. He brought in the likes of Neymar, Lucas Moura, Alexandre Pato and tried to build the team around them. However, Menezes never succeeded to fully achieve what he tried. The team showed glimpses of brilliance in going forward but they lacked the killer instinct. Another hindrance for Menezes was the lack of competitive games. Friendlies never provided a true measure of the progress made under him. Then came the Copa America in 2011 where Menezes and his team bowed out in the quarters.

In November 2012, Menezes left with mutual consent and Luiz Felipe Scolari returned after 10 years of winning the World Cup. Felipao set out to mend the things and preferred substance over style. Initially things did not work properly and in his first five games, Brazil failed to secure any win. However in the Confederation Cup 2013, Brazil found their rhythm and went on to win the tournament. Throughout the tournament, Brazil was ruthless and clinical which was highlighted by the 3-0 demolition of world champion Spain. Thereby Felipao succeeded in installing a proper system for the team that can perform well at the World Cup.

As Scolari has mentioned before, his roster for the World Cup consists of majority of the players who won the Confederation Cup for him. This time around Brazil will be based on solid defence and a functional midfield. Thiago Silva, Dante and David Luiz will be at the helm of the central defence while Dani Alves and Marcelo will be providing width as full-backs. The Luiz Gustavo-Paulinho combination has worked wonders for Scolari and they will form the midfield lynch pin. However, after a fantastic season at Manchester City, Fernandinho has forced himself into Scolari’s plan and do not be surprised if you see his name in the first XI. Neymar will be the talisman for Brazill going forward supported by Oscar, Fred and Hulk. Ironically, this time the centre-forward is the position where Brazil is devoid of quality names. Scolari will try to overcome it by setting up his strategy to get goals from all across the team.

Brazil has always been the box office nation at the World Cup and as the host nation, expectation to win the tournament on them will be sky high. If things work out properly, progress to knockout stage should not be a big problem. But there awaits the bigger test for Scolari and his Selecao. Whether a sixth World Cup glory or an anti-climax in the form of early elimination from the tournament awaits them – time can only tell that.

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Cameroon will be participating for the seventh time in the World Cup in Brazil. Cameroon is still remembered for their exploits in the 1990 World Cup held in Italy.  They never reached the same height and have been a story of more misses than hits in the following editions of the showpiece tournament. Brazil 2014 will present them a chance to change that but it will be a tough job to say the least.

Cameroon’s performance in the last few international tournaments have been below par. Their endeavour in both the World Cup 2010 and African Cup of Nations in 2010 fell below expectations. Failure to qualify for the 2013 African Cup of Nations saw sacking of manager Denis Lavagne. Jean-Paul Akono was in charge temporarily and later he was replaced by the German Volkar Finke. Qualification campaign for 2014 World Cup was comparatively easy sailing for Cameroon. They topped Group I in the second round ahead of Libya, Congo and Togo. Cameroon  rode their luck in the match away to Togo where they were awarded a 3-0 victory inspite of losing the match 2-0 as Togo fielded an ineligible player. In the play-off round they met Tunisia. A resounding 4-1 victory at home after a stalemate in first leg ensured their qualification. Although their performance was nothing spectacular but effective nonetheless and also helped by the fact that they didn’t have to face tougher opponents.

Finke is known as one of the architects of the present free-flowing style that has swept across the entire footballing strata in Germany. He is best remembered for his 16-year spell at SC Freiburg. However with Cameroon, Finke has a different task at his disposal. A pragmatic approach rather than style is probably what Finke will try to look into for Cameroon. The national team is not particularly blessed with plethora of creative talents. They boast good defenders like Joel Matip, Nicolas Nkoulou, Aurélien Chedjou, Benoit Assou-Ekotto who are known faces in the top European leagues. Similarly Alexandre Song, Jean II Makoun, Stephane Mbia can provide a combative midfield. But lack of proper creative outlets may come to affect them. Samuel Eto’o, the skipper, in spite of being in and out of the team, still remains the potent source of goal but his performance with Chelsea has shown he has past his prime.

It won’t be correct to write off the ‘Indomitable Lions’ for this World Cup. In Group A, Brazil is probably too strong opposition for them but against Mexico and Croatia, they will get their chances. However to achieve anything significant, Cameroon players have to overcome their cynical nature that has hurt them in the previous tournaments. Finke needs to get the best out of his players otherwise another group stage exit might be in store for them.

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After their stunning World Cup debut in 1998, Croatia has never enjoyed same fortune in the next tournaments. Their last appearance in World Cup was in 2006 when they went out in the group stage.In Euro 2012, they again went out of the group stage after being paired with heavyweights and eventual finalists Spain and Italy. This was followed by resignation of Slaven Bilic, the longest standing Croatian manager till date. With Davor Suker coming in as the new Croatian Federation(HNS) president, they chose former defender Igor Stimac as the new manager. His first task was to gain qualification for World Cup 2014.

Croatia was placed in Group A with Belgium, Serbia, Scotland, Wales and Macedonia. Croatia started their journey in 2014 World Cup qualifiers with a narrow 1-0 win against Macedonia. Croatia was undefeated in the first six games of the campaign and won five of them to top the table at that stage. But the next four games saw a slump in form and they could only manage a point. As a result, Croatia finished second behind Belgium and had to face a play-off against Iceland. Under pressure coach Stimac was removed and charges were given to former captain from their golden generation and then U-21 national team manager Niko Kovac. Kovac guided Croatia successfully against Iceland in the second round of the qualifiers thus securing a berth in the summer showdown.

Under Kovac, Croatia are yet to find their footing. To be fair, he has not been able to spend sufficient time with his team to stamp his mark. He managed to navigate the immediate job of qualifying for the World Cup overcoming Iceland although they had to fight hard. Croatia could not break stubborn Iceland in the first leg despite having a man advantage for most of the first half. This Croatian team doesn’t have an abundance of talent to pick from. Without doubt, they boast one of the most in-form and talented midfielder of the present time in Luka Modric. He will be ably supported by Ivan Rakitic who is enjoying a fine season with Sevilla. In Mateo Kovacic, they have a potential superstar who will be valuable to Kovac’s plan. Midfield can be the source of inspiration for Croatia but Kovachave to design a strategy that can harness the best out his talented midfeld. Southampton’s Dejan Lovren will be the leader at the back alongside Vedran Corluka. Ever-present and captain Dario Srna will take up his position as the right-back. It is the forward line where Croatia lacks real quality and they will be further affected by absence of Mario Mandzukic in the opening game against Brazil due to a one-game ban. In his absence, either of Eduardo Silva or Nikica Jelavic will step in but how much threat they can be remains a doubt.  Ivan Perisic and veteran IvicaOlic will be playing supporting roles as wide forwards. Beyond the first XI, lack of suitable quality will be another bit of concern for the manager.  So all in all, it is the midfield where lies the key to success for Croatia.

The pint sized Balkan nation with a population of four million will be at the centre of global audience come 12th June. They will lock horn with the host and favourites Brazil.  Niko Kovac has made it clear that his team won’t be there in Brazil just as tourists. He stated: “You only get a shot at the World Cup every four years, so we want to leave behind a lasting impression.”  Qualifying for the knockout stage remains the primary agenda for Kovac and his team. They need to back themselves and produce their best to get results especially against the likes of Mexico and Cameroon. Following their absence in 2010 World Cup, the Vatreni will look to arouse the spirit of 1998 to make this World Cup special.

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Oribe Peralta

Mexico has been the powerhouse nation in the CONCACAF group of North and Central America region over the years. They have not been spectacular but steady in the last five editions. Generally due to lack of competition, Mexico’s status has never been threatened in the region.

Courtesy of winning the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2011, Mexico got the chance to participate in last year’s Confederation Cup in Brazil. However, being paired with Brazil and Italy in the same group, they faced a difficult job to advance in the tournament. As expected, they lost both the games and were eliminated. Defeating Japan in the other group match was the only positive thing for them. Their next assignment was the Gold Cup 2013 hosted by USA. Things started to go downhill from this tournament. In the group stage, Mexico went down to minnows Panama and managed to qualify for quarter-final stage as runners-up. However, they again faced Panama in the semi-final and suffered the same fate. This was the first time Panama has defeated Mexico in Gold Cup and that too twice.

Mexico started their qualification journey for World Cup 2014 in the third round of CONCACAF qualifiers. They were clubbed with Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guyana. Under the guidance of Jose Manuel ‘Chepo’ de la Torre Menchacha, they breezed through the group by winning all the six matches. Next, came the fourth round, also known as the Hexagonal, consisting of six teams, the group champions and runners-ups, from third round. Mexico had to struggle from the beginning this time. They embarked on a poor run of seven games where they drew 5 games and winning just one. The lowest point came on 6th September, 2013 when Honduras defeated Mexico at their own Estadio Azteca. It was only the second defeat for the ‘EL Tri’ at their home, previous one was in 2001. Subsequently, Mexican Football Federation (FMF) sacked the under fire manager Chepo and gave the reins to Luis Fernando Tena Garduno. Tena, who guided Mexico U-23 to 2012 London Olympics gold medal, had a complex and difficult task in his hand. Mexico was lying fourth among the six teams. But Tena could not stem the rot and Mexico lost the following game against USA. FMF pressed the panic button and brought Victor Manuel Vucetich Rojas in charge for the last two games. Amongst this chaos, Mexico managed to hold on the fourth spot by winning their penultimate match and despite losing the final game, Panama’s loss to USA in the last round by conceding two goals in the injury time saved Mexico from suffering the ignominy of missing out the trip to World Cup finals. Again FMF changed the manager by bringing in interim manager Miguel Herrera – the fourth manager in less than a month – and Mexico defeated New Zealand in the intercontinental play-off on 9-3 aggregate to finally get their ticket as one of the last two nations.

After successfully negotiating the play-off hurdle, FMF decided to move forward with Miguel Herrera in charge of ‘El Tri’ for the Brazil showpiece tournament. The 46-year-old manager have his task cut out as he will be having very little time to shape up the Mexico squad. El Piojo has already mentioned that he will prefer to bring in players whom he has worked with beside the regular candidates. Generally deploying a 3-5-2 formation, veteran Rafael Marquez will be the leader at the back. Upfront Giovanidos Santos and Javier Hernandez will be vital for Mexico’s system. Jose Juan Vazquez and Juan Carlos Medina are Herrera’s choice in the midfield. Herrera will also be encouraged by the young guns like Oribe Peralta, Raul Jimenez, Carlos Pena who helped Mexico to win gold in 2012 London Olympics.

Miguel Herrera said a few days back that ’We are going to reach the final’. But it is easier said than done. Probably Herrera said the words to express his positive attitude which he wants his team to show on the field. But realistically it will be difficult for Mexico to move beyond the group stage overcoming Brazil, Croatia and Cameroon.


