World Cup 2014: Tim’s thoughts

The World Cup. Every 4 years, the world’s best players assemble in an epic tournament full of twists and turns, upsets and blowouts, controversy and calamity, heartbreak and success stories. What’s not to like? Nearly a week in, here are my thoughts on the Copa do Mundo so far.

  • Where to start? Why not with the hosts? Brazil, unmistakeable in their canary yellow, marched into the tournament as favorites to win it all for the 6th time in their illustrious history. The new golden generation, you could say, had to win. A defeat – or rather, anything but a win – would be a blow to a proud country with high expectations. The world fancied no one who would have to challenge the Brazilians in their backyard – the stadiums gilded in that distinct hue of gold.
  • But nerves caught them flatfooted on the first day. Marcelo scored the first goal of the tournament – but in the wrong net. I wasn’t remotely concerned. This was Brazil, right? They weren’t losing this game. Eventually, luck shone on them, more or less. Neymar’s strike wasn’t anything special, but it counted. Then, Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura called a quite controversial penalty – but more on that later. After Neymar converted the penalty, and Oscar added a third, Brazil had won the opener as expected. But it was far from the convincing display we – the world – had expected from the hosts. It raised the question – are they beatable?
  • When you have Guillermo Ochoa as your goalkeeper, that’s already a big help, as Mexico and the whole world learned afterwards. The Mexicans – who weren’t even supposed to be here – were grinding it out, matching the Brazilian giants step-for-step. But “free agent” goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa stole all the headlines. He made several key reflex saves against A Selecao, including the Gordon Banks-esque stop off of a Neymar header in the first half. It was, dare I say, one of the best, if not the best save if I have ever witnessed. A 0-0 draw left me to wonder – has Brazil been overrated this World Cup? Over-hyped? Is the pressure too much to bear? Or maybe they’re just settling in. I’m convinced their final group stage fixture against eliminated Cameroon will help their confidence level.
  • December’s World Cup draw brought us three candidates for the “Group of Death”, and in Group B, we had a mouthwatering clash of the 2010 finalists: Van Gaal’s Netherlands’ and Del Bosque’s Spain. But some predicted the ultra-attacking Chileans would catch the two powerhouses with their guard down. Oh, yes, and then there was Australia. We all had a chuckle – they were surely going to get annihilated.
  • As I write these words, Spain’s glory days are behind them. At least for this 23 man roster. Tiki-taka as we know it is no more. The generation that won three straight major competitions – Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, the generation that was for a long period of time acknowledged as the best team in football these last years, has finally given way. There was annihilation in this Group, alright, but it was Spain on the receiving end. Robin Van Persie’s fantastic header (which, incidentally, has sparked the newest internet sensation “Persieing”) opened the floodgates on Day 2 of the World Cup. A 5-1 reverse was sweet, sweet revenge for the Oranje. And just hours ago, a fearless Chilean side, buoyed by their fans (and Brazil’s), closed the chapter on one of Spanish football’s best sides ever.
  • That Chilean victory also meant that Tim Cahill’s Socceroos were going home. After receiving routs by Brazil and France in friendlies, the Australians sought a change in manager just prior to the big show. Yet, unlike Korea, the Australians were fearless. They gave both Chile and the Netherlands a run for their money – and who’s to say they won’t prevent Spain’s golden age one final “hurrah”?
  • Speaking about underdogs, Costa Rica is leading one of the other groups of death, albeit after a single game. Their 3-1 triumph over Uruguay is surely one of the more spectacular moments in their footballing history. Only time will tell if they can pull off a surprise qualification to the Knockout Stages – it won’t be an easy feat, with Italia being their next sparring partners.
  • If you’ll permit a little schadenfreude… the mentality among many Koreans is, “If we’re going out, Japan is sure as hell coming down with us.” I’ll admit, there was jubilation in my house when a Cote d’Ivoire side, buoyed by Didier Drogba’s appearance on the pitch, scored two rapid fire goals to sink our neighbors. In just a few short hours, they will square off against a rather weak Greek side. However, defeat for the Blue Samurai could mean elimination. (Hehe.)
  • With Spain down for the count and Brazil looking shaky early on, Germany is another team to keep your eye on, as they only have eyes for the prize – the World Cup, that is. They were running Portugal ragged in their 4-0 triumph, but had they not uncharacteristically fluffed some of their opportunities, it could have easily been 5, 6, even 7-0. Joachim Low’s side boasts the likes of Mario Gotze, Philipp Lahm, Mezut Ozil, and yes, the 2010 Golden Boot winner – Thomas Muller. No shortage of talent there. Muller recorded a hat trick against the Portuguese on an absolutely miserable day for them.
  • As I pore over the remaining fixtures for this round, some of them catch my attention. Notably, the Battle of the Boatengs (Germany vs Ghana), and we’ll get to see if Ronaldo and Suarez are really healthy as they take on the USA and England respectively in must-win fixtures for their squads.
  • A theory is going about the interwebs about the ridiculous number of goals this year is due to the Brazuca flying faster. Some may say “It’s just a f*cking ball”, but keep in mind the that if it was just a ball, we’d buy a load from the local dollar store and use those. Lots of science and research has gone into this ball, especially after the Jabulani catastrophe, and it’s definitely the reason for the onslaught of goals we’re getting this year. According to Arirang News, Jung Sung-Ryong and the Korean keepers were using a smaller ball in training to prepare for the speed of the Brazuca.
  • Another topic of controversy this World Cup has been the referees. And especially one 42 year-old from Tokyo, Japan, by the name of Yuichi Nishimura. He was in charge for the opening match of this World Cup, and in the second half, awarded struggling Brazil a rather controversial penalty. Well, to be more frank, it was a clear dive by Fred. At least, it was clear to me, sitting on my couch with popcorn, watching on an HD TV with slow motion replay. To the referee – with thousands, no, tens of thousands screaming at him, he was pressured into the call. his raises the question – do we need Video Reviews in Football? Does the Beautiful Game need a little makeover? Hockey has it. Football – I mean – Gridiron has it. Baseball has it. Cricket has it. Questions, questions…
  • Croatians, however, were understandably less than pleased. Their passionate supporters took to Wikipedia to, um, exact their “revenge”? His Wikipedia profile went a little something like this after the game:

