JLo’s beginner’s guide to the World Cup: Brazil survives, Own Goal starts strong, Spain and The Netherlands loom
Wow, that was an interesting and not at all controversial way to start a World Cup, wasn’t it? If you missed out host nation and heavy, heavy favorites Brazil went behind early to Croatia thanks to an “Own Goal” scored by Brazilian defender Marcelo. For the uninitiated, an Own Goal is credited when a player unintentionally scores a ball into their own team’s goal. It’s a horribly dispiriting way to go behind in a match, and can sometimes lead to even more horrible tragedy for the player who scores it.
Brazil recovered to draw even in the match before half time thanks to a goal (in the correct net) by Neymar, but the atmosphere in the stadium was noticeably subdued and nervous, and it seemed to infect most of the players in the Brazilian side not named Neymar or Oscar, who, along with Croatian midfielder Luka Modric, were head and shoulders the best players on the pitch yesterday. The nervousness of the crowd seemed to really affect the home side, and it took a
soft questionable horrible penalty award from the referee to finally put Brazil in front. Even then there were still some nervous moments for Brazil, and you definitely have the feeling that had they been facing a better side or if there had been another referee in charge the score line could or should have been much different.
A win is a win, however, and the hosts will be happy to escape the first game with all three points, while Croatia can take a lot of positives away from the match and concentrate on beating Mexico out for the second position in Group A. It’s tempting to try and draw a lot of early conclusions from one match, but keep in mind that 2010 winners Spain lost their opening match to Switzerland before eventually righting the ship and winning the Cup.
Men of the Match: Referee Yuichi Nishimura, Own Goal, Oscar
The undoubted match of the day to watch today (Friday, June 13) is the rematch of the 2010 final between Spain and The Netherlands. If you’re new to the sport here’s a couple of things to look for during the game today.
The first is that Spain will likely have a lot of the ball, and that is an understatement. Spain fields a team of 5 and sometimes 6 midfielders and executes an intricate short passing game while probing the defense and looking for teammates open on “runs” in behind the defense. In American football terms think of it as a team that primarily runs the ball or throws short passes in an attempt to keep possession of the ball and establish field possession dominance. The Spanish are extraordinarily good at it, thanks mainly to players like Andres Iniesta and Xavi, who are remarkable passers of the ball and have the ability to see where a teammate will (or should) be before a pass is made. If you can watch Iniesta especially closely, as he plays a vital role in bringing the ball up field out of the back into the opposition half and rarely, if ever, fails to complete a pass.
The Dutch are a much different team than the one that reached the World Cup final in 2010 and did a fine impression of a football version of one of the gangs from The Warriors in an attempt to frustrate and disrupt the fluid Spanish attack. It nearly succeeded thanks to some questionable refereeing (both sides could have had multiple players sent off – the Dutch players for attempted felonious assault and the Spanish for eventually reacting as if they had been tazed by every passing Dutch player in an attempt to finally draw a deserved red card.) The players to watch from The Netherlands are prolific but fragile striker Robin Van Persie, every Arsenal fans favorite player, and winger Arjen Robben, the most predictable great player in world football. Mark my words, Robben will start a run down the right side of the pitch on at least a handful of occasions and then cut inside abruptly and attempt a longish shot with his preferred left foot. Everybody knows this, but it is to his credit that he’s good enough at it that he remains a successful player for the Dutch. Tactically the biggest difference you should notice is that The Netherlands will likely field 5 defenders, 3 midfielders, and two forwards (a 5-3-2 formation) and be content with letting Spain have a lot of ball, with the hope being that they can absorb the pressure, win the ball with Spain committed too far forward, and then counterattack quickly and score on a breakaway.
Don’t be surprised to see stats today that Spain has the ball for 60 or even 70% of the match. That’s not necessarily bad for the Dutch if they are able to convert on breakaway chances, but I have the suspicion that Spain will be able to unlock the Dutch defense on more than one occasion and pull out a victory.
Cheers and happy viewing.