Brazil remains the outright favourites to win the Group A. But it ends there as it is only prediction based on the Brazil’s pedigree.  Make no mistake Brazil will have to give their all to move to the next round. All the remaining three sides Mexico, Croatia and Cameroon have the capability to hurt Brazil on an odd occasion. For example, in recent games against Mexico, Brazil have found it tougher to get to overcome them(in last eight games between them, Mexico and Brazil have seen an equal share of spoils). Between Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon, it is very difficult to select the strongest candidate as they all have their fair share of strengths as well as weaknesses.  The two teams that will manage to advance to the next round will probably face one of the finalists from 2010 World Cup, either Spain or Netherlands, which itself will be a daunting task indeed.

Passing Shot

Brazil and Mexico have faced each other 38 times so far, one of the most common fixtures in the region.

Confederations Cup 2013: Heralding a Quadrennial Carnival

As Brazil prepares to host world football’s showpiece event next year, Deepanjan Deb fathoms the depth of preparation in the South American nation. The Confederations Cup is the best way for any host nation to test the waters before the waves begin flowing in the following year

Oddly enough, on a Saturday evening, seated at the Copa Cabana in Pune over a Monk that refuses to grow Old, I was watching the French Open women’s final, which was more of a coronation of Serena Williams than a competition with Maria Sharapova. But half the world away, an entire country is gearing up for something else. Hotel bookings are difficult to find. Streetwalkers are taking English lessons. Those who aren’t are trying to convince themselves by saying that you do not necessarily need to know a language to communicate with men.

The summer of 2013 heralds the onset of the samba quadrennial carnival; commencing with the ceremonial Confederations Cup to captivate us this June, reaching its crescendo with the challenging tour de force in 2014, the FIFA World Cup and culminating in the celestial pièce de résistance, the 2016 Summer Olympics. As Brazil prepares to play host to legions of global sporting icons over the next four years, the Confederations Cup is the perfect appetizer to start the proceedings before two successive heavyweight main course meals separated by two years.

Confederations Cup perhaps isn’t an exciting endeavour in itself, but it at least gives everyone, and I mean everyone, an opportunity to try things out before the start of the real thing. People who own small inns, streetwalkers, tourist guides and of course, the footballers. And it is sheer coincidence that all of this will be played out under the gaze of the Son of God. Also, He faces the East, i.e. towards Europe and not the Americas in what probably is an indication of the way things are going to pan out at the World Cup next year. The South American giants have never looked so vulnerable, which means that European teams definitely have the chance to win the Cup in South America for the first time ever.

The Confederations Cup held every four years is contested by the holders of each of the six FIFA confederation championships (UEFA, CONMEBOL, CONCACAF, CAF, AFC, OFC), along with the FIFA World Cup holder and the host nation. Since 2005, the Confederations Cup tournament has been held in the nation that hosts the World Cup in the forthcoming year, thereby providing the host nation with a dress rehearsal for the World Cup. As a tribute to the culture and tradition of Brazil, the ball to be used in the tournament has been named Cafusa – a portmanteau of ‘Carnival’, ‘Futebol’ and ‘Samba’.


Football, as they say, is a beautiful game and perhaps no other team historically has played it so beautifully and consistently as Brazil have over a long period of time now. From Leônidas da Silva in 1938 to Pelé in 1958 to Garrincha in 1962 to Carlos Alberto’s dream team in 1970 to Sócrates and Zico in ‘82 to Romário and Bebeto in ‘94 and Ronaldo and Ronaldinho in 2002, Brazilian football has never ceded to provide moments of magic and happiness to football lovers across the globe. No other team in history has been as successful as Brazil on the global stage. And no other nation has perhaps given us as many superstars as Brazil has, continually since almost a century now.  And fittingly enough, football’s grand tournament, the World Cup returns next year to the nation that has lifted the trophy the most number of times.

A nation’s culture sometimes is reflected in the way its team plays. Australians and Germans are known to be extremely tough people in terms of mentality. It can be seen in the ways their cricket and football teams, respectively, play on the pitch. Brazilians are known to celebrate carnivals and their football over the years has been nothing short of a carnival and a joy to behold. Across a wide spectrum of sports, there are certain challenges that opposition players/teams generally want to avoid: to play against Rafael Nadal on clay, race against Michael Schumacher in the rain, run the 100 metres against Usain Bolt and play competitive football against Brazil in Brazil; primarily owing to the inevitability of the outcome. However, in the last couple of years, the sheer inevitability of the last one has taken a serious beating, which provides scope for a brilliant fortnight of nail-biting football of the highest order.

The 2013 Confederations Cup pits the host nation Brazil against the World and European champions Spain, the South American champions Uruguay, perennial superpower Italy along with Asian powerhouse Japan, the ever dangerous Mexico, the unheralded Tahiti and African giants Nigeria. Divided into groups of four, the teams virtually have no breathing space as each match virtually is a knock-out with a semi-final spot for grabs.

Confederations Cup 2009 Champions – Brazil again

Unlike many other sports, football primarily is played all the year round at a club level. Players mostly assemble for their national team in competitive matches either in their continental showpiece or if they qualify for the World Cup, both of which happens once in four years. So, we as audiences are more used to seeing a Lionel Messi turn out in Barcelona colours, a Cristiano Ronaldo in Real Madrid jersey or a Wayne Rooney in Manchester United uniform. Tournaments like the Confederations Cup provide a platform for the global audience to watch their favourite stars in their national team jerseys.

Brazil bring Greece down to Earth: Brazil’s Adriano fends off Greek defender Ioannis Goumas in Leipzig,   Confederations Cup 2005

The Confederations Cup over the years has given us many memorable matches. The 2005 final between Brazil and Argentina was one of the finest displays of ‘exhibition football’ seen in recent times, in which a Brazilian side pregnant with superstars dished out a lesson in attacking football to a hapless Argentinean side.

This year’s roster includes some of the best national teams from their respective continents. As we have been seeing in the past five years, the question the seven teams need to ask themselves is: “Can we beat Spain?” The Spanish side under Vicente del Bosque has been a revelation winning the World Cup in 2010, sandwiched by two European Championships in 2008 and 2012. Many consider this Spanish team to be perhaps the greatest international team assembled ever. With players mostly from Real Madrid and Barcelona, the Spanish ego of dominance has been brutally massacred by their continental superpower Germany in club football last month. Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich humiliated the Spanish Superpowers at the Champions League this year. The national team will go all out to prove that that they still are the best in the world.

Brasilia National Stadium

The predictability of football is its unpredictability. And the Confederations Cup is a brilliant platform for teams like Tahiti to show the world what they are capable of achieving. With Japan, Italy, Mexico and Uruguay adding spice to the flavour, June surely is the month to tighten our seatbelts as the fun begins in Brazil.

It’s carnival time, folks! Let the games begin…

Scouting Network – Lucas Moura

Goalden Times brings you the stars of tomorrow – 20 years or under, promising players from across the world

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Full Name: Lucas Rodrigues Moura da Silva

Date of Birth: August 13, 1992

Height: 1.73 m

Position: Attacking Midfielder

Nationality: Brazilian

Club: Paris Saint-Germain

Market Value: £31 m

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Lucas Rodrigues Moura da Silva. The name indicates he is of Brazilian origin, and indeed he is. One can figure out from his play that this young kid is here to stay. He started in the youth teams of Juventus but returned to his homeland with the Corinthians before settling in at Sao Pãulo. Following the footsteps of another Brazilian star, Kaka he nurtured his skills at the youth level to make his senior club team debut in 2010. He had a prolific season in 2011 where he scored 13 goals and provided eight assists. This, along with his strong showing for Brazil in various age groups, earned him a senior team call-up for a friendly against Scotland on March 27, 2011.

At a very young age, he was able to secure a permanent first team place at the club level and his performances for the national team convinced the giants of European club football that he had it all to shine at the top level. In a tug of war for Lucas Moura, Paris Saint-Germain skipped past Manchester United to secure the services of this prodigious talent in the summer of 2012.

Like almost all Brazilians, he has a Samba flavour to his football. He has a strong physique for his age and his decision-making skills clubbed with superb technical abilities have made him a prominent figure in the national team across various age groups. His breakthrough came in the Under-20 South American Championship in 2011 where he scored a hat-trick to clinch the trophy for Brazil in the finals en route to thrashing Uruguay 6-0. He usually starts in the right side of midfield but drifts inside to take control of the game. He is a superb dribbler and does not need any invitation to run at defences. He is classy and a supremely confident young player who mesmerizes viewers with his vision as well as confidence level to take on any opponent. He is a diamond in the rough – he needs to learn to keep his temperament under control in order to achieve greater heights. And he has all the makings to do just that; provided his sky-high price tag and the ridiculous buy-out fee of £83 million do not get into his head!


The Trivela is a Portuguese term to denote the art of kicking the football with the outside of one’s foot. It is used to hide one’s weaker foot and also to suddenly fool the opposition with a wickedly swerving ball from a difficult angle. In Triviela, we will attempt to find some football feats/facts which would make you sit up and take note, like it happens when you see Ricardo Quaresma try these

This triviela is dedicated to the wonderful group of Spanish footballers and their achievement in winning three consecutive major trophies that they entered – the 2008 and 2012 European championship and the 2010 FIFA World Cup. It is a unique achievement in the annals of football and most observers would place them in a group of ONE, to have achieved that unique feat. In this edition, we try and see which other teams came close to achieving what Spain has achieved and if any team had managed to do it before them….or maybe do better than them.

Spain with their third consecutive title

Now the simple fact is that, to win three major trophies, one has to win a World Cup in between, since most major trophies happen with a duration of four (sometimes two) years in between. Hence all nations, which haven’t won a World Cup, but may have monopolised their continental competition like Mexico – winners ’93, ’96, ’98 of CONCACAF Gold Cup or Iran – ’68, ’72, ’76 winners AFC Asian Cup or Egypt – ’06, ’08, ’10 winner of Africa Cup of Nations, would not feature in this discussion.

Close Misses

Brazil won the ’94 and ’02 World Cups but only finished runner-up in ’98.They had won the Copa America in both ’97 and ’99 and lost to Uruguay in penalties in the ’95 championship. So starting from the ’94 World Cup, Brazil reached the finals of every major championship till the ’99 Copa America. That’s a staggering five world and continental competitions. This sequence was broken when they lost shockingly to Honduras in the ’01 Copa. They then proceeded to win the next World Cup as well as the next two Copa Americas, but without a World Cup win in 2006, it again denied them the opportunity to grab a three-peat.

Germany, or West Germany as they were called, would also suffer the same fate – winning the ’72 European Cup and ’74 World Cup but missing out on the ’76 European Cup by losing to Czechoslovakia on penalties in the finals (when Antonin Panenka first showed his penalty skills baffling the great Sepp Maier). They would win the ’90 World Cup and ’96 European championship (beating the Czechs), but would miss out on the ’92 European Cup and ’94 World Cup to be denied this legacy.