Yuichi Nishimura is a Brazilian football referee […]. His very unorthodox upbringing gave him eyes with which he can’t see if someone plays with their head, hand or leg.

 

  • Wikipedia has semi-protected the page. Nishimura has been demoted to fourth official for Ben William’s crew for the time being

Funnily enough, this whole Wikipedia vandalism thing caught on:

Not done just yet…

The World Cup has had no shortages of controversies. From poor refereeing decisions, to angry protestors, to the invasive paparazzi, to security concerns, especially when hundreds of ticketless Chilean fans stormed the Media Centre at the Maracana, even knocking over a wall or two!

But the World Cup also has the power to unite a nation. Whenever Brazil sings their national anthem, refusing to stop until the first verse is finished, the music irrelevant and inaudible over their own voices, you can feel it. With the players in tears, you can see it. True national pride.

The World Cup can also propel a player into the spotlight. I think Guillermo Ochoa’s agent better check his voicemail. I certainly never heard of him before, nor had I ever heard about John Brooks. But his winner against Ghana is now something etched in the history books forever. Spotlight isn’t always a great thing though. Igor Akinfeev’s howler is right up there for “Fail of the Tournament”, similar to Rob Green in 2010. (It must be a case of Capello-itis.)

What I’m getting at is that we have so many moments that are going to come to mind years later when we think of “Brazil 2014”. And you know what the best part is? We’re not even a week in.

About Tim Lee 249 Articles

The maple syrup guzzling kimchijjigae craving Korean-Canadian, eh?

38 Comments

  1. You Canadians wouldn’t know about ol’ Memo Ochoa, but us Americans are pretty familiar with the bushy-haired Mexican shot stopper. Ochoa actually has largely been a disappointment given the lofty expectations placed on him when he was younger. Started playing when he was 18 at Club America (one of Mexico’s two giants), and was a regular with the national team when he was 20. People thought he’d become one of the world’s top keepers, and there were times when he was linked with some big clubs (notably Manchester United).

    But, Ochoa’s always been a bit streaky. His reactions are very good, but he has had a penchant for the spectacular, and sometimes that bites him in the ass. That streakiness has put off a number of potential suitors, and now at almost 29, it seems like his big chance has probably gone.

    • Obviously that potential is there. And Mexican keepers have a long history for being a little fruity. I think he gets picked up by a big club after this…or soon after.

    • Yeah, Ochoa definitely familiar to US soccer fans. And that summary is spot on – a great talent, but streaky performances. He did eventually move to Ajaccio in France three years ago. One of those “great young hope” situations between him and Mexico that end up very up and down. Think USA and Altidore, maybe.

