July 9, 2018, Day Twenty-six
In Russia’s 2018 FIFA World Cup, we revisit the Belgium-Brazil game from two perspectives: the what-ifs of a match that should have gone Brazil’s way and the global impact and implications most pundits like to ascribe to any Brazilian fall.
First the Game.
It is essential to know just how biased the officiating was in this match and how it was so from the very beginning. Futbol Papa’s World Cup 2018 Diary has chronicled this.
At the 1:57 mark Kevin De Bruyne pushed Fernandinho form behind, knocking him down—a clear foul—and taking the ball away from the prone player at about the 35-yard line of the Brazilian side. De Bruyne then dribbled forward a few yards and got a shot off that went wide left. At the 3:23 mark Willian commited a similar foul on Alex Witsel, by the sidelines at about midfield, and the foul was called immediately. The infractions were similar in physical nature, but one was called and one was not. Just as important though, in tactical terms, the former was a threat while the latter was none whatsoever.
This set the tone for the uneven manner of the officiating.
At the 5:35 mark, the ref called a foul by Marouane Fellaini on Neymar in the middle of the field and then gave him a verbal warning. Replays showed that the foul consisted of an elbow to Neymar’s head, a grab around the Brazilian striker’s waist, and a trip. Was that not the definition of at least a yellow card foul?
This set the tone for the type of punishment the ref was going to allow Belgium to dole out and in particular what Neymar would have to suffer all game long. Yeah, let’s put the focus where it belongs, there is no playacting necessary when the officials protect a player by calling the obvious let alone deliberately harmful fouls.
At the 10:08 mark Marcelo fouled Eden Hazard by the sidelines in the Belgian side, but as Belgium progressed advantage was given. Hazard yells and rolls on the ground, but as the ball moved forward he got up and ran after the play. No warning on theatrics ensued.
With all the media hype one can only hope that meant Neymar won’t be called out on any histrionics he might commit, right?
At the 17:34 mark, Coutinho lofted a long pass to Gabriel Jesus who was in a one-on-one marking by Vincent Kompany who was towering behind the Brazilian. But Kompany was concerned, so he wrapped his arm around Jesus and wrestled him down before the ball arrived. An obvious yellow card foul as the ball wasn’t in play and the defender manhandled the striker. Not only was no yellow card awarded but no foul was called.
At the 26:57 mark, Neymar walked off the field to receive treatment as his left leg had been hit so often–in one quarter of the game–that the numbing spray was needed. He remained out of bounds for a full minute before he could resume play.
At the 27:23 the six-foot-two Jan Vertonghen clobbered the five-foot-nine Willian, hitting him in the face with his elbow and pushing him down, while allegedly going for a header. If he can’t reach that header first with a five inch and about thirty pound advantage something’s off. But no foul was called.
At the 27:27 Paulinho intercepted the ball Vertonghen headed and tried to move forward only to be grabbed and tripped by Hazard. The foul was called but the automatic yellow was not.
At the 34:08 Fellaini lost the ball to Coutinho in the middle of the field and as the ball rolled one way the Belgian wrapped a leg around the small Brazilian bringing him down in what resembled a wrestling take down. A clear yellow card foul for playing the man when the ball wasn’t even in play. The foul was called but the already warned Fellaini is not properly punished, again. What was the warning for then?
We now see how over the past half hour, since Fellaini’s clobbering of Neymar, at the 5:35 mark, it has been open season on the Brazilians who are cut down mercilessly and without any effective intervening sanction against the Belgians.
DISALLOWED PENALTY # 1
At the 35:05 mark, Neymar was brought down in the box but was judged to have been fairly brought down. Replays show he was pushed down while being wrapped in Thomas Meunier’s arms. A clear Penalty! No VAR was consulted, no call was made. The score could have been 2-1 to Belgium at the half-time mark.
At the 52:00 mark. Neymar was again brought down in the box but the ref again felt it was a fair take down. Replays show that this time the ref was right, but Neymar was admonished for potentially faking a dive.
Remember the 10:08 mark?
