I’ve been so focused on the Euro 2020, I completely forgot that the CONMEBOL’s Cop America was happening this year! And the final is the very night before the final of the Euro! Interesting that both major tournaments are taking place around the same time. Nevertheless they’re both worth predicting to winner for. Before I give you my Euro pick, I will give my prediction for the Copa America final.
Copa America Summary
It seems like there hasn’t been a major event in the world that hasn’t been affected by COVID. Copa America is one of those events affected too. It was supposed to be held from June to July of 2020 in Argentina and Colombia. COVID caused its eventual cancellation and rescheduling to 2021. The twelve-month wait also led to the Copa being rebooked to another nation in May 2021. Colombia went through political unrest with protests against the president and Argentina had issues with the severity of its COVID situation. This led the Copa to be rebooked to Brazil: five venues in four cities.
For the tournament, it was originally scheduled to be twelve teams competing: the ten CONMEBOL nations, special guests Australia, and 2022 World Cup host nation Qatar. The pandemic is what caused the limit of nations to be just the ten CONMEBOL nations. The pandemic is also the reason why all matches have been contested behind closed doors. The preliminary matches were contested under five groups of two. The two groups were decided under the ‘South Zone’ or the ‘North Zone.’ In Group A, Argentina topped with Uruguay second. In Group B, Brazil topped with Peru second. For the knockout rounds, Brazil qualified with 1-0 scores against Chile and Peru. Argentina qualified with a 3-0 win over Ecuador in the quarterfinals and a penalty kick shootout against Colombia in the semis.
Now that I did my brief summary, here’s my summary of the two teams and my prediction for the win for the Copa America:
Team By Team Analysis:
Argentina: The South American team with the second-biggest legacy in football is undoubtedly Argentina. We’re talking about a nation that has won the World Cup twice, made the World Cup finals a total of five times, and won the Copa America fourteen times. A notion that has had their share of legends on the international scene like Guillermo Stabile, Daniel Passarella, Mario Kempes, Diego Maradona, Gabriel Batistuta, Claudio Cannigia, and the latest being Lionel Messi. Messi is often seen as the tour-de-force of the Albiceleste, but playing football is not a one-man job. In fact even at this tournament, Argentina has had other top scorers like Lautaro Martinez and Alejandro Gomez.
The Argentine team has underperformed in tournaments in the past. The most recent World Cup, they bowed out at the Round of 16. The previous Copa America, in 2019, they finished third. Their last Copa America win was back in 1993. And to think Messi has not won either a World Cup or a Copa America. This is not just a burden for Messi but the whole team as I sure they would want some big international glory too. In fact their losses in the 2015 and 2016 Copa America finals to Chile were to penalty kicks. The team however have been playing very well. Their last loss was to Brazil in the 2019 Copa semifinals. Since then they’ve had seven wins and five draws before this Copa, including a 1-0 win against Brazil back in November 2019. Here at the Copa, they showed moderate but strong play against their rivals. Even in their draws, Argentina always scored first. However in their semifinal against Colombia, they drew 1-1 and it had to come down to penalty kicks. Argentina will definitely have to be on and in control if they want to take the Copa this year.
Brazil: And now onto the nation with not just the biggest football legacy of South American teams but of all teams worldwide! Brazil has won the World Cup five times in the seven finals they’ve played in and have won nine Copas. If you started a list of the legendary Brazilian players in history, you’ll end up writing forever. However Brazil is not perfect. In fact the last fifteen years have been very good at exploiting Brazil’s weaknesses. Three of the past four World Cups, they’ve been out in the quarterfinals and talk about the humiliating semifinal against Germany at the 2014 World Cup which they hosted. And if there are any teams that are best at exploiting Brazil’s weaknesses, it’s the South American teams. In fact their 2019 win was their first Copa win since 2007. In between, there were three Copas and they were out either in the quarterfinal or group play.
Brazil is currently coached by Tite, who has coached many Brazilian clubs before heading the national team in 2016. Neymar is not the captain, but Thiago Silva is. The team has some good veterans, but they also have a wealth of new young talent. In the 28 matches Brazil has played since their quarterfinal ouster at the 2018 World Cup, they have won 21 of them and only lost three. Their last loss was to Argentina back in November 2019. Here at the Copa, their one game they didn’t win was a 1-1 draw against Ecuador. They won their other three preliminary matches well. However in the knockout rounds, all their wins were 1-0. Brazil will have to contend well against Argentina if they want to take their tenth Copa.
Final Verdict: This is tough one. Especially since this is one of football’s fiercest rivalries. Argentina is the team Brazil has played the most and Brazil Argentina has played the second-most (they’ve only played Uruguay more). Brazil and Argentina have played each other 107 times. 43 of those times, Brazil won. 39 of those times, Argentina won. The last head-to-head match, as I mentioned previously, Argentina won 1-0. I predict this game will go to a 1-1 draw with Argentina taking it on penalties.
And there you go! That’s my prediction for the final of the 2021 Copa America. Good to see a tournament to take our eyes off the Euro for a bit. And for a lot of good reasons!
Whenever an Olympic Games happens, I usually publish a blog relating to the host city or the host country. In this case, I’ll be focusing on Brazil’s past Olympic success and it has a lot. Brazil has won a total of 108 Olympic medals: 23 of them gold. That ranks them 33rd for all-time medals at the Summer Olympics. That’s also the most of any South American nation.
OFF TO A START
The very first Olympic Games Brazil sent an Olympic team to was the Antwerp Games of 1920 and they debuted with a bang, literally. Brazil won a gold, silver and bronze in various shooting events. The gold going to Guilherme Paraense in the rapid fire pistol event.
After the Antwerp Games, Brazil’s Olympic results consisted of woes up to World War II. They sent a 12-athlete team to Paris in 1924, a 67-athlete team to Los Angeles in 1932 which I will focus later on, and a 73-athlete team to the Berlin Games of 1936. All of which resulted in not a single medal won. Nevertheless there were some rays of hope. The biggest being from swimmer Maria Lenk. Just after finishing out of the final at her event in Berlin, she would set a world record in her event. She made history as the first Brazilian swimmer ever to hold a swimming world record. The Maria Lenk Aquatic Centre which was built for the 2007 Pan Am Games and will host three aquatic sports for Rio 2016 was named in her honor.
HARD TIMES FOR 1932
One of Brazil’s most famous Olympic stories is not exactly a positive one. It involved their Olympic team in 1932 as the world was going through the Great Depression at the time. Brazil was also hit hard during the Great Depression and their Olympic team were also feeling the heat. In order to raise funds for the team, the athletes would sell coffee beans at every port their ship, the Itaquicê, would dock at. Once the shipped docked at San Pedro, the authorities at the Port Of Los Angeles charged Brazil $1 for each athlete they let off the ship. The Brazilian team first let off the athletes with the best medal chances and swimmer Maria Lenk who would become the first Brazilian female to compete at the Olympics. However it wasn’t all over. The Itaquicê then sailed to San Francisco to sell more beans to fund the other athletes. It was successful enough to give the water polo, rowing and athletics athletes enough funds to compete. However the lack of funds meant 15 athletes could not live out their Olympic dreams and thus sail back to Brazil on the Itaquicê. The best result for the team was a 4th place in rowing.
SLOW BUT SURE IMPROVEMENTS
After World War II, Brazil would get better in sports at the Olympic Games but it would mostly go unnoticed for decades. The biggest notice came in the men’s triple jump. Even before the Helsinki Games in 1952, Adhemar Ferreira da Silva held the world record in the men’s triple jump. In Helsinki, winning was an ease for da Silva as he won by almost 10 inches and set a new world record in the process. Da Silva would repeat as Olympic champion in 1956. Da Silva would prove himself to be one of the greats of triple-jumping as his career would not only include two gold medals but he’d also break the world record five times in his career. Da Silva would prove to be inspiring to Brazil as there would be two other male triple jumpers who would win Olympic medals and break the world record too.
Unfortunately for Brazil, Da Silva would prove to be Brazil’s only Olympic champion up until 1980. With the exception of a silver in the triple jump in 1968, Brazil’s Olympic teams after World War II would come home with nothing but bronze in that meantime. Sure they’d always have at least one medal but a single silver and the rest bronze was pretty much it from 1960 to 1976. It’s not to say it was all bad as Brazil would expand its abilities to win medals in other sports like basketball, swimming, sailing and judo.
A BREAKTHROUGH IN 1980
The boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980 may have kept other nations at home but Brazil didn’t cave into the pressure. Their participation at the Moscow Games boosted its sporting confidence. The team won its first gold medals since Da Silva: two in sailing. These Games would later open the doors to Brazilians in sailing as success would continue. Brazil has won a total of 17 medals in sailing: six of them gold. The team in 1980 would also win bronzes in swimming and triple-jumping.
