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Sunday, 16 April 2017

The Four Moments Which Decided World Cup 2014

So the ruthless Germans have won the Cup after all? It wasn’t the outcome Wired868 expert Lasana Liburd foresaw. But he has now decreed that tiki-kaiser shall henceforth succeed tiki-taka as football’s dominant style.
Liburd’s opinion dovetails with the post-final view expressed by TV6’s Sweet Samba guru Keith Look Loy. According to the former TTFF technical director, it is not just top-class automobiles like MERCEDES BENZES, BMWs and high-end Volkswagens that have been rolling off the German production line but top-class footballers as well.

Photo: Germay defender and captain Philipp Lahm (second from right) lifts the World Cup trophy with his teammates. (Copyright AFP 2014/Fabrice Coffrini)
Photo: Germay defender and captain Philipp Lahm (second from right) lifts the World Cup trophy with his teammates.
(Copyright AFP 2014/Fabrice Coffrini)

And they will continue to do so, he predicts, into the foreseeable future.
It’s hard to disagree with Look Loy; I think, however, that Liburd’s is a questionable conclusion. True, the Mannschaft won on Sunday. But it was neither German football nor German strategy that triumphed at the Maracanã; it was sheer German technical efficiency.
And if there is one constant in German football, it is technical efficiency. Think Gerd Muller, 10 goals in the 1970 Finals. Think new record-holder Miroslav Klose, 16 goals in four Finals.
In his post-match analysis, Liburd himself takes issue with LookLoy’s conclusion on strategy. The ex-TD contended that, at a crucial stage of the proceedings, the South Americans opted for safety first. Cockroach eh have no right before fowl, I was taught, so I am staying far away from the experts’ argument.
What I will, however, venture to say is that Liburd’s “Tiki-Kaiser” piece misses the obvious conclusion to which the following three paragraphs adduce:
It was Germany who made the defensive change and not Argentina. But history would not remember it that way, particular (sic) after the 22-year-old (Mario) Götze’s superb winner.
Earlier, (Gonzalo) Higuain scoffed (sic) the best chance of the match in the 20th minute and ended up with the foolish look of a guy who suddenly forgot his girlfriend’s name while trying to introduce her to an ex. And (Rodrigo) Palacio’s scooped miss in extra time was even worse.

Photo: Argentina's rat-tailed forward Rodrigo Palacio (centre) shoots past Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer but wide of the goal in the 2014 World Cup final. (Copyright AFP 2014/Fabrizio Bensch)
Photo: Argentina’s rat-tailed forward Rodrigo Palacio (centre) shoots past Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer but wide of the goal in the 2014 World Cup final.
(Copyright AFP 2014/Fabrizio Bensch)

(…) Germany, unsurprisingly, was not as wasteful; and that was the difference between dancing along to “Happy” after the final whistle or praying for the Maracanã Stadium to swallow you up.
If Liburd misses the mark, Kern Spencer, the first reader to leave a comment, is right on the ball, pointing out that goals, not reputations, win matches. Here, in part, is what Spencer says:
Argentina had good chances, and the front line just lacked that finishing touch. If Higuain scored that gift early in the game, who knows how the game may have evolved.
That, for me, is where the cookie crumbles. Had Higuain scored that opening goal in the 20th minute, who knows indeed how the game would have turned out? But the striker’s technique failed him, one of three such instances of South American failings in the match, which altered its course – and, arguably, the outcome.
And in my view, the heart of the matter resides in a combination of Spencer’s comment that “Argentina had good chances” and Liburd’s observation that “Argentina did not force a single save from Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.”
Minute 20: Toni Kroos, doing his best Brazilian impersonation, heads the ball back onto the feet of Higuain, well behind the high German defence. In an offside position but not, of course, off-side.
Gleefully accepting the gilt-edged gift, Higuain turns, gets into the German 18-yard box; the goalkeeper advances. With space ahead of him and on either side of Neuer, the forward unforgivably screws his shot left of the custodian’s right upright.
Who knew then that that was the first nail in the Argentine coffin?
Minute 47: Nail number two comes from an unexpected source. Lionel Messi wriggles free on the left, leaving behind a clutch of German defenders. Neuer, the only one to beat, is planted on the first post. But the man some say is the world’s best player and whom a star-studded panel would inexplicably later adjudge the Player of the Tournament sends his left-footer spinning wide to the German’s left.

