July 2, 2018, Day Nineteen
In Russia’s 2018 World Cup, Brazil played Mexico in a Round of 16 knockout stage game in Samara, and the Brazilian team seemed to sputter in the first half as Mexico dominated play. But in the second half the South Americans began to kick it up a notch and at the 51st minute Neymar began and ended a play that resulted in the first goal. Thirty-seven minutes and many fouls later Neymar again ran down the left and passed to the far post for Roberto Firmino to tap in the second and clinching goal of the 2—0 win.
The takeaways were that Neymar, who is still a couple of games away from top form, is better than any other player left in the cup save Kylian Mbappe; that Brazil have yet to play a good game and are already in the quarter finals; and that the fouling the Brazilians have endured in the cup is simply brutal. FIFA needs to be paying attention.
Neymar was fouled seven the 17 called fouls against Mexico in the match. The Mexican coach Juan Carlos Osorio, of course, complained that the referee Gianluca Rocchi was favoring the Brazilians, a tactic that Mexican captain, Andres Guardado, had tried to use, via the media, prior to the game, but which the experienced Italian ref ignored. The offensively ridiculous Osorio gamesmanship extended to arguing it was Neymar who acted unsportsmanlike when he reacted to being stepped on out of bounds by Miguel Layun. According to Osorio the issue was not the red card his player should have received for the flagrant attempt to injure Neymar, but the Brazilian’s pained reaction.
In the end, the better team won if not as convincingly as they or their fans would have wanted. The fact that each time Firmino enters the match to replace Gabriel Jesus the team plays better on offense, or that Paulinho seemed a shadow of himself the last two matches, or that Wagner is simply not the ideal option at right wingback, seemed issues not to have been troubling Brazilian coach Tite.
Belgium played Japan in the second match of the day and in the first half the Japanese were the better side if the Belgians controlled play. The Asian team were the more dangerous as their attacks seemed to have specific purpose and to trouble Thibault Courtois. Meanwhile the Belgians seemed to be pushing everything through the middle of the Japanese box in hopes that a ricochet of a Eden Hazzard shot into a crowd or a Romelu Lukaku push would propel the ball over the goal line.
In the second half, at the 48th and 52nd minutes, Japan scored back to back golazos. The first a perfect three pass counter topped by a perfect across goal shot that hit side netting, and the second a dream knuckle-ball shot from outside the box that left Courtois sprawled and disbelieving. Both shots where of such technical skill one had to simply enjoy the execution.
Then came the Belgian reaction, and it was mostly physical. Coach Roberto Martinez felt he had to do something since the very good team he had on the field were simply outplayed by the Japanese. So, he made a few changes, bringing in the 6-foot-4 Marouane Fellaini and the 6-foot-2 Nacer Chadli to help the 6-foot-2 Lukaku in attack.
Then, at the 69th minute a ridiculously fortunate header, from the 6-foot-2 Jan Vertoghen, went in a twenty-foot-high arc and dropped just out of reach of the Japanese goalkeeper, the only 6-foot-one player on their team, for the Belgian goal. The second goal was another header, this time a cross to Fellaini and an overpowering header at the 74th. The game looked to go into overtime as there had been little reason to expect an extended added time, when the ref decided on four extra minutes.
Sound familiar, like in the Germany-Sweden match to give the Germans an umpteenth chance to progress. Or maybe you remember the time given Lionel Messi’s Argentina to get one back against France at the 90+3. Or perhaps you recall Harry Kane’s 90+1 goal to allow England to just beat Tunisia 2-1. Yet, you may have a favorite, say the six minutes given Germany to win their match against South Korea only to have the Asians score at the 90+3 and 90+6. Or Brazil’s meaningless second goal against Costa Rica at the unnecessarily extension of 90+7. Or the penalty given Iran against Portugal at the 90+3 which put the Euro champs on a collision course with Uruguay. That largesse followed Iran’s 1-0 win over Morocco obtained at the 90+5.
Well, guess what? That second sub, Chadli, ended up at the receiving end of the last play of the game. The best—perhaps because it was really the only—Belgian play of the match. A play that began at the 93:38 minute mark and ended with Belgium still in the tournament with a 3-2 win over Japan.
Futbol Papa’s World Cup 2018 Diary today chronicled how the anti-Brazil media circus manages to spin anything against the Selecao. As ESPN worded it—“The debate will now rage as to whether Neymar overreacted to Miguel Layun’s stray foot.” Wow! Layun’s foot just happened to stray, while out of bounds and coincidentally land, studs and all on Neymar’s recently surgically repaired right foot while the Brazilian lay out of bounds on a very rough tackle by the self-same player. Now there is 100% bias for you. That the issue, to ESPN seemed to be one of whether the Brazilian was faking more injury than he received. Not that the stepping on a prone opponent is a RED-CARD-FOUL by definition, and that we all saw it happen.
Futbol Papa’s World Cup 2018 Diary found that even 90min.com found a way of focusing on Neymar’s reaction to being stomped rather than on the automatic red card that went begging when Layun deliberately stepped on Neymar’s right foot, which coincidentally was right next to his left (as he lay prone and out of bounds) which Layun’s cleats coincidentally missed.
“Layun was fortunate not to have been punished for deliberately stepping on Neymar’s ankle, but the reaction from the Brazilian, rolling around as if his leg been snapped, was just plain awful. As soon as he stood up after several minutes of treatment he was fine to carry on with the game and that kind of playacting is unfortunately nothing new from him.”
With VAR being so poorly used in its inaugural World Cup Papa will keep track of the manner in which infractions and unsportsmanlike acts decide games throughout the cup. If the issues of extra time added at the end of matches, and the constant fouling of Neymar, are not fully addressed, particularly when there is video of both the fact that there is no reason for that much added time or ample reason for a red card for a deliberate attempt to injure a prone player out of bounds, then VAR is a farce.
Futbol Papa’s World Cup 2018 Diary will continue to keep tabs on the tournament’s scorers to see if the initial goal scoring tendency continues, as so far, of the 133 goals actually scored in the cup (10 more have been own goals for a total of 143 tallies) 25% (33) have been converted by La Liga players while 22% (29) have been scored by Premiership stars. The remaining 53% have been scored by all other leagues combined.
On Tuesday, Sweden and Switzerland do battle and England plays Colombia.
Futbol Papa’s World Cup 2018 Diary Predictions
Fifty-four games played. 62% correct calls
Right calls–(32)—Correctly called 28 group stage matches and four of six Round of 16 matches.
Papa made an “push (no call)” on the Iceland-Nigeria game, but called it for Iceland after the cup began, so this prediction is not credited as right or wrong (1).
Wrong calls–(19)—Incorrectly called 17 group stage matches and two Round of 16 matches.