1980 would prove to be a boost of confidence to their Olympians as more success would follow. Los Angeles in 1984 would be the stage for Joaquim Cruz as he won gold in the 800m: Brazil’s first gold in a running event. Brazil would also win an additional five silver and two bronze at those Games. Possibly making amends for 1932. Medals came in judo, volleyball, sailing, swimming and their first-ever men’s football medal: a silver. Up until 1984, professionals weren’t allowed to compete at the Olympics which meant Brazil could only send ‘diluted’ teams to the Olympics which kept them out of the medals. Professionals were allowed to compete at the Olympics for the first time in 1984 and it opened the floodgates to Brazil–although not completely– to send better football teams to the Olympics. Dunga was part of the silver medal-winning 1984 team.
The Seoul Games of 1988 would give Brazil additional success as the team would win a total of six medals including their first ever gold in judo to Half-Heavyweight Aurelio Miguel Fernandez. This would open the doors to other judokas of Brazil as Brazil has won a total of 18 Olympic medals in judo including three gold. Brazil having the biggest Japanese diaspora outside of Japan may have a lot to do with it. Additional medals came in sailing, football (featuring greats Bebeto, Careca and Romario) and athletics. One noteworthy medalist was sprinter Robson da Silva. He’s considered to be the best South American sprinter ever. His bronze in the 200m in Seoul came just five days after running in the 100m dash: considered by most to be “the dirtiest race in Olympic history.” Robson was actually one of two with the most justifiable cases of being clean athletes. I like what he’s always said: “Sure I didn’t dope and I didn’t win all that much, but I sleep well every night.”
1992 would only be a case of three medals in three different sports but it was still a good showing for Brazil as it was their second Games where they returned home with two golds: in man’s volleyball and in judo. The volleyball gold would be key as it would pave the way for future success for the Brazilian team at the Olympics.
1996 AND THE BRAZILIAN BREAKTHROUGH
As Brazil’s economy would grow over time, so would their athletic prowess. Ever since the 1996 Games in Atlanta, the Brazilian Olympic team would always leave each of the last five Games with at least ten medals or more. In fact 70 of the 109 total medals Brazil has won before the Rio Games were won in the previous five Summer Olympic Games. Atlanta was the very first sign of the Brazilian sports boom. The nation won a best-ever total of 15 medals including 3 gold. The introduction of beach volleyball led to Brazil taking the top 2 spots in the women’s category. They also had continued success in sailing, judo, football (featuring Ronaldo) and swimming but they also won their first ever equestrian medals as well as their first medals ever won by female athletes.
2000 was a case where Brazil didn’t win a single gold medal but still left Sydney with a total of 12 medals. Success continued in swimming, track, volleyball, judo, equestrian, sailing and volleyball. They sure made up for their no-gold disappointment in Athens in 2004 with five golds of their ten medals: their most golds ever. Actually it was originally four golds but a bizarre doping situation led to five. In equestrian show jumping, Rodrigo Pessoa finished second to Ireland’s Cian O’Connor. However it was later revealed months later that the doping sample from O’Connor’s horse went missing and was finally tested in November of 2004 resulting in a positive test. That bumped Pessoa up to Olympic champion: Brazil’s first ever equestrian gold medalist. Bizarre but glad it was finally set straight. Another example of Brazilian sportsmanship came in the men’s marathon. Vanderlei de Lima was leading the race when out of nowhere, an Irish defrocked priest hounded him and disrupted his run. Fortunately de Lima was able to get back to running and finish third. When he received his bronze medal, he was also given the de Coubertin award for fair and courageous play.
2008 in Beijing saw their Olympic prowess taken another step further as they won three golds and a best-ever 16 medals. First-ever golds for Brazil came from swimmer Cesar Cielo Filho and long jumper Maurren Maggi in women’s athletics. This was also the first Olympics where both the men’s and women’s football teams won medals: silver for the women and bronze for the men. London 2012 was another increase in the medal haul with a best-ever 17 medals including three gold. The women’s volleyball team repeated as Olympic champions but the biggest gold-medal surprise came from gymnast Arthur Zanetti on the rings as he won Brazil’s first-ever gymnastics medal: gold on the rings. The team also won three medals in boxing–their first since 1968–and Yane Marques became the first Brazilian to win a modern pentathlon medal when she won silver.
A footnote to ad: Brazil has competed in every winter Olympics since the Albertville Games of 1992. Their best result is a ninth in snowboarding back in 2006.
No kidding Brazil wants to give their home country something to be proud of. They will field a team of 465 athletes in 29 sports and they hope to give Brazil its best-ever medal total. The men’s football team has brought Neymar–who was part of Brazil’s silver medal-winning team in 2012– on the squad. Marta is back on the women’s squad. And a unique situation in sailing where two of Torben Grael’s children–Marco and Martine– are competing in the sailing events.
As the athletes in Brazil compete in Rio de Janeiro, they will compete with a sense of pride. They will also compete having a set of heroes they’ve grown up admiring and idolizing and hopefully create new heroes for the next generation. The stage will be set.
DISCLAIMER: I know the Olympics have been going on for a week and a half and Brazil has won a lot of medals but I chose to exclude the results in Rio for the sake of keeping this blog ‘evergreen.’
WIKIPEDIA: Brazil At The Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2016. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.<Brazil At The Olympics>
The Rio Olympics is coming our way. Of course the media being what it is, it chooses to focus on all the bad news with the bad construction problems and the Zika virus and the slow ticket sales. The story of the Russian track team being systematically doped added to the fire and has led to scrutiny of the whole Russian team in recent weeks. However there have been tales of woe before past Olympic Games and they’ve gone off excellently so it would be fair to give Rio a chance. So without further ado, here’s my focus on thirteen to watch–eight individual athletes, a duo, and four teams:
-Katie Ledecky/USA – Swimming: You all thought Michael Phelps would be the top swimmer of focus in my blog, right? Wrong. He will be looked into in a focus on another swimmer later in my blog but now the swimmer of top focus here is the US’s next big swimming sensation: Katie Ledecky. As a 15 year-old, she competed in London as the youngest member of the US Olympic team. She won gold in the 800m freestyle and broke the American record along the way. Since then, she has become a distance freestyle ace with world records in the 400, 800 and 1500m freestyles along with World Championship golds in those events as well as the 200 free. She is poised to win gold in the 200, 400 and 800 freestyles in Rio: a feat only achieved once before by American swimmer Debbie Meyer in 1968. Katie can even add a bonus gold with the 4*200m free relay. Her chances are good as her best time in the 800 this year is 12 seconds faster than the second-best and her top 2016 time in the 400 is 1.5 seconds faster than that of American teammate Leah Smith. However the 200 will be her toughest event to win as Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom’s 2016 best is less than .1 faster than Katie and just .12 behind her is Italy’s Federica Pellegrini: 2008 Olympic champion who finished fifth in London. Nevertheless it will be a brave attempt from the 19 year-old.
-Simone Biles/USA – Gymnastics: Women’s gymnastics has become a complicated sport ever since it was revolutionized by ‘pixies’ like Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci. It seems a gymnast’s career at the top is very short. It’s very hard to develop consistency especially with time encroaching. However one gymnast who can beg to differ is 19 year-old Simone Biles. She has shown a consistency in World gymnastics not demonstrated since Ludmilla Tourischeva back in the 70’s. In the past three World Championships starting in 2013, Biles has won fourteen medals including ten gold. She has also won the last three World all-around titles. Biles appears invincible but she does face rivalry from her own teammates Gabby Douglas (defending champ from London) and Laurie Hernandez as well as Russia’s Angelina Melnikova. Rio could just be the arena to crown her greatness in the sport.
-Ashton Eaton/USA – Athletics: There have only been two decathletes who have won back-to-back Olympic gold medals: The US’s Bob Mathias and the UK’s Daley Thompson. Ashton Eaton looks poised to become the third. He first burst onto the scene at the 2011 Worlds as a 23 year-old when he finished second behind his American teammate Trey Hardee. Hey, the US is known for their decathletes as they have won a total of 28 medals including thirteen gold. The following year, Eaton beat Hardee at the US Olympic Trials with a world record points total. Eaton went on to win gold in London as well as the last two World Championships. Eaton appears invincible having the year’s best result at the US trials but he does have rivals in Germany’s Arthur Abele and Canada’s Damian Warner who finished behind Eaton in second at the Worlds. Rio could just be the arena for a great to deliver.
-Usain Bolt/Jamaica – Athletics: What can I say? The ‘Lightning Bolt’ has proven himself to be the biggest thing in athletics since Carl Lewis. He has an unmatched streak at dominating sprinting in major events. It all started when he won the 100, the 200 and the 4*100 relay in Beijing in 2008 all in world record time. Since then every Olympics or Worlds he entered, he’d leave with golds in all those events each time with the exception of the 100 in 2011 where he received a false-start disqualification. Already people are ruling Bolt to achieve the triple-triple here in Rio. However it’s not 100% guaranteed. Bolt had to pull out of the Jamaican Olympic trials because of a pulled hamstring injury. He has since recovered well and even won a major 200 in London a few weeks ago. However the 100m has three runners that have a faster year’s best than Usain. Topping the list is 2004 Olympic champion Justin Gatlin. The 200m features four runners who ran a faster time this year than Usain’s 2016 best. Topping that list is American LaShawn Merritt: 2008 Olympic 400m champion. Win or lose, chasing Olympic history will make for an exciting show from a legend.