Photo: Argentina captain Lionel Messi (second from right) looks for a way past Germany players Andre Schuerrle (far right). Benedikt Hoewedes (centre), Mesut Özil (second from left) and Toni Kroos. He couldn't beat four Germans?! Clearly, the boy is overrated! (Copyright AFP 2014/Gabriel Bouys)
Photo: Argentina captain Lionel Messi (second from right) looks for a way past Germany players Andre Schuerrle (far right). Benedikt Hoewedes (centre), Mesut Özil (second from left) and Toni Kroos.
(Copyright AFP 2014/Gabriel Bouys)

Nil-nil. Argentina die a second time before their eventual death and Loew’s Germans live to fight another day.
Minute 97: Day Three comes in extra-time. Substitute Palacio benefits from a German defensive misjudgement on a high ball and finds himself confronted by a German custodian advancing late into no man’s land. Missing is more difficult than scoring, you feel; one proper touch is all it takes. Palacio contrives to get the inside of his instep on the ball, taking it over the custodian’s head… and, like Higuain’s before him, left of Neuer’s right upright Unblocked Games At School.
Before we look at the final critical moment of Sunday’s final, let us briefly look back at one moment of the July 7 Brazil vs Germany semi-final. It is a situation we have encountered a dozen times before in the course of the last month; the result has always been the same. Either the attacker misses the mark (Brazil’s Hulk) or the keeper lifts his arms in time to make an impossible stop (Nigeria’s Enyeama).
Today, the score is already 6-0 and the result has long been settled. André Schürrle gets free on the left side of Julio Cesar’s goal. The angle is acute. Cesar advances to make it more so. Schürrle pulls the trigger. Jepnest. Julio Cesar fetches. 7-0.
German technical efficiency with a vengeance.
Minute 113: In yesterday’s final, it was replicated with seven minutes of extra-time left on the clock. This time, however, the Germans are assisted by an Argentine misjudgement. Seeing Schürrle racing down the left flank, DeMichelis opts to go towards the ball instead of dropping deeper to give cover and get Götze, angling right on his run-in from midfield, in his sights. He is banking, it seems, on a low cross which he can cut out.

Photo: Germany attacker Mario Götze.
Photo: Germany attacker Mario Götze.

Schürrle delivers high, on point; the defender looks back to see Götze take the ball on his chest just wide of the first post, swivel and crash his volley ever so sweetly with the middle of his left boot.
The advancing Romero is helpless against German technical efficiency.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Devon Francois set to join the German Football League’s Berlin Adler

In 2014, Alcorn State University alumnus Devon Francois was one of the defensive captains on the Braves championship winning team. In March 2016, his dreams of playing professional football will become a reality.

Francois will become a member of the German Football League (GFL) team, the Berlin Adler, in Berlin, Germany this spring. The Adler is one of the GFL's most successful clubs in Germany, having won six German Bowls, as well as ten Ladies Bowls and five Junior Bowls. The club has also participated in the European Football League on a number of occasions and has won the Eurobowl in 2010 and 2014.

One of Francois' best friends informed him about the possibility of playing football in another country.

"A great friend of mine named Joseph Lebeau, who played at Jackson State University, provided me with awesome information about the GFL," said Francois. "I made a player profile and everything took off from there."

The idea of playing professional football is a dream come true for Francois. He expressed how thankful he is for the opportunity and gives credit to a higher power.

"This is still kind of surreal to me. I am thankful for this opportunity that I have been blessed with. This is His timing and I believe there is something in store for me in Germany."

Francois is prepared to put in the work it takes to help his new team become champions.

"I plan to leave a mark of greatness in the German Football League. I'm going to work extremely hard to be the best I can to help bring a championship to the Berlin Adler."

Francois is currently pursuing his master's degree in kinesiology/exercise science at Southern Arkansas University. Even though he's been given the opportunity to play professional football, he still plans to complete his degree in the school's online program. He shares important advice with student athletes concerning graduating and professional sports.

"It is extremely important for college athletes to graduate! You can't play sports forever, so you will need a backup plan. Do not put all of your eggs in one basket. Enjoy college and continue to put in extra work. Professional sports aren't easy. Remember that it is a business as well. Control the things you can and have faith."

Cheap tickets, free transport, safe-standing and atmospheres – The German football fan experience

Chris Williams went to watch two games in Germany last weekend, finding the whole experience a world away from what the matchgoing fan is served up in England.

I’ve seen the future and it’s German – I’m not talking about LFC or Jurgen Klopp I’m talking about football; not just the game on the pitch the atmosphere in the stands and the way your average German fan is treated.

It’s amazing but it’s also depressing in equal terms – it’s what every football fan wants and needs but it’s also the polar opposite of the Premier League and that genuinely (and I don’t use this lightly) saddened me as much as it blew my mind.

I actually don’t know where to start on this; do I start with the free rail and bus travel that comes with the matchday ticket? Or do I start with the fact it only cost me £9 for a ticket? Or do I start with the fact there’s a culture on the German terraces; where friends meet hours before and drink on the stands?

Maybe I should just start with how I ended up there.

Last summer I was on holiday in Ibiza; I watched the World Cup Final in an Iberian bar, it was full of locals all screaming at the TV every time Messi touched the ball. As a quiet observer at the back I watched a determined German side win the ultimate prize in world football; that, plus the devastation of Brazil, made me decide that in 2015/16 I was going to the Bundesliga.