      Speaking of young Americans, John Brooks has some name among US fans, because he, along with Julian Green, were among the names that casual knee-jerk fans brought up as evidence that Jurgen Klinsmann was an evil German megalomaniac building up a cult of personality of German “furriners”, shortly after Landon Donovan was dropped. And now, suddenly, Brooks is a good all-American hero, but Klinsmann is still the foreign villain who brought down our glorious American champion.

      It is not always easy to be a US fan.

    • Wow, didn’t know he was known in the US that much. What I’m getting at is average soccer fan around the world probably knows Memo Ochoa a lot more than before.

      • there was also a mini-controversy that he wasn’t selected to be the starting goalkeeper at the last world cup. i remember there were world cup commercials with him, but it would turn out that he wasn’t even the first choice keeper. the average soccer fan won’t know a lot of players. that’s part of the fun of the world cup.

    • I have a rant coming on about how bad Canada’s soccer association is – but in short, the CSA is owned/controlled by the government, so it does what the gov. wants them to do, and it’s so unorganized and messy. We lost players like Asmir Begovic and Johnny De Guzman because we weren’t able to at least look like a semi-footballing nation… so in away I’m jealous of you Yanks. At least you guys have two teams to cheer for. And I don’t mean any random team, a team that you have an emotional connection to. A team that you can feel like patriotic about. It’s really hard to feel patriotic about Canada in soccer when you draw Puerto Rico and lose to Honduras 8-1.

  2. Re: Japan. I have mixed feelings. I like Ivory Coast, and they’ve always been drawn ridiculously difficult groups, so it was good to see them win. I have to admit, I was sort of happy to see Japan lose. However, in the eyes world, Japan losing is just as bad as Korea losing. Despite the progress in the recent century, you can’t avoid the fact that racial stereotyping as well as geographical/football conference stereotyping still exists as well through guilt by association, or more precisely, attribution of quality by association. In other words, Iran doing badly, Australia and Japan losing, all reflect poorly on the AFC. Japan doing poorly or Korea doing poorly ends up becoming an indictment not of the country but of Asian people. It’s unfair, but I’m unfortunately mindful of that reality. I’m certainly not saying we should cheer for Japan. I don’t think I could ever do that. However, I find that I can’t cheer as hard against them anymore.

    Also, on a separate note, apart from the fact that the ref Nishimura is Japanese, I felt bad for the guy. From what I recall, he usually officiates pretty well, but now he’s going to be known for the one horrendous mistake he made.

    • Deffo w/ u on this, I find myself rooting for all AFC teams. Yeah, perception/respect from the rest of the world is a consideration, but only results from true improvement can change perceptions, so just improve & get results, let those perceiving worry about perception. & once that true improvement arrives, for any Asian team, I’m strongly of the opinion that a rising tide lifts all boats.

      Japan/Aus/Iran/Uzbek (if/when they’re in), they get good, WE get good. They get awesome results & we don’t, that’s like a slap in our faces, & maybe the only thing that might light a fire under the NT’s asses to work harder, or more likely work smarter.

      The eventual (inevitable?) rise of Chinese futbol, maybe even India too… BIG, difficult challenges, no doubt, but if Korea can meet those challenges, how much better will they be? @ that pt., an Asian team might finally threaten to take it all ūüėģ

  3. The referees are weak this tournament. The one during the Korea-Russia match was bad, handing out yellows to the Korean team like candy. Maybe it was to distract the people from looking at his barcode dome.

    Of all the players that can get carded, it just had to be Ki, Koo and Son….can’t afford to lose any of them. They really really need to bring replays to the beautiful game.

  4. Other than Ochoa, another player that we haven’t heard of before making a name for himself is Joel Campbell of Costa Rica. He was a threat every time he had the ball with sharp shooting and quickness on the ball. He was easily the best player on the pitch vs. Uruguay (granted Suarez was out injured). Why isn’t this guy starting at Arsenal?

    • Actually he is quite heard of. He went on loan to Olympiacos the previous season and did very well with them in champions league and the greek league. As for why he doesnt start at arsenal? Would you replace Oxlade-Chamberlain or Walcott for him (maybe walcott), but Ozil is pushed wide by Wenger sometimes as well. They cant occupy him space so theyll probably end up sending him on loan for another 2 seasons and see how he goes

      • Initially, he wasn’t able to get a work permit in England, so he went on loan. He got a permit in 2013, but was sent on loan anyway. He actually plays mainly as a striker, IIRC, so no, I’m not sure why Wenger wouldn’t keep him around. Maybe Wenger just doesn’t trust him – Wenger seems to have that issue with a lot of players … who are not European …

  5. is anyone watching the ivory coast vs colombia game?
    I feel like it can happen with this group… greece losing all 3 and the other teams getting 6 points each. Tbh the way japan, ivory coast and colombia are playing is way more entertaining than the way korea plays now.. hope korea steps it up

    • This group has been entertaining for sure, but I don’t think Japan will beat Colombia… I think Ivory Coast goes through after beating Greece…

    • Exactly why Japan is making the separation from Asia and pulling away from Korea’s foil.