South American Connection

Brazil’s two great South American rivals – Argentina and Uruguay though can claim something to this but in both cases, there was no World Cup being held and hence only the existing major championships can be taken into account. The World Cup was not held due to World War II between ’38 and ’50, but the Copa America was still going on. Argentina, led by players of the great River Plate team of the 40s won three consecutive Copa America – ’45, ’46, ’47. Add the runner-up in the ’42 and champion in the ’41 editions, and you again get a run of five consecutive finals with defeat in only the second one for a truly great Argentine side.

Uruguay was the earliest footballing South American giant. They won the ’24 and ’28 Olympics gold – at that point with no World Cup, the Olympics were the pinnacle of global football championship. Uruguay also won the ’23 and ’24 Copa America, thus recording the earliest sequence of three major championship wins.

Argentina and Uruguay thus won three in a row, but didn’t win the World Cup and that was not due to their fault. The World Cup was simply not conceived or was not being held when they won their championship.

Parting Shot Uno

There is one more instance of a team winning three consecutive major championships, which included the World Cup. And that team is Italy. They were the first European team to win the FIFA World Cup in ’34. They were also the first team to retain their World Cup crown (that no European team has ever done) in 1938. In between, they also won the ’36 Olympic Gold at Berlin. The first great Italian team of Vittorio Pozzo, thus won everything that they entered between ’34 and ’38.




Parting Shot Deux

Is every team that won that threesome a latin one? Well not quite. But you have to turn from the men to the ladies to find probably the most dominating team of all in history. Germany (or West Germany) has won seven of the last eight European competitions for ladies. This has included a frankly unbelievable five consecutive wins in the UEFA European Women’s Championship from ’95 to ’09. They also won two FIFA Women’s World Cup in ’03 and ’07. They had lost in the quarter-final stages of both the ’99 and ’11 World Cups. So if we look at a stretch – they won all the major championships that they entered in the first decade of the millennium – three European championships and two World Cups for an unprecedented 5 trophies and one decade long reign.

Surely the Spanish now know, they still have some way to go.

Did that Goal Hit the Stock Market?

Do Behavioural Finance and Football make a good cocktail? A unique take on Brazil’s economy from a hardcore stock trader. Kaushik Saha correlates the market movement in the football crazy South American nation with its performance on the field. You may reach him on Twitter: @kaushiksaha1982

This article is meant to be written in humour, with some truth at some places maybe. Don’t expect the editors to give it a go-ahead, but if you are reading this, the article is not exactly waste-paper basket stuff…

Behavioural finance and economics are fascinating aspects of the respective fields of study. Several economists including the likes of Adam Smith and Vilfredo Pareto have done seminal work in this domain. As a student, I was taught that stock markets are predominant examples of bandwagon effect and optimism bias, and are indicators of the mood of a significant section of a country’s population.

So one day, bored with work I tried to engage in some mental jugglery and tried to correlate the beautiful game with the markets. The article could have dealt with cricket, or baseball, or rugby and the respective countries majorly associated with these sports. But this is about football, the game we hold so dear to our hearts. And the fact that it is the most viewed and followed game in the world, makes it the subject of a fascinating case study.

The first country that comes to mind is Brazil. Brazil, according to Goldman Sachs is one of the hot-shot emerging economies, part of so-called BRICS. BOVESPA is their index. It commenced in the financial year 1993-94, and this is the graph of BOVESPA closing values.

BOVESPA Closing Values - 1993 - 2011

Now let me propose my “theory”. Brazil is an economy populated by people who are very passionate about their sports. When their football team does well they sing, dance, celebrate and reach heights of happiness. The whole country is in a positive mood, and this reflects in the way they invest in the markets and the dealers go bullish on the asset classes. This leads to a surge in their stock market indices. Now, Brazil being an emerging market, its market movements are not just guided by sentiments of domestic investors. The foreign investors have a big role to play and Brazil’s economy is hurt by global negative sentiments like the 1997-1998 East Asian and the 2008 sub-prime crises.

But even in the bleak years when the market has seen sudden falls, there are days and weeks where there have been surges, the sentiments have been bullish and markets have ended on the green. A closer look at these bull-runs will see them coincide with the good or great results in football.

For example, take the great bull run of 1994 which peaked at around August 1994. What happened just a month back? Brazil won the 1994 FIFA World Cup after 24 years!! Even in early 1997, before the East Asian crisis struck, and took down the East Asian Tigers and South American countries like Brazil and Argentina, the bull-run came after a Copa America victory.

Then came the great crash, which nearly wiped out the Brazilian economy and the recovery was slow and painful. However, even in those bad times, the consistent rise in BOVESPA in the second half of 1999 leading to an annual appreciation of nearly 60 percent followed yet another Copa America win.

The 2000s have been good for Brazil football team

The 2000s have been a happy decade for Brazil football fans; 2002 World Cup win, 2004 and 2007 Copa America wins, 2005 and 2009 Confederation Cup wins have all been part of the consistent rise of the Brazilian economy. Yes, Jim O’Neill, the Goldman Sachs banker who coined the term in the first place did speak of BRICs and Brazil had all the fundamental factors in place to grow, just like Russia, India and China; but macro analysis of the above mentioned years and tournaments will quite support the theory.

Brazil’s economic growth story dealt another blow by the 2008-09 sub-prime crises, like most major and emerging economies. And it recovered too, like most others. But below par performances in 2010 World Cup and 2011 Copa America (both QF losses), haven’t done anything to break away from the range-bound markets.

There are several other factors that affect stock market data, of course, and this is just a theory that I am proposing. But the underlying fact that cannot be taken away is that sports affect a majority of us in one way or the other, despite the fact that a few of us have never played any at a serious level. This was my humble way of paying tribute to the two things I hold dearest – my passion and my profession.

The Burden of Expectation in the Belly of a Giant

World War II had ravaged the world. The entire continent of Europe was in ruins. The World Cup trophy would have been lost amongst many other valuables which were seized by the Nazis. The Nazis were after the trophy as well, but it was saved by the efforts of a man named Ottorino Barassi. He was the president of the FIGC (Fedeazione Italiana Guioco Calcio or Italian Football federation) during the war. As Italy was the defending champions, the trophy was in a bank vault in Rome. Barassi sensing the danger to the trophy took it home and kept it in a shoe-box under his bed till the end of the war. There were very few countries willing to host the tournament after the war. People felt that spending money for a football tournament was wasteful when countries were rebuilding themselves from the ravages of war. Before the cancellation of the 1942 tournament, FIFA had received two bids from Brazil and Germany. The Brazilians presented their bid to FIFA again in 1946 when it was decided that the tournament would go back to South America after two decades. Barassi , the saviour of the trophy, was assigned to assist the Brazilian federation in organising the tournament, drawing on his experience from the 1934 tournament held in his country. The Brazilians presented the idea of building the largest stadium of the world in Rio de Janeiro, double the capacity of Wembley stadium, then the largest in the world.

The hosts started as favourites as they had won the Copa America in 1949 beating Paraguay 7-0 in the finals and Uruguay 5-1 before that. They had an impressive trio of inside-forwards in Zizinho, Ademir and Jair. Italy, the defending champions were weakened by the Superga air disaster involving the Torino team which resulted in the death of ten national team players. Sweden, the Olympic champion of 1948 was a strong team but their coach had refused to include players playing for foreign clubs. The best Swedish players had been signed up by Italian clubs after the Olympics, so they did not have their best side for this tournament. Yugoslavia, silver medallists from the Olympics were a good team. There was huge anticipation over the debut of England who had lost Frank Swift, Tommy Lawton and Raich Carter but still had Billy Wright, Stan Mortensen and ‘The wizard of the dribble’ Stanley Matthews in their ranks. FIFA had decided that the first two teams of the British Home Championships would qualify automatically for the tournament. England and Scotland both had qualified based on this FIFA directive. George Graham, the chief of the Scottish FA decided that Scotland would play only if they won the Home Championships. They lost the final to England and despite the pleading of Billy Wright, the England captain and Jules Rimet, they refused to go to Brazil. Uruguay had some good players like Juan Schiaffino and Alcide Ghiggia.  All the East European countries like Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Soviet Union refused to play the qualification matches. Turkey refused to go, citing financial difficulties. In Asia – Philippines, Burma and Indonesia – all destroyed by war pulled out of qualification matches while India qualified by default. Argentina withdrew citing differences with the Brazilian Football federation. France and Portugal were invited in place of Turkey and Scotland. Portugal refused but France accepted. Germany and Japan were banned from playing international football by FIFA.

FIFA had changed the format of the tournament with four groups where all teams played each other, with each group winner advancing to another group of four teams to decide the champions. The format was to ensure that each team would play more than one match as opposed to the knockout format used for the last two editions of the tournament. There was no final match but the last match became a final by circumstances. There was no zoning of the groups and all teams with the exception of the hosts had to travel large distances to play their matches which was not ideal in those times. The draw was held in Rio just before the tournament with the 15 participating teams.

Group 1: Brazil, Mexico, Switzerland and Yugoslavia

Group 2: England, Chile, Spain and the USA

Group 3: Italy, India, Paraguay and Sweden

Group 4: Uruguay, Bolivia and France

India wanted to pull out citing financial difficulties, but FIFA agreed to bear the major part of the expenses. They still pulled out as they played barefoot and FIFA had banned barefoot play in 1948. France also withdrew due to the large amount of travelling involved in playing their two matches. Finally, only thirteen nations remained in the fray, same as the last tournament in the same continent twenty years ago.

Group 1

The tournament started on June 24, 1950 at the huge Maracanã stadium, then known as the Municipal in Rio de Janeiro with the hosts playing Mexico. The capacity of the stadium was halved as it was not complete. There were fireworks, 5000 pigeons and a 21 gun salute which did not bode well for the unfinished concrete structure. The people in the stands were covered in shards of concrete but thankfully none of them were large in size. The host team however was better prepared than the venue. The Brazilians hit the post in the 6th minute by a Jair shot. Then Ademir tapped the ball into the goal past the advancing goalkeeper Antonio Carbajal to put Brazil ahead. Mayhem ensued with fifteen radio commentators and a dozen reporters rushing onto the pitch for instant interviews! The referee George Reader of England cleared the pitch without much of a problem and the game resumed. Brazil kept dominating and hit the woodwork five times. After halftime, Ademir and Balthazar switched positions. Jair scored with a cross-shot and Balthazar added a third with a header off a corner from ten yards. Ademir added his second of the game by a driving in Jair’s short pass. Brazil had won 4-0 but still their coach, Flavio Costa wasn’t sure about their forward line.