It just so happened that when Klopp took over he described the passion he’d witnessed at FSV Mainz 05; cheers Jurgen there was my first club to go and see. You’re probably wondering why I didn’t chose Dortmund or Bayern Munich; well I wanted to, but their tickets are so hard to obtain it’s untrue, I could have paid over £200 for a ticket on StubHub, or another legal touting site, but ultimately its 22 fellas kicking a pig’s bladder about on some grass and 2 ton for a ticket is a bit moody.

Fast forward to the December 2015 and I’m driving down to Heathrow for the night to take the early Friday flight to Frankfurt. First up would be FC Mainz 05 v VFB Stuttgart that night, then TSG 1899 Hoffenheim v Hannover 96 on Saturday before flying home Sunday.

So then; football ‘die Bundesliga’ way. What is it? Is it hyped? Is it actually any better than the self-proclaimed ‘best league in the world’ the Premier League? In short, yes!

My tickets (I took my 12 year old lad as well) for Mainz cost me a grand total of €24. In total, for both tickets, that’s £17.45. Yes I’m not mistaken, the cost for both tickets came to £17.45. Mine as an adult cost £9.82 and my lad’s ticket at 12 years old cost £7.63.

Hoffenhiem came in even cheaper at €12 (£8.73) and €9 (£6.54). Imagine a kid getting into a Premier League ground for a top flight game for less than £7! If that isn’t good enough your match ticket gets you free local rail and bus travel. So now not only am I getting to go to a Bundesliga game for £8 I can get a train or bus to and from the stadium for free. That is unbelievable.

Once you’re inside though it gets even better; the vast majority of stadia are less than 10 years old so they have good facilities; toilets, snack and drink bars, fan shops. So a scarf cost me €19 but the pint of German pilsner I bought and then took onto the terrace cost me €3, contrast that with £3 for a crappy plastic half bottle of Carlsberg I need to drink before I go back to my seat at Anfield.

Half-time queues for food and drink? Nil; there is no cash taken in the ground. All supporters have a ‘FanKarte’ which you preload with money via any of the 20 stewards issued with a machine per block, this then gets scanned at the till so no waiting for change, you just get your stuff and go, you could say the service is very German, clinical in every way. Oh yeah and if you’re visiting like I was, take your FanKarte to the ticket office on the way out and you get your €2 deposit back.

So far then we’ve got cheap entry, cheap food and drink and a payment system that lets fans get back to the terrace as quickly as possible. So then what else is there? How about a free programme for every home game? Yep there’s that as well, stacked on the wall just help yourself on the way in or out.

Now here comes the contentious bit for stadia in England; my lad and I took our place on the terraces behind the goal. Traditional step and bar terrace at Mainz and rail seating at Hoffenhiem. It’s a long way from the old Kop where you couldn’t move at times, the Bundesliga model is exceptionally safe. The maximum attendance isn’t like sardines in a can it’s a comfortable area where women, men and children (from what I saw, 2 and 3 years old upwards) standing at a football match, safely and really enjoying themselves.

The atmosphere is undeniably electric, caused mainly by the average age on the terrace around the 20 to 25 mark. You could see that lads stand in the same area each week. They meet their mates at the same place, drink beer together and sing LOUDLY for 90 minutes. Maybe it is just the German culture but they didn’t get shirty, get lippy or arsey they just had fun watching their team play the game they love to watch and by Christ did they push their teams on.

It took me back to football atmospheres as I remember, my lad was in shock at the electric atmosphere, he couldn’t believe the noise at both stadiums. We just happened to coast in on two normal league matches but the terraces were decorated like an Anfield European night; flags, banners, scarfs it was an unbelievable sight. Almost as if the game on the pitch was secondary to the passion and culture on the sides and behind the goal.

That Yellow Wall you’ve seen at Dortmund, that exists at 17 other stadiums week in week out. The TSG v Hannover game was a relegation dogfight, 17th against 15th, it should have been a dire affair but it wasn’t. It was equal in the stands to any European night I’d seen in the last 15 years.

The German experience isn’t a myth, it isn’t over hyped; it is the future of OUR national game and the FA seriously need to look to the Bundesliga as the gold standard. Who would have ever thought that cheap tickets bring a younger passionate crowd? Who’d have ever thought that police and stewards that value and respect fans, on the whole, don’t see any trouble? Who’d have thought that a working class game in a working class atmosphere would provide such electric results on the safe stands?

Most relevantly though after what happened at Anfield last week, both managers took their players to the home terraces to say thank you for their support. After a 0-0 and a 1-0.

It’s engrained in their culture that the fans are part of the club. Don’t be a cynic just embrace it. If you can’t, maybe it’s time to hand your ticket on to the next generation of fans?

