Biggest losers from the World Cup 2014

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Earlier today, PST went through its collection of winners from this year’s World Cup. Now we look at the other side of the coin. Here’s the negatives, the losers, from Brazil 2014:

The Teams

Asia’s representatives – The ACF’s four representatives played 12 games, lost nine, and failed to win a match, posting a -16 goal difference along the way – a surprisingly weak performance from a confederation that put two teams into South Africa’s knockout stage. While the current World Cup allocation seems pretty balanced, there are always those that want to shake things up based on one tournament’s results. Particularly in this part of the world, Asia’s performance will have CONCACAF honks arguing for their half-spots at Russia 2018.

Brazil – In 2010, South Africa, became the first host nation to miss the knockout round, a disappointment that pales in comparison to what happened to Brazil. Though the Selecao reached this year’s semifinals, their ensuing collapse created the country’s second major soccer nightmare – a failure that will rival 1950’s Maracanzo. With 7-1 and 3-0 losses to close their tournament, Brazil has sparked a national soccer identity crisis, one that has the world’s most successful nation questioning whether it can keep up.

Honduras –  The Catrachos only played three matches, two of which were among the worst performances in the tournament. A overly physical approach in the team’s opener against France saw Wilson Palacios sent off during a 3-0 loss, a result that was replicated against Switzerland at the end of group stage. While experts predicted Honduras would be one of the (euphemism warning) least sophisticated teams in Brazil, an undue level of cynicism cast Luis Fernando Suárez’s team apart from the rest of CONCACAF. While Costa Rica, Mexico and the United States were pushing their way into the knockout round, Honduras looked out-of-place.

Spain – Call it a crash or flop, or maybe pick something more onomatopoeic, like whiz or whimper. There’s no shortage of ways to describe Spain’s collapse, one that saw the defending champions fail to making it out of a tough Group B. Somewhere between South Africa and Brazil, la Roja’s zeppelin turned into a lead balloon, and while the autopsy has reminded us of a number of preconditions, it was still shocking to see the crash on June 13 in Salvador.

[ MORE from our 2014 World Cup review ]

The Players

Rafa Márquez – Márquez’s vilification in the U.S. has achieved full distortion since he left the New York Red Bulls two years ago, a bias that stood in stark contrast to the 35-year-old’s strong group stage. In the knockout round, however, Márquez fulfilled his heel’s destiny, taking down Arjen Robben in the penalty area to give the Netherlands a stoppage time, game-winning penalty kick. It may be unfair that one moment overshadows the previous 360 minutes, but when you make a mistake to send your team out of the tournament, you get branded. You also get ridiculed by the fans you scorned.

source:  Pepe – With the possible exception of the next name on this list, no player’s misadventures stunted his team as much as Pepe’s. Earning a red card against Germany after head butting Thomas Müller, the Real Madrid defender was a major part of his team’s 4-0, opening match loss, with the effects of that goal difference leaving the Seleccao virtually eliminated after their draw with the United States. Suspended for that match, Pepe was helpless as his team gave up two goals to the States, turning a must-win match into one of the lasting memories of a failed World Cup campaign.

Luis Suárez – This goes without saying.

Juan Camilo Zuñiga – Zuñiga is a quality if imperfect fullback, one who’s capable of playing for teams at near top of most of the world’s best leagues. From here forward, however, he’s going to be the guy who broke Neymar’s back. After leaping knee-first into the Brazilian’s back, Zuñiga saw Neymar’s stretchered off in agony with a broken third vertebra. Only 28, Zuñiga may have another World Cup in him, but he’ll always be known as the guy who ended the young superstar’s tournament.

The Coaches

Fabio Capello – Blame Igor Akinfeev if you want (and you’d be right to do so), but none of Russia’s games were so far beyond reach that a more aggressive approach, particularly against Algeria and South Korea, couldn’t have produced a better result. But Capello, despite being the world’s most expensive coach, had only one approach, one that favored a conservative, reactive style above taking the game to his opponents. Now, between 2010 and 2014, Capello has won once in seven World Cup games. Congratulations for getting England past Slovenia, Fabio.

