Quote of the week

“To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you're not, pretend you are.” – Muhammad Ali

Monday, July 21, 2014

A good win for Lesotho, but there is still work to do

Lesotho got the first part of the job done, a 1-0 win over Kenya at Setsoto Stadium on Sunday in the first leg of its 2014 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier. Now Likuena have to go and finish the job in Kenya. The winner goes through to the final stage of qualifying – a group containing Burkina Faso, Gabon and Angola – with the ultimate goal being a spot at the 2015 Afcon in Morocco.

That’s the carrot dangling for Lesotho.

There are many positives for Likuena.

Setsoto has really turned into a fortress for Lesotho and Likuena are enjoying their best period in competitive matches since a run between 1992 and 1994 when Lesotho went five matches unbeaten at home. Lesotho has only lost once in its past seven matches at home, conceding just three goals. Likuena’s only loss was to Ghana.

Lesotho's recent home form in competitive matches
22/01/12 Lesotho 0-0 São Tomé e Príncipe (Afcon qualifier)
10/06/12 Lesotho 0-0 Sudan (World Cup qualifier)
24/03/13 Lesotho 1-1 Zambia (World Cup qualifier)
16/06/13 Lesotho 0-2 Ghana (World Cup qualifier)
01/06/14 Lesotho 2-0 Liberia (World Cup qualifier)
20/07/14 Lesotho 1-0 Kenya (Afcon qualifier)

This is very encouraging.

A home fortress is always a prerequisite but most especially in African football.

Tšotleho Jane (10) v Kenya
Photo credit: Soccer Laduma
The team’s defensive solidity is another positive and gives hope for the second leg in two weeks' time. Lesotho has only conceded twice in its past four competitive outings.

Sunday’s display against Kenya wasn’t the best. Lesotho’s interim coach Seepheephe Matete was intent on keeping things tight and started with Thapelo Tale as the lone striker. 

Kenya was the better side for large parts of the first half, mostly via their superior physicality, while Lesotho was flat.  Likuena were also lucky; goalkeeper Mohau Kuenane spilled an early free-kick suspiciously close to the goal-line as Lesotho also battled early jitters.

Things improved somewhat when Mabuti Potloane replaced Thabo Masualle. Tšoanelo Koetle moved to right-back in a tactical reshuffle and he would end up having an influential game.
After the break Likuena improved slightly more and were rewarded 20 minutes into the second half when Tšepo Seturumane found the net with a header goal from Koetle’s cross . Lesotho had three further half-chances to add a bigger cushion for the second leg.

But, 1-0 it will be. Not a bad result at all. The pressure is now all on Kenya. One Likuena goal in the return on August 3 would mean Kenya need three to progress.

There is plenty of work still to be done, but Lesotho should wake this morning confident.

Lesotho XI v Kenya
1. Mohau Kuenane
2. Thabo Masualle
3. Jerry Kamela
4. Nkau Lerotholi
5. Moitheri Ntobo (c)
6. Tšoanelo Koetle
7. Bushy Moletsane
8. Motlalepula Mofolo
9. Thapelo Tale
10. Tšotleho Jane
11. Tšepo Seturumane

Phafa Tšosane
Lekhanya Lekhanya
Mabuti Potloane
Sepiriti Malefane
Tšepo Lekhoana
Basia Makepe
Kananelo Makhooane

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Lesotho 1-0 Kenya

2015 Africa Cup of Nations Qualifier
First round qualifier, first leg
Setsoto Stadium
Maseru, Lesotho
Lesotho 1-0 Kenya 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Germany: A 10 Year Project

Leader of the pack...
Jogi Loew
“We’ve been together now for 55 days. We started this project 10 years ago, so this is the result of many years’ work, beginning with Jurgen Klinsmann. We’ve continued that work and our strength has been our constant progress. Wed not made this ultimate step before, but champions do what they will do. We believed we’d win it, and we worked a lot to achieve it. If anyone deserves it, then this team with (Bastian) Schweinsteiger, (Philipp) Lahm, (Lukas) Podolski, (Per) Mertesacker ... they deserve it. This team deserves it. We showed the best performances for seven matches of all the teams in this tournament, but were looking back over 10 years of preparation and hard work. This team has developed a spirit which is unbelievable.”  – Germany coach Joachim Löw

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Thesis Points

One of a kind...

My Thesis Points, inspired in part by the 2014 World Cup:
- Brazil has regressed in a way almost similar to Africa in that they are producing players for the European game, not players of their tradition, feeling and culture
- What separates Brazil from Africa is an obvious pride that is indistinguishable, they feel they are best in football; they take huge pride in the Brazil shirt
-  A good tactic can, to a degree, be independent of players; but players, no matter how good, can never be independent of structure, cohesion and organisation
- The independent thinking player, the crack/craque, is vital. He can decide a game at any moment and he elicits above normal attention from opposition
- Speed, precision and discipline are vital with the non-possession phase now as important, if not more important, than the possession phase

Note: it may seem I’m always bashing Europe, I am not. Europe is the Mecca of football, the pinnacle of game. However, it is the responsibility of other nations/regions to preserve their own culture while producing a standard of player able to thrive in Europe’s best leagues. Africa in the past was able to produce Abedi Pele and Jay-Jay Okocha, for example, who shone brightly in Europe’s best clubs and leagues. Brazil had Zico, Romario, Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho to name a few. Why can’t they produce the same player anymore?


Monday, July 7, 2014

Brazil have sacrificed flair for substance

The old flair is gone, but Brazil will still be
World Champions
Brazil have sacrificed flair for substance, but they will still win the World Cup...