DISALLOWED PENALTY # 2
At the 54:59 mark, Kompany kicked Jesus in the box knocking him down. A clear Penalty! Replays showed it clearly, but the ref did not call it. He allegedly consulted VAR, but they jointly agreed there was no penalty! What is VAR used for again?!! The score could have been 2-2 at this point.
DISALLOWED PENALTY # 3
At the 90:03 mark, with the actual score 2-1, three seconds into added time, Neymar went up to head the ball at the far left post and a Belgian defender raked his eyes as Neymar was about to head the ball. Replays showed that Neymar reacted as anyone poked in the eye would, by closing them both to protect against further injury. The ball sailed over the Brazilian’s head. A clear penalty! But, no call was made and despite arguments from players on the field, off the bench and from the Brazilian coaching staff, no VAR review is called for either. Not that the ref should be guided by the opposing team’s reactions but that after several no-calls you would think he would at least once take a look, but no such luck. The score could have been 4-2 in Brazil’s favor at this point.
Added time for whom?
The ref, who had given two 2-minute water breaks, had called 30 fouls, had given four yellows, and on four occasions had allowed medical attention breaks. Decided that the game would only have five added minutes. Five minutes of added time! Mind you, not the 99 Germany got (+9) to win against Sweden, or the 96 Belgium got (+6) to win against Japan, or the 98 Iran got (+8) to tie Portugal. Then, the Belgians were allowed to waste three of those added minutes with delaying tactics, yet the ref’s whistle blew second after the 95 minute mark.
Hardly an even handed job by a UEFA’s Serbian referee Milorad Mazic. Oh, and isn’t there a tradition to not have refs from the confederation of one of the contesting teams officiating the game? Why would a ref from the same confederation as one of the participants be tasked with officiating this particular game, particularly one from a country the other team, you know, the Brazilians, had eliminated?
One can only wonder how long the game would have gone if but one of the three committed penalties had been called and converted!
Now to the impact of Brazil’s exit.
Pundits and most others like to crucify Brazil whenever they are not the champions at any given World Cup. This begins with their fans who expect them to always be champions and ends with pundits from other nations finding fault with whatever team, coach, or tactic Brazil brought to the dance if they did not leave with the cup.
Then, since most of those pundits are European, we are treated to the old Europe over South America pabulum that always ends with how the Old World is superior to the New One.
So let’s take a moment to address both fallacies.
Brazil’s starting team for the 2018 World Cup was—Alisson, Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, Miranda, Marcelo, Paulinho, Willian, Casemiro, Coutinho, Neymar and Gabriel Jesus. They played a modified 4-3-3 that allowed for a 4-3-2-1 among many other permutations. This team was good enough to beat any other team at the cup from Germany, Spain, Argentina, and France, to Belgium, Portugal, Uruguay and Croatia, among others.
But, Alves didn’t make the cup, Marcelo was injured early in the cup and should not have played at 70% against Belgium when Filipe Luis was available, Casemiro was suspended against Belgium, Neymar was recovering from foot surgery and was allowed by FIFA officiating to be reinjured in every game, including this one, and Tite had a thing for Paulinho whom he brought back from the dead in China and Jesus who did not contribute to the cause despite being a starter in all of Brazil’s games.
If the guys had been healthy, or if Tite had but substituted Fernandinho or Renato Augusto for Paulinho from the get go, or played Roberto Firmino instead of Jesus against Belgium, odds are we would be seeing a Brazil-France semifinals. So, nothing was glaringly wrong with the team, or the way they played, or their coach, mostly, but the officiating and injuries did take a toll. The former was avoidable, and the latter might often have been but for the former.
The idea that Europe’s financial clout overcomes all things and brings the best of everything to the continent’s teams, and thus they develop superior players and coaches and thus better teams than the South Americans produce, is hogwash.
First, look at who the stars are in most Premiership, La Liga, Seria A, Ligue 1, and to a lesser extent Bundesliga teams, and you see the likes of Firmino, Jesus, Aguero, Messi, Silva, Higuain, Marcelo, Neymar, Godin, Suarez, Sanchez, etc., as starters and difference makers in every European league. Think who has coached those European teams, South Americans such as Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone and Tottenham Hotspur’s Mauricio Pochettino (both Argentina), West Ham’s Manuel Pellegrini (Chile), Chelsea’s Luis Felipe Scolari (Brazil), just to pick the obvious ones of the recent past and the present.