In short, Germany has it all; safe standing and alcohol on the terraces, coupled with a culture that can handle a drink. This equals the sort of atmosphere we crave in England; oh and when it’s all over you can jump on the bus and go into town for free.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Train Like a German Soccer Star

In the stirring World Cup final on Sunday between the national men’s soccer teams from Germany and Argentina, an American played a role on the field in Rio de Janeiro despite the United States team’s having been eliminated. Sitting and occasionally pacing tensely along the German sideline was Mark Verstegen, the team’s trainer.
Mr. Verstegen, the founder and president of EXOS, a Phoenix-based company that trains professional and recreational athletes and corporate executives, was appointed in 2004 by Jurgen Klinsmann, then the coach of the German team and now the United States coach. He was brought in to improve the players’ fitness, agility, nutrition and resilience. At the time, the Germans were at a low ebb by their high standards, having not won a World Cup since 1990 or a European championship since 1996. Mr. Verstegen said his appointment was met with widespread incredulity among German fans, news media and even some players.
“They wondered what Americans could possibly teach” the German squad, he said.
Then the Germans advanced to the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup, performing better than expected, and on Sunday, the team won this year’s edition, defeating Argentina, 1-0, in extra time after having routed the host Brazilian squad, 7-1, a few days earlier. There aren’t many skeptics about Mr. Verstegen’s training methods now.
To learn more about how he trained the German team and how the rest of us might adapt some of their routines at home, ,I spoke and emailed with Mr. Verstegen in the days leading to and just after Germany’s title victory. (His book, “Every Day is Game Day,” was published in January.) What follows are excerpts from our conversations.
What were the logistics of training the German team at the World Cup, given that the team was traveling from city to city?
We have a pretty amazing mobile training camp. It’s a 4,000- or 5,000-square foot structure that we erect adjacent to the pitch. It holds the latest cardiovascular machines, weights, fitness and recovery gear, treatment tables and so on.
What would a typical World Cup training session in that facility look like?
It would depend on how close we were to the next game, but we’d often divide the structure into four stations, a mini-circuit, with a different exercise at each station. We might have the players do things like a T-Hip rotation exercise at one station and a miniband lateral walk at another. That’s where you strap a band across the thighs or ankles and walk sideways. We were ridiculed in 2004 when we had players exercise that way. But hip stability is essential for soccer performance and injury mitigation. People don’t laugh about it now.
After a session in the facility, then what?
The team goes onto the field and does drills, lots of drills, working on agility and acceleration and building power. We might have them do lateral and cross sprints, drop squats, running with the parachute or the Bullet belt [a harness worn by the player and attached to a long rope held by a coach]. After that, there’d be technical and tactical work with the ball.
How different are these sessions from the training that the German team did before you arrived?
There was more emphasis then on the technical and tactical elements. The physical training was very general, with lots of long runs. Now the players still spend lots of time working on technique and tactics, but their physical training is more focused and individualized. We constantly assess players’ movement patterns, for instance, watching as they perform every exercise. Precision is very important. If they’re slightly off in their movements on any particular day, we correct things right away. It’s like running an antivirus program on a computer. You want to get rid of the junk and keep the movements precise.
Just how fit is the German team?
I can give you precise numbers on that. The German players covered 113.8 kilometers, or about 71 miles, on average as a team per game in the group phase. Only the Americans ran more as a team. In the quarterfinal round against France, German players ran 7.5 kilometers, or about 4.6 miles, more as a team than did the French side. That translates to about three-quarters of a player more on the pitch.
How can you tell how much players are running?
All of the players wear monitors in their cleats that track their mileage, movements, where they are on the field, when they stop and start, and all sorts of additional data. We track every player’s every heartbeat and keep and compare data from practice to practice and game to game. We repeat certain drills, and if someone is performing the same drill with a lower heart rate or faster speed, we know he’s improving. If he’s slower or his heart rate stays elevated, we monitor him to make sure that’s he’s not becoming overly fatigued or ill, then get him to push himself a bit more.
Any suggestions on which aspects of the German team’s training program those of us at home might usefully incorporate into our exercise routines, even if we aren’t soccer players?
The broad elements of the training program apply to anyone. Concentrate on your mind-set, nutrition, movement patterns and recovery. On a practical level, get plenty of sleep, which is extremely important and often overlooked. Kick the electronics out of the bedroom. At the other end of the day, when you first wake up, do a few push-ups or yoga poses, anything that gets your body and mind primed for activity. You’ll be more receptive to activity throughout the day. Then try to do whatever exercise you do a bit better every day. You don’t have to be doing split squats with kettle bells, but do something that pushes you a bit. The point is that the body and the brain respond positively to having demands put on them. That’s really the key to fitness.
Are you happy with the outcome of that last World Cup game?
Utter elation. We had put in 10 focused years of attention to details. There are no givens in sports, but once that whistle blew, it was utter joy.
Roll Your Glutes Like Bastian Schweinsteiger
To lessen the chance of injury and improve performance, we all should ease into exercise with an orchestrated warm-up, Mr. Verstegen said. These eight exercises approximate a typical warm-up for the German national soccer team, so for many of us, they “might be a workout in itself at first,” he said. But persevere, and the moves will become easier, he said, and your subsequent workouts will be more productive. These exercises require a foam roller and resistance band, which are available at many gyms or can be purchased at sporting goods stores. They are best performed in the order listed.