-Mo Farah/Great Britain – Athletics: Seven male distance runners have won both the 5000m and 10000m runs in the same Olympics. However one–Finland’s Lasse Viren– has done it twice back in 1972 and 1976. Mo Farah, A Somali who moved to the UK when he was eight, appears poised to duplicate Viren’s feat. Farah’s last loss of a major 5000 or a 10000 came at the 2011 World Championships. Since then he has taken gold at the 2012 Olympics and both the 2013 and 2015 World Championships in both events. There will be rivals trying to block his path like Ethiopian Muktar Edris, American Galen Rupp, his Portland training partner, and Kenyans like Caleb Ndiku, Paul Tanui and Geoffrey Kanworor. Whatever the situation, Farah’s pursuit will be one to watch.
-Cate and Bronte Campbell/Australia – Swimming: Admit it. You get intrigued when you see a pair of sibling athletes either competing together or against each other. Enter the Campbell sisters from Australia who are at the top of the world in sprint freestyle. 24 year-old Cate is the one with Olympic medals–two bronze in 2008 and a relay gold in 2012–along with 100 free gold at the 2013 Worlds. 22 year-old Bronte won the 2015 World Championship in the 50 and 100 free with Cate winning silver in the 50 and bronze in the 100. However Cate that this year’s fastest times in the world in the 50 and 100. Bronte has the second-fastest in the 100 and fifth-fastest in the 50. Ah, don’t you wish sibling rivalry was this civil? However the Malawi-born Campbell sisters are not alone at the top. They will face challenges from Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom who also made the 2015 Worlds podiums in both events and 2012 Olympic champion from both events Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands. The Rio stage should provide for some fun drama. And after all that rivalry, the two could just team up for a gold in the 4*100 free relay!
-Laszlo Cseh/Hungary – Swimming: All eyes will be on Michael Phelps. He may have won it all with 22 medals over three Games including 18 gold but he’s making a comeback after a troubling time since London which included his second DUI arrest. Who’s also worth looking at is 30 year-old Hungarian Laszlo Cseh. When Phelps won six golds and two bronze in Athens, Cseh won 400 individual medley bronze. While Phelps won eight golds in Beijing, Cseh won three silvers. While Phelps won four golds and two silvers in London, Cseh won 200 IM bronze. In all cases, Phelps was the Olympic champion. Here in Rio, we have a different scenario. We have Phelps trying to get back his old form while Cseh appears to be in the best form of his life. Cseh has the world fastest times this year in both the 100 and 200 butterflies. Cseh is a heavy favorite for the 200 but he does face rivalry from Phelps, American Tom Shields and Poland’s Konrad Czerniak in the 100. Cseh has never been called ‘Phelps’ Shadow’ in his career but Rio could become the first Olympic arena to finally beat Phelps and win Olympic gold.
-Majlinda Kelmendi/Kosovo – Judo: 75 nations competing in Rio have never won an Olympic medal. Two nations–Kosovo and South Sudan– will be making their Olympic debut. Kosovo’s team will consist of eight athletes in five sports. Leading the team is 25 year-old judoka Majlinda Kelmendi. Back in 2012, Kosovo was not officially recognized by the IOC and Kelmendi opted to compete for Albania. Since then Kelmendi has won gold at the World Championships in the lightweight category in 2013 and 2014. She missed out on the 2015 season because of an injury but is poised for a comeback in time for Rio. She has already won this years’ European championship. She faces rivalry from Japan’s Misato Nakamura and Brazil’s Erica Miranda. Whatever the outcome, be sure she’ll do her country proud. She will also be the flagbearer during the opening ceremonies.
FROM THE HOST NATION:
Of course there is to be some focus on athletes of the host nation. I make it a priority as it makes some of my favorite Olympic moments with athletes winning gold or a medal in front of their home crowd. And in Rio, Sports Illustrated predicts Brazil to win 20 medals including six gold. The most medals Brazil has won in a single Olympics is 17 back in London. The most golds, five in Athens in 2004.
Focus on the two teams later. Here are the duo and individual of focus:
Isaquias Queiroz and Erlon Silva – Canoeing: Brazil has won Olympic medals in thirteen sports but canoeing isn’t one of them. In recent years, Brazil has fielded a canoeing duo who have emerged at the top of the world in the 1000m event. Isaquias won the Worlds in 2013 and 2014 in the individual 500m. Erlon was part of the bronze medal-winning 200m pair in 2014. However both were competing in events that won’t be contested in Rio. Leading to last year’s Worlds, the two were paired together and trained for the 1000m pairs event. They entered that event at the Worlds and won. They will face challenges from the duos of Hungary and Poland. They could just make Brazilian Olympic history here in Rio.
Fabiana Murer – Athletics: Brazil is not expected to win any medals in athletics, according to Sports Illustrated. Overlooked must be pole vaulter Fabiana Murer. She’s a 2011 world champion and she finished second at last year’s World but is known for Olympic choking. In 2008, she finished 10th. In 2012 she failed to qualify for the finals. 2016 looks to be a good year for Murer as she set a new South American record back in July. However she faces challenges from London Olympic champion Jennifer Suhr of the US, last year’s World champ Yarisley Silva of Cuba, last year’s World bronze medalist Nikoleta Kyriakopolou of Greece and American Sandi Morris who’s the only vaulter to have a higher 2016’s best than Murer as of now. Whatever the situation, the home country has her back.
Refugee Olympic Athletes Team: In the past, you had to have some citizenship ties in order to compete at the Olympic Games. Refugees in the past have been overlooked as they were believed to have bigger problems than sports to deal with. Some would have to wait many years to represent the nation they’ve been adopted into. At the last Olympics in London, some refugees participated as Individual Olympic Athletes. IOC president Thomas Bach has taken note of the current worldwide refugee crisis by trying to break barrier for refugee athletes who want to compete at the Olympics. In March of this year, Bach announced his intention to create a team of refugees to compete in Rio taking into account the athletes’ sporting ability, personal circumstances and United Nations-verified refugee status. A $2 million fund created by the IOC was used to help train the athletes for Rio. At these Olympics, there will be ten athletes competing as Refugee Olympic Athletes. Five are runners from South Sudan who reside in Kenya. One is an Ethiopian marathoner who sought refuge in Luxembourg. Two are Congolese judokas living in Brazil and two are Syrian swimmers who have sought refuge in Belgium and Germany. They may not have much of a medal chance but they will already achieve victory by just competing at the Olympics.
United States Women’s Football Team: If there’s one team that one can call the class of the field, it’s the American women’s football (soccer) team. The US Women have won three of seven Women’s World Cups and four of the five Olympic gold medals. Those who saw last year’s Women’s World Cup know about how well the American women continue to play brilliantly. Here in Rio, fourteen women from last year’s WWC squad are part of the Olympic squad including stars Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo. There are also four newcomers including Mallory Pugh and Crystal Dunn. Since their WWC win, the team has won all but three of their matches since, losing only once to China 1-0 in a friendly back in December. WWC finalists Japan may not have qualified but it’s not to say the US won’t face some tough rivalry from China, France and even hosts Brazil. Nevertheless if they’re as brilliant together in Rio as they were in Canada last year, magic can happen again.
TRIVIA: Being WWC-holder is actually bad luck for the Olympics. In the previous five Olympics, no team that was the WWC-holder at the time has won Olympic gold. They’d make the Olympic podium, yes, but never the top step. Can the US break this bad-luck spell?
FROM THE HOST NATION:
Brazil’s Olympic Volleyball Teams: Football may be Brazil’s #1 sport. It’s safe to say volleyball is Brazil’s #2 sport. Ever since the men’s team won Brazil’s first ever court volleyball medal, Brazil has been on a roll winning a total of nine Olympic medals including four gold. They’ve also won 11 of the 30 Olympic medals awarded in Beach Volleyball including two gold medal-winning duos. Brazil is expected to dominate here. In beach volleyball, Brazil’s pairs won five of the six medals with only the men’s silver conceded to a Dutch pair. Brazil is not as dominant in court volleyball at the Worlds but the teams have what it takes to deliver as the women have won Olympic gold back in 2008 and 2012. Here in Rio, the women will face tough competition from the US and China who finished ahead of them at the 2014 Worlds. The men appear heavy favorites to win but they will face challenges from 2012 Olympic champs Russia and 2014 Worlds champs Poland. It could be possible the home crowd’s cheering could propel them both to win gold.
Brazil’s Olympic Football Teams: You’d figure Brazil, a country that has won a total of five World Cups, would have at least one Olympic gold in football, right? Wrong! It’s all because of eligibility rules in football over the years. Before 1984, footballers couldn’t even make a penny off their sport if they wanted to compete. That would allow the Eastern Bloc countries to field their best for the Olympics and propel them to the podium while World Cup-winning countries like Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Italy could only field ‘diluted’ teams to the Olympics which would finish in a shabby ranking or not make the Olympics at all. Brazil was able to qualify for six Olympics in that period but failed to win a medal.
