Football

The 7 heroes of the World Cup

The 7 heroes of the World Cup

So that’s it. We’ve had 4 weeks of football, 171 goals, the holders unceremoniously dumped out in the group stage, England exiting without a win, the hosts capturing the imagination, the USA finally embracing the beautiful game, the big stars performing, new stars being made, underdogs barking, favourites falling, Brazil defeated, Messi thwarted and in the end the Germans won. But who were the stars of the competition? What made this World Cup one of the greatest there has ever been? Read on as we detail the 7 heroes of the 2014 World Cup:

The Team – Germany

 

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The reason that Germany won this World Cup was not because they possessed the star players (although man for man they have a depth of quality in their squad matched by no one else) but because they functioned the best as a team. Defensively organised, attackingly vibrant they worked with brutal efficiency, a national stereotype manager Joachim Low would have been delighted to reinforce. Other than the hiccup against Ghana in the group stage and a few scares in the last 16 against Algeria there was rarely a point where Germany looked anything other than assured, dangerous and likely to come out victorious in the end. It speaks volumes as to the mentality of this German side that Low’s half time team talk during the semi final against Brazil, with his team 5-0 up, was simply an exhortation to remain focus and continue playing their game. Similarly the genuine anger on the face of Manuel Neuer and the rest of the German team when they conceded an utterly meaningless goal from Oscar in the 90th minute as well as the restrained celebrations despite the magnitude of victory spoke of a group united by common purpose and assured in their responsibilities. The contrast between the composure of the Germans and the utter collapse of the Brazilians following the loss of Neymar and Thiago Silva spoke volumes about both sides. In the end this World Cup was won by not only the best team on paper, but also by the team that showed the greatest togetherness, discipline and spirit. This 4th German World Cup victory, and the first since reunification, could not be more deserved.

 

Honourable Mention – USA

Reaching the last 16 this time round isn’t the best the USA have ever done at a World Cup (they reached the quarter finals in 2002) but this is the first World Cup that has really caught the imagination of the American public. The idea of a US President very publically supporting the team’s progress and taking time out of his schedule to watch the team’s games would have seemed ludicrous a few years ago and yet that is exactly what happened this time round. Huge numbers of people tuned in to watch all the games with a massive 25 million, or almost 10% of the population, watching their game against Portugal in the group stages. Why? Part of the reason was the US team’s superb overachievement on the field. With a team made up of modest players and unknowns from the MLS they managed to escape a hellish group including Germany and Portugal giving an incredibly good account of themselves with their performances based on an excellent team ethic and impeccable organisation. In Jermaine Jones, Tim Howard (the new US Secretary of Defence according to Wikipedia) and John Brooks the US team gave the American public new heroes and may have, perhaps, given US football the breakthrough it has been waiting for.

 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYeD2nrLZRU]


 

The Player – James Rodriguez

 James-Rodríguez-5

Despite FIFA, in their infinite wisdom, deciding to give the Golden Ball award for the best player to Lionel Messi, for most of the public there was only one winner. Diego Maradona, perhaps for the first time ever, said what everyone was thinking when he claimed that Messi receiving the award was part of a ‘marketing plan’ and that it was Colombia’s James Rodriquez who actually deserved it. And what a tournament the young Colombian had. Whoever turned up their nose when Monaco paid €45 million for his services last summer will certainly have been convinced by his performances during the tournament. Whilst many feared that the fancied Colombian’s chances would be severely curtailed by the loss of star striker Falcao to injury, Rodriguez stepped up with aplomb, winning the Golden Boot with 6 goals of incredible quality in just 5 games in a Colombia side that was unlucky to lose out to Brazil in the quarter finals. The star man in an exceptional team, Rodriguez exploded into the footballing public’s consciousness during this tournament and expect to see this 22 year old light up football for many years to come

 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=soaMGHlfpYQ]

 

Honourable Mention – Thomas Muller

We could of chosen a number of players from the victorious German side with the likes of Toni Kroos, Manuel Neuer and even Andre Schurrle excelling but in the end it was the lethal Thomas Muller who was the best of the lot. Scoring 5 goals in the tournament, just one shy of the 6 that would have made him top scorer (and the only man to be the top scorer at 2 World Cups in a row), he was a brilliant lethal attacking spearhead when Germany were firing, like they did against Portugal and Brazil and the player who provided the moments of magic when they struggled, with his goal against a dogged USA side vital to his country’s progression.


 

The Manager – Miguel Herrera

 Miguel-Herrera-ratified-as-Mexico-coach

We could have given him this accolade just for this:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wuBiD_Kkv-8]

 

But magnificent celebrations aside, Miguel Herrera deserves enormous credit for the job he has done with Mexico during this World Cup. When he took the job in October 2013 Mexico had just finished a disastrous qualifying campaign , going through 4 managers in less then a year as the team won 4 games out of 10 in a group containing the likes of Jamaica and only managing to stumble in a World Cup playoff spot thanks to a 93rd minute USA goal against Panama getting them off the hook. However, after guiding them to an emphatic but defensively poor 9-3 play off victory over New Zealand, he has, in the space of 6 months turned them from a team plagued with ill discipline and infighting (a situation that denied them the services of Carlos Vela, undoubtedly their best player, for this World Cup) to a cohesive and happy group of players. The most significant thing about the celebrations in the video above, during Mexico’s 3-1 group stage victory over a talented Croatia side is the visible rapport between the players and the coach, with goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa running all the way from his goal to celebrate with Herrera. With this newfound team spirit Mexico exceeded all expectations during this World Cup, gaining a creditable 0-0 draw against a pre breakdown Brazil and beating Croatia to qualify for the last 16, where only a late Wesley Sneijder goal and a 90th minute Huntelaar penalty after a dive from Robben prevented them from reaching the quarter finals. Mexico returned hope to a rapturous welcome, a far cry from the national outrage that accompanied their terrible qualifying campaign and with Herrera being handed a new 4 year contract, don’t bet against this Mexico side continuing to make strides under their charismatic manager.

