Monday, July 1, 2013

Samba back again - Joga Bonito



Millions across the globe would have watched the Confederations Cup 2013 final yesterday night, between hosts & current Champions Brazil and current World Cup & Euro Cup Champions Spain. The new look Maracana stadium went berserk with delight as it was Braaaziiiiilll all the way. The men in yellow tore apart the men in red, as the final scoreline read 3-0. The quality of football was worth every effort to keep awake & watch the match live till the wee hours of the morning. The Samba football looks back again. The Selecao are moving in the right direction....

Spain, under the able coaching of Vincente Del Bosque, had been ruling the World football over the past few years. They are the current World Cup & Euro cup Champions, being unbeaten for the last 29 matches. Their brand of Tiki Taka football has been mesmerizing all the soccer fans across the globe, & the Confederation Cup was the only trophy left to be conquered. They have looked nearly invincible & maintained their No 1 status since the world cup victory in South Africa in 2010. Xavi, Iniesta, Silva were weaving passess midfield, while Torres, Fabregas, Pedro, Villa would score upfront, & Ramos, Jordi Alba, Pique manage defence with Casillas under the bar. Truly a world class team, nurtured by Bosque shrewd coaching.

On the other hand, Brazil has been struggling. For the first time that I am aware of, their World ranking had slipped to a dismal 19 !!!!.....no where in the top 3-4 that they have enjoyed over years. The quarterfinal exit to Netherlands in the last World Cup, had led to the side suffering from able leadership & coaching & also the confidence amongst the players was waning. Its at this stage that Luiz Felipe Scolari took over the coaching. He had earlier coached the national side to their last World Cup win in 2002. Scolari has shown the mettle that he is & the Confed Cup was a perfect platform to test his team's abilities. Many called it a dress rehearsal for the upcoming World Cup, to be hosted by Brazil next year.
Scolari has been stitching a wonderful unit of young talent, who play fearless football, with their heart & lungs. Neymar, Fred, Oscar, Hulk upfront, Paulinho, Gustavo Luis in the midfield, Dani Alves, Marcelo, Thiago Silva, David Luiz in the back with Julio Cesar under the bar.......almost all the players are in their early / mid 20s....willing to give their last breath & daring to dream.

The run up to the final was in itself a fairy tale for the Brazilians. They had humbled Japan 3-0, Mexico 2-0 & Italy 4-2 in the group stages & then defeated their South American neighbors Uruguay 2-1.  In each of the games, the team looked assured & capable to winning. On the other hand Spain had mauled Tahiti 10-0, Uruguay 2-1, Nigeria 3-0 in the group stages & then overcame Italy in the semis via penalty shoot out 7-6.

It was indeed battle royale...

Within two minutes of the start to the final, Brazil pressed home the advantage. A dangerous ball floated in by Hulk, had Fred & Neymar juggle in goalmouth melee amongst Spaniard defence, & Fred managed to toe in the ball past Casillas...it was 1-0. It was not a pretty Samba goal, but was enough to stun the World Champions. The Maracana stadium erupted in rapturous celebrations as the Spanish team looked dazed to retort. The Brazilians were all over the ground & the famed Spanish Tiki Taka   was severely tested. For the first time in many matches the Spanish Armada was left to come up from behind....they were trailing....something they had not experienced in a long time.
Xavi & Iniesta tried their best to stitch passes & get the game under control....there were flashes of brilliance, but a resolute Brazilian midfield would pounce & snatch at will & get back the possession at the right time. Spain was unable to make a break through. Meanwhile, Brazilians missed a sitter, as Oscar fired into Casillas's body & then Paulinho lobbed a beauty which Casillas managed to tap over....Spain was seriously getting tested, as Brazilians mounted attack after attack. With just a few minutes to half time, Spain had a wonderful opportunity to level scores, as Pedro beat the Brazilian goalkeeper Cesar with a left footer.....the ball was almost gliding into the net, when David Luiz from nowhere slid in & blew the ball over the bar for a corner....every soul gaped at a miraculous save.....& even before Spain could come to terms with the save, Oscar & Neymar were wall passing into the Spanish circle. Oscar took a Neymar pass & held the ball along with a couple of defenders, as Neymar positioned himself to receive the ball again & hit a thunderous left footer into the corner of the net....what a shot....this time truly Samba football. Instead of pegging at 1-1, Brazil had gone up 2-0. Looked like even the Gods wanted Brazil to win.
As the match resumed in the 2nd half, as if in action replay, Fred scored again, within two minutes....Hulk this time held the ball & sent in a curling centre & Neymar foxed a defender & let the ball go to Fred who placed the ball neatly at the far end of the net....it was 3-0 & Brazil were certainly looking like the Champions. The mighty World Champions were left clueless. Bosque tried his last trick by bringing in Naves. the move paved immediate dividend as Marcelo fouled Naves on the edge of the box...referee pointing to a penalty. Sergio Ramos, normally calm player, looked nervous & hit out. Neymar was unstoppable & in another rush, was brought down by Gerard Pique, prompting a red card....Spanish team reduced to ten men now.....Pedro & Villa tried a couple of well placed shots, but Julio Cesar, under the bar was his confident best, fisting out the ball from any danger. Towards the end, Brazilians were just toying with the ball, without even pressing for another goal.....as if giving the World Champions some respite.
Neymar was adjusted Player of the tournament with the Golden Ball. In him & Fred, Brazil have found goal scoring abilities, with Oscar, Hulk, Paulinho & others quite capable of adding to the scoreline.

It was certainly a team effort for the host nation....it was certainly the fancied Samba brand...it was Selecao at its best. The team looks hungry & eager & spirited....they may not have the brilliance of Pele & his rampaging team of 60s & 70s, they may not have the flair of Zico, Junior, Socrates of 80s, they may also not have the imagination of Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Romario, Kaka of 90s & early 2000, but this team has small capable stars in Neymar, Fred, Oscar, Hulk, Paulinho, David Luiz, Cesar & others, who believe that they can....
This win gives hope for the host nation to dream an unprecedented 6th World Cup win at home next year, although no Confed Cup Champion has ever won a World Cup in the following year. Let us truly wish...it happens this time....Samba football rules again.
Brazil under the able coaching of Scolari has it in them to recover their lost status....of being the undisputed Kings of football..... as the commentator said yesterday....its good for Brazilian football....it is good for the world football...

Joga Bonito.....the beautiful game called football.

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