Luiz Felipe Scolari – Felipao is the last coach to win a World Cup for Brazil, taking the Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho team to glory in 2002. After this year’s performance, critics will be less forgiving about that easy run to that title. As bad as Brazil was, the team doesn’t lack for talent, as evidenced by its players’ performance at club level. Lacking in cohesion, preparation, proper selection and execution, the hosts’ performance reflects terribly on their coach.

source: Getty Images

The Supporting Cast

African FAs – Cameroon’s players almost didn’t go. Ghana’s had to hold out to make sure they got their money. Nigeria’s been banned by FIFA in the wake of the World Cup. The reasons behind all of these aren’t simple (for example, FIFA’s dabbling in Nigeria’s FA), but it’s easy to imagine these soap operas influencing the results on the field.

Concussion protocol – All of Uruguay’s Álvaro Pereira, Argentina’s Javier Mascherano, and Germany’s Christoph Kramer had high-profile, on-field concussion incidents, and while we’ve gotten bit reactionary about assuming every clash of heads produces a concussion, there’s a reason why people err on that side of the equation. Teams have proven unable to manage the conflict of assessing their own players, and until FIFA recognizes some objective assessment is needed, players will continue to assume too much risk in the face of potential concussions.

Yuichi Nishimura, Carlos Carballo – While the tournament’s officiating got off to a terrible start, the quality of refereeing was mostly fine (particularly considering the role Howard Webb’s leniency had in the final four years ago). There were, however, two noticeable exceptions. If Nishimura doesn’t reward Fred’s dive with a penalty kick in game one, perhaps Brazil gets found out in group stage? And if Carballo doesn’t allow such  a rough game in the quarterfinals, maybe James Rodríguez is able to pick apart the Selecao? In the spotlight of the host nation’s games, both poor performances stood out.

World Cup alarmists – The lead up to the last two World Cups has featured a slew of English-language media moaning and hyper-ventilating about the  tournaments’ impending failures, yet just as South Africa 2010 was fine, Brazil 2014 came off with only minor hitches. The weather was managed, the stadiums stayed up, and the matches were played as planned. While there were social and logistical issues, too, this year’s World Cup betrayed the alarmists.

Remember this in the lead up to Russia 2018. With the tournament going to a first-time host, there’ll be stories about whether the nation can pull off the event. There’ll be concern about infrastructure. Maybe Vladimir Putin’s politics will come into play. Regardless, no opportunity to worry will elude those who’ve cultivated this beat.

As you’re clicking on those stories, just remember 2010. Remember 2014. Remember that there are always people worrying about whether a World Cup will come off.

Also remember: Brazil just gave us one of the best World Cups in history, and while there were plenty of social issues around the games to worry about, whether the games would actually happen was never a real concern.

Petr Cech earns win with 2 penalty saves in hockey debut

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Former Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper joined English fourth-division hockey team Guildford Phoenix four days ago and made his debut on Sunday.

He did not disappoint.

The 37-year-old saved two penalties in the shootout, earning Man of the Match honors.

Cech is reportedly a fan of the Guilford Flames, the first-division side who use the Phoenix as their developmental side. He was signed to be the team’s third-choice goalkeeper, just a chance for him to get in on the action before his body gives way for good, but he was given a chance to play right away. He wore number 39, a nod to famous Czech goaltender Dominik Hasek. His custom helmet was adorned with Arsenal and Chelsea colors. Regulation finished level at 2-2 before Cech’s shootout heroics.

“I wanted to win, that was the main thing, and I’m glad we did,” Cech said after the match. “I was surprised that I wasn’t more nervous. I didn’t know what to expect so it was nice how quickly my body switched into matchday mode.”

Giroud upset with reserve role at Chelsea

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Olivier Giroud does not look back on his transfer to Chelsea and wish he had done things differently, but that doesn’t mean things are all sunshine and roses for the 33-year-old.

Giroud, who moved to Chelsea from Arsenal in the winter of 2018 after six years with the Gunners, has played just 43 times in the Premier League, averaging just 35 minutes per appearance. That has him frustrated, hoping to prove his loyalty to the club and work harder than the other options up front.

“I had competitors in attack – [Alvaro] Morata, [Gonzalo] Higuain, who ended up leaving,” Giroud said. “I won at the end: I played the final of the FA Cup in 2018 and the [Europa League] final in 2019. Once again, I’m starting the year in a difficult situation. But as my brother says, I have always built myself in the face of adversity.”

Giroud is trying to be smart about how he approaches the competition for time with the likes of Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi, but he says it is emotionally taxing.

“You do not have to be fatalistic in certain situations,” Giroud says about keeping a level head. “I have always been respectful and humble. Even if I do not agree with the coach, I do not criticize him. But in myself, I cannot accept it because I know what I’m worth on a pitch.”