In 1984, the Olympic door was open to professionals despite some restrictions or two. In 1992, professionals as long as they were 23 or under could compete. Since 1996, each squad had to have all but a maximum of three footballers under 23 with the other three being anyone they wanted. The opening of the floodgates to pros has boosted Brazil’s men’s team as they’ve qualified for six of the eight previous Olympic competitions and have stood on the podium five times. What they want here in Rio is to stand on the top step for the first time. In London, Brazil fielded a kit featuring a 20 year-old Neymar Jr. and won silver with Mexico taking the gold. Here in Rio, Neymar is back and the other 17 members of the Olympic squad are part of pro teams from Brazil, Spain, France and Italy. The Olympic squad may have finished third at the 2015 Pan Ams but the team has been consistent in friendly play over the last two years losing only to Nigeria back in March. Most of all, the team wants to return the football spirit to the country that left the nation broken-hearted at the 2014 World Cup and achieving shabby results at the last two Copa Americas. Whatever the situation, Brazil may just lift the spirits of their country.
Oh, did you think I’d forget the women’s football team? I didn’t. Women’s football isn’t as restrictive as the men’s competition. Every woman that competed at last year’s WWC is eligible to compete in the Olympics. As for Brazil’s women’s team, they have two Olympic silvers from 2004 and 2008. However they have had difficulties in the last major tournaments with losing in the quarterfinals at the 2012 Olympics and losing to Australia in the Round of 16 at the 2015 WWC. The team has since had their ups and downs with losses to the US, France, Canada and New Zealand they’ve trained hard under coach Vadao and have had mostly wins. Stars Marta, Formiga and Cristiane will be there. Hopefully the Brazilian women will be as victorious as their men and these Olympics here could be the arena for it.
And there you have it. Some of the athletes who to look out for at the Rio Games. Remember the gold medal does not go to the hardest worker, the most deserving, the most talented, the one with the most pre-Olympic accolades or even the best athlete. The gold goes to the one that’s the most there. And Rio will be the arena to decide the Olympic champions. These seventeen days will allow the athletes to “live their passion.” My review of Canadians to watch was printed the following day. Just click here.
The Copa America has contested their group play and their quarterfinals. As I say, it can be anyone’s game. Some things went as predicted while some didn’t. Who would’ve expected Neymar would deliver an outburst on Colombian player Pablo Armero that would give him a red card and a four-game suspension?
Anyways the semifinalists have been decided. Here’s my rundown of the four semifinalists and my prediction for the winners.
SEMIFINAL #1 – Chile vs. Peru:
What can I say? Chile has proven themselves strong in their home country. They’ve scored well and they’ve defended well. Their quarterfinal win over defending champs Uruguay proves this team’s strength even as they play their own. It’s obvious the team wants to win its first Copa ever right at home.
However the team did suffer a bit of a setback. For those who don’t know, star striker Arturo Vidal drove drunk on Tuesday the 16th and crashed his car. His injuries ended up being minor as he has played in Copa matches since but he has not scored a goal since the incident. Even despite the incident, Chile has won both games since. So even though Vidal is one of two players at the Copa to score three goals, team Chile is not just Vidal.
As for Peru, they have been going beyond pre-Copa expectations. They weren’t too spectacular during group play but were consistent enough to qualify for the quarterfinals. There Peru really gave a show as they beat Bolivia 3-1 thanks to a hat trick from Paolo Guerrero. This already sends a message that Peru is ready to deliver excitement of their own.
My Final Verdict:
Okay, Chile have been consistent and showy. Peru have been conservative but consistent and only started showing fire recently. I will have to predict Chile to win 2-1. I could be wrong as Guerrero could pull another stunner. Nevertheless I’ll stick to my prediction.
SEMIFINAL #1 – Argentina vs. Paraguay:
Argentina have been playing consistently if not invincibly as they have the reputation for. The 2-2 draw against Paraguay is a reminder that anything can happen between the CONMEBOL countries. They, more than any other confederation’s countries, know each other inside out and all are capable of winning against each other. That reminder also came into play in the quarterfinals when they went scoreless against Colombia into penalty kicks. Once again, Argentina were victorious as they’re second only to Germany in terms of penalty kick prowess. So the Copa has shown Argentina’s strengths as well as their weaknesses too.
Paraguay is another example of how any of the CONMEBOL countries can come out among the top. Brazil was hoping for a comeback in this tournament but Paraguay had comeback ambitions of their own, especially after finishing last in the World Cup qualifiers. In their quarterfinal, they were able to take advantage of a Brazil with Neymar suspended, tied the game 1-1 and won on penalties. Sure, Paraguay has really picked themselves up lately but they still face a stiff challenge from an Argentina that still has Messi, Di Maria and Higuain.
My Final Verdict:
I will have to say Argentina will win 3-1. I don’t see Paraguay too serious of a challenge of a team full of greats.
And there you go. My predictions for the Copa America semifinals. The next Copa prediction you’ll hear from me will be the final.
La Copa América han impugnado su juego de grupo y sus cuartos de final. Como digo, puede ser el juego de nadie. Algunas cosas salieron como se predijo, mientras que otros no. ¿Quién hubiera esperado Neymar entregaría un arrebato de jugador colombiano Pablo Armero que le daría una tarjeta roja y una suspensión de cuatro partidos?De todas formas los semifinalistas se han decidido. Aquí está mi resumen de los cuatro semifinalistas y mi predicción para los ganadores.
SEMIFINAL # 1 – Chile vs Perú:
¿Qué puedo decir? Chile ha demostrado ser fuertes en su país de origen. Han anotado bien y que han defendido bien. Su victoria en cuartos de final sobre campeones defensores Uruguay demuestra la fortaleza de este equipo, incluso mientras juegan su propia cuenta. Es obvio que el equipo quiere ganar su primera Copa siempre como en casa.
Sin embargo, el equipo ha hecho sufrir un poco de un revés. Para los que no saben, delantero estrella Arturo Vidal conducía ebrio el martes 16 y se estrelló con su coche. Sus lesiones terminaron siendo de menor importancia ya que ha jugado en la Copa partidos desde entonces, pero él no ha marcado un gol desde el incidente. Incluso a pesar del incidente, Chile ha ganado los dos partidos desde entonces. Así que a pesar de que Vidal es uno de los dos jugadores en la Copa de anotar tres goles, el equipo de Chile no es sólo Vidal.
En cuanto a Perú, que han ido más allá de las expectativas pre-Copa. No eran demasiado espectacular durante el juego de grupo, pero eran lo suficientemente consistentes como para calificar para los cuartos de final. Hay Perú realmente dio un espectáculo al vencer a Bolivia por 3-1 gracias a un ‘hat trick’ de Paolo Guerrero. Esto ya envía un mensaje de que el Perú está listo para entregar el entusiasmo de los suyos.
Mi veredicto final:
De acuerdo, Chile ha sido consistente y llamativo. Perú ha sido conservador pero consistente y sólo comenzado a mostrar fuego recientemente. Voy a tener que predecir Chile para ganar 2-1. Podría estar equivocado como Guerrero podría tirar de otra maravilla. Sin embargo, me quedo con mi predicción.
SEMIFINAL # 1 – Argentina vs Paraguay:
Argentina ha estado jugando constantemente si no invencible, ya que tienen la reputación de. El empate 2-2 contra Paraguay es un recordatorio de que cualquier cosa puede suceder entre los países de la CONMEBOL. Ellos, más que los países de cualquier otra confederación, se conocen entre sí dentro hacia fuera y todos son capaces de ganar uno contra el otro. Ese recordatorio también entró en juego en los cuartos de final cuando se fueron sin goles ante Colombia en tiros penales. Una vez más, Argentina salieron victoriosos, ya que son sólo superado por Alemania en términos de destreza tiro penal. Así que la Copa ha mostrado fortalezas de la Argentina, así como sus debilidades también.
Paraguay es otro ejemplo de cómo cualquiera de los países de la CONMEBOL puede salir entre los primeros. Brasil esperaba una reaparición en este torneo, pero Paraguay tenía ambiciones remontada de los suyos, sobre todo después de terminar último en las eliminatorias de la Copa Mundial. En su cuarto de final, fueron capaces de tomar ventaja de un Brasil con Neymar suspendido, empató el partido 1-1 y ganó en los penaltis. Claro, Paraguay realmente se ha recuperado la ventaja de últimamente, pero que todavía se enfrentan a un duro desafío de una Argentina que todavía tiene a Messi, Di María e Higuaín.
Mi veredicto final:
Voy a tener que decir que Argentina va a ganar 3-1. No veo Paraguay demasiado serio de un desafío de un equipo lleno de grandes.
Y ahí lo tienes. Mis predicciones para las semifinales de la Copa América. La predicción de la siguiente Copa oirás de mí será la final.
