First and foremost, what a great tournament. Much maligned in years gone it served up a huge amount of exciting footy from some very good sides and an astonishing amount of goals - 68 at an average of 4.25 per game.
Brazil – How good are they?
Very. One of the quirks of hosting a World Cup is that, due to the lack of qualifying games, a host nation’s FIFA ranking will always plummet (Brazil currently sit behind Ghana and Denmark in 22th place). They’ve played nothing but friendlies since crashing out of the 2011 Copa America prematurely and results haven’t been overly superb. In seven games prior to the Confederations Cup they won just two, drawing four and losing one. Incidentally, England’s recent win at Wembley and 2-2 draw in Rio look rather more impressive results now than they did a month ago.
Whether it was the British press’ eternal cynicism or a genuine reaction to their poor results and ranking but the line peddled prior to the tournament in Europe was that this Brazil team wasn’t up to much – ‘they don’t have a particularly clinical striker, they can’t defend, their keeper just got relegated with QPR, Neymar is an overhyped show pony…’ we smugly carped.
But from the moment Neymar fizzed home a sumptuous volley in the third minute of the tournament against Japan, this young side have been nothing short of superb. They ended champions, having netted 14 times and conceding just three. Europe’s two finest teams received a pasting, with Brazil’s dismantling of Spain in the final last night utterly convincing. This Spain side lays a reasonable claim to being the greatest ever but were out thought and out played last night as Brazil’s high tempo pressing disrupted their tiki taka. Once in possession, Brazil were simply too quick and skilful on the counter attack with Neymar and Hulk in particular wreaking havoc. Spain’s backline were carved open time and again in a way we’ve not seen for years. As Gerard Pique trudged off following his cynical red card he carried the air of a man simply thrilled to be getting as far away from the pitch as possible.
This last month has seen various ingredients throughout Brazil’s side come together and click impressively. Add in the fact that they haven’t lost a competitive match on home soil since 1975 and the players that didn’t even make this squad – Sandro, Ramires, Rafael Da Silva, Alex Pato, Leandro Damião, Kaka et al - means they will now go into next year’s World Cup as red-hot favourites.
Throughout the tournament there was much ire on social media directed at Mark Lawrenson for his commentary. First and foremost you’re all idiots. The man’s been the funniest thing on the BBC for years with his abysmal ‘dad gags’, relentless camp misery, bitchy remarks and complete lack of knowledge of any football outside of the Premier League. The good news is Brand Lawro is only getting weirder and he seems to spend most of his time thesedays making snarky asides to no one but himself. Him bizarrely parping that Pique ‘won’t be getting any cocoa tonight!’ as he trudged off after his red card and the cameras cut to his wife in the stands, was truly excellent. Savour him, he won’t be around forever and is the closest we'll ever get to a real life Alan Partridge. I love you Lawro you batty old prick.
On a related note, what a pleasure it was to have Gianluca Vialli on board in the MOTD studio. Articulate, funny, knowledgeable and a reassuring sight for those of us who are thinning on top. The anti Shearer, if you will.
Arbeloa – Jog on son.
Has it taken this long? I’ve always though he was bang average at best and it boggled my mind that Real Madrid picked him up from Liverpool. He was impressively crap last night and it looks as if the No.2 shirt is now very much Cesar Azpilicueta’s to lose.
Fred – A curly treat.
Not the most ‘Hollywood’ Brazilian striker of recent years, the excellently named front man simply gets the job done. It's a minor crime that Torres ended up with the golden boot for his five goals due to having played less minutes than the Brazilian. Fred grabbed his goals against Italy, Uruguay and Spain; Torres bagged four against Tahiti and one vs Nigeria...
Not interested in mad flicks and step overs, Fred's not even what you’d call a particularly exceptional athlete but he’s mastered the art of snaffling. Give this man time for a touch to steady himself in your penalty area and you’re in trouble.
Few people would have bet on that final whupping for Spain. Like free bets? Check out http://freebets.org/ for all the best exclusive free bets.
Spain – Time for a slight rethink?
