Only at a FIFA-sanctioned event could the integrity of a competition come into question a little over an hour after it officially kicks off. Ah Sepp Blatter’s FIFA, the organization that makes cable and pharmaceutical companies look like ethical, upstanding citizens of the business community.
The host Brazilians got an early gift in their opening match against Croatia, “earning” a penalty in the second half that gave them a 2-1 lead en route to an eventual 3-1 victory and three big points in group A. (Marcelo, you can exhale now!) With the civil unrest going on in Brazil at the moment, there’s a school of thought that says FIFA had to ensure the Samba boys would win in order to keep some semblance of control in the streets. Never put anything past FIFA but a full-fledged conspiracy theory might be a stretch. It’s true that Croatia was hard done by when Brazil got a gift from Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura after Fred’s swan dive in the penalty area. Neymar subsequently cashed in on the PK for his second goal of the night and ultimate match-winner. Nishimura did a pretty brutal job officiating (Ramires plowing through a Croatian player to help set up the third Brazilian goal was as bad a non-call as any other gaffe) but Vedran Ćorluka did indeed lay a hand on Fred, which gave the aspiring thespian the opportunity to embellish. A horrible call indeed but in a match that was within Croatia’s grasp, it’s dumb to make life easier for the Brazilians, who seemed a little uninspired at that point. Overall, the Croatians looked good and most importantly, unafraid. The question is do they pack it in after feeling they were treated harshly or do they rebound with two good performances to join likely group winner Brazil in the knockout rounds? “It’s better they give the World Cup to Brazil straight away,” Croatian defender Dejan Lovren after the match. Sounds like they might have a tough time letting this go.
Brutal Officiating Part Deux
The opener began on a controversial note – and it continued into the next match. Mexico had a cracker of a start against Cameroon in the pouring rain in Friday’s Group A meeting. The Mexicans, lucky to be in this World Cup after an uninspiring qualifying campaign, were sharp early and looked to go up 1-0 just 11 minutes in, but a beautiful Giovani Dos Santos volley was erased after the striker was deemed offside. He wasn’t. Offside goals are often allowed in matches. Mistakes happen. But it seems more egregious when a good goal is ruled offside because that means the linesman is saying he saw something that did not actually happen rather than just missing a true offside call. Mexico had a second would-be goal ruled offside in the first half, as well, though that wasn’t as clear-cut. It’s because of situations like these that some are crying for video replay to join the newly implemented goal-line technology. Soccer, especially for massive competitions like the World Cup, should adopt it. How about one challenge per match for each team? Seems reasonable. Oh wait, soccer’s governing bodies, FIFA in particular, are not reasonable. And just imagine the impact video replays would have on match fixing. As if organized crime didn’t have enough trouble rigging matches.
Ivory Coast will not win the World Cup. But this might be the African nation’s last chance of a good showing for a while. Ivory Coast was drawn into two stacked groups in both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, all but eliminating any hope for Didier Drogba’s boys to make noise. However, in Brazil, Ivory Coast has a great opportunity to come out of Group C, which features Colombia, Greece and the Ivorians’ opponent on Saturday, Japan. All are solid teams, albeit different. The Colombians, despite not having their injured star striker Radamel Falcao, are a respected attacking team. Greece, as always, are a defensive-minded animal that denies more than it creates. The Japanese are technical wizards and quite capable. But none of these teams is a true world power and Ivory Coast, featuring Drogba in what has to be his World Cup swansong, are poised to advance. Premiership fans will know names like Salomon Kalou, Gervinho and Wilifried Bony but it’s Yaya Touré, the anchor of English champion Manchester City, who will need to shine. He has an undisclosed injury at the moment so his fitness is in question. If Touré can play and dominate the middle while adding to the attack, Les Elephants will be a threat.
Number of the Day
17 – The number of goals Mexico’s Oribe Peralta has scored in 34 matches for his country. Peralta’s strike in El Tri’s 1-0 win over Cameroon Friday afternoon was also his ninth goal in his past seven national team matches.
Photo Credit: Associated Press