 

Honourable Mention – Louis Van Gaal

In terms of what the Dutch side, and Van Gaal in particular, offered to this World Cup we debated as to which list the Netherlands manager deserved to be on. An astounding 5-1 opening victory over Spain and the fact that he managed to drag a limited Dutch side to 3rd place in this World Cup must be lined up against what can only be described as dubious tactical ploys, Robben’s diving and Krul’s borderline unacceptable penalty antics, used to knock out underdogs Mexico and Costa Rica. In the end we’ve put him here as despite his underhanded tactics Van Gaal and the Netherlands have given us some of the stories of the World Cup and his achievements in dragging this largely average group of players as far as he did is a testament to his immense skill as a manager and the excellent job he did at this tournament.


 

The Underdogs – Costa Rica

 

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Having been placed in a group with 3 former world champions and football heavyweights England, Italy and Uruguay nobody gave Costa Rica a prayer of getting out of their group. Yet thanks to a supremely organised and effective counter attacking system, devised by their little known manager Jose Luis Pinto (who, incidentally earns in a year what Roy Hodgson earns in 3 weeks) they were able to beat lacklustre Italy and Uruguay sides in the group stage (as well as gain a draw with England without even breaking a sweat) before putting in a Spartan-esque defensive performance to deny the Greeks before putting them to the sword on penalties in the last 16. In the end they were only beaten by a defensive and cynical Dutch side and an ingenious bluff by Louis Van Gaal who threw on goalkeeper Tim Krul (who’s penalty saving record for Newcastle United lies at 10%, well below the average save % of 17%) in a successful effort to unnerve the brave Ticos. In the end through stalwart performances from limited players such as Joel Campbell, Bryan Ruiz and perhaps the keeper of the tournament, Keylor Navas, Costa Rica were able to exceed all expectations to become heroes of this World Cup.

 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sknMDFQlVcg]

 

Honourable Mention – Algeria

Despite being placed in the weakest group of the tournament, along with Belgium, South Korea and Russia, the Algerians emerged from it playing some of the most exciting football of the tournament and in the end were only defeated in extra time by a well worked Mesut Ozil (taking a break from ‘nicking a living’) goal. In the end they were the team who pushed the eventual World Champions the furthest and returned home as heroes after an excellent showing.


 

The Fans – Argentina

 

Argentina v Mexico: 2010 FIFA World Cup - Round of Sixteen

With the World Cup being held in South America you would expect, given geographical and financial factors, for most of the fans to be Latin American, and you’d be right with fans of South American teams such as Colombia and Chile, as well as obviously Brazil, sending huge groups of fans to Brazil. Yet no country’s fans have embraced this tournament quite like Argentina’s. An estimated 100,000 fans made the trip to Brazil at the beginning of the tournament with the intention of staying for the duration with at least 2 times as many coming in and out for individual games. The sight of hundreds and thousands of camper vans and ‘micros’ – Argentine sleeper coaches – parked in lines stretching miles up Copacabana beach has been a familiar sight to those attending the tournament. In terms of noise and appearance the Argentines have been, in some cases, even more visible than the Brazilians and on Argentina match days the cities in which they have been playing have often felt more Argentine than Brazilian with the fans being keen, especially since Brazil’s humiliation at the hands of Germany, to rub the success of their team in the faces of their hosts:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UwFhPqLcW3U]

 

But Argentina’s vociferous support is all the more remarkable given what has been happening back at home. With its government on the verge of default due to a loss in investor and especially American hedge fund (called ‘vultures’ by Argentinians) confidence in the country disappearing amidst currency devaluation and after years of spectacular financial mismanagement by the Kirchener administration Argentina has had to look to it’s football team, heartbreakingly defeated in the final on Sunday, for respite. An editorial in the Buenos Aries daily ‘Cronica’ said that ‘the Argentine team has managed again to revive our weak sense of belonging to this country… It has us all decked out with flags, rich and poor, young and old, minus our usual differences’. It is because of this that the magnificent Argentine fans are heroes. Despite all that is going on at home and all the divisions and conflicts that plague their dysfunctional country they have shown the world, along with their team, a side of their country that they can justly be proud of.

 

Honourable Mention – Brazil

In amongst the furore surrounding Brazil’s capitulation to Germany it is easy to forget the enthusiasm that the Brazilian fans greeted the early stages of this World Cup with. The Brazil players’ visible nerves and emotions were amplified by an expectant crowd and the passion of their fans was truly a sight to behold. The national anthems, normally a damp squib of a formality at most internationals became moments of huge significance during Brazil’s games and the sight and sound of their fans, continuing to sing the anthem long after the music stopped, sent shivers down the spine:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WijCK7_26A]

 

In light of this, the fact that it will be the crying women and children during the Germany game, and the now famous moustachioed Brazil fan, clutching his World Cup and watching forlornly as his team were taken apart by the Germans, who will be remembered is a real shame. Throughout the tournament Brazil’s fans were as compelling as their team and while the pressure on the team proved too much, the expectant fans did themselves proud.