This is the match neither of the two teams wanted to play but really have no other choice. Doesn’t it make you wonder who wins the Third-Place Match at the World Cup? The team that’s the least disheartened? Or the team that most feels they have one last thing to prove? A neat bit of trivia: the third-place match is the one World Cup match that has never come down to a penalty shootout and went into extra time only once in the World Cup’s history. Whatever the situation, the two semifinal losers will duke it out for one last World Cup shot in the Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha.
I don’t think very many people make predictions for the third-place match. Maybe they do. Whatever the situation, I thin I’ll make a prediction for Saturday’s game. First a rundown of the two teams. Starting with past head-to-head results.
Past Head-To-Head Results: Netherlands and Brazil have squared off eleven times before: Netherlands won three, Brazil three and five draws and both teams have scored a total of 15 goals against each other. The World Cup has been the stage for four of those previous rivalries. First was in 1974 during second-round group play which the Netherlands won 2-0. Second time was in the 1994 quarterfinals where Brazil was the victor that time 3-2. Third time was the following World Cup in the semifinals where they tied 1-1 only for Brazil to win in a penalty shoot out. Fourth time was at the last World Cup in the quarterfinals where Brazil pretty much gave it away with an own-goal and Oranje won 2-1. So what does the fifth World Cup rivalry look like?
NETHERLANDS: Here’s a team that’s struggling to get their first World Cup win. Three times the bridesmaid (1974, 1978 and 2010), never the bride. Here in 2014, they were brilliant in the group stage winning all their games and humiliating defending champions Spain 5-1. They continued to look good with their 2-1 win over Mexico in the Round of 16. However there was a sign they would struggle when they played to a scoreless draw against Costa Rica in the quarterfinals. Hey, don’t underestimate Costa Rica’s defense. Fortunately their replacement goalkeeper Tim Krul was the right choice as he blocked two Costa Rican penalty kicks to help Netherlands advance to the semifinals.
Then their semifinal against Argentina. Netherlands had slightly more ball possession while Argentina had five attempts on target compared to three from the Dutch. Nevertheless it was awfully bleak for a game like that. The two were just tough rivals. So after 120 scoreless minutes, it took penalty kicks to decide. This time head goalkeeper Cillessen was kept in. However the penalty kicks from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder were no match for Argentina’s Sergio Romero. It only took a four in a row from Argentina to take them to the final.
So now that the Dutch are out of contention for the Cup, will they win this match? They have played one third-place match before back in 1998 to Croatia and lost 2-1. They have shown in plays against Argentina and Costa Rica that they can control the ball and they can control their opponents, even when they don’t score. They showed in their 5-1 win against Spain they can really seize the moment and challenge a top rival. However the fact they haven’t scored a goal since the Round of 16 really makes me question if the ‘Orange Magic’ has faded. Also who knows how hungry Brazil is? And I’ll get to them later. If they want to win, they should maintain the same control they had during the field play time they had. Also Cillessen should be on guard. Until the penalty shoot out against Argentina, he has only conceded four goals this World Cup. Natherlands has the ability but do they have the hunger?
BRAZIL: To be honest, there were actually bigger humiliations at this World Cup than Tuesday’s Mineirazo. Like defending champs Spain losing 5-1 to the Netherlands and then 2-0 to Chile to be out of the running. Or how about England failing to win a game for the first time since 1958? Even Italy being ousted in Group Stage for the second World Cup in a row is a pretty big embarrassment. Nevertheless Tuesday’s 7-1 loss to Germany right in front of a home crowd as World Cup host nation really bruised the nation’s football ego. A nation that had the biggest World Cup legacy had their current teams weaknesses exposed by Germany on a home stage and in front of the eyes of the World. And they still have to fight one last time.
No doubt this was a team that was showing signs of struggle. Coach Scolari knew the difficulties he had to deal with and team psychologist Regina Brandao really had to work with the team. The setbacks of Neymar getting his back broken and Thiago Silva being banned from the semifinal match was sure to almost everybody this would set Brazil back, but nobody expected a disaster like this.
Now that the third-place match is ahead, there may be question if Brazil will be ready physically. Neymar of course won’t be there. Thiago Silva can be eligible to play again which should be crucial as he was critical to their defense. Also the question if Fred will be on the roster especially after his bad play during the game. Also there is the big question of whether Brazil will be there for the game mentally. You can bet that between Tuesday and Saturday, Brandao will have to work better than she ever has. Of all current players on Brazil’s team, it’s probably Julio Cesar that would probably be the one most hurt mentally. He’s the one that let those seven goals in.
There have been big-name athletes and teams that would have to perform right after a humiliating performance. Some would be the all-or-nothing type and deliver half-heartedly and then there are some that would deliver for pride and come out shining despite losing it all. That’s what it would come down to with Brazil’s play on Saturday. Brazil has played three third-place matches in past World Cups and won two but this is a different third-place match for the team. We know how hurt they are but how will they deliver on their last shot for glory?
Prediction: Okay, you all know what my pick is. I’ll tell you who I think will win and who I want to win. I think it will be the Netherlands 2-1. I think Brazil might not have recovered from Tuesday’s match psychologically. Though I could be wrong. Actually I hope I’m wrong because I want Brazil to win for pride. In fact I sent the Brazilian team a tweet: “Finish the way a true athlete would and WIN ON SATURDAY!”
Update (11 July): Actually I did some thinking in the past 24 hours and even did some reading. And I didn’t let statistics get in the way, even though World Cup host nations have played the third-place match four times before and won three times. Actually I based my opinion on team attitude. That is a critical factor for the third-place match. And my new prediction is Brazil 2-1. The Netherlands lacks motivation. Coach Louis Van Gaal sees the game as pointless, Wesley Sneijders said the only match that matters is the one for the Cup and Arjen Robben has appeared equally disinterested. However the Brazilians are very motivated for this match. And rightly so. Scolari has encouraged the team to play the match out for pride and the honor of the Brazilian team. I’m sure after the embarrassment on Tuesday, that is the motivation they will need. Even the teammates agree, and Thiago Silva is eligible to play again. Go Brasil!
“We tried to do what we could, we did what we thought was our best and we lost to a great team who ended the match with four goals scored in extraordinary manner. I’d ask the people to excuse us for this mistake. I’m sorry we couldn’t get to the final. This is a loss. A catastrophic, terrible loss. The worst loss by a Brazilian national team ever, yes. But we have to learn to deal with that. Who is responsible? Who is responsible for picking the team? I am. It’s me. So the catastrophic result can be shared by the whole group, and my players will tell you we will share our responsibilities, but who decided the tactics? I did. So the person responsible is me. I did what I thought was best. This was only our third defeat in 28 matches, even if it was a terrible defeat. Naturally, if I were to think of my life as a player, as a coach, as a teacher, this was the worst day of my life. But life goes on.”
-Luiz Felipe Scolari,
coach of Brazil’s 2014 World Cup team
It was to be another proving point for Brazil. They made it to the semifinals. It was a long three weeks. The team known as the Seleciao had moments of glory like their opening 3-1 win over Croatia and 4-1 win over Cameroon. However they have shown their vulnerability with a 0-0 draw against Mexico and a 1-1 draw against Chile where they advanced by winning the penalty kicks. Their previous game, the quarterfinal against Colombia, was another win for them: 2-1.
However despite the win, there was concern as Thiago Silva, their top defender, was given a yellow card penalty which would prevent him from playing in the semifinal. Not to mention the sudden back injury to Neymar Jr. There was talk. Will Brazil win? Can they compensate from their sudden losses? There were many that were doubtful and predicted the win to go to Germany. There were some that were optimistic like Ronaldo and coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. They still felt like Brazil had very good chances.
So the stage was set. Brazil was to play their semifinal against Germany at the Mineirao in Belo Horizonte. Just ten days earlier, they played Chile in their Round of 16 match in that same stadium. Just five days earlier, an underpass in Belo Horizonte specially created as part of a highway upgrade for the World Cup collapsed killing two and injuring 23.
The game began as expected with the two teams being led onto the field by Brazilian schoolchildren. The national anthems were played with the whole stadium engulfed in singing Hino Nacional Brasileiro. The team also gave a special tribute to Neymar who was still being treated for his fractured vertebrae.
Then the kickoff happened. Play went as it normally did with Brazil having much control of the ball with the occasional steal from Germany. Then in the 11th minute, Germany had a chance to score via a corner kick from Toni Kroos. Thomas Mueller gave a header into the Brazilian net. Germany drew first blood 1-0. The opposing team drawing first was something Brazil was familiar with and has won matches before with that start. Then in the 23rd minute, and attempt at a goal was sent by Germany and Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar tried to stop it, only to have it bounce off him and be in a clear path for Miroslav Klose to score the second goal of the match and a World Cup record 16th goal of his career. Ironically the old record holder Ronaldo was in the stand watching.