Half constructed Maracanã in the first match

Yugoslavia comfortably defeated Switzerland 3-0 with their incisive passing. This was the first finals match where the floodlights were switched on. Alfred Bickel, the Swiss captain was one of two players who had played in the last World Cup before the war. The other was Erik Nilsson, the Swedish captain. Incidentally both the players were from countries which were neutral during World War II.  Yugoslavia defeated Mexico 4-1 in their next match living up to their reputation as one of the best teams in the tournament. Brazil played Switzerland in Sao Paolo in their second match. The Brazilian coach called their opponents as a team without any importance. He brought in a lot of new players from the Sao Paolo club to please the crowd. The same crowd wanted to lynch him at the end of the match and riot police had to be deployed. Leaving out Jair was a bad decision. The Brazilians struggled against the plucky Swiss and led 2-1 at halftime. In the 88th minute, Bickel got away and crossed for Jacky Fatton to score his second goal of the game and stun the crowd. The result meant that Yugoslavia needed only a draw against Brazil in the last match. The hosts were in danger of being eliminated. There was massive amount of tension in Rio when Brazil met Yugoslavia to decide who would reach the final group. Brazil had a huge slice of luck when Zlatko Cajkovski, the Yugoslavian midfielder cut his head in an unfinished steel girder at the stadium. The referee, Mervyn Griffiths refused to delay the start in a stoic show of British punctuality. Ten man Yugoslavia were made to pay for their deficiency by conceding a goal scored by Ademir in the third minute. Cajkovski rejoined in the tenth minute and the Yugoslavs matched the hosts in creating chances. The Yugoslav goalkeeper, Srdan Mrkusic was asked to change his jersey as he was wearing the same all-white strip of the Brazilians after 30 minutes (Shades of Graham Poll of 2006). Cajkovski hit the post and missed with the goalkeeper at his mercy in the second. The host eventually made the match safe with Zizinho scoring in the 69th minute. The hosts had just about made it to the final pool.

Ademir of Brazil, the top scorer with 8 goals

Group 2

The English played their first World Cup finals match against Chile. The Chileans were facing their first European opposition since the 1930 World Cup tournament.  Neil Franklin, one of England’s best defenders had left England to play for Independiente Santa Fe of Bogotá for 5000 pounds and 35 pounds of bonus for each win. He was not pleased with the 20 pound a week wage cap imposed on footballers by the English FA in England. Columbia was not a member of FIFA and he refused to join the English teamfor the tournament which was a big loss for them. The coach, Walter Winterbottom did not even play Matthews. They defeated Chile with goals by Mortensen and Wilf Mannion in each half but looked far from comfortable at the back with Chilean George Robledo who played for Newcastle causing them problems. England team used oxygen cylinders to cope with the humidity during the halftime break but Billy Wright just didn’t like the concept. United States played Spain and led through a Gino Pariani goal for 80 minutes. The Spaniards eventually equalised through Silvester Igoa and won 3-1 with further goals from Estanislao Basora and Telmo Zarraonandia, better known as Zarra, in the 82nd and 85th minute. The scoreline did not reflect the real story of the match.  American defender Charlie (Chuck) Columbo played with gloves raising a few eyebrows. Spain next played Chile and defeated them 2-0 with both Basora and Zarra on target in the first half.

Joe Gatjaens (R) scores against England

England played USA in Belo Horizonte in a match that has been touted as the greatest upset in the history of football. The truth was that the Americans were not a bad side as they had shown against Spain in the last match. The English media has described the American win as nothing short of a miracle over the years but they were being unkind to their opponents to gloss over the shortcomings of their own team. Matthews was still not on the team as Winterbottom did not consider their opponents good enough to play the great man. Joe Gatjaens scored the only goal of the match with a diving header in the 38th minute. The English media describe the match as a procession of missed English chances and acrobatics by Frank Borghi, the American goalkeeper. Mortensen and Mullen missed chances but the Americans had their own chances to extend their lead. Pariani brought out a great save from Bert Williams, the English keeper. Alf Ramsey cleared off the line from a Frank Valicenti (Wallace) shot. The crowd grew from 10,000 to 40,000 by the end. An editor in London thought the scoreline was a misprint of 10-1 in favour of England. It was a bad day for the English against colonials as on the very same day England lost for the first time in a cricket test match against West Indies. The score in reality should have been 3-0 in favour of England as the Americans had fielded three foreigners in their team. The goal-scorer Gatjaens had played for Haiti, Joe Maca was a Scottish player and Ed McIlvenny was a Belgian. There was a FIFA letter showing that the three were ineligible. However, Jules Rimet was persuaded by the American ambassador, Herschel Johnson who conveyed the wish of a certain President Harry Trueman to overlook such small deficiencies and shortcomings.  In their last match, England needed a win against Spain. At last Matthews started and Jacky Milburn was brought in. Both of them played well but the rest of the team were demoralised by the loss in the last match and Spain won it by a goal from Zarra in the 48th minute. Spain had qualified for the final pool with an all win record. In the inconsequential last match, the Americans were defeated by the Chileans 5-2.

 Group 3

The first match was between defending world champions Italy against the defending Olympic champions Sweden. Sweden had not selected the great AC Milan trio Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm, known as the great Grenoli.  Again a lot of people say what if? The match was well fought with the Swedes bossing the possession with crisp passing. The Scandinavians were 2-1 ahead at halftime through goals by Hans Jeppson and Sune Andersson after Italians had taken the lead through Riccardo Carapellesse. Jeppson added another in the second half. Ermes Muccinelli pulled one goal back in the 75th minute but the Swedes comfortably controlled the game till the final whistle to win 3-2. Nearly all the Swedish players were signed by Italian clubs after this match. The Swedes played the Copa America runners up Paraguay next and were two goals up within half an hour. Paraguayans fought back with goals in the 34th and 75th minute. After that the Swedes shut shop and played for the 2-2 draw. The Paraguayans needed to beat the Italians by a two goal margin to qualify for the final pool but were handed a 2-0 defeat. The Italians played well and it was the last the Italians were seen in a World Cup for 12 years as their national team went into decline. Italy was the first defending champions to be eliminated in the group stage, an ‘achievement’ which they repeated six decades later. Sweden qualified for the final pool.

Group 4

There was only one match in this group which was hit by the pulling out of France.  Uruguay crushed Bolivia 8-3. In this match, Uruguay showed that they had some very good players like Roque Maspoli in goal, Rodriguez Andrade the nephew of the great player of the 1930 cup winning team and Obdulio Varela their captain. Schaiffino and Ghiggia were both impressive with Omar Miguez scoring a hat-trick. Uruguay made it to the final pool, easily playing just a single match which meant that they were much fresher and less travel weary than the other teams.

Uruguay team

Final Pool: Brazil, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay

The first match in the final pool was between Uruguay and Spain. Both teams were very physical and rough. Zarra was marked out of the game by the Uruguayans. Ghiggia sprinted in to score the first goal in the 27th minute. Spain hit back with two goals from Basora in the 39th and 41st minute. Uruguay was saved by Varela who moved up-field and went past two opposition defenders and scored from the edge of the box.  The bruising match finished 2-2 and two Uruguayans missed their next match. After narrowly qualifying from the group stage, Brazil unleashed their attacking prowess against Sweden by annihilating them 7-1. The Swedes were not a bad team by any stretch but four goals by Ademir, a brace of goals by Chico and one by Maneca finished their chances in the tournament. The three inside forwards Ademir, Jair and Zizinho were magnificent with their inter-passing and movement which was far more skilful than anything seen in Europe in those times. All the three were lanky and sported pencil moustaches. They would have scored more goals if they had not played exhibition football for the last 30 minutes.

Brazil Team

Uruguay played Sweden in their second match. It was a close match, the Swedes taking the lead through Karl-Erik Palmer in the fourth minute, after he controlled and shot high across the keeper from a long floating free-kick from the wing. Uruguay equalised through Ghiggia in the 39th minute, who after a characteristic surging run through the midfield, volleyed a long shot to the keepers right. Sweden immediately regained their lead through a Stig Sundkvist goal with a left footed volley, after the second choice Uruguayan keeper Anibal Paz came out and dropped a cross under pressure from Jeppson to take a 2-1 lead into the break. After the break the Uruguayans kept attacking without any success. Eventually Miguez scored twice from loose balls in the 77th and 84th minute to give Uruguay a 3-2 victory and kept alive their chances of winning the tournament. Brazil played Spain and was equally impressive as the last match winning 6-1. Jair, Ademir and Zizinho were magnificent again with their inter play leaving their opponents mesmerised.

Before the last match there was the league match to decide third place. Spain just needed a draw and Sweden needed a win. The Swedes won 3-1 to claim the third position. This was the best performance in the World Cup by Spain till 2010. Brazil went into the last match against Uruguay, just needing a draw to win the World Cup. They were overwhelming favourites playing at home in front of a crowd of 205,000, the biggest ever to watch a football match. The Brazilian press had already termed their team as champions. The Uruguayan captain bought a newspaper which proclaimed the Brazilians as champions and ordered his teammates to urinate on it to stoke their anger and focus.  The mayor of Rio de Janeiro referred to Brazil as the champions in his speech before the match. The Brazilians were exceptional in their forward play but their defence had a few problems. The diagonal defensive formation left their wing-halves with no cover if the opposition wingers managed to penetrate. The Brazilians started off like their last two matches attacking Uruguay relentlessly. They had eight shots in the first five minutes but were frustrated by a wall of Uruguayan defenders. Eusebio Tajera marked Ademir and he was helped by Varela who was falling back. Above all, the Uruguayan goalkeeper Maspoli played the game of his life.

Maspoli in action during the final

Maspoli saved a thumping shot from Ademir after some crisp interplay between Jair and Zizinho. Then he saved a great header to deny Ademir again. Chico had his shot saved by Maspoli after that. There was no goal at halftime but the spectators were in good spirit singing and dancing to the samba beats. The goal came in the 47th minute. The Uruguayan defence was in the left side to cover Ademir and Jair. A reverse pass from Ademir sent Friaca clear on the right side of the goal. He managed to hold off Andrade and beat Maspoli with a flopping cross cum shot (0-1). The entire stadium was in raptures. The volume was louder and the samba rhythm faster. The goal coming in the second half did not demoralise the Uruguayans who took heart from the fact that they had thwarted the hosts for so long. Varela started to make forays into the Brazilian half. Ghiggia then started to give the Brazilian left-back Bigode a harrowing time. In the 66th minute he took a pass from Varela and pulled Bigode to the left touchline, beat him by a body sway, crossed for Schiaffino to score with a sweeping shot just beating Brazilian defender Juvenal’s tackle and goalkeeper Barbosa’s outstretched hands (1-1).  The stadium was silent. The Brazilians were still going to win the Cup if the score remained the same but the crowd reaction was as if they had lost the Cup.