Why Brazil Lost

Rather than make a real plan, they abandoned themselves to romantic notions of passion and desire.

Brazil vs Germany
The German team could sense Brazil was starting to short-circuit.
Photo by Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil—Most people are terrible singers, and yet football crowds are good at picking out a tune. Crowds are often flat on the high notes and tend to rush the tempo, but generally the combination of thousands of wrongs adds up to one big right.

The Brazilian national anthem last night was different. All around the Mineirão people stood and roared it so loud that their eyes bulged. The words resounded with startling clarity but much too loudly for any music to be heard.

Down on the field David Luiz and Júlio César were holding aloft the shirt of Neymar like a holy relic. The camera picked out a woman holding a placard that read, “Don’t worry—Neymar’s soul is here!” It was as though Neymar had died and was looking down at his former teammates from heaven, rather than watching them on television.

The collective emotional frenzy of the scene was awe-inspiring. For a moment every Brazilian, and many neutrals, succumbed to the same seductive illusion. What force could stand against the combined passion of these 11 Brazilian warriors, the soul of Neymar, the heart of Thiago Silva, and 200 million supporters?

On the field, the men in red and black stood and watched and let the noise wash over them. They too had lost an important teammate to injury, but it would never have occurred to them to create a cult of the fallen Marco Reus. They knew that most of the forces arrayed against them were imaginary. To the Germans, this was a simple matter of 11 against 11.
* * *
Germany’s first blow struck Brazil at their strongest point.
Neymar has been the corporate face of Brazil’s campaign but on the field David Luiz has been the true star, a rampaging, inspirational, all-action superhero. Luiz’s big hair makes him the most obvious player on the pitch, so that his feats of athleticism and bravery never go unnoticed.

He is such an easy player for spectators to pick out that although the penalty area was crowded, everybody could see that it was David Luiz who had arrived too late to stop Thomas Müller from volleying Germany into the lead off a corner in the 11th minute.

Having toppled Brazil’s totem, Germany unveiled their most frightening weapon: telepathy.

The second goal arrived on 23 minutes and the way Germany scored it told Brazil that the game was up.

Fernandinho is a midfield monster for Manchester City, a relentless destroyer who routinely dominates Premier League opponents with his power and tenacity. Twice Fernandinho tried to tackle Toni Kroos, only to bounce off the German midfielder like a bee off a windowpane. Kroos serenely played a gentle pass through the Brazilian line into the path of Müller, who was streaking in from the right. Brazil’s defense reacted to the run of Müller, but not to that of Miroslav Klose in the opposite direction. Müller’s lay-off to Klose wrong-footed the stumbling defenders, affording Klose enough time for not one, but two unopposed shots at the Brazilian goal. As the second shot rolled past the helpless Júlio César, Klose became the top scorer in World Cup history.

At 2–0 Brazil knew they were probably going to lose, but the really scary thing about that goal was the multidimensional coordination of Germany’s movement. The understanding between Kroos, Müller, and Klose had been as smooth and apparently effortless as though they were executing a pre-planned move on a set piece. How could Brazil compete with the sophistication of this team, who attacked from several directions at once, who somehow seemed to know what was going to happen a second and a half before Brazil did?

Brazil’s system was already beginning to short-circuit. Two minutes later, Philipp Lahm aimed a cross toward Müller, and the ball broke to Kroos, who smashed a glorious left-footer past César without breaking stride. The Bayern player celebrated quietly, looking almost embarrassed.

Germany’s next two goals proceeded with the inevitability of a checkmate foreseen several moves in advance. First Kroos pounced on Fernandinho and bulldozed him out of the way, played a one-two with Sami Khedira that smoothly outmaneuvered the wreckage of Brazil’s defense, and scored again.

In the next passage of play David Luiz threw himself forward with desperation, but Mats Hummels beat him to the ball. Hummels’ pass found Khedira, who coolly turned Dante before swapping passes with Mesut Özil and burying the fifth. Germany was like a 10-year-old playing PlayStation against his grandfather.

Barring the few thousand overjoyed Germans there was an atmosphere of stunned, disbelieving horror in that stadium that has possibly never before been experienced in sport. It was as though Germany had gathered 60,000 4-year-olds together and briskly announced that there is no such thing as Santa Claus.

There is no mercy rule in football but at that moment you dearly hoped that Germany would throttle back. The emotional deceleration was too brutal for the host country to handle. It was as though the seven years since Brazil won the right to host the World Cup had been an elaborate joke leading up to this six-minute punchline.

At half time the German players congratulated each other as though the match was already over, which, of course, it was.
* * *
By that point, everyone present already knew that they were watching the most incredible result in the history of the World Cup. How can you explain such a collapse?