It was obvious something was wrong and the crowd was already silent but what would soon come would be like a nightmare to the Brazilian’s eyes. Just as things were about to settle again, the ball was immediately stolen by Germany and Toni Kroos scored another goal one minute after Klose. Then two minutes later, another goal from Kroos! And both from one-touch shots. Everyone from Germans to broken-hearted Brazilians were stunned. Then just as the game looked like it would settle down soon, along came Sami Khedira in the 29th minute and scored goal #5. No doubt it was all over by then. It would take a major miracle for Brazil to win this game. Fifteen minutes would pass with the ball being shifted possession to Brazil and then to Germany. You could tell by the look on their face and the errors the Brazilians were causing that the team was panicking. Then the half-time whistle blew. It was obvious Brazil was going to lose. Heartbroken fans were already leaving the stadium.
The first minute of the second half came with substitutions for both teams. Germany only substituted one player but Brazil substituted two: Hulk and Fernandinho for Paulinho and Ramires. Later on Brazil, obviously desperate to redeem itself, gave many good attacks and attempts on goals but they either missed or were saved by German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. At the 58th minute, Germany substituted Miroslav Klose with Andre Schuerrle. However it was only eleven minutes later when Schuerrle gave a tap-in to the Brazilian net to make the score 6-0. Several more desperate attempts to score from Brazil came but to no avail. Brazil even substituted Fred, who many described as giving the worst performance in World Cup history, for Willian at the 70th minute. Fred was given a hostile reaction from the fans as he walked off. Then right at the 79th minute, it was Schuerrle again and he gave a half-volley to beat Julio Cesar at the near-post to make it goal #7. And just when you think Germany’s given them enough, Mesut Oezil gives an attempt for goal #8 but his effort goes off wide. Then almost immediately after, Brazilian Oscar scores Brazil’s one and only goal at the 90th minute. But there was no celebrating from Oscar and very little cheer from the crowd. Even a television announcer described it as possibly the least celebrated home team goal in World Cup history.
Then Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez blew the final whistle. The score was official: Brazil 1 – Germany 7. Germany was going to the final for the Cup for a record-setting eighth time. Brazil however was just dazed and confused with what happened. Some were in tears. Some just lay on the field in humiliation and some even prayed. Some Brazilian fans booed the Brazilian team and gave them the thumbs down. Germany celebrated but kept its celebration modest. Then many German players went to the distraught players, consoled them and gave them comfort since they knew it was a moment of heartbreak for the Brazilians. That was probably the best display of sportsmanship at this World Cup and it was great to see since this World Cup had been plagued with a lot of unsportsmanlike behavior.
That game was unbelievable to say the least. Usually for a 7-1 result to happen at a World Cup game, it would be in a Group Stage match and usually between a strong team and lesser team. But 7-1 in a semifinal? And between the two countries with the biggest World Cup legacies? Even when I saw it at the Vancouver Alpen Club, I went from cheering the first goal to doubting what I saw after the second goal to having complete disbelief goal after goal. I’m sure there were lots of other Germany fans that were stunned silent like me.
No doubt this loss hit Brazil hard. This loss was also a big hit to the Brazilian National Team. No question this match resulted in some embarrassing statistics:
Brazil’s biggest loss ever in a World Cup match.
Biggest loss of any World Cup host nation.
Most lopsided semifinal in World Cup history.
Tied with a 6-0 defeat to Uruguay in 1920 for the biggest defeat of the Brazilian national team.
Brazilian national team’s first loss on home soil since 1975.
If there’s one thing that this match shows is that host nations face a pressure unique to other countries at the World Cup. Host nations of the World Cup have been big and small nations. Nations with a minor football legacy and nations that have a huge legacy. Some nations do very well and even win the Cup. However some have choked and some failed to live up to expectations. Below is a list of host nations and their results:
As you can see six host nations have won the Cup. However three have hosted a second time and didn’t win: Italy and Germany both finished 3rd in their second hosting and France lost their quarterfinal 60 years before winning as hosts. South Africa had the misfortune not just to simply lose out in the Group Stage but became the first country in World Cup history to do so. Until then, every host nation advanced past the first round.
There have been a lot of cases where even amongst host nations that didn’t win the Cup, they would have their best ever World Cup result such as Sweden being finalists, Chile finishing 3rd, South Korea finishing 4th and Mexico making the quarterfinals on both occasions. Actually until 1994, those were the only two times Mexico advanced past the Group Stage.
However there have been cases before where host nations failed to live up to par like France in 1938 and Switzerland in 1954. Spain is another example. They were hoping being host in 1982 would break their reputation as being football’s greatest underachievers. Instead it saw them being ousted in the second round of group play.
However there were many times when even in defeat, it would mark a turnaround for the country’s football team. France became a better team after their 1938 humiliation, Brazil won five World Cups after the Maracanazo, Mexico has advanced past the Group Stage every year since hosting the second time in 1986, the U.S.A. has gone from being a joke in the football world to a major contender since 1994, Japan has seen football grow since hosting and Spain became World champions in 2010.
There’s no doubt that Brazil had a lot of pressure going into the game. Heck, there was a lot of pressure on the players even before the 23-man team was decided. It got to the point head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari brought in team psychologist Regina Brandao to assess the psychological profile of 50 players for Scolari to decide the cut. However pressure was so tense during the Round of 16 match against Chile which Brazil won after penalty kicks, sever players cried prior to the shoot-out. Scolari called Brandao in immediately after to try and ease the situation before the quarterfinal against Colombia, in which they won 2-1. Nevertheless the absence of Thiago Silva because of his accumulation of yellow cards was going to affect Brazil’s defense and they knew it. Neymar being hospitalized with a fractured vertebrae during the match was another blow. Nevertheless it appeared things might not hurt Brazil so much as they continued to play consistently without them.
However that was one match and the semifinal was another. The Brazilian team appeared confident at the start but it soon became evident that something was amiss. However it was evident after Germany’s four-goal streak in six minutes that something was direly wrong. Brazil just didn’t look like Brazil anymore. You could tell the sense of panic in the faces of the players and even in some of the blunders. The goal saving by Manuel Neuer made things even more frustrating especially since Brazil delivered some great chances. Overall Brazil was better than Germany in many other statistics: 52% ball possession, 18 shots taken compared to Germany’s 14, two more corner kicks and three less fouls committed. The shots on target statistic may not look like a big deal–ten for Germany and eight for Brazil– but the final score showed that Brazil definitely had their weaknesses exposed in front of the world and on home turf. Even thinking back to their past games and the glitches they had there, I sometimes think that the loss was a collapse waiting to happen.
You may remember from my blog on 1950 how heartbroken Brazil was to the point some committed suicide. I haven’t heard of any news of suicides yet. Nevertheless reactions have been mixed. There were definitely a lot of people crying. There were also a lot of angry people: some even going as far as calling Brazil ‘losers.’ A lot of negative tweets on Twitter. There was even flag-burning in Sao Paulo and a robbery at a party in Rio de Janeiro. Some even chanted obscenities at President Rousseff during the game. The media is also questioning whether she will be re-elected in the upcoming election this year. As for the media, Brazilian newspapers gave front page titles like The Disgrace Of All Disgraces, The Biggest Shame In History and Historical Humiliation. Just like the 1950 loss has since been called the Maracanazo, this game is starting to be called the Mineirazo. Oh yeah, it’s interesting to note that the German team had to be escorted out of the stadium by police. Also it was worth noting that former Brazilian player Cafu was denied access to the Brazilian dressing room, even though he went there to give words of comfort to the team.
There were however still supporters, both in Brazil and outside. The Brazilian team gave a simple post on their Twitter: “It is the unionthatis strength. Saturdaywe haveanother battleand we have togo on.Pain isall of us. Thank you!” There’s even a hashtag: #EuAindaAcredito Pele gave a well-wish: “We’ll get the sixth title in Russia.” Cafu sent an encouraging tweet: “Viva Brasil! Iam very proud tobeaBrazilianis nota defeat thatwillbring us down. Come together!!” Even Germany gave words of support:
“”My nightmares never got so bad… As a supporter, of course, I am deeply sorry because I share the same sorrow of all supporters. But I also know that we are a country that has one very peculiar feature. We rise to the challenge of adversity. Being able to overcome defeat I think is the feature and hallmark of a major national team and of a great country.”
As for Brazil, this will remain a big question of how things go. No doubt the team is hurt and no doubt the nation is broken-hearted. Coach Scolari has accepted the blame for what happened. The players have their own feelings. However it’s not over for Brazil yet. There is still the third-place match against the Netherlands in Brasilia the day before the World Cup match will be played. Brazil could go out there and lose again. Or they could go out there and play for pride. Also I think if the fans truly love the Selecao, they’d gladly cheer them on during the third-place match. Heck, I saw fan passion from fans of Spain during their game against Australia even though they knew Spain was out of it.
As for the status of football in Brazil, I don’t think this match will hurt it. Brazil has a proud legacy of producing some of the finest talents and frequently creating winning teams. I’m sure that boys and girls across Brazil will still dream of playing for the national team and winning the World Cup. A defeat like that should not crush their dreams. As for reactions as devastating as what happened in 1950, we’ll have to wait and see. I just received word from my uncle that 250 people in Brazil were killed in football-related riots. Hopefully nothing tragic happens in the aftermath of this match. Also I look back at how the white uniforms in 1950 were considered bad luck. After this, will holding the World Cup in Brazil be seen as bad luck?