Without wanting to jerk any knees too sharply, is it time for Spain and Del Bosque to start weaning themselves off their golden generation? Whilst convincing in the group stages, it is notable that Spain drew blanks in both knock out ties, as it appears that the better sides are working out how to stifle them. Where their tiki taka worked so well in the past – forcing opponents to chase the ball for 90 minutes, tiring them out, before striking late on with some clinical finishing (they’ve won six games in the last 3 major tournaments by one goal scored in the final 20 minutes of a game), it is now looking less impressive, largely due to a toothlessness precipitated by the decline in their front men.
David Villa and Fernando Torres are shells of the players that fired them to glory in Euro 2008. Time, injuries and iffy form have caught up with them and neither looked remotely dangerous last night, managing just one effort on target between them. Don’t let Torres’ golden boot fool you (that was secured against Tahiti) this Spain side need to find a new cutting edge to make their passing and possession count for something. Roberto Soldado, considering his excellent record for Valencia (82 goals in 142 appearances), can feel most unlucky to have only 11 caps to his name. He’s always impressed when given a chance scoring six times but at 28 is hardly a spring chicken. Looking at the recently victorious U21’s side the likes of Benfica’s Rodrigo Moreno has an incredible international youth record (15 goal in 16 appearances) and Real Madrid’s Alvaro Morata top scored at this summers’ U21 Euro Championships. Is it time to give those two a senior chance?
There is also the small issue of Xavi. Whilst still knocking out dream passing stats, it has been noted that Barcelona and Spain’s tempo has been slowly dropping in the last couple of years in direct correlation with the condition of the legs of their chief string puller. Xavi, now 33, has played around 7 million games in the last decade and it’s beginning to have a noticeable effect on his game as his body starts to creak. Where he used to dart and flit into space before shovelling the ball on with unique precision he’s much slower these days. The more dynamic options are teammates, Cesc Fabregas and the hugely rated Thiago, is it time to hand them the baton? Spain are blessed with wondrous midfield options, it seems criminally unfair that a talent such as Fabregas spent most of the tournament picking splinters out of his arse. But the sight of Neymar et al streaming past Spain’s rather sluggish midfield at such pace last night must be a considerable worry for Vicente Del Bosque.
The likes of Xavi, Villa, Arbeloa and Torres have proven, for a variety of different reasons, they are no longer quite the players they were. There’s a sickening abundance of talent waiting to come through the ranks, how will Del Bosque approach this next year - keep faith in his old guard and back them in Brazil or phase in some new blood? The last two World Cup winners, Brazil and Italy, both attempted to defend their titles unsuccessfully by relying on a number of their title winning team when they were over the hill. I’d suggest (incredibly arrogantly considering his level of expertise) Del Bosque took heed, followed Luiz Felipe Scolari’s lead and put some faith in the kids during the next year.
Also on the similar note – see Uruguay.
Free Kick Madness
Pirlo, Cavani, Suarez, Diamanti and Neymar all knobbed in sumptuous free kicks as there was no repeat of the Jubulani, beach ball debacle from four years ago. Remember when we had lovely David to do this sort of stuff? *Thinks of Ashley Young and sighs…*
Scolari v Del Bosque
Football managers as they should be - fat, old, with massive moustaches and screaming blue murder at their players. Very Mike Bassett.
Cavani – Worth €63 million?
Probably not, but only just. Cavani is perhaps the hottest striking talent that’s realistically on the market this summer. Prolific at club level there were some questions about his international game as he recently went 7 months without a goal. Edinson (another top name) didn’t get going in this tournament till the semi finals but his three eventual strikes were all peaches. Tall, powerful and with a dead eye for goal, his record for Napoli is phenomenal (104 goals in 138 games). No one knows whether he’ll end up in Manchester, London, Madrid or Paris but he’s a physical specimen at the peak of his powers, here’s hoping someone in the Premier League convinces him to stay for a while.
Jesus Navas – Paternity Test?
The man simply has to be the illegitimate love child of Roberto Baggio.
Disagree with any of that? Let us know in the comments below.