 

The Talisman Neymar

neymar-injury-stretcher-brazil 

That Brazil’s World Cup charge fell apart the moment Neymar broke his back under a heavy, if not malicious, tackle from Colombia’s Juan Zuniga was not simply down to the fact that they had lost their best player. Even before the tournament Neymar had become a symbol to the expectant Brazilian public. The golden boy who was to carry this less than stellar Brazilian team to victory, who would lay to rest the ghost of the Maracanazo, the shock defeat to Uruguay in the World Cup final of 1950 that so scarred the nation. His injury, his carrying off on a stretcher in front of a hushed stadium became almost symbolic. Here was not just simply an injured player, but a warrior king, mortally wounded being taken from the field of battle. Whilst his teammates rallied to survive a late scare from Colombia they could not deal with his absence against Germany. In the end however, all the grief and doubt engendered by his loss was perhaps self-inflicted. The media furore, the eulogies from the players and finally the gesture, however well intentioned of holding Neymar’s shirt on the pitch during the national anthems in the game against Germany spoke of a nation that had genuinely brought into the myth that they had created around this young man. Whilst Neymar the player would not have saved Brazil against Germany perhaps Neymar the legend, Neymar the warrior king, Neymar the legend self created may have done.

 


 

The Pundit – Thierry Henry

Thierry Henry - BBC Sport - World Cup 2014 (5)

 

Thierry Henry on the BBC World Cup punditry team should have been, on paper, ridiculous. In amongst the likes of the brain dead Alan Shearer and the gormless Robbie Savage he was as out of place as Luis Suarez was in a Liverpool team with John Flanagan and Victor Moses. It was like George Clooney had joined the cast of ‘The Only Way is Essex’. Except rather than being drowned out and cowed by the mediocrity that surrounded him he, through moments like this, managed to emphasise the gulf in class between himself and his colleagues:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTf1sOl2IDg]

 

However not only did he (momentarily) restore balance to the universe by putting Robbie Savage back in his box he was a breath of fresh air in amongst the rest of the BBC punditry team. Around the constant, banal moaning of Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson and the idiotic party line analysis, bleating on about pace and penetration like a broken sex ed video, Henry was a much needed alternative and intelligent opinion. Before his untimely return to the USA he added a much-needed injection of class, charisma and intelligence to a BBC pundit roster in sore need of it.

 

Honourable Mention – Martin O’Neil – Although just as much part of the grumpy man brigade as Lawrenson and Hansen, he added a huge amount of intelligent analysis to the ITV coverage. Although his discomfort at the shorts and t shirt beachfront approach taken by his station was plain to see, being forced to attempt to engage Andy Townsend, Ian Wright and Adrian Chiles in rational conversation cannot have been anything less than excruciating.


 

Agree with our picks? Have any other heroes you’d like to nominate? Have your say in the comments below!

A selection of the best world cup inspired art

A selection of the best world cup inspired art

As much as I may try to deny it and attempt to watch Wimbledon instead, there is no getting away from the fact that the FIFA World Cup is the world’s most widely viewed sporting event. With viewing figures for the group stages surpassing the 3.2 billion of the 2010 FIFA World Cup according to FIFA, it is unsurprising that there has been an outpouring of art inspired by the event as, in the words of Blake Gopnik, “art needs an audience”. To save you having to wade through the veritable ocean of artistic exploits associated with the tournament, we’ve picked out a few of the highlights. So, in no particular order (after all the World Cup’s about the taking part not the winning) here they are:

Gustavo Berocan Veiga’s ‘Association Ball Cup’ Typeface

As a part of the ‘36 days of type’ project, Majorca based illustrator Gustavo Berocan Veiga has created a typeface inspired by the FIFA World Cup. The ‘Association Ball Cup’ typeface includes letters inspired by both participating countries (E for England, F for France) and concepts associated with football on a wider scale (H is, unfortunately, for Hooligan and K is for keepie-uppie). Veiga has combined wit, stylised vector graphics and bright colours to capture some of the childlike joy of the biggest sporting event on the planet.

The Brazil Team’s New Ride

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7tuTHYYnr4]

 

The Brazilian identical twin artistic duo (what else) who work under the moniker of ‘Os Gemeos’, have given the Brazilian team’s Boeing 737 a subtle paint job. The plane, which is used to transport the players between sites and stadium, was covered in a plethora of vivid, golden-yellow portraits, intended to represent Brazil’s diverse culture. The intriguing mesh of playful and colourful faces are the result of a week’s hard labour from the pair and around 1200 cans of spray pain.

World Cup Pavilion at the Brazilian Embassy in Tokyo

The architects Shigeru Ban have created a pavilion at the Brazillian embassy in Tokyo, which will stand on the front patio of the building for the duration of the tournament. The use of recycled cardboard tubes, mimicking bamboo, and multicoloured footballs has created a space that is both functional as a site for various World Cup based arts events and is a fusion of the two cultures it represents.

Penalty’ by Mandy Barker

British photographer Mandy Barker has used World Cup fever to draw attention to a more serious cause: ‘Penalty’ is a collection of four photographs depicting 769 footballs which have been found on 41 beaches from across the world and collected by Barker’s followers on social media. Barker is hoping that the strangely poignant series will help raise awareness about the issue of marine pollution.

Red Hong Yi’s football portraits

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-5Ur0Y7BmA]

 

Though undeniably fun and possessed of a unique technical ingenuity, perhaps ‘Red’ Hong Yi’s large-scale group portraits are a step too far in the crossover between art and the beautiful game? The Shang-Hai based artist’s giant portrait of three of the tournament’s biggest stars (Ronaldo, Neymar, and Messi) were created by swapping her paint brush for a football, deftly manipulating the paint dipped ball across the canvas to render the famous features. Although the final outcome is somewhat lacklustre as a formal portrait, the process shown in the video above is captivatingly impressive.

Is Luis Suarez irreplaceable?

Is Luis Suarez irreplaceable?