Brazil vs Germany
After the seventh goal.
Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images

The only major match of recent years that could compare in any fashion was the 2005 Champions League final, when Liverpool scored three goals in six minutes to recover from 3–0 down against Milan, then won the game on penalties.

The coach of Milan that night, Carlo Ancelotti, wrote in his autobiography that people often ask him what was going through his mind during those minutes.

“The answer is simple: nothing. Zero. My brain was a perfect vacuum, the vacuum of deep space.” It was only during extra time that “my brain began functioning again, and I managed to put together a complete and coherent thought: ‘This is starting to look bad.’ ”

After Tuesday’s match, a Brazilian journalist asked Brazil’s coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, why he had not made tactical changes during that crazy six-minute spell when Germany ran in four goals. Scolari cut him off mid-sentence.

“Let me explain something to you, then you can continue your question. When were the goals scored? 23, 24, 25, 26, 28 minutes? In such a space of time, nobody is going to change anything. It was one after the other. I think everyone blanked out. We were trying to talk to them, to get organized, to stop the goals going in, but it was a spell of pressure when everything worked out for Germany. There was nothing we could do to change it at that point.”

But there were things they could have done to change it. The most obvious solution would have been for one of their players to throw himself to the ground and feign injury for as long as it took for his teammates to get their breath back.

That even an idea this obvious did not occur to Brazil tells you that all their fuses were blown.
It’s tempting to link those blown fuses with the spike of emotional electricity with which Brazil had started the match. Outmatched by coolly masterful opponents, suddenly aware of the appalling abyss that separated the expectations of their people and their own ability to deliver, Brazil gave in to blind panic.

Later, the Germans confirmed that they had sensed the initial Brazilian frenzy masked deep underlying doubts.

“From minute one we had the impression something big was possible,” Kroos said. “We realized that the Brazilians were a bit upset, they were not so clear in their actions. We took advantage of the possibilities and scored one goal after another.”

“It was important to counter their passion and emotions with calmness, patience, and persistence, also with courage and belief in our own strength,” German manager Joachim Löw said. “You realized after the 2–0 that they were confused, that they never recovered their original organization. We were extremely cool and took our chances. We realized they were cracking up and took advantage of it.”

It was emotional judo. Germany reflected the energy of Brazil’s crowd back against their players. They took the lead, then watched the Brazilians melt down in the white heat of their own disgrace.
* * *
Afterward, Löw tried to empathize.
“I remember when we lost against Italy,” he said, referring to the 2006 World Cup semifinal, when host nation Germany went down to two late goals from Fabio Grosso and Alessandro del Piero. “A World Cup in your own country, everyone wants you to go to the final. In the 119th minute we lost the match. We know how Scolari feels, we know how the Brazilian team feels, and we know how the people in Brazil feel now.”
Do they really?

Consider Philipp Lahm’s description of that Italy defeat.

“There is nothing worse than having to remain on the field after losing such an important game,” Lahm wrote in his autobiography. “There is such sadness, such inner coldness, at the consciousness that you will very seldom get an opportunity like this in your life, and now you’ve messed it up. A few moments earlier you were part of a team, you were a piece in a bigger puzzle, but now you’re all alone, and all you want is to go into your shell, to get into the dressing room and stare at the floor until the pain subsides. ... In that dressing room, there was deathly silence.”

The Germans had to go to Stuttgart for a match none of them wanted to play, the third-place playoff against Portugal. When they landed at the airport it was pouring rain. The bus that picked them up got stuck in a traffic jam. The players were irritated. What’s the holdup?

The main train station is closed, the bus driver said.

“For fuck’s sake,” the players grumbled. “What’s going on?”

Lahm writes:
“There are 10,000 people at the train station. They’re waiting for you.”
The bus inched through the crowd like Moses through the Red Sea. Thousands of faces smiling, laughing, all because we have come here to Stuttgart to play a completely pointless third-place match, and suddenly I feel a shiver down my spine and I have goose pimples.
Madness. Ten thousand in the rain. Because they want to celebrate their team. Us.
In the bus, the temperature rises. Can this be true, what we’re seeing here?
“Madness,” said one.
“Madness,” said everybody.
As we get to the hotel and dump our bags in the lobby, we hear the “Deutschland, Deutschland” choir. When we sit down to dinner an hour later, I hear from outside such a roar, it’s like we’ve just equalized against the Italians. But it’s just Lukas Podolski, who has gone to stand before the big panoramic window of the dining hall to assure himself that not a single person had left the place.
“They’re still there!” said Poldi.
The crowd was screaming because they had seen Poldi.
Ten thousand people were still there. Ten thousand people standing in the pouring rain to thank us for playing an amazing World Cup, for giving them joy and hope. None of these 10,000 is thinking about the defeat against Italy. If we had beaten the Italians the mood could not have been the slightest bit more joyful, more euphoric, more friendly.
You wonder how the aftermath of what is already being called the Mineirazo—an echo of the Seleção’s 1950 disaster in the World Cup final against Uruguay—will play out in the Brazilian players’ cash-in autobiographies.