      They play eye-pleasing, attacking football that is smooth and easy to watch. Anyone who says different is probably rating our players 7s or 8s after Russia. Not meaning to offend. JMHO.

      • My hope is that Korea is just going to improve from this russia game.. after Tunisia and Ghana, the main concern for Korea was their faulty defense and HMB has really made huge improvements in that area. I think the theme against Russia was to have a solid defense, to concede no goals. Although we did let one in Korea showed that we can be defensively solid. Now we need to just pray that PCY wakes up and our offense can be complementary to our defense.

        Japan currently is a better team than Korea, which is sad. But we are rapidly catching up under Hong Myung Bo. I think that the defense-based game is just a sign that we are improving. Before we can play pleasing football we need to play a workable football.

        • @born Truth be told we’ve been initiating offense with our back line for a while now under Hong. Its how he likes to do. With little Final 3rd to show for anything, it doesn’t say much for our so called “technical prowess” that I hear thrown around from time to time. I can see why some get confused with it being long ball tactics even though its not.

          I agree with some that this is what how we HAVE to play now to go further in the tournament. We don’t have much choice.

      • that makes little sense. japan is better overall right now, but it has nothing to do with how attractive their style is. it’s the players they have and the tactical system that they employ and i think jfa has been creating a soccer identity for a while now. korea when on their game, does play attractive football under hmb. japan is a little more aggressive, but they are not hugely different when it comes to style. i do think that japan’s talent being more in the middle attacking part of the field contributes in making them more attractive. you have teams that aren’t always the most attractive, but they get the job done usually. what matters is tactics and talent and federation direction. hong’s tactics are on the attractive side, though it’s more conservative than japan and zaccheroni’s. anyone with eyes saw in the early part of the match with russia that korea’s play can be attractive, which by the way coincided with when a certain player in the middle (pjy) was actually present and active. hong needs more time with the team and the kfa needs to have an identity to nurture the talents in a certain system. that’s what i notice the most with the top teams. it’s not just about individual coaches, but the federation actually develops a general style and identity, and then the coaches generally work to add their own mark that goes along with the federation. belgium, spain, netherlands, japan, usa, all these teams have differing levels of talent, but they all seem to have a direction. if we should be frustrated with anything it’s the kfa, and one thing that we can hope is that hong either gets to really put his stamp on the team and guide the direction for the future or that someone similar who is even a better coach can come in and that the kfa will actually have vision. as for ratings, what do you think of jae’s? his ratings are pretty spot on, and i agree with his the most.

        • I believe its due to the youth system in Japan. There are plenty of kids who play football and have really good training and facilities. It’s been that way for awhile now. A lot of people thought it would pay off in this World Cup with that young generation now being old enough to play. Yet to be seen…
          Korea, on the other hand, still has the culture of “only European football stars” are good, any other Korean football player is a “loser” (jjijiri). I know that exists… it’s undeniable. Nobody in Korea gives a sh!t about the Kleague players, and if you don’t go to Europe, you are screwed for life. In Korea, as a child, you have to do well in school or take a giant risk to become some kind of a celebrity. Kids who focus on football are taking a gigantic gamble in life. It’s truly sad, and I feel that is what separates the two countries because it does not exist so much in Japan. Japan has thrown a ton of money at developing youth to play the sport (for boys AND girls, for that matter… don’t even start about female Korean football players….)
          That kind of system will never produce a quality squad that can win a World Cup. I’m happy to hear disagreements, but I feel it is a terribly frustrating issue in Korean society that does not only affect sports. It spills over into other facets of life.

          • i don’t think you’re painting a totally accurate picture. korea does invest into the youth, and increasingly for girls, too. in fact, many that go over to europe came out of korean youth development. they do need to get better, but i think, as i was saying before, the problem to me is that the kfa is too directionless and nepotistic. if the korean football association got their ish together and had a vision for what they want to accomplish, korean soccer would be more cohesive and organized and not thrown into a major reboot every single time the national team coach changes.