He has been celebrated and vilified in almost equal measure, but Luis Suarez’ seemingly imminent exit to Barcelona has the potential to cause a bigger headache for Brendan Rodgers than he experienced when trying to offload Stewart Downing. Replacing a star player is always difficult but is doable; just ask Arsene Wenger, he does it every year, but finding a way to survive without a talisman who scored 31 times in 33 games and scooped both of last season’s individual honours is a different ball game entirely. Indeed, Liverpool’s predicament is almost identical to that of Daniel Levy last summer, who had almost £100 million to replace Gareth Bale. Whether the Anfield outfit wisely reinvest the Suarez money or follow Spurs into squandering obscene amounts of cash on the likes of Erik Lamela and Roberto Soldado is completely in their hands, but given their recent summer transfer dealings this is hardly reassuring.

 

 
Although suggestions that Suarez’ departure might actually be beneficial and help Liverpool ‘play like more of a team’ can be dismissed as simply delusional (would Real Madrid really be better off if Cristiano Ronaldo left the club?), his exit could provide Brendan Rodgers the opportunity to really put into place the 4-3-3 system he clearly favours. After wisely and pragmatically utilising both 3-5-2 and a 4-4-2 diamond in order to accommodate the talents of both Suarez and £12 million revelation Daniel Sturridge, the former’s departure allows Rodgers to build his side around the latter and revert to packing the midfield with three passing players. It seems likely that the Liverpool side starting next season could see a midfield trio of Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen, particularly against the better sides, or perhaps Adam Lallana or Philippe Coutinho replacing Allen to maintain Liverpool’s attacking freedom from last season. Either way, it makes sense for Rodgers to continue with Sturridge as the only top class striker at the club, allowing the Suarez money to be spent in other areas. Given the England man’s injury record though, around £10-15 million does need to be spent on a player such as Loic Remy or Wilfried Bony, strikers who, along with Ricky Lambert, can serve as a credible alternative to Sturridge and enable Liverpool to fight on all fronts. The signing of youngster Divock Origi seems to be close, but the arrival of the 19-year-old doesn’t negate the need for a Remy-like player, as the Belgian will need time to adapt to the Premier League both on and off the pitch.

 

“It makes sense for Rodgers to continue with Sturridge as the only top class striker at the club, allowing the Suarez money to be spent in other area”

 

While the need to replace Suarez like-for-like may not be that pressing, a large chunk of his transfer fee does need to be spent on the marquee signing of someone who can play all across the front line and possesses a fair amount of pace and flair. Alexis Sanchez’ fluidity and goal threat would have been perfect, but he seems to have chosen the Manchester City development squad, also known as Arsenal,  instead of Rodgers’ side. Names such as Antoine Griezmann have been suggested and the Real Sociedad man would be a good and viable option, but it seems like the Reds have their sights fixed on 20-year-old Lazar Markovic from Benfica. An exceptionally pacey player with a huge amount of potential, should the Serbian international improve his attitude in training in a similar way to Raheem Sterling’s progression, a £20 million fee could seem a snip. In the short term however, Markovic is a major risk. The signing of an established creative player who can turn a game on its head is Liverpool’s most important of the summer; fail to find the right man and the attack that flourished so much last season could find itself looking slightly toothless.

 

 
Liverpool’s most clear weakness last season was their defence, and when you’re forced to play John Flanagan out of position for half a season it’s easy to see why. The 21-year-old coped admirably, but a lack of depth in the full back areas combined with error after error from experienced centre backs ultimately meant that Liverpool feel agonisingly short of a first league title in 24 years. A new left back is the priority in order to provide both cover and competition for Jose Enrique, but numerous links with Ryan Bertrand won’t exactly be a comfort to the Anfield faithful. Instead, Brendan Rodgers should emulate Manchester United’s big money capture of Luke Shaw and stump up the required £20 million for Seville’s Alberto Moreno, a highly promising talent who can provide a long-term solution in that area. Daniel Agger has been on the wane for a while and looks likely to depart, leaving the need for a purchase of a right-footed centre back to displace Martin Skrtel from the side and partner Mamadou Sakho. Dejan Lovren is the much mooted option, but at the obscene price of £20 million it is hard to see that he would actually be an improvement on Skrtel. Steven Caulker would also be such a backwards step, and it would be much more worthwhile for Fenway Sports Group to add another few million to the Lovren bid and use it to try and snare someone like Mats Hummels, who has proven Champions League quality. Another defensive-minded midfielder could also be beneficial if Lucas does leave the club.

 

“Liverpool’s most clear weakness last season was their defence. Error after error mean that Liverpool fell agonisingly short of a first league title in 24 years”

 

While identifying the type of players Liverpool need isn’t that difficult, there is a growing fear among supporters that the club might ‘do a Spurs’ with the Suarez money; buying overpriced and overrated talent that won’t have an immediate impact. Indeed, a particularly apt comment after the Spurs debacle was that you can’t replace an iPhone by buying a watch, a camera, a torch, a satnav and a Nokia. Replacing star players like Suarez and Bale like-for-like is impossible, but behaving like a child in a sweet shop when reinvesting their transfer fee will get you nowhere fast either. Buying players like Ricky Lambert and Adam Lallana signifies that Liverpool are keen to avoid an excessive influx of foreign talent, but the warning signs are there that they may end up with several young and overpriced players who won’t be able to make an immediate Champions League level contribution.

 

 
Brendan Rodgers’ record in the transfer market, particularly in the summer, is patchy. For every Philippe Coutinho there has been a Fabio Borini, and in recent years the wider club hierarchy have largely proved themselves average negotiators and talent-spotters at best. The Bale story remains a cautionary tale for Rodgers, and Liverpool fans do have a right to be concerned. At the end of the day though, who’s to say that the man who masterminded a second place finish with Victor Moses and Iago Aspas as the only viable options from the bench won’t achieve the same heroics again?