Isn’t it something how Spain’s early ouster inspired me to look at being defending champion more closely. Now it’s Brazil’s big loss to Germany that has me looking at the pressures of being the host team. Two unique pressures, both having its own weight and both being make-or-break. No wonder winning the World Cup is such a marathon full of drama.
Well it’s getting closer and closer. We’re down to the last four countries standing. Tuesday and Wednesday will decide Sunday’s finalists for the World Cup. It’s a pair of interesting pairings as both look like rematches of a World Cup final from the past. And in both cases, both teams have played each other well to give a sign who has the advantage. So without further ado, I’ll look into the two semifinals and make my predictions.
SEMIFINAL #1 – BRAZIL vs. GERMANY
Brazil and Germany have played each other 21 times. Brazil has won 12 of those times, Germany 4 and drawn 5 times. They have played each other only once in the World Cup: in the 2002 Final which Brazil won 2-0. Brazil has scored 39 total goals against Germany and Germany has scored 24 against Brazil.
Brazil: Oh yes, the pressures of being the host nation. Many times it’s been a plus as six host nations would go on to win the World Cup. However it can backfire and sometimes the host nation can miss. Even teams like Italy and Germany that have won World Cups in the past–even once before as host country– would miss. Brazil has performed very well in play and has delivered stellar wins such as 3-1 against Croatia and 4-1 against Cameroon. They have also shown their weak side with a 0-0 draw against Mexico and a 1-1 draw against Chile where they advanced after penalty kicks.
Their most recent match-up against Colombia ended with a good win of 2-1 but it was not without incident as Neymar had been injured terribly in the back. He was even carried of in a stretcher and is currently hospitalized at his home near Sao Paulo. Doctors say his spinal cord is broken but he is expected to make a full recovery within six weeks. They also said had it been an inch higher, he would have been paralyzed permanently. Not to mention Thiago Silva amassing two yellow cards and out of the semifinal.
With Neymar out and recovering and Thiago Silva sitting the semi out, Brazil is trying to get its team ready against Germany. Even Sports Illustrated have spoken about what Brazil needs to do. Brazil will face more pressure to win but it’s not to say they don’t have what it takes to do it. They have David Luiz, Hulk and Fred still active on their team. However David Luiz knows that he will have to step up his defense. Also coach Scolari knows he will have to make a wise choice for a replacement for Neymar. On a positive side, Brazil did demonstrate its defense after Neymar was injured and taken off with impressive results. So it shows it can be done.
Germany: Germany keeps on adding to their record of consistency. Their semifinal appearance here makes it their thirteenth time in their eighteen World Cup appearances they’ve cracked the Top 4. The biggest surprise of it all is that despite Germany’s consistency, they’re one of the least celebrated great teams of the World Cup. Sure, you’ll walk down the street and see a lot of people wearing jerseys of Brazil, Italy, England, Argentina, Portugal, Netherlands and Colombia most of the time but how often do you see one wearing a Germany jersey?
Even now Germany continues to perform well and their achievements go quietly. Thomas Muller scored a hat trick against Portugal but that received less mention than the two-pointers from Neymar, Lionel Messi and James Rodriguez. Some may feel that it’s a bad thing but others, like possibly some Germans, may not feel that way. We shouldn’t forget that Germany has one of the most closely knit teams. Most of the players are less interested in individual glory and more interested in making wins happen. People like Muller, Miroslav Klose, Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger may have what it takes to be stars of the team but they’re top interest is playing.
Their unity as a team has paid off here in Brazil. They won 4-1 against Portugal and 1-0 against the United States. However it’s not to say they’ve had some strugglers here too. They did draw 2-2 against Ghana and had to go into extra time against Algeria after remaining scoreless in regulation. They did however win 2-1 in extra time. However a 1-0 win against France puts their chances of winning the World Cup, if not against Brazil, in question.
The German team appear confident after knowing of Neymar’s injury. Many people have already predicted Germany will win this match because of both Neymar’s injury and Thiago Silva’s expulsion. However it’s too soon to assume things. Brazil has won games before without their best players. Nevertheless this is a golden opportunity for Germany to seize.
My Verdict: Okay. This is a tough call since things can go either way. Some people will think this is a risky call for me but I’ll call it anyways. I think Brazil will win 1-0 in extra time. Brazil has performed well without their best players at times–heck, they won the 1962 World Cup while Pele was sidelined with injuries– but I’m confident they have what it takes to do it and a strong coach like Scolari to lead the way. Also let’s hope the spectators make it there safe and sound after the news of the freeway collapse in Belo Horizonte on Saturday that left two dead and 23 injured. One trivia note: whoever wins will set a World Cup record for the most finals appearances with eight.
SEMIFINAL #2 – ARGENTINA vs. NETHERLANDS
Head-To-Head Stuff: Argentina and the Netherlands have squared off against each other eight times in the past including three times during World Cup matches including the 1978 final for the Cup. Argentina was host that year and won in extra time 3-1. Surprisingly this was the only time Argentina has defeated the Netherlands. The Netherlands have won four times including a 1998 World Cup rematch in the quarterfinals 2-1 and there have been three draws. Netherlands has scored 13 goals against Argentina while Argentina have scored six against the Dutch.
Argentina: Argentina have not played as spectacularly as they have been known to do. They have won all their games but all their wins have been at a margin of just one goal: 2-1 against Bosnia, 1-0 against Iran, 3-2 against Nigeria, 1-0 against Switzerland and 1-0 against Belgium. Already this makes it the fifth time Argentina has made it as far as the Top 4 at the World Cup. This is especially relief for them since the last time they made it past the quarterfinals was back in 1990. Argentina has been known to have a spectacular flavor about them but it appears missing this time around. One thing that is not missing is spectacular play from Lionel Messi. He came as one of the superstars with high expectations and he has delivered with a total of four goals and even delivered excellent supporting play. There has also been excellent supporting play from Gonzalo Higuain.
Here in Brazil, Argentina will have to pick up their game if they want to win. Sure, conservative play has paid off in the past like for Spain at the last World Cup. However it can be a risk as who knows how much the opposing team can score. And the Netherlands already delivered a big win with 5-1 against Spain. If Argentina want to have their first win against the Netherlands since the 1978 World Cup final, they have to pick it up and have all their players deliver more than what they delivered in the past.
Netherlands: The Netherlands is considered by many the greatest team never to have won the World Cup. Three times the bridesmaid including the last World Cup, never the bride. Before this World Cup, not much was expected of Oranje. They had a disappointing Euro 2012 and they appeared like they hadn’t proven any improvements. However Louis van Gaal had a message to send the world. The team had already been made up of a lot of young players–nine of which were born in the 1990’s–and had top veterans like Wesley Sneijder, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben. Boy did they prove a lot starting with their 5-1 win over defending cupholders Spain, a 3-2 win over Australia and a 2-0 win over Chile. They also continued well with a 2-1 win over Mexico in the Round of 16. Their 11 goals have made them the top scoring team of the Cup so far with both Robben and van Persie scoring three goals each and 20 year-old Memphis Depay a strong favorite for the Cup’s Young Player award.
However with all their spectacular play, they were given a reality check when they drew 0-0 against Costa Rica in regulation. Much to the teams relief, they won the penalty shootout 4-3 after substituting goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen with Tim Krul. If the Netherlands want to win en route to their fourth World Cup final, they should not rely on the facts that they’ve beaten Argentina more often. They should know Argentina can deliver when they have to. Also Argentina is better conditioned than the Netherlands at playing in the hot climates as seen in many games this World Cup.
My Verdict: I have to go with Argentina on this with the score 2-1. They haven’t been as spectacular as the Netherlands but they’ve been showing a lot of team unity and have delivered whenever they’ve had to. Also they know how to play hot weather better than the Netherlands.
Well that wraps up another set of predictions. I like how a lot of you like the predictions I’ve been making with the Group Stage and the first knockout games. All that’s left to predict is the final. Stay tuned Friday.
We all love Brazilian football because at its best, Brazilian football is the paradigm of how we want football to be played. We want it musical, we want amazing skills but we want the kind of friendship and the teamwork also beautifully mixed and working together.
-Alex Bellos, author
Remember back when I did my blog on Russia’s Winter Olympic Legacy I mentioned my naive belief as a kid that if a country had a big sporting legacy, they deserved to host an Olympics? Anyways I would also have that naive belief for hosting the World Cup too. It’s not that embarrassing since every country that’s won the World Cup has hosted in the past. If I thought that now, it would be kind of embarrassing because of how expensive it is. Whatever the situation, you can’t deny Brazil’s legacy.