Schiaffino scores beating Barbosa: The goal that silenced 205,000 people

The Brazilian manager many years later said that it was the silence in the stadium that terrorised his players. Ghiggia repeated the move only to see Schiaffino shoot wide in the 71st minute. The Brazilian coach Flavio Costa should have done something to protect poor Bigode. Defensive tactical acumen was not the forte of Costa. Brazil kept attacking and Maspoli kept saving. Brazil had 30 shots on goal in the game to Uruguay’s 12. In the 77th minute Julio Perez, the Uruguayan half back played a one-two with Ghiggia which flummoxed hapless Bigode. Ghiggia angled in from the right wing and Barbosa stayed back on his line expecting another cross, instead the Uruguayan unleashed a fierce shot below the keeper’s hands, who got a faint touch (2-1).  The spectators were now horrified.

Chico (C) shoots wide in the final

On the other end of the pitch, Maspoli continued his procession of great saves, first from a Jair shot, another from a Chico toe-poke. Then Ademir volleyed over the goal from close range. In the last action of the game, Maspoli dropped a high cross after being challenged. His teammate Andrade was the first to the ball and the final whistle was blown by George Reader, the English referee. The Uruguayans had triumphed for the second time in South America and were yet to be beaten in the tournament.  Schiaffino described the after-match ceremony as having the atmosphere of a despondent funeral.

Obdulio Varela being presented the World Cup trophy

The Brazilians unfairly blamed the players of African origin for their loss, namely, Barbosa the goalkeeper. Thirteen years later Barbosa was given the goalposts as souvenir, which he took home and promptly used as fuel for a neighbourhood barbecue. The Brazilian all white jersey was deemed unlucky and with permission from the Football Confederation a newspaper held a design competition for a new jersey. The competition was won by a 19 year old named Aldyr Garcia Schlee who designed the current uniform reflecting their national flag. Ruben Moran is the only player to make his debut in the World Cup final and win. It was a very successful tournament with huge turnouts to the matches. The only down side was that an entire country was in mourning after the tournament finished.

Garrincha – The Forgotten Legend

A thing of beauty is a joy forever’ is a line immortalized by John Keats in Endymion. ‘Beauty’ is an aspect that has caught the imagination of the human race since its evolution, and ‘Sport’ is that which has united humanity since time immemorial. Over the years, perhaps no other sport in this world has been followed as closely and passionately as football. Apparently, it is a simple game comprising 22 players who run across the length and breadth of a rectangular field with a single ball to execute their craft; but beneath all the running rests ‘a canvas’ on which the greatest performers of the sport paint their picture, which is precisely why it is referred to as, ‘The Beautiful Game’.  One of those artists was Manuel Francisco dos Santos, popularly known as Garrincha (a little bird). He was a genius, a folk hero, who scripted innumerable beautiful moments on the field, throughout his lifetime, which, unfortunately lasted just 49 years, as he literally drunk himself to death.

Early Life and Career

Manuel Santos was born on October 28, 1933 in Magé, Rio de Janeiro to an alcoholic father and a mother both from very poor backgrounds. His birth defects included – a deformed spine, right leg bent inwards and left leg six centimetres shorter and curving outwards. The last two were reasons for his gait on the football field and hence the nickname Garrincha. Considering all these setbacks, his feats in the field seem even more unreal.

In 1953, after being rejected by several teams because of his abnormal physique, Garrincha was finally selected by Botafogo on the recommendation of Gentil Cardoso, one of the legendary coaches of the time who had coached all the great teams of Rio de Janeiro. He remains to this day, Botafogo’s global symbol of fame. He played 12 seasons with Botafogo winning three state championships, twice becoming the Brazilian Champion Club and managing one intercontinental Championship.

The Garrincha flag at Botafogo’s Engenhão Stadium in 2007

His international career was even more startling. He played 50 times for Brazil (1955 – 1966) and only ever lost one match – his last, in the 1966 World Cup in England. However, his pride of the moment came in the previous World Cup when he won both the Golden Ball and Golden Shoe in the 1962 World Cup, taking Brazil almost singlehandedly to their 2nd consecutive World Cup win.

‘The Player’ and ‘The Man’

As a player, Garrincha was beyond any textbook school of coaching. He defined his own rules and created his own methods. There may have been a method in his madness, one which, only he could have lived with. He was selfish, undisciplined and unpredictable, yet outstanding – he opened up defenses like a can of beans and made defenders dance to his tunes. Of late, Denilson in the 90’s also used to dribble but he could only dribble. In a game of football it is extremely essential to understand what your next move will be, where your team mate is and where the opposition defender can move. Denilson knew how to dribble past defenders but he had very little goal mouth sense as to whom to pass and when to pass.  Garrincha though, created value out of his dribbling skills. Garrincha could split defenses with his dribbling skills and his vision of the next move was similar to that of an expert chess player. Once in a crucial World Cup match, after he had left a defender on the ground, Garrincha put his foot on the ball and with his back to the player, offered his hand to help him up. He lifted him, then dribbled past him and ran on. The romance of Garrincha was that the occasion never got the better of him as is the case with so many stars of today who fail to perform when it matters. Even in the biggest games of his career, he would outfox other players by waiting for them to catch up and then dribble past them again – all these just for fun. He dribbled at his own free will.

The Master Dribbler

There was simplicity in his eccentricity. Ruy Castro gives an inkling of the nature of the man in the biography ‘Garrincha – The Triumph and Tragedy of Brazil’s Forgotten Footballing Hero’. He says and I quote: “Garrincha is the most amateur footballer professional football ever produced. He never trained. He had no agent, didn’t bother reading his contracts, and usually signed them before the figures had been filled in. When he was given a bonus after the World Cup, he handed the cash to his wife, who hid it under the children’s mattress. Years later, they remembered the money, and discovered a rotting mass of sodden paper. The bonus had been destroyed by bedwetting.”

World Cup Glory

After he was omitted from Brazil’s opening two matches in the 1958 World Cup, his teammates were united on him being included in the team. The rest, as they say, is history. Brazil’s match against a strong Soviet Union saw Garrincha beating five defenders in the first minute alone. A French journalist called it ‘the greatest three minutes in the history of football’. He created Brazil’s first two goals in the final, splitting the defense of the Swedish team.

The 1962 World Cup was Garrincha’s moment of vindication. With Pelé injured, he single-handedly led Brazil to glory.  After helping Brazil to a crucial win against Spain by providing an unbelievable through pass to Amarildo in the last league match, he ripped apart England and Chile in the knockout stages by scoring 4 goals in two matches. After the semi-finals, a headline in the Chilean newspaper, El Mercurio read: “What planet is Garrincha from?” Despite suffering from high fever, he played in the final on special appeal as he was sent off in the semis and inspired Brazil to their second successive victory in the World Cup.

The Pelé Comparison

Garrincha remains “a forgotten legend” among the generation of modern football followers.  One of the primary reasons can be due to the fact that he was playing in his prime just before the age of television.  However, those who have watched footage of 1958 and 1962, swear that Brazil would not have won those trophies without Garrincha, even when it is pointed out to them that a certain Pelé also played in those cup triumphs.  He is perhaps the only player to be red carded in a World Cup semi-final in 1962 and be allowed to play in the final because the Government of Brazil decided to take up his case with FIFA. Garrincha is not an icon in Brazil, he is part of a national folklore and today’s generation must read and watch Garrincha to understand why he is universally regarded as the best dribbler and the greatest right winger in football history. This explains why the Maracana, the world’s largest football stadium, has the home changing room named as ‘Garrincha’, while the away changing room is named after his more illustrious compatriot, ‘Pelé’.

Brazil never lost a match when they both played together

So was he a better player than Pelé?  Could be yes… could be no… difficult to gauge as they played in different positions. There are some who still believe he is better than Pelé and he did not get his due from the world soccer fraternity as Pelé has received. Pelé was a methodical genius, who knew what he was doing. He had a plan for his actions. He knew his stature in world football and fully utilized it. He appeared in commercials, worked hard, considering his poverty stricken background, and became a global sports icon and a multi-millionaire. Garrincha though, just wanted to have fun – both in the field and off it. His passions in life were football, women and alcohol. The reason I am bringing in Pelé in this tribute to Garrincha is that people tend to limit Brazilian football to Pelé and consider him as a benchmark, time and again. With no disrespect to perhaps football’s greatest ever player, I am just honouring Garrincha by saying that he deserves not to live in the shadow of his great contemporary. Such was the impact of Pelé and Garrincha together that Brazil never lost a match when both played together.

His Memories

Some refer to him as “The Angel with crippled legs”. Like all tortured geniuses, Garrincha was unstable and defied all rules – he is said to have lost his virginity to a goat, slept with several women and fathered many children. His mother-in-law was killed in a car crash whilst he was drunk and driving, and he himself later died of liver cirrhosis. Yet, to this day, despite being an illiterate, an alcoholic, and a womanizer, he remains a people’s favourite in his native country. This explains why his epitaph reads, “Here rests in peace the one who was the Joy of the People – Mané Garrincha.”  People had painted on the wall: “Thank you, Garrincha, for having lived”.

His Epitaph

FIFA, in their official tribute to Garrincha refers to him as, “The Chaplin of football’ – and that description probably suits him the best. Legendary South American writer, Eduardo Galeano in his book ‘Soccer in Sun and Shadow’ says: “When he was in form, the pitch became a circus. The ball became an obedient animal, and the game became an invitation to party. Garrincha would shield his pet, the ball, and together they would conjure up some wonderful tricks that would have the spectators in stitches. He would hop over her, and she would bounce over him. Then she would hide before he would escape only to find her already running in front of him. Along the way, his pursuers would crash into each other in their attempts to stop him.”

The book along with Milton Alencar’s outstanding movie on him, “Garrincha: Lonely Star” sums up the legend’s career in short as he remains one of football’s greatest tragi-comic heroes. This short movie, aptly titled, “Garrincha – A Sad Story of Some Happiness” (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) helps us see the man’s sheer genius and unpredictability. As you watch him enjoying himself while on the field, you realize, “A thing of beauty is indeed a joy forever”.


Deepanjan Deb is a MBA student in India and wishes to pay homage to his greatest footballing icon on his 78th birth anniversary.

A Chaos Theory Experiment on Copa America 2011

Butterfly Effect?

Followed by controversies and heartbreaks, the Copa America 2011, looked like an Elephant’s Graveyard with early exits of many a favourable team along with the host nation, and also marked by one of the lowest scoring football events of recent times. We saw one of the best players of this generation being booed by his home fans and arguably the greatest football playing nation of all time making a mockery of their pride with a horrendous penalty shoot out show.

The quarter finals were a recipe for utter chaos. Few could have imagined the kind of semi final line-up we would end up with. One false step in tactical play and you are knocked out. Early exits of big guns put an even bigger question on the team fluidity, formation and cohesion. Squad and tactical choices by the master planners played a pivotal role in shaping the outcome of the matches. Most of the predictions were not meted out. One may comfortably say that the latest edition of Copa America has been no exception to the Chaos Theory.