“A dream that became a reality” – Costa Rica’s team of heroes and the pride of a nation

“A dream that became a reality” – Costa Rica’s team of heroes and the pride of a nation

To paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, blessed is the country that is not in need of heroes. Costa Rica is such a country. Without an army since 1948, this small Central American nation is an oasis of calm and a haven of transparent democracy and rule of law in a violent and tumultuous region. Where other nations’ national anthems speak of war, conquest, kings and queens, Costa Rica’s exalts ‘the simple farm hands’ and hails their nation as ‘gentle homeland! Mother of love!’. With unparalleled natural beauty, impressive human development and socioeconomic indicators which leave it as by far the happiest country in the world according to the Happy Planet Index, Costa Rica seems to be perhaps the luckiest nation on earth. So maybe the heroic performance of the Costa Rican team at this World Cup is simply the cherry on the cake. A taste of glory on the world stage for this tiny nation, a smattering of heroes richly deserved, if barely needed.

 

There was no expectation on the team going into this tournament. Drawn in a group with three former world champions in England, Italy and Uruguay, Costa Rica were barely expected to make a ripple. Ranked 28th in the world and given odds of 2000/1 to win the tournament and a huge 15/1 to merely escape their group they were framed by the media less as whipping boys than as a piñata to be smashed by the powerhouses they were competing against. These predictions could not have been further from the truth. Costa Rica put in inspired performances to deservedly beat both Uruguay and put in a controlled performance to effortlessly hold off England in a 0-0 draw to advance to the last 16 as group winners. However it was last night’s performance against Greece that was perhaps the most impressive. A disciplined performance off the ball, with the team’s high pressing and defensive line restricting the traditionally dour and deep Greeks to sporadic attacks and crafting chances from set pieces, laid the foundations for the Ticos to take the lead with an excellent finish from captain Bryan Ruiz. However it was after Oscar Duarte was sent off in the 65th minute that they truly showed their mettle. Despite succumbing to a cruel equaliser in the 90th minute they continued, cramp ridden and outnumbered, to put up a Spartan-esque resistance against the resurgent Greeks. Forcing the game to penalties was victory in itself and having earned the opportunity to save the game they took it with aplomb, taking five penalties, scoring all of them with the Greeks being thwarted by an astonishing save from goalkeeper Keylor Navas, flying to his right to palm away a perfectly struck penalty from Gekas to earn a famous victory and a first ever World Cup quarter final for his nation. Drenched in sweat after the game and on the verge of tears, Navas told reporters that what he and his teammates had achieved “was only a dream for us, a dream that became a reality, a dream that was dreamt by an entire country”.

 

As the cliché goes, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but unlike the impressive form of the Dutch, explained by Van Gaal’s tactic nous and the exemplary performance of the Chileans, desperately unlucky not to knock out Brazil, it appears that no one has attempted to offer any explanations as to the form of the hugely overachieving Costa Ricans. The truth is that, on paper, there is very little to suggest that they are anywhere near capable of achieving what they have. In Keylor Navas of Levante and soon, perhaps, of Athletico Madrid, they have a genuinely world class goalkeeper. Other than him the promising Joel Campbell of Arsenal, PSV’s intelligent and elegant Bryan Ruiz and the tireless Christian Bolaños, plying his trade with F.C Copenhagen have excelled themselves at this tournament but can hardly be described as the kind of players you would expect to drag a team to the last 8 of the World Cup. Their manager Jorge Luís Pinto is widely renowned in his native Colombia and throughout South America as an innovative and inventive tactician but with the highlights of his trophy cabinet being a Costa Rican title with Alajuelense in 2003 and a Colombian title with Cucuta Deportivo in 2006 he can hardly be described as having the kind of pedigree you’d expect from a top level international manager, which is what he has proved himself to be. Neither is it the advantages of the Brazilian weather with their two victories over Greece and Italy coming in Recife, where the comfortable humidity and temperatures in the mid 20s are far more reminiscent of the Mediterranean than the tropical climes of Costa Rica.

 

So what then can we owe Costa Rica’s fine form to? Certainly the high intensity pressing game and astounding fitness of the players, shown by their ability to resist the Greek onslaught with 10 men throughout extra time, can be considered a factor. So too perhaps can Uruguayan complacency in the first game of the group as well as the lack of Italian and English attacking imagination when faced with this tightly organised Costa Rican team. However what is most evident in this team is a huge amount of team spirit and self-belief, spearheaded by their manager Jorge Luís Pinto. Asked about his side’s prospects against the Netherlands in the quarter-finals, opponents who will certainly not make the mistake of underestimating them, he said that “we will continue fighting. We will go on. We will see beautiful things. Rest assured that we will not get eliminated in the quarter finals”. However this is not a question that will have been asked by any of the tens of thousands of Costa Ricans who flooded the streets of the capital San José following the final whistle. This football mad nation of just 5 million people had no expectation of miracles coming into this tournament and whatever happens against the Netherlands they will return to Costa Rica as heroes. But this is exactly the point. The simple fact that their team have defied all expectations and delivered results beyond anyone’s wildest expectations will be enough. Costa Rica is not a nation that needs heroes, but this World Cup has given a team and a story that they can be justly proud of, and richly deserve.

Women’s Football puts best foot forward with twin wins

Women’s Football puts best foot forward with twin wins

After a dismal season without a win, which former captain Kim Kilmartin described as a “rebuilding” year for OUWAFC, the Blues really needed to win their first match of the season against Derby last Wednesday. However, with only two preseason training sessions under their belts and a squad that was half made up of brand new players, the odds were very much against them.

The unfortunate Blues were 1-0 down within the first ten minutes due to a messy slip up in the penalty area. However they went on to redeem themselves in the first half thanks to start-of-the-season resilience and the unmistakeable enthusiasm of fresh players. Shiny new centre-midfielder Vail Miller furthered the Blues’ cause with some well-placed corners, one of which ended in a header from skipper Anna Green which bounced tantalising off the post. The Blues were setting up some promising chances and playing great football on the ground. In fact, throughout the first half they looked like scoring, especially Becca May on the right wing who made several great runs and was Derby’s biggest threat of the match.