BEFORE THERE WAS A WORLD CUP
So the question is how did a British sport like football become almost religion-like in Brazil? Well there are some beliefs but no real conclusion on who first introduced it. Some believe it was introduced to Brazil by a Scottish expatriate by the name of Thomas Donohue. In fact the first ever football match contested in Brazil was played in a pitch marked out by Donohue near his workplace in Bangu back in April, 1894. Some believe it was introduced to Brazil by Charles William Miller, son of John Miller who worked on a railway construction project in Sao Paulo in the 1870’s. Charles not only learned football while studying in Southhampton but when he return home from his studies in 1892, he brought with him some football equipment and a rule book. He introduced it through the Sao Paulo Athletic Club. Miller was a great coach to the team and he was even able to get two English teams to play against the Athletic Club and other teams in Sao Paulo. You could say the rest is history.
Eventually Brazil would get its own national football federation–the Brazilian Football Federation–on June 8, 1914 and their first international match was a match between a team combined team from a club from Rio and a club from Sao Paulo against English club Exeter City shortly thereafter.
A SO-SO START
Those who are into World Cup trivia may know that Brazil has been in every World Cup since it started in 1930. It’s not to say that they began with a bang. In fact the BFF was not the best at organizing national teams for quite a while. In 1930, organizing national teams was a relatively new idea at the time so you can imagine getting a team for the very first World Cup would be through the same thought process today. In fact only thirteen countries, including Brazil, though the inaugural World Cup was worth competing in. Back at the first World Cup, there was only one group of four teams and three groups of three teams. Brazil faced Yugoslavia and Bolivia in their group. They lost to Yugoslavia 2-1 and won against Bolivia 4-0. Despite finishing second, they did not advance as only the #1 team from each group advanced and Yugoslavia finished #1. Their next World Cup, Italy in 1934, was also lackluster as the whole tournament was a last-team standing competition–no First Round group play at all–and Brazil lost its opening match: against Spain 3-1. That ended their World Cup run fast.
However things were really starting to look up for Brazil in France in 1938. Their team was much better and it featured the legendary Leonidas. As in 1934, it was a last-team-standing format from start to finish. Brazil won its opening match against Poland 6-5 with Leonidas scoring a hat-trick and won its quarterfinal against Czechoslovakia. Actually they needed a second quarterfinal to play as they tied the first 1-1. Brazil won the second 2-1. However they were stopped in the semifinals by eventual winner Italy 2-1. Brazil did win the third place match against Sweden 4-2 and Leonidas was the top scorer with 7 goals. Too bad the Golden Foot award wasn’t awarded back then.
Brazil hosted in 1950. I’ll actually save that competition for another blog as I will tell about the infamous Maracanazo and the crazy aftermath that happened since. Few players from 1950 returned in 1954. Brazil was ousted in the quarterfinals by Hungary 4-2.
THE GOLDEN ERA
The era from 1958 to 1970 has to be Brazil’s most treasured because that was when the Brazilian national team was at its best and enchated the world. It all started in 1958 when coach Vicente Feola coached the team and even gave them a list of forty things not to do including smoke in front of journalists. They even brought a psychiatrist to the team. Whatever the situation, Brazil was brilliant in group play with two wins and a draw, winning their quarterfinal against Wales 1-0, their semi against France 5-2 and then winning their final against hosts Sweden 5-2. The top goalscorer may have been Just Fontaine but it was the second-highest scorer–a 17 year-old Brazilian named Pele–that captured the imagination of the world. Even in the group stage, he dazzled crowds with his flare and his goal-scoring ability. Another key note is that Pele wore the number 10 at that World Cup it’s been since common trait that most national teams designate the number 10 to their best players. Pele however won the FIFA Silver Ball award for being the second-best overall player at the World Cup. The winner of the Golden Ball was another Brazilian, Didi, who actually scored a single goal but delivered the best midfield efforts of the tournament.
Pele’s fame grew as did his football playing prowess and the whole Brazilian team garnered fame with him. In Chile in 1962, Pele was back and expected to star again. He did score in the first game but was sidelined with an injury during the second game. That would cause him to miss the rest of the tournament. Nevertheless Brazil performed well as his replacement Amarildo scored three goals and two players, Garrincha and Vava, scored four goals each. Garrincha was considered to be the top player of the tournament. The team also did a noble thing after defeating hosts Chile in the semifinals. They carried the Chilean flag out on the field.
In England in 1966, it appeared success was starting to get to Brazil. They began well with a 2-0 win against Bulgaria that included a goal each by stars Pele and Garrincha but it was all downhill after that with 3-1 losses against Hungary and Portugal. That left Brazil 3rd in the group and out of the tournament: the second of five instances when the defending World Cup champion failed to advance past the Group Stage.
Then came Mexico in 1970. Mario Zagallo, who played for Brazil during its World Cup wins in 1958 and 1962, was assigned coach by the president of Brazil. The president also demanded that many players including the aging Pele be put on the team. Pele first seemed uncomfortable with his role but things changed once the contest started. Brazil won all their Group Stage matches, won their quarterfinal against Peru 4-2, their semifinal against Uruguay 3-1 and then their final against Italy 4-1. Jairzinho was the top goalscorer of the team with 7 goals but it was Pele who won the Golden Ball award for being the best overall player with a performance that included four goals. And to think Pele thought at the beginning he wasn’t good enough for the team. Pele also won the FIFA fair play trophy for not receiving a single yellow or red card. Pele also has the distinction of being the only player to play for three World Cup winning teams. Zagallo made history by becoming the first ever to win the World Cup both as a player and as a coach. Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer is the only other one to do so. On top of that Brazil was given the distinction of being allowed to keep the Jules Rimet trophy for winning the World Cup three times. The 1970 team for Brazil is still considered by many to be the best team ever in World Cup history. The odd irony is that it was only a matter of months until the Jules Rimet trophy was stolen. It was never found.
THE DRY SPELL
After 1970, Pele was no longer part of Brazil’s national team and there was a brand new World Cup trophy that made its debut in 1974 and is the current trophy today. It seems like those marked the end of Brazil’s magic at the time because Brazil would struggle to regain its winning sense. 1974 and 1978 World Cups consisted of not only group play for the opening round but also for a second round for the eight that qualified. The top teams at the end of the second round of Group Play played in the final for the Cup, the second-place teams played for third place and the other four teams headed straight home. In both cases, Brazil came second. Brazil again found itself out of the competition because of second round group play in Spain in 1982. In 1986 started the current format of Group Play and the last-team-standing format that started with a Round of 16. Whatever the situation, Brazil was brilliant in Group Play wining all their games and even winning their Round of 16 game against Poland but drew 1-1 to France in the quarterfinals and then lost the penalty kicks round. 1990 added further insult as Brazil again won all three of their group play games but fell to Argentina 1-0 in the Round of 16.
It was a question to many of why. Was it the format of play? Was it the change of system where Brazilian players were now mostly playing in Europe instead of playing with Brazilian clubs as was the case in Pele’s day? It’s still a wonder.
CALL IT A COMEBACK
These past twenty years have actually seen a resurgence of Brazil’s greatness and even write a new legacy for them. It first started at the 1994 World Cup. This time they came packed with stars like Romario, Bebeto, Taffarel, Dunga and Jorginho. The group were very good, if unspectacular, being very solid in the rounds leading up to the final. The final was a classic rematch against Italy. The game was an unspectacular 0-0 which led to a penalty kicks contest. Brazil won 4-3 and became the first country to win the World Cup four times.
1998 saw the emergence of another young Brazilian with the potential to become a great, Ronaldo. He and the Brazilian team were very good leading up to the final but it was the home country French team that really caught the world’s attention at that World Cup. France has commonly been known as Brazil’s ‘achilles heel’ and they gave Brazil their loss 3-0. Under the guidance of coach Luis Felipe Scolari, Brazil came back in 2002 with the help of the three R’s–Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho– and won the World Cup without a loss. Ronaldo won the Golden Boot award for his scoring of eight goals, the most goals scored in a single World Cup since 1970.
Brazil has continued to maintain a record of consistency since the 2002 World Cup and has continued to produce new stars. Even manager Carlos Alberto Ferreira formed a playing system known as the ‘magic square’ that proved very successful in competitions leading up to the Cup. The ‘square’ appeared to work well in the first rounds of the 2006 World Cup despite the underperforming of star Ronaldinho at the time but they fell in the quarterfinals to their traditional top rival France 1-0. To the surprise of most, Brazil was out in the quarterfinals. Brazil continued to be favored leading up to the 2010 World Cup and even won their ‘group of death’ albeit unspectacularly but fell again in the quarterfinals. This time to the Netherlands 2-1. Further disappointment came at the 2011 Copa America when Brazil lost in the quarterfinals but a major upper came when they won the Confederations Cup against World Cup winners Spain 3-0. Here at this World Cup, Brazil tried to attempt the one football feat they don’t own: winning the World Cup on home soil. They brought Luis Felipe Scolari back to help them win it. They’re also relying heavily on the young great Neymar who has already scored two goals in World Cup play. The remaining three weeks will decide.
Brazil has had a football legacy and it has had its downsides too. You can understand why a country this passionate about football believes that a win of the World Cup is the only acceptable result. You can understand the pressure that the current Brazilian faces leading into this World Cup. You can also understand why a country like Brazil has won more World Cups than any other country and continued to churn out legend after legend. It’s no wonder no country has delivered more football magic than Brazil.