At 5–0 on the 30-minute mark, it briefly looked like we would soon be watching the first World Cup semifinal to be played in an almost empty stadium. Hundreds of Brazilian fans could be seen making their way up the corridors to the exits.

But the initial rush subsided. Most of the Brazil fans would remain until the end. They had a few things they wanted to get off their chests.

For the first time since the opening match against Croatia in São Paulo, the crowd began to chant against the president, Dilma Rousseff. “Hey! Dilma! Vai tomar no cu!”

Then Fred, the center-forward who once played for this stadium’s home team, Cruzeiro, took a shot from 20 yards that rolled weakly toward the German goal.

The fans behind the goal exploded. The Dilma chant was quickly retooled. “Hey! Fred! Vai tomar no cu!”

From that point Fred was the target of ceaseless, savage abuse. Even after he had been substituted in the aftermath of the team’s 6–0 deficit, the crowd jeered his face appearing on the big screen.

After the 6–0, the Brazilian fans began to cheer the German passes: Ole! Ole! The tone had an unmistakable edge of malice. This had nothing to do with any sportsmanlike desire to acclaim great German play. This was about shaming the losers in the yellow shirts.

The 7–0 was celebrated by large sections of the home fans, for the same reason.

At full-time the Brazilian players gathered in the center circle, the point on the pitch furthest away from the crowd. The players seemed to confer, then turned to the fans behind one of the goals and raised their hands in tentative applause.

The supporters erupted in furious derision, hurling the players’ olive branch back in their faces with pitiless rage. There would be no mercy, no forgiveness. The message was simple: GET OUT OF OUR SIGHT.
* * *
If Löw really wanted to empathize with Brazil he should have chosen a different moment in Germany’s football history.

It didn’t involve humiliation in a home World Cup semifinal. It was the more prosaic failure of Euro 2000, when Germany lost two out of three matches and finished bottom of its group, that changed the future of German football.

Maybe two defeats in three doesn’t sound that bad, but for Germany it was truly shameful. Euro 2000 was perhaps the best ever edition of the European Championships and Germany, the dominant country in the continent’s football, had sent the worst team.

Rather than write it off under the heading of “these things happen,” the Germans decided to act. Clubs in the first and second division were told they had to set up standardized youth academies as part of a broad reorganization of the national football structure. The idea was to make sure that the next generation of German players would be better than the last.

Year by year, the new generations of German footballers were equipped with the technical and cognitive tools that we saw dismantling Brazil at the Mineirão. The coordinated movement that looked like some uncanny telepathy is really just coaching. Over the last five tournaments Germany have reached a semifinal, a final, a semifinal, a semifinal, and now another final, after what might be the World Cup’s greatest ever victory. Germany’s plan is working.

Of course, Germany is the spiritual home of planning in a way that Brazil will never be. But something in Brazil has to change, or the future of the national team—still the proudest institution in a country that doesn’t take pride in many of its institutions—looks bleak.

Historically, Brazil has produced outstanding footballers with the same seeming effortlessness with which it produces mangoes. The Brazilian football industry has been shaped by this plenty to resemble the country’s other exploitative, extractive industries. Footballers are another commodity to be exported. It’s a strictly materialistic system, in which the only guiding principle is success.

This has been how Brazilian football has worked over the decades as it has gradually ceded its vibrant former identity. It didn’t matter that Brazilian football gradually ceased to be loved around the world. Nobody cared that the beautiful game had been overtaken by a hollow cult of victory. The enduring success of the national team covered the flaws. At any given time, Brazil could count on several of the best players in the world, and that was usually enough.

It’s not enough anymore. Brazil’s players are no longer technically any better than the best Europeans. Now the top European countries, led by Spain and followed by Germany, have introduced the super-organization of top-level club football into the international game. In a future where big international teams move with the same complex sophistication as the best club sides, ad hoc collections of talent like the Brazilian national team will struggle to compete.

In hindsight we can see that Brazil knew what they wanted from this World Cup but neglected to figure out how they were going to get it.

Four years ago, they appointed Mano Menezes with a brief to build a team for the World Cup. They lost confidence in Menezes halfway through that process and turned back to Scolari, yesterday’s man.
Rather than make a real plan, they abandoned themselves to romantic notions of passion, desire, and native cunning. They hoped that if they screwed their eyes shut and wanted it enough they would prevail. Through a collective effort of will they almost managed to transform forlorn hope into real belief.

On Tuesday night, the land of magical thinking received a bracing communiqué from the reality-based community in the form of seven German goals. A fevered dream isn’t enough. You need a vision.