A drop in pace at the start of the second half meant that Oxford’s defensive line was caught on its back foot and Derby managed to slip another, somewhat slicker, goal past keeper Alana Pain. Help was at hand in the form of Worcester College’s Sam More whose strike went soaring over Derby’s keeper from 25 yards to put the Blues back in the game. Frustratingly, just minutes later Derby extended their lead yet again leaving the Blues with only twenty minutes left to find the goals they needed in order to win their

Subs were made, Mandy Rojek came on for Oxford and soon enough the home side was awarded a penalty. Rojek stood up to take it and skilfully placed it bottom left corner to hit the back of the net. In the dying minutes Tina Gough came agonisingly close to equalising but in the end the Blues had to settle for a disappointing, but by no means tragic, 3-2 defeat.

The Furies had a similarly tough time of it last year and also ended the season without a single win. However, their first match of the new season, against Warwick seconds, had much to recommend it.

The weekend trials had uncovered some new talent in the form of Alice Hunnings, whose impressive performance at right back showed off some confident slide tackles and strong clearances, and Claudia Comberti, who was assertive up front for the Furies.

The inexperienced home side, who had never played together before, were first to score and went 1-0 up in the first half to the delight of the new Furies captain, Amy Trenter.

Disappointingly, some minor errors allowed Warwick to score a couple of sloppy goals which meant the Furies were chasing their opponents for the rest of the match. Even so, they never let Warwick relax and the real brilliance of the Furies’ game came from their former goalkeeper, Chloe Coates, who kept the home side in contention by scoring all three of their goals, including a magnificent long range shot that looped over Warwick’s keeper.

If we compare this showing to the Furies’ disastrous 21-0 defeat against Wolverhampton at the start of last season, it’s clear that this year’s squad is stronger, better organised and more determined than they once were.

Overall, despite the fact that neither OUWAFC side secured a victory in their opening matches, there are promising signs of growth already beginning to emerge in their camp. New talent coming in appears to have given veteran players a new lease of life and the future looks bright for Oxford Women’s Football.

Over Analysing the Under-21s

Over Analysing the Under-21s

U21s - jared192Steadfastly analysed yet rarely watched, youth football occupies a peculiar place within the English football psyche: on the one hand, a youngster born on these shores can, in the space of a few fleeting tricks or an unexpected goal glut, be touted as the saviour of the national game; on the other, any sign of failure brings out the calls for all manner of root-and-branch reforms of the state of youth coaching, or the position of foreigners in the Premier League.

The temptation is to watch the European Under-21 Championship with the staid question of ‘What can we learn about English football?’ in mind, though, must be resisted; Stuart Pearce’s side must be allowed to shine without hyperbolic derision or praise – after all, they’ll suffer enough cynicism when their cohort’s turn to feature in senior international tournaments comes around.

Unfortunately for those who insist on brandishing sweeping conclusions at every opportunity, the bearing of youth-level performances on the future results of senior squads is limited. While there are some correlations, with Spain having won five of the ten European Under-19 Championships over the past decade, their transition towards long-term success is exceptional. By contrast, Ghana won the World Under-17 Cup twice in the 1990s, but the Black Stars haven’t lifted an African Cup of Nations since.

Additionally, only a fraction of players from any single age group will go on to represent the full national side together. Just four members of the squad Pearce took to the Netherlands in 2007 travelled to Euro 2012, even though James Milner, Ashley Young et al. were, aged around 26,at the nominal peak of their powers.

In sum, the effect any given under-21 crop can have on the senior setup is so minimal that a good performance in Israel is not a panacea, nor a poor one a disaster.

Fans should instead look forward to the tournament as an opportunity for the continent to showcase its youth; some of the quality on display will be magnificent. England’s hottest prospect, Wilfried Zaha, will be looking to show David Moyes that he can transfer his dominance at Championship level onto the elite stage, and while the squad otherwise lacks star quality, the young Lions take on the hosts, Italy and Norway in group A having won their last nine games without conceding a goal.

Spain’s squad is replete with a stunning array of attacking talent, including Barcelona men Thiago Alcântara and Cristian Tello and highly-rated Malaga playmaker Isco. The Netherlands bring defender Daley Blind, son of former Dutch international Danny, and several players who have made inroads into the full national side, such as PSV midfielder Kevin Strootman and Borussia Mönchengladbach striker Luuk de Jong.

Israel, hosting its biggest tournament since the 1964 Asian Cup, will be the home of football’s must-watch action for the next couple of weeks, filling the otherwise barren gap between the league season and the Confederations Cup. Plus, Phil Neville is travelling with the England party. It should be a belter.

PHOTO/jared192

OxStu Sports’ round-up of the winter’s sporting action

OxStu Sports’ round-up of the winter’s sporting action

Miles Dilworth collates comments from around the university’s sports teams to review Michaelmas and Hilary

Men’s Rugby

Season Summary: The Blues ended the season with more defeats (9) than victories (6), but it is hard to judge their season based on results alone.

Season Highlight: A stirring second-half comeback to beat Cambridge in the Varsity game

[caption id="attachment_39219" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Samson Egerton scores against the Army Samson Egerton scores against the Army[/caption]

Star Player(s): Samson Egerton was the winner of Alastair Hignall medal at the Varsity match.

Rating/in three words: 8/10

by Miles Dilworth

Women’s Rugby

Season summary: Finished fourth in the BUCS Premiership South, helped by a combination of experienced girls and talented newcomers.