It has been observed that the presence or absence of a butterfly flapping its wings could lead to creation or absence of a hurricane. In Chaos Theory, this phenomenon is referred to as the Butterfly Effect. In the world of football, I’d say managers and their predispositions to certain tactical choices induce this butterfly effect! This tournament can be considered a fine instance of such an occurrence. Let’s delve into some of the tactical strategies employed by the 8 quarter-finalists, or should we say,

map the butterfly effects behind this Chaos Theory.

Brazil: Poor Finishing Finishes Job

The reigning champions came with their new coach, Mano Menezes following a quarterfinal shock exit at the World Cup. Dunga preferred Brazil to play in a counter attacking style with a solid defensive line and Kaká at the centre of the park for creative excellence. He made the more defensive minded Felipe Melo a game breaker and posed Luís Fabiano as the target man. His defense-oriented strategy garnered a lot of criticism.


Menezes got rid of his predecessor’s strategy and came with a dynamic 4-2-1-3 formation. Brazil’s 4-2-1-3 initially had Dani Alves as the right wing back dropping Maicon, as a result of his flying performance with Barcelona last season. The two central defenders Lúcio and

Thiago Silva played well but André Santos was a surprise selection for left back.The team’s performance was expected to rely mostly on the two midfield pivots – Lucas and Ramires. The Santos sensation, Ganso had a similar role to play like Kaká. He employed Neymar, Pato and Robinho as the three. roaming forwards. It was a striker-less formation, which can be converted to 4-2-3-1 (with Pato upfront) or 4-2-2-2 (putting Robinho a little down) whenever required.

Tactical Analysis: Dani vs. Maicon

Coach Mano Menezes received strong criticism from the pundits during a friendly match against France when he had substituted a forward with a midfielder while trailing 0-1. Menezes’ team had a poor start followed by a goal-less draw against Venezuela and a not-so-impressive 2-2 draw against Paraguay. In these games, Dani Alves started as the first choice right back. But the strategy did not work as per expectations. Alves is the kind of player who can exploit free space off-the-ball. He does the same in Barcelona colours when Lionel Messi cuts inside with a defender. Robinho being more of a wide player, effectively created much traffic on Dani’s path. Menezes’ next match line- up was more sensible when he picked Jádson over Robinho, who plays in a narrower role. Maicon, however, was given a chance in place of the Barcelona full back. Maicon is definitely more comfortable with the ball and more secure defensively than Alves. His inclusion in the team accommodated Robinho in the top half. Maicon did pretty decently when given the chance and made the wing-play better. While Alves, the former Sevilla man attempted 6 crosses from the right with 16%

accuracy, Maicon delivered 17 crosses with nearly 30% accuracy.

What Went Wrong – Poor Finishing et al: Butterfly Effect

The two deep midfielders Lucas and Ramires both sat a little too deep in the park. Though Ramires pushed up more than Lucas, it was not enough to emphasize the attacking potential. As an obvious outcome, the creative midfielder, Ganso lacked support. With an unimpressive record of 154 successful passes and 32 missed, he failed to live up to Brazil’s expectations. As Ganso was barely effective, it was up to Lucas and Ramires to feed the ball forward. As they were sitting deep, playing long balls was the key although not much effective, since the average height of their forward trio was less than 5’10”. Pato had a great first touch, but his second touch spoiled it. His poor conversion of goals to shot ratio let him down, though he managed to score 2 goals. Being a lone target man fed with the long passes, he was not that effective as he ended with making 62 successful passes only. Neymar came in with much expectation after his fantastic season with Santos, decorated with 42 goals. Though he managed to complete 27 dribbles (second highest at the tournament after Lionel Messi) and drew 13 fouls around the box, overall it was a big disappointment. Once again poor accuracy (5 on target out of 13 shots) by him and failure to provide successful crosses from the wing (13 unsuccessful crosses and only 1 successful) kept the left flank barren. Along with these, Andre Santos primarily concentrated on distributing balls (a whopping statistics of 276 passes by a left wing back) rather than using the free spaces created by Neymar on the left, and ended up with only 1 successful cross per match on average. As such, Brazil appeared pretty ordinary before the

opponent goal area. Menezesneeded to boost up their shooting skills as they kept only 46.77% shots on target and alarmingly only 6 shots out of their 22, during the quarter final against Paraguay. The failure to convert chances put massive pressure during the horror penalty shootout show where they managed to miss all of their 4 penalties.

Potential for Future

Brazil might need a few tactical switches to revamp their glory. Perhaps a 4-1-2-3 formation would help improving Ganso’s performance where Ramires should be pushed into a more attacking role. Deploying a dedicated target man might be a key as none of Neymar, Pato or Robinho is a natural target men. It is really hard to attain success with a striker-less formation for National side, but to find a replacement of Ronaldo is even harder. A European exposure for both Neymar and Ganso could do the trick.

Chile: Sensational, but no Cookie

Claudio Borghi had prepared his team from where Marcelo Bielsa had left off. The pool of talent he inherited, supposedly the golden generation of the La Roja, helped in Borghi’s tactical choices.


Bielsa’s Chile was quite brilliant throughout the World Cup qualifier matches, and was a tactical sensation at the South Africa World Cup. He mostly stuck to a super attacking 3-3-1-3 formation where he put one defensive minded midfielder to support the 3 man defensive and one ‘number 10′ behind 3 forwards. Two of his three forwards played far wide to stretch the defensive and also gave freedom to the wide

midfielders to play narrowly. This eventually gave the midfield a diamond shape. Borghi – another Argentinian who managed Colo Colo previously, didn’t tinker much with the formation after taking charge. He relied on the three men defensive line and modified the system to a more midfield heavy 3-5-2. The wide midfielders were given the responsibility to stretch the opponent’s wingbacks while one forward would drop down to strengthen the midfield. Borghi used his two wide midfielders, Jean Beausejour and Mauricio Isla in more wide roles and former Cesena man Luis Jiminez – as the attacking midfielder. Isla provided enough width to make the midfield spacious

which was exploited by the tricky Alexis Sanchez. Sanchez, though a front man, eventually dropped back into the midfield and always provided a numerical edge to his team in the midfield battle. This is an advantage in Borghi’s tactics that he didn’t restrict his team within a single formation. His 3-5-2 often switched to 3-2-3-2

or 3-3-3-1 while defending and 3-1-4-2 or 3-2-4-1(3-6-1) while attacking.

Tactical Analysis: Bielsa vs Borghi

One behavioural difference between the two systems was, Bielsa believing more on direct pressing game with electric pace while Borghi’s team preferred gradual build-up,

more possession and allowed the midfielders to come forward from the deep. The pace of the game was relatively slower. As Borghi tended more towards possession game, he used a double pivot as Artuto Vidal and Gary Medel. Dropping down Sanchez helped them to put an extra man in midfield and hold on to the possession. This transfer market sensation, though not in his best form, was tricky enough to complete 11 dribbles and extracting 20 fouls. Commensurate with his phenomenal success at Udinese as a more central threat from being a winger, Borghi also changed his position in the

national team, from being a wide player during Bielsa days.

Butterfly Effect: Vidal Underutilized?

After an awesome season with the German club, Vidal was pretty much used to play with the double pivot system with a four man defensive line. Though his team-mate, Alexis Sanchez hogged the limelight, Vidal silently lay claim to be one of the most complete midfielders of the past season. During the last season, he had the second best defensive record in Bundesliga (with 4.7 tackles per game and 2.8 interceptions per game). This skilful midfielder also exhibits effective dribbling skills and a vision for long passes. His attacking prowess makes him a complete footballer as he ended the season with 11 assists, second best in the Bundesliga and 1.9 key passes per game. He also rattled up 10 goals. While playing for Chile as a protection of a 3 man defensive, though, he was not given the license to attack and his talents were heavily under-utilized in Borghi’s formation. While he maintained an excellent average of 57.2 passes per game last season, in a more defensive role he only had 45.67 passes per game statistics in the Copa America. Other than this, though the defensive trio of Gonjalo Jara, Waldo Ponce and Pablo Contreras were pretty good in the open play, the tendency to commit a foul around the box proved costly ultimately.

Suicidal Substitution: Borghi, The Criminal

Opponents often exploited the three man defensive play by shooting long balls and turning it into a 3vs3 battle. Committing fouls seemed the only way to gain time for the out-of-position midfielders to fall back. The shock

came from Venezuela as they capitalised on the dead-ball situations perfectly. The decision of replacing Carmona for Valdivia instead of Medel proved to be fatal against Venezuela. As Medel was already on a yellow card and being the single defensive screen before a 3 man defensive, his misdemeanour eventually cost him a marching order.


With this golden generation, Chile will definitely be among the favourites for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers. Playing Vidal as a free player with license to attack would provide a new dimension to their attack.

Colombia: Group Leaders Derailed

Colombia did not arrive with much of an expectation, but they were the first team to qualify from the group stage after claiming the top spot above the favourites Argentina, but their limp performance against Peru in the quarter finals put forth a lot of questions.


Manager Hernan Dario Gomez used a very popular 4-1-4-1 formation spear-headed by Porto’s talismanic striker Radamel Falcao. After a slow start against Costa Rica, Colombia was excellent against Argentina and Bolivia. Gomez had a very dependable back line led by experienced Milan man Mario Yepes. At the age of 35, he had an excellent tournament and was instrumental for the three consecutive clean sheets in the group matches. It was not that easy for a player like Cristián Zapata on the bench, but the Yepes-Luis Perea pair appeared to be pretty formidable. They did not concede a single goal in the group league matches. Also, the two wing-backs, Juan Zúñiga and Pablo

Armero helped relentlessly in attacking. Gomez employed Gustavo Bolívar as the dedicated defensive minded midfielder.He used a rather flat four man midfield formation against Costa Rica – pressing the young U-23 opposition. This style left gaps between them and Gustavo Bolívar, which could have been exploited extensively by any good attacking side. In order to tackle this issue, from the next match onwards, Gomez tucked his two central midfielders, Fredy Guarín and Abel Aguilar a little deep, to establish the link between defense and attack.

Tactical Analysis: Carlos Sanchez at the heart

Though Gomez started with Bolívar against Costa Rica, despite showcasing a decent performance, he was replaced by Carlos Sanchez for the Argentina game. This strategy was immensely successful as Sanchez was

excellent throughout the crunch game and the rest of the tournament. Guarín was Colombia’s key player in the midfield and essentially the driving force behind their attacks. The Porto man scored 5 goals from 8 games in the UEFA Europa Cup and was keen to score for his national side too. He mostly attempted long rangers with high success rate to keep the opposition goalkeeper busy. Alongside him, Aguilar was also decent in his distribution. The midfielder duo shared an impressive 71.5 average passes per game in aggregate. Yet Sanchez was the most vital man for them in the midfield. He was superb against the undisputed best player of the world, Lionel Messi, and only committed 1 foul on him using all his experiences of French Ligue1. Throughout the tournament he made 16 successful tackles (5.33 per game) which quite reflected his character.