          • Also agree with Daniel via KFA, but I’m not wrong about Korean cultural views on pushing kids towards athletics, nor am I painting an inaccurate picture. This is a serious problem, and it’s something that I would like to see change in my lifetime. Obviously there are kids who go through the system and most of them are playing now. But from a societal perspective, the average Korean will see them as a žįĆžßÄŽ¶¨ if they don’t make it. It’s a huge risk in life. I haven’t been to a lot of the countries participating in the World Cup, but I’m willing to bet it’s not the case there. Not trying to be stubborn, but it’s something that I absolutely worry about. It needs to change.

          • lol I am happy to say that Korea played a more attractive football than Japan did against Greece lol.. kudos to Greece’s defense improving after a red card..
            Anyway I agree with what you said Daniel, maybe the solution is a revamping of the K-League system. Some things I thought in my head: increased wages, not letting players go to Japan/China/UAE and such, that alone could raise the level of play in the K-league, which could might just possibly make more people watch the games.. The aim should be that Japan and China send their players to Korea, not the other way around. But no matter what we do K-League will never be close to European leagues so maybe they need to adopt a Europe-or-nowhere policy when sending players abroad, although I don’t think they’re allowed to do that. Hm. Idk I don’t really know about K-League, I only watch European leagues >:D

          • We’ve discussed some of the K League issues here a bit, and the ownership issue is a problem. Clubs are either owned by local/provincial governments or a large conglomerate (Hyundai, POSCO, etc). Ultimately none are interested in the sporting side of things (championships, continental qualification, etc). The governments have no money to begin with, and the conglomerates largely view the teams as an advertising system. So, none want to or can pay wages to compete with the rest of Asia, and when significant fees come in for the better players (Ha Dae-Sung, Park Jong-Woo, Lee Myeong-Joo) all the clubs are willing to sell.

          • Hmm so do the players have no say in where they are going? So like if lee myeong joo didn’t want to leave, he still has to go? That seems interesting and… unfair.

          • He does to an extent. He could dig in his heels and not agree terms with the new team, but if the club makes it clear they want him to accept the offer then there isn’t much he can do. Nowadays, if one of the parties wants out it usually happens.

  6. Yeah. My point about Japan’s youth system doesn’t even matter because Japan sucked against a 10 man Greece. Wowwww. I guess their system doesn’t work so well either.

    • lol. i was thinking that, too. btw, when i said you’re painting an inaccurate picture, i’m not saying everything you’re saying is wrong, just parts of your assessment. kleague players aren’t the ones considered losers. it’s the people who never make it at all and also are without an education and have nothing to fall back on. i’ve never heard of professionals soccer players being called losers. usually, the worst thing for kleague players is that the population has no idea who they are. that’s the extent of the ‘only european kids are good’ mentality. people are oblivious to non-euro league players, they aren’t actively shunned. that’s a huge difference in claim that you’re making. however, i agree that the kleague needs to get better as you seem to want, too. but the problem isn’t that they don’t invest into the youth. the clubs do try to invest in youth. i think the question is how they invest. i’d be curious to hear jae’s thoughts. in terms of the korean culture, there are many things i can criticize, but ridiculing athletes that don’t make it to the big leagues just isn’t prevalent enough in society to call that in it of itself a societal problem, and certainly not one that deters athletes from pursuing their athletic dreams. however, i think you are pointing towards perhaps a larger societal problem that isn’t related to just sports. the larger problem is the hierarchical stratification in society that casts judgmental glances at those deemed inferior. while korea is really not alone in that, it is definitely more of a stigma in korea it seems than say the united states.

      • Don’t know if this will be readable (because of Discus), but I’ll try to summarize. K League players are not shunned for not making it to Europe. Even the ones that go there and fail miserably (like Lee Dong-Gook) can be incredibly popular. K League player won’t enjoy the nationwide popularity that their Europe-based counterparts do, but they are popular within their fanbase. It’s also fairly rare that there are players that fail to make it professionally AND have no education because the sport situation is similar to the US. K League club youth teams are affiliated with local middle and high schools. So, in theory they continue to learn and at least get a high school education. Most don’t go straight pro after high school and enroll at universities (like in the US). There is a larger societal issue regarding Korea’s lack of social safety nets and shunning of those who failed, but that’s not specific to sports.

    • the japanese team make me think that we shouldn’ be complaining about the korean team’s finishing… yea, they’re THAT bad. yikes. lol

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