Season Highlight: The first double Varsity victory since 2004. In hard-fought matches the Blues and Panthers each came away from Grange Road with a win.

Rating/in 3 words: 7. Double shoe!

by Tatiana Cutts OUWRFC captain

Men’s Rugby League

Season summary: Blues finished 2nd in BUCS Premier South, with three good wins over Brookes.

Season highlight: Smashing Tabs 32-4

Rating/in 3 words: 8. On the shelf.

by James Baker OURLFC

Men’s Football

Season summary: Successful despite Varsity defeat. Blues won promotion, dominating their league to finish with more than double the points of their nearest rivals.

Season highlight: A fantastic 2-2 draw against Atletico Madrid U18.

[caption id="attachment_39220" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Captain Sam Donald celebrates victory over Brookes Captain Sam Donald celebrates victory over Brookes[/caption]

Star Player(s): Current captain Sam Donald, top-scorer Julian Austin and defensive stalwart Anthony
Beddows.

Rating/in three words: 7/10

by Alex Biggs OUAFC secretary

Women’s Football

Season summary: Can’t do much more of a summary other than relegated, no wins, two draws, lost Varsity.

Star player(s): Lucie Bowden, Hannah Griffiths and Alison Feder

Rating/in three words: New players, rebuilding.

by Kim Kilmartin OUWAFC captain

Men’s Hockey

Season summary: The Blues had a breakthrough season this year, finishing 2nd in the South Prem, narrowly missing out on promotion to the National League. We also finished 3rd in a very competitive BUCS league.

Star player(s): Thomas Stubbs and newly-acquired Rupert Allison

by Ollie Sugg, OUHC

Women’s Hockey

Season summary: We reached second in the BUCS league and fourth in the South Women’s Hockey League. Defeat to Cambridge is an unfair reflection of two previous victories over them during the season.

Season highlight: Beating the top of the league team 3-0, a team who had previously been undefeated.

Star player(s): Lorna Dunning for her commitment and great captaincy throughout the season.

Rating/in three words: 9. Tough, fun, successful.

Women’s Lacrosse

Season summary: Training hard each week earned an 8-5 Varsity victory. Semi-finals of BUCS.

Season highlight: beating the top of the league team 3-0, a team who had previously been undefeated.

Star player(s): Gina Allchorn, Becs Kalderon, Beth Denham and Mo Sykes

by Ellie Hinde OUWLC

Men’s Badminton

Season summary: Oxford men’s badminton had an excellent season, with the first team coming middle of the Premier League.

Season highlight: Varsity hammering of Tabs 14-1

[caption id="attachment_39112" align="aligncenter" width="300"]The Men's Badminton side enjoyed a successful season The Men’s Badminton side enjoyed a successful season[/caption]

Rating/in three words: 9. Fun, competitive, victorious.

by Michael Senior OUBaC captain

Women’s Badminton

Season summary: Top in the BUCS Midlands 2B league, earning promotion to the first division, in addition to finishing top of the local women’s doubles division two. Despite an unusually high number of injuries, the team have improved a great deal .

Season highlight: Varsity match with an impressive 15-0 victory thanks to brilliant individual performances and great team spirit.

Star player(s): Rachel Kenny and Charlie Cutler, each playing in their last Varsity match for Oxford, demonstrated especially gritty determination in their doubles against Cambridge.

Rating/in three words: 10. Confident, determined, successful.

by Kathryn Hunt, OUWBaC
Cross Country

Season Summary: OUCCC’s season didn’t get off to the best start. Despite some incredible individual performances and a spectacular victory for the Women’s Second Team, both Blues teams were unfortunately beaten at the Varsity match back in Michaelmas.

However, the Club headed to Leeds for a very muddy BUCS Cross Country Championships in Hilary. The main issue was keeping upright at times, but we showed them what OUCCC was made of with the Men’s A team coming 9th, the Men’s B team 7th and the Women 15th.

Season highlight: The relay events. At Hyde Park Relays, the men’s team came 2nd in tense race – beating the Tabs by 30 seconds! While the women, with only five girls to make up two four-(wo)man teams, finished in a solid 4th and 5th place. To round off the season, the club dominated our own event, the Teddy Hall Relays. Not only was it a great success and great fundraiser, but OUCCC won both the women’s and the mixed race, and the men’s team finished second.

Ratong/in 3 words: 7/10

by Naomi Webber OUCCC

Swimming

Season summary: We then qualified for the BUCS top division finals and came 5th; the highest placing we have ever achieved at BUCS.

Season highlight: Winning Varsity 117-63, the biggest winning margin ever.

Star player(s): Naomi Vides, a Hertford fresher, who has picked up an incredible 9 University records this year, and Cody Duncan at Balliol, who has claimed 5 University records.

Rating/in 3 words: 10/10, as we really couldn’t have been much more awesome.

by Jamie Jurkiewicz OUSC Captain

Men’s Basketball

Season summary: We had strong performances on the court, overwhelming team commitment and great participation at the college and seconds level. Both Men’s and Women’s Blues teams finished in the middle of the Premier South (and will play there again next year). Varsity was split: Wins by the women’s blues and men’s twos and losses by the men’s blues and women’s twos.

Season highlight: Women’s blues went to the BUCS Final 8s.

Rating/in 3 words: 8. Scrappy, fun, commitment.

by Tim Weil, Men’s Basketball Captain

Men’s Boxing

Season summary: OUABC had a great season this year with a narrow loss at Town vs Gown and a 6 -3 victory  in the 106th Varsity boxing match. With the match held in Cambridge for the first time in 10 years and strong home support OUABC had to win convincingly in every bout to get a decision.