Keeping the Wingers High

Colombia’s main threat came from their flanks, where Dayro Moreno and Adrián Ramos were very active. By constantly running, shooting at the goal, and swapping flanks – they created havoc in the opposition defense. Gomez instructed them to stay up in the field and their strong appearance kept the opposition wingbacks quiet. Against Argentina, Gomez countered Pablo Zabaleta’s running on the right flank by keeping Ramos high up the pitch and forced Argentina to switch play to the left where Zanetti was playing, who is not very comfortable with his wrong foot. Since the wide forwards were not coming down, Aguilar and Guarin were instructed to tuck in centrally while defending to support Sanchez. Falcao’s duty was to move back a little to fill up the void left by their two central midfielders. Essentially Colombia converted to a defensive minded 4-3-3 while defending, and this two-layered defending worked out extremely well to stop the brilliance of Messi.

Seeking Creativity and Keeping Ills

However, in the quarterfinals they lost the game, despite being a better team than Peru. Though they had created more chances than Peru, tactically they were subjugated. In this game, both their central midfielders were man-marked, which made them ineffective in the context of their natural game. Aguilar was never that tricky to break through the marking. Peru allowed Sanchez enough time, but his lack of attacking vision let Gomez down. It’s only when Guarin who, when tried to dribble past his marker, did Colombia look threatening. As a result, the constant pressing was absent from Colombia’s game. With limited creativity in the midfield and in the reserve bench, Gomez failed to extract the best from his team. Incidentally, a penalty miss by Falcao, one of Europe’s finest strikers of the last season, and two deciding errors by their goalkeeper, ended their journey in this edition of Copa.

Future: Central Creativity

Colombia seriously needs a playmaker behind Falcao to improve the situation. The lack of creativity at the centre-of-the-park cost them a lot. While they have a sound defense and a great finisher upfront, a certain amount of creativity in the midfield can lift their game and may find a place at the world cup finals.

Argentina: Of Tactical Blunders, Human Errors

After the World Cup 2010 embarrassment, Sergio Batista took over from Diego Maradona and a fresh start was expected. Argentina was possibly the most interesting team from a

manager’s perspective. A traditional top heavy team decorated with perhaps the world’s current best player – compromised by a weak back four and an inexperienced goalkeeper. The whole world was looking forward to seeing how Batista managed the team, but yet again a shock defeat against Uruguay and an underwhelming performance throughout, forced AFA to sack him.


The main challenge for Batista was to extract the best out of Lionel Messi. With no disrespect, he was a complete failure in the first two matches. He started the tournament with a 4-3-3 formation, keeping Messi at the heart of the forward line. Nicolás Burdisso and Gabriel Milito were the two centre backs. New talent, Marcos Rojo started in the left back position and the ageless Inter Milan figure, Javier Zanetti started on the right. Batista employed 3 defensive midfielders to protect his weak defense at the

cost of a creative midfielder in the midfield. Batista was trying to emulate the Barcelona formation around the brilliance of Messi. But eventually this tactic failed.Batista had to change the formation after two poor performances by his team. He brought Zabaleta back as right full back and switched Zanetti to the left to replace the inept Rojo. This change of tactics gave Argentina a little more of width. And then he re-jigged his formation completely for the do-or-die Costa Rica match. He moved to an attack minded 4-2-3-1 from the previously defensive minded 4-3-3. It must be said that 4-2-3-1 is not the likely name to call that shape. It was actually an extremely fluid top half, to make it 4-2-2-2 or 4-2-1-3, whichever was required.

Tactical Analysis: Messi Drops Deep, Deeper…

Batista’s 4-3-3 with three defensive minded midfielders actually put an immense task for the 3 forwards to beat a 5 man opposition defense (back four + one defensive midfield at least). For the first two games against Bolivia and Colombia respectively, his midfield trio, Barcelona’s Javier Mascherano, Inter’s Esteban Cambiasso and Valencia’s Éver Banega were instructed to sit deep in their half. Mascherano and Banega rarely made forward runs, although Cambiasso was given a little license to attack. Surprisingly among these three, Cambiasso was far less creative than Banega, who though the most creative player was restricted within his own half. As a result, Messi had to move deep into his midfield to get the ball and sometimes even deeper. Though Batista claimed to try to emulate the Barcelona model, in reality it was not happening. In Barcelona, other players play their game to support Messi to the fullest. Whenever Messi receives a ball, he dribbles

past a couple of defenders and either passes the ball to his closest player and expects a return, or switches the ball to the wide forwards like David Villa or Pedro. But for this Argentine side, he was left alone in the midfield (as there were no attacking intents from the 3 defensive midfielders) and the only mode of passing the ball was towards the flank.

Butterfly Effect – A Misplaced Carlos Tevez

Unfortunately, the inability of wing play by the full backs did not leave much option for Messi either, and Tevez not being a natural wide player, his poor off-the-ball positioning made defending easy for opposition teams. In a three man forward line with Messi playing deep, Tevez should be on the far left to stretch the defense, so that Messi can run through or send through passes for midfield runners. Instead, Tevez’s tendency to move into

the centre directly towards the defender, made the formation narrow and easy for opposition to crowd out Messi.

New Formation Worked Well

Batista’s 4-2-3-1 did work pretty well against Costa Rica. Batista brought in three Real Madrid men – Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria and Fernando Gago, and Atletico Madrid front man Sergei Aguero. As usual, Mascherano sat deep and was given a dedicated game breaker role. Gago played further up and his distribution skills meant that Messi need not always drop deep back for the ball. Di Maria started from a deeper position on left and Aguero started as wide left. The tactical switch was to get rid of the striker-less formation to a formation with an out-an-out striker played by Higuain. Di Maria’s runs helped as he exploited the space left by Aguero who cut inside. And Lionel Messi was playing in the hole as the roaming enganche. His dribbling and passing was suddenly most effective and he had 32 successful dribbles, 3 assists and numerous key passes. This formation was mostly left-centric allowing Zabaleta to run forward from the right, with frequent helps from Messi and Higuain.

What Went Wrong: Batista Was Beaten by Tabarez

Batista started with the same system against Uruguay. The much effective fluid system forced Óscar Tabárez to play rash football and Uruguay ended the day committing 28 fouls. Even after the early sending off of Diego Perez, Batista failed to take advantage of the extra man. Mostly missed chances from Argentine forwards and a goalkeeping clinic by Muslera, were enough to put Argentina out. Batista made another major mistake by substituting

both Di Maria and Aguero with Tevez and Pastore. As a result, Tevez, Pastore and Messi were all trying to play from the middle, with no width left on the far left. One couldn’t possibly expect 120 minutes of overlapping service from the 36 year old Zanetti, that too on the left side.

Future: Messi Is Not Maradona Yet

With the best player of the world leading their attacks, Argentina will always be a great force, however, it’s time they employ a tactically sound manager who can motivate the team in the key clashes. Leo Messi was good with his new role of playmaker but not quite in his Barcelona form, and a zero goal tally says it all. However, excessive dependency on Messi might lead them nowhere.

Venezuela: Tactically Vehement

Venezuela confounded expectations by reaching the semi-final, beating one of the tournament favourites, Chile and subsequently losing out to Paraguay in the tie-breaker and Peru in the 3rd/4th deciding match.


César Farías played his team with a 4-4-2 formation which was often recognizable as 4-2-2-2 form with 2 defensive midfielders sitting deep and 2 wide midfielders playing up. Farías played four-man defense line led by Oswaldo Vizcarrondo. He had an impressive tournament, committing only 4 fouls throughout, and made 9 absolutely vital tackles at the deep defense. Along with this, he proved to be an aerial threat in the opponent’s box in the dead ball situations. Left Back Gabriel Cichero also put a notable performance and for a defender, his distribution

skills were impressive. César had two defensive midfielders, Tomas Rincon and Franklin Lucena, to protect his back four. Both made numerous interceptions and tackles and broke up opposition attacks.Venezuela faced significant issues in breaking the defense as they were always a man short in attack. Juan Arango tried hard to complement this with his long distance shooting – a tally of 16 long shots and 2 goals though isn’t very productive. Other than these, his free kicks were a source of danger, especially against Chile. César kept rotating his front duo, and his creative forward, Giancarlo Maldonado was effective as a traditional number 9.

Tactical Analysis: Don’t Chase the Game

César initially instructed his two central midfielders to chase the game by constant off-

the-ball pressing and closing down opponent midfielders. This didn’t appear to be a safe policy as they were leaving huge spaces behind them in front of the back four. So as the tournament progressed, they were asked to sit deep and wait for the attackers, providing more steel in the defense. This tactic proved successful as heavyweight teams like Brazil and Chile were kept quiet for a significant amount of time.

What Went Wrong: Missing a Classic #10

Venezuela always lacked a creative ‘number 10’ in the hole. César, with his limited resources, tried to switch the game to the right. In the semi-final against Paraguay, he missed his pivots – Rincon, for suspension and Maldonado, for slight injury. Later, deep in the second half, he employed Maldonado and asked him to play from right to make diagonal runs to the centre. His presence brought about a significant change in the momentum of the game, and they looked a far better team during the extra time. Having two defensive midfielders seated deep, reduced the attacking threat. As both of their midfielders were playing wide, there was no creativity from the central position to seek out Maldonado’s runs.


There is hope for La Vinotintos. Their counter attacking football has been praised by many, and although playing with only 10 men, they enjoyed better possession in the semi finals. Had they pursued consistently, they could have ended up playing at the Copa America finals for the first time.

Peru: Counter Attacking At Its Best

Peru was the biggest surprise package of Copa America 2011 as they played way better than usual and secured the third spot. Sergio Markarian took the flag from Jose Del Solar, under whom Peru had in the past, gone through one of their most disastrous pre-world cup campaign when they finished last. Markarian had stated his aim was to lead Peru to the 2014 World Cup after six consecutive failed campaigns. He himself has a World Cup experience, having led the Paraguay national team to the 2002 World Cup finals in Japan-Korea. The performance of the Peruvians in this Copa America definitely shows that this is a team we should keep an eye on; one can expect them to qualify in the tough South American qualifying round.


Starting as underdogs, Markarian mostly concentrated on a defense oriented formation for which he employed 3 midfielders with major defensive duties in front of 4 men back line. His 4-3-3 starting formation eventually turned to a 4-3-2-1 pyramid. Not a traditional pyramid; rather a skewed one as Markarian had a left balanced formation where the single striker was mostly paired with the left wide midfielder. The naturally aggressive Vargas shone in that role.