Brazil should forgive its players. The decay of the national team is not their fault. They were just the men given the impossible job of defending a reputation it wasn’t in their power to defend. The German crowd’s generosity to its team in 2006 inspired those players to return with renewed zeal for the cause.

Scolari was right when he said after the match that some of these players can still carry the colors of Brazilian football into the next World Cup.

But first Brazil needs to rediscover what those colors are supposed to stand for.

Saturday, 19 September 2015


FIFA World Cup™ finals historyAfter winning their long-awaited fourth title at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, Germany are tied with Italy as the second most successful footballing nation on the planet, with only five-time champions Brazil ahead of them. Germany’s first win came at Switzerland 1954, where they achieved the ‘Miracle of Bern’ despite going into the Final as underdogs. A second triumph followed on home soil in 1974 and they lifted the trophy for a third time at Italy 1990. Germany have reached the World Cup Final eight times, finishing as runners-up on four occasions (1966, 1982, 1986 and 2002) and taking the bronze medal at the 1934, 1970, 2006 and 2010 editions. No other country has played more games at the tournament than the 106 Germany have contested.

The teamThe reigning world champions have managed to blend tactical flexibility and outstanding technical ability with their traditional virtues of discipline and fighting spirit. In doing so they have become admired across the globe for their dominant and attacking style of play, as well as their efficiency. Coach Joachim Low has moulded the side into an impressive unit where the team comes first. Former captain Philipp Lahm and record World Cup goalscorer Miroslav Klose both retired from international duty following the triumph at the Maracana, leaving new captain Bastian Schweinsteiger, attacker Thomas Muller and world-class goalkeeper Manuel Neuer as the side’s leaders. Midfielder Toni Kroos is becoming an increasingly key figure, while technically gifted players such as Mesut Ozil, Mario Gotze and Marco Reus can decide a game in an instant.

The coachAfter taking over from Jurgen Klinsmann in the wake of the 2006 World Cup, Low has honed Germany’s new attacking philosophy. The Black Forest native narrowly missed out on glory at the 2008 and 2012 European Championships, as well as at the 2010 World Cup, before succeeding at the 2014 tournament. Now he is striving to ensure the future is equally bright. “The big challenge is to stay at the top,” he said in an interview “Winning a title is fantastic but repeating it is tough.”

The stat224 – The total number of goals Germany have scored in World Cup finals history, putting them three ahead of Brazil as the top-scoring nation.

The former starsFritz Walter, Uwe Seeler, Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller, Lothar Matthaus, Oliver Kahn, Philipp Lahm, Miroslav Klose


Ten competitive fixtures, ten wins. Despite a performance that was certainly lacking in places, Borussia Dortmund continued their perfect start to the season with a 2-1 win over Russian side FK Krasnodar in the Europa League last night. Germany international Matthias Ginter and new signing Joo-Ho Park got the goals for BVB – and Ginter’s fellow international teammate Ilkay Gündogan ran the show from the middle of the park. spoke to the midfielder about BVB’s form and their upcoming clash with Bayer Leverkusen at the Signal-Iduna-Park on Sunday.
Question: Mr. Gündogan, that certainly looked like hard work. What made life so difficult for you against FK Krasnodar?
Ilkay Gündogan: They played very well – you have to give credit to them, and we also recognise that we didn’t have the best day either, especially without the ball. As well as that, we also lost the ball unnecessarily too many times at the other end, in the final third. The fact that a lot of the game was played in their half is a good thing, since it shows that we defended pretty well – but we weren’t able to close down the space when we lost the ball, especially in the first half. Then suddenly you’re behind and chasing the game, which is always difficult and even more so on the international stage. Therefore we can say that we were quite lucky to win the game – I’m not sure how much we deserved to win, but we’ll take it nonetheless. The fact that we won this game without playing particularly well for the whole game shows how well things are going for us at the moment.
Question: Is that possibly a new quality the team has shown – to win games even when you don’t play too well?
Gündogan: If it is, then I’ll happily accept that and hope it continues, but it’s definitely our aim to play a lot better than we did, simply because we know can and we’ve already shown it this season. We shouldn’t rely on any kind of luck – we should make sure that we play to our full potential in every game. We didn’t manage that against Krasnodar, at least not for the whole game. And now it’s all about the next game.
Question: You’ve said it yourself – on Sunday, Bayer Leverkusen visit Dortmund. Was last night’s game against Krasnodar therefore the perfect warning at the right time?
Gündogan: Leverkusen also got their warning last week with their loss to Darmstadt. When you compare our game last night to that loss, we got off rather lightly. But of course, if we perform like we did on Thursday it will be very hard in Sunday’s game – even more so because they’re coming off the back of a win in the Champions League. Therefore we really need to up our game, but the last few games have shown that we are capable of doing that – and that’s why I think it’ll be a really good game on Sunday.
Question: A quick word on Matthias Ginter. "Unbelievable" is probably the most suitable one! He scored another goal and also got an assist against Krasnodar.

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