[caption id="attachment_39221" align="aligncenter" width="300"]OUABC were defeated in the Town vs Gown contest OUABC were defeated in the Town vs Gown contest[/caption]

Star player(s): Notable Varsity performances came from seasoned veteran James Watson with a first round K.O. and newcomer Harry Miller to clinch victory with the score standing at 4 – 3.

Season Rating 10/10.

Summary from out head coach Dave Mace: Best Varsity victory I’ve had.

by Michael Davis, OUABC Captain

PHOTOS/Matt Handley; Jonny Beech

Worcester swagger to terrific hat-trick

Worcester swagger to terrific hat-trick

Alex Tyndall

WIMG_6441orcester’s firsts made it three successive Cuppers titles at Iffley Road with a dominant 3-0 win against Wadham. Worcester came out with the same attacking intent as they had in their semi-final match against New College and their fluid, precise passing and flowing offensive play proved to be too much for the underdogs on the night.

Wadham began the match brightly, demonstrating a pacey attack headed by winger Chris Nicholls and centre-forward Chris Wright. In the opening minutes, Nicholls took the ball down the right wing, trying to take on the entire Worcester defence all on his own, and nearly getting through. Worcester’s normally avaricious defence looked shaky, particularly left-back Mark Isaacs who was tasked with trying to keep Nicholls quiet.

Worcester’s attack began to settle down after ten minutes and they began their familiar regime of dominant midfield possession and patient building play. Attacking midfielder Julian Austin had Worcester’s first strike of the match on ten minutes, driving a shot wide of the left post from just outside the penalty area. Wadham’s fans taunted Austin, chanting: “How wide do you want the goal?”

Worcester engineered a scrappy breakthrough in the 25th minute. A long throw-in was launched into the heart of Wadham’s penalty area and, after Wadham faffed about trying to clear it, lumbering midfielder Tom Phelan blasted the ball into the roof of the net from six yards out. It wasn’t the prettiest goal ever, but it was no less than Worcester deserved for ten minutes of complete supremacy. Worcester’s fans celebrated with a hauntingly tuneful rendition of, “We’ve scored one, you’ve scored none, Wadham takes it up the bum.”

Worcester were in control and very nearly doubled their lead on the half hour as an inch-perfect cross from winger Nick Murray landed at Julian Austin’s feet on the Wadham penalty spot, but Austin couldn’t get it under control. Wadham were reduced to making opportunistic counterattacks into Worcester’s half but with 40 minutes gone, they very nearly clawed their way back into the game. Striker Chris Wright scrambled onto a loose ball in the Worcester six yard box and prodded it home, only to see the effort ruled out for offside. Just before the break, Worcester once again nearly doubled their lead. Captain Andrea Caio lofted a cross from left to right, and winger Nick Murray put his laces through it with a stinging volley that forced an acrobatic save from Ben Szreter. At half time it was definitely the Worcester fans who had the most to smile about. They deserved their lead but the fact that their normally bulletproof defence was showing chinks was undoubtedly a cause for concern.

As the second half began, Wadham made it clear that they weren’t willing to sit down and be beaten just yet. Attacking midfielder Sam Hurst missed a golden chance for the blue and whites as he got his feet tangled up receiving a cross on fifty minutes. Worcester weren’t happy with this display of defiance by Wadham, and ten minutes into the second half they struck again to double their lead. Andrea Caio delivered a corner from the left-hand side, which Austin blasted towards the goal. As Szreter sprawled from the save, striker Adam Healy stepped up to bundle the ball home and make the score 2-0 to Worcester.

Wadham had their backs against the wall but they still displayed flashes of danger. On the hour, Nicholls, having swapped from the right wing to the left, found himself clean through on goal but dallied too long about taking his shot to give defender Jamie Potter time to get his body in the way of the strike.

The chance kicked new life into Wadham and they spent ten minutes attacking hard. Jeremy Stothart drilled the ball at the Worcester goal from just outside the penalty area only to see it gobbled up by Adam Titchen and Nicholls kept on harassing Worcester’s back four.

Worcester, however, had other ideas than to let Wadham get back into the game and with twenty minutes left, Julian Austin put it beyond doubt. Chesting down a cross on the left-hand side of the Wadham penalty area, he turned and blasted the ball unstoppably into the top corner of the net. It was a truly sublime effort and the Worcester fans were rocking.

Whilst Wadham could have felt aggrieved at the messy nature of Worcester’s first two goals, 3-0 was a fair reflection of Worcester’s swashbuckling form throughout the match. As talented as Chris Nicholls was for Wadham, his obscene pace more often than not left him isolated up front and he lacked conviction in front of goal.  The midfield pairing of Luke Devereux and Tom Phelan ruled the middle of the pitch and the attacking duo of Austin and Healy were all but unplayable. Worcester finally kicked into top gear in this match, demonstrating for the full 90 minutes the quality of which we had seen flashes in the quarter- and semi-finals.

View From the Terraces

Worcester fan Charles Walmsley on his college’s historic success:

The great Hungarian coach Bela Guttman never stayed at a successful club for more than three years, claiming, “The third year is fatal!” This Worcester side showed no signs of giving into this prophecy, and in the end their all-Blue front six made the difference.

Yet there was also a sense of the fin de siècle as Andrea Caio lifted the oldest competitive football trophy still in existence. Nine of the starters could have left by this time next year. Second-year Luke Devereux dictated the pace of the game and will be key next season.

Austin’s goal was something of beauty. Chesting down a long ball as though he had all the time in the world, Austin took three touches, swivelled, and hammered the ball into the top corner. The keeper was rooted to the spot, helpless, and Austin ran away in delight, evoking images of Marco Tardelli scoring in the 1982 World Cup final.

We wait to see if anyone can take on Worcester’s mantle, or whether they can push on and emulate the St John’s team of 1981-84, which took home four successive Cuppers trophies.

PHOTOS/Alex Tyndall