The French international has made just three league appearances this season, mostly thanks to Abraham’s scalding form. Abraham, still just 22 years old, has snatched his opportunity for first-team minutes with eight goals in eight games to start the campaign. That has left Giroud on the sidelines for each of the last five league games, missing out on a spot in the matchday squad altogether for the last three.

Despite his struggles at the club level, Giroud has maintained his place in the French national team, missing just five matches of France’s last 64 games, including 37 of the last 39.

James says he was not knocked unconscious in Wales draw

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Head injury awareness again rose to the forefront in the 1-1 draw between Wales and Croatia in Cardiff when Daniel James went down after colliding with a pair of opponents.

The Manchester United winger looked to almost sure have been knocked unconscious when Domagoj Vida’s knee appeared to tap the back of his head while challenging for a ball in the air. Vida went toppling over the back of teammate Borna Barisic who ducked out of the way, but it was James who many were concerned for as he lay motionless on his back with his eyes closed.

Yet James was allowed to come back onto the field and completed the full 90 minutes, sparking criticism from injury advocates and fans who were concerned for James’ safety on the field, at potential risk for even more serious consequences should he indeed have suffered a concussion.

After the game however, despite what fans saw as James lie on the turf, the 21-year-old insisted he was not knocked unconscious. “I’m fine,” James claimed after the match, speaking to Sky Sports. “I think he just caught me in the head but I didn’t get knocked out fortunately.”

Wales boss Ryan Giggs backed up the decision as well, calling James’ motionless display “a bit of acting.”

“The medical staff went over, he was compos mentis and we did all the checks at half-time and he was fine,” Giggs said, referring to the latin phrase for “of sound mind.”

If James was indeed faking unconsciousness, it’s natural to wonder if he should face a fine from UEFA for looking to con referees, and in the process possibly confusing the independent neurologists on site assigned to assess head injuries.

ESPN broadcaster Taylor Twellman, who has been outspoken over the past few years advocating for head injury awareness after his career was cut short by concussions, took to Twitter to criticize Wales for allowing James back into the game. Twellman, who was on the ESPN call of the broadcast with Ian Darke, said more needs to be done to prevent players from being able to force their way back onto the field, lest someone be killed by second impact syndrome.

Former Hull City player Ryan Mason, who was forced to retire after a serious skull fracture saw him fighting for his life, was also seriously concerned about the incident.

Interestingly enough, later in the match just seconds after the second half restart, young Wales midfielder Ethan Ampadu was whalloped from behind by Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic in a wild and reckless aerial challenge. Petkovic’s elbow went clattering into the back of Ampadu’s head, and the was left writhing on the ground holding his head. The Chelsea youngster was taken off the field and immediately replaced by Joe Morrell, while Petkovic was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.

Kane reflects on Tottenham, England struggles

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Harry Kane keeps finding the back of the net, but his teams keep losing.

The 26-year-old striker has bagged five Premier League goals in eight games for Spurs thus far, plus another seven goals for England in five Euro 2020 qualifiers this cycle. Yet Tottenham sits ninth in the table after three losses already this season, while England slumped to its first Euro defeat last time out, putting its seeding at the Euro finals next summer in jeopardy.

Kane is hoping to be a leader through the tough times for both club and country, wearing the armband for both as it currently stands.

“I think you need to lead by example,” Kane said ahead of England’s visit to Bulgaria on Monday. “Not getting too down when you lose a game, not getting too high when you win games. It is a long, old season for club and country ahead – a lot of games to be played so there are going to be tough periods.”

Kane has taken over the England captaincy on a permanent basis, and is filling in for the injured Hugo Lloris at Tottenham. “I am still the same person,” he said. “I still try and lead by example on and off the pitch and I will continue to do that. I have been in high pressure situations before in my career, whether that is going through goal droughts, playing in high-pressure games or not playing well as a team. It is something I will take in my stride and improve on.”

Leading by example includes finding the back of the net, while also supporting teammates both on and off the pitch. He knows even if he’s in good personal form on the stat sheet, there’s always ways to improve and help the squads through tough times.

“I am scoring goals but can I get more assists, create more chances? So yeah, I always look at little things I can get better at. Yes, the England form has been good but as ever, it can be better. We will see if I can continue scoring. It has been a good campaign but important I do not stop now.”