Who made the finals of the last three Champions Leagues? In 2016 it was Real Madrid, with Marcelo, Casemiro, and Junior (Brazil) and Valverde (Uruguay) against Atletico Madrid with Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez (Uruguay), Filipe Luis (Brazil), Angel Correa, Alex Werner, and Nehuen Perez (Argentina). In 2017 it was RM against Juventus with Rogerio and Matheus Pereira (Brazil), and Andres Tello (Colombia). In 2018 it was RM against Liverpool with Roberto Firmino, Allan, and Fabinho (Brazil).
The fact that Europe gets 14 slots for the World Cup finals to South America’ five (one by playoff) begs this question: how would Denmark, England, Poland, Serbia, Sweden, Switzerland or Russia fare against the likes of Chile, or Paraguay, if only the New World had half as many slots as the Old One?
So, again, South American football is just fine, look at who made the quarterfinals at the last three World Cups—2010: Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay (that cup Europe had three and Africa one); 2014: Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina (that cup Europe had four teams and CONCACAF one); 2018: Uruguay, Brazil and if James Rodriguez had been healthy Colombia (Europe had six or five with James). What is interesting is that almost all of the five teams FIFA allows to represent CONMEBOL make it to the quarters. Meanwhile 71% of all European entries are eliminated before the Quarterfinals.
South America is fine, Brazil is fine, the Selecao was and is one of the best five teams in the world and will be in four years again. If by Qatar’s cup FIFA has found a way to make VAR work despite the shortcomings of their on-field refs, it will be interesting to see who is vying for the cup then.
Futbol Papa’s World Cup 2018 Diary today chronicled that of all the “Greatest World Cup Semifinals” the 90 minutes website could find not one featured a winning South American team despite the fact that of the twenty cups played before this one nine had been won by South Americans.
Futbol Papa’s World Cup 2018 Diary found that Sime Vrsaljko the starting right defensive wingback for Atletico Madrid and Croatia might miss the semifinals against England due to a serious injury to his knee. Add that bit of news to the fact that Croatia has played back to back 120+ minute matches that led to penalty shootouts in games they should have won in regulation time, and England can find comfort in knowing the weakened state of their upcoming opponents.
Luis Enrique, the ex-Barcelona coach has been named the Spanish National Team coach. While Paulinho’s dismal World Cup has resulted in his departure from Barlceona and his return to China’s Guangzhou Evergrande. Maybe Tite can borrow a cave-diving search team in time for Qatar 2022.
It was interesting to watch and hear the entire staff of Fox TV, the US English-language broadcasters of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, root for Belgium over Brazil. The bias was so strong that whenever the referee’s judgement calls went against Brazil it was reason for universal approval and when the ones in which video clearly showed a mistake had been made by the ref the announcers and post-game round table participants either glossed over them or found reason to support the unsupportable officiating decision.
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. The manner in which the Belgian vs. Brazil game was officiated makes one doubt the validity of whomever the champion may be from here on in. One can only hope the unthinkable happens and that it will be the Croatians playing the French and that the Croatians win the cup. Only the Croatians have been consistently good and mostly sportsmanlike and certainly not favored by FIFA’s officiating.
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 146 goals actually scored in the cup (11 more have been own goals for a total of 157 tallies) 25% (37) have been converted by La Liga players while 23% (33) have been scored by Premiership stars. The remaining 52% have been scored by all other leagues combined.
On Tuesday, July 10th, at 2:00 PM EST, France and Belgium will play in St. Petersburg. While on Wednesday, JUly 11th, England and Croatia will meet at 2:00 PM EST in Moscow.
Futbol Papa’s World Cup 2018 Diary Predictions
Fifty-eight games played. 63% correct calls
Right calls–(37)—Correctly called 30 group stage matches and six knockout round 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–(22)—Incorrectly called 17 group stage matches and five knockout round matches.