Tactical Analysis: Defense First, Defense Second, Attack Third

The Peruvian defense was led by Braga’s central defender Alberto Junior Rodríguez. Even after suffering an injury stricken season, he contributed a lot to Braga’s second spot in the Portuguese League and the UEFA Europa League respectively. The 27 year old centre back committed only 4 fouls in the tournament. With numerous interceptions, he managed to make up for the mistakes by inexperienced fellow defenders, Christian Ramos and Walter Vílchez. The 3 defensive midfielders, whom Markarian employed, were pretty comfortable playing long balls to break through quick counter attacks. He relied mostly on Adan Balbín and Rinaldo Cruzado for this, and a little aggressive license offered to Luis Advincula. Balbín, a natural defender, was given the duty of playing the holding role and his success in that role was instrumental in Peru’s rise.

Peru’s primary threat was their three attacking players. William Chiroque and Juan Vargas were given the license of an all-out-attack, and their presence high up the pitch pinned the opposition fullbacks. Chiroque, an experienced player from their domestic league, provided much fluidity to

their counter attacking system with his fast-paced runs and dribbling skills. This 31 year old finished with 17 successful dribbles and most of them were inside the opponent’s half. On the other side, Markarian fitted Fiorentina star Juan Vargas. Last season he was one of the few bright spots for them and he topped the assist chart for the club. His wing-play and link up play with Paolo Guerrero was responsible for the best attacking plays of Peru.

The Guerrero Effect

Paolo Guerrero, the Hamburg striker, was the main spearhead of Markarian’s counter attacking tactics. His admirable physical presence and holding capability provided enough time for Vargas and Chiroque to time their runs and stretch the defense for him. His dribbling ability forced the opposition to man mark him. Thus his movements – down the centre or to the left – always created a hole in the defense – which was suitably exploited by Vargas, who adroitly changed his position. Playing as the lone forward, Guerrero completed 16 successful dribbles and drew 22 fouls on him.

Both Vargas and Guerrero kept shooting from long range and in a combination averaged more than 6 attempts on goal per game with around 50% accuracy. Guerrero marked the performance by being the tournament’s top scorer with 5 goals and the sole hat-trick.


Peru played better than many had expected, and their counter attacking tactics bore fruit. The attack could be deadly, though with a couple of attacking fullbacks. They could also do with a substitute for Guerrero who can fill in ably for him.

Paraguay: Ugly yet Admirable

Since the time of José Luis Chilavert, Paraguay has been a tough nut to crack, and the latest Copa loudly proclaimed the same when they ‘crawled forward’ to the grand finale against Uruguay. That Paraguay played the final after not having won a single game in open play said a lot about their spirit and tactical setup.


Manager Gerardo Martino who guided Paraguay to their first ever World Cup quarter final, achieved success yet again when he took his team to the Copa final. His ‘safety first’ approach may not look great but was the most effective. Paraguay played mostly with a defensive minded 4-4-2 formation. Like most of the Latin American teams, this is a hybrid formation and can be quickly converted to

4-3-3. Off-the-ball, one forward would track back to make it an effective 4-5-1.They had Justo Villar, who was the outstanding player of both the quarters and semis, a back four of Darío Verón on the right, Paulo da Silva and Antolín Alcaraz in the centre and Aureliano Torres on the left. Enrique Vera played in the defensive midfield zone with Marcos Riveros to his left, slightly ahead of him, and Néstor Ortigoza to his right. Marcelo Estigarribia and Nelson Valdez played wide of the main striker Lucas Barrios. Estigarribia was employed in a deeper midfield position on the left. Valdez played in a more forward role making the system turn into a 4-4-2, when Paraguay had the ball. Martino had changed the front three frequently, by switching the position of Barrios and sometimes using former Manchester City man, Roque Santa Cruz as the withdrawn forward.

Tactical Analysis: Narrow Defending

Martino let his team play with a philosophy of narrow defending. His two full backs were playing narrower to have the crowd out the central spaces in front of the goal. They allowed much space in the flanks to draw opponents in the open area, and Paraguay’s wide midfielders did not miss a single opportunity to exploit that open space. Dani Alves was made to crawl in the first match with Brazil, by the tricky Estigarribia.

Though Martino formed his team with prior defensive decorations, Paraguay was never too eager to press. They allowed opponents to play in the midfield and on the flanks.

Often Vera came down to make the back 5, and kept deep-lying Nestor Ortigoza at the middle

of the pitch. Ortigoza had a superb tournament as the playmaker. His ability to dictate the pace of the game had been used magnificently in the narrow formation. He finished with 202 successful passes and 17 successful through passes. Due to his excellent vision and passing ability, he drew at least one opposition midfielder at the middle to close him down, eventually creating free space for others.

What Went Wrong? Direct Defending Cost Them Dear

Though Martino employed a defense-minded strategy, the execution was not at its best. Jamming the goalmouth is a good option when you have a two layered defense with minimal gap. Practically, when Vera came down deep in the defense, Ortigoza and Riveros were not pressing the game. As a result, Brazil and Uruguay both had sufficient space between their midfield and defensive lines, which was heavily exploited to penetrate the defense. Brazil was dreadful in front of the goal and an almost superhuman performance from the goalkeeper, Villar kept Paraguay moving ahead in the race. However, a razor-sharp finishing from Luis Suarez and Diego Forlán showed us the defensive flaws in the Paraguayan model. Beside this, Paraguay tried to employ a heavy traffic in front of the goal which actually made no room for a second cover behind a defender. This was frequently exploited by Suarez in the final, as he dribbled past the defender to get into the open.

Future: Pragmatic in True Sense

It was a sorry state of affairs, but with limited resources, injuries and red cards, this was the most pragmatic form of game Paraguayans could produce. The passion of their fans was also instrumental in keeping their spirit up (Larissa

Riquelme had already declared her desire to “present herself” if the team won). Strange as it is, they still needed to work on their defense. Playing a defensive strategy yet feeling uncomfortable while defending is a poor banner for their model. It appeared that Villar was protecting the defense instead of the other way round.

Uruguay: Tactical Superiority

Following their strong World Cup run, Uruguay led by the evergreen Forlan and guided by ‘The Professor’ Óscar Tabárez, snatched the crown of Copa America 2011 proving that their World Cup success had not been a fluke. After a dull low scoring affair, Uruguay proved themselves stronger than other teams. Success doesn’t usually come by easily and smoothly and it is to Tabarez’ credit that after a poor start and many a hard time, Uruguay managed to place their nation on the path to success.


Uruguay didn’t play with a steady formation throughout. Tabárez kept altering the formation depending on match situations and the opponent’s shape. Mostly he started with a variant of the classic 4-4-2 but didn’t hesitate to switch to 3-3-2-2 with 3 centre backs. Not just the shape, Tabárez kept changing personnel too, depending on the opposition. Other than Diego Godin, who was ill, and their reserve goalkeepers, Tabárez utilised all other squad members. When he played with the 4 man defense, he employed skipper Diego Lugano and Sebastián Coates as the stoppers and Alvero Pereira and Maxi Pereira as the overlapping side-backs. When he moved to the 3 man defense line, he employed 3 centre-backs and achieved the numerical advantage

deep in the defense. He fully utilised the versatility of former Barcelona defender Martin Cáceres, who can play at different positions as a defender. To tackle the strong Argentine attacking threat, he employed Arevalo Rios and Diego Perez as two defensive pivots to protect their back line. His decision of going with 3 forwards was heavily dependent on the availability of in-form Napoli man Edinson Cavani; else he kept faith on his superstar forward pair of Suarez and Forlan as the front duo, where Forlan operated from a little deeper.

Tactical Analysis: Direct Football

Uruguay did not play fancy football like passing in the midfield or building up from the deep. They rather believed in directly placing the ball in the opposition’s half, and then press hard. Suarez was particularly instrumental behind this tactic. His ability to hold the ball and draw attention from the defenders made free space for

Forlan to exploit. He suffered 27 fouls and completed 12 successful dribbles. Diego Forlan on the other hand, was playing behind him more as a playmaker. His excellent vision was instrumental behind a lot of attacks and his pin-point passing also set up many counter attacks. Their defenders sat deep and were drawing opposition midfielders up in the pitch to make free spaces for quick counters and put their forwards in a dangerous 3vs3 situation. The tactic of pressing high up the field worked excellently in the final when they unsettled Paraguay’s key play-maker Nestor Ortigoza, and didn’t allow him to dictate the pace of the game.

Tackling the Perez Red Card

Uruguay mostly consisted of tireless players like Diego Perez, Arevalo Rios or Maxi Pereira. Perez was the heart of these three. After he got sent off during the Argentina match, Tabárez tackled

the numerical disadvantage by installing a narrow diamond shape in the midfield with Forlan at the tip and Rios at the bottom, allowing spaces at the flank. The full-backs didn’t press at the flanks, rather waited deep, allowing their midfielders to fall back and helped in defending.

What Went Wrong: Thin Defending

Uruguay suffered a lot. Inspired by Messi, Argentina exposed a lot of flaws in the system of the Uruguay team. Their high pressing game up on the field left a thin defense on the other side. Quick switch of game play easily exploits the flaw. Apart from that, closing down in the midfield left a huge gap between the midfield and defense lines. A slightly higher line of defense could possibly be a solution, a strategy that Tabárez was not prepared to risk, given that his defenders weren’t pacy enough.

Future: Brighter

The way Uruguay has been playing under Óscar Tabárez is inspirational. After reaching the semi-final in 2007 Copa America and 2010 World Cup, they are now the emperors of South American football. With the current statistics and form, they may achieve another World Cup glory. The primary concern for Tabárez, however, would be to find an appropriate replacement for Diego Forlan, who will be 35 in 2014. Diego Perez, who had an excellent Copa, will be 34 and the centre-back Lugano will be 33. Tabárez has a versatile pool of talent and the qualifiers will be the stage for experiments.

Is this a trend?

The chaotic imbalance of the recently held Copa raises some issues worthy of discussion. This tournament was not for those who came to watch free flowing football. It was a tournament of tactical formations, of pragmatic formations and approach over Jogo Bonito. Although in the last two editions of the tournament, we witnessed a goal flurry (an average of more than 3 goals per game),

Copa 2011 had barely 2 goals per match (2.07 goals per game).Most of the managers used double pivot system to protect their defense and installed a ‘safety first’ attitude. Other than this, one more topic that begs asking is – what is the preferred model for a national team: possession football or direct approach. In recent times, Barcelona has established their superiority by their possession oriented football game. How effective is that for a national side? The answer is doubtful. The following graph shows the possession %age of the teams in the Copa 2011, where the 4 teams who were eliminated in the Quarter Final, top the list.

Even in the final, Uruguay’s more direct approach with 37% ball possession, overpowered possession game of Paraguay. To draw another comparison with Barcelona, it is not how long you keep the ball but what you do with that. The smarter teams can do without less possession but discipline, organization and spirit must remain top notch.

The Copa America 2011 may have been a dull event in the perspective of goals scored and dearth of free flowing attacking football, it was a tactical lesson on how to combat effectively with limited resources.


Srinwantu Dey is a football student and loves to analyse the game tactically. He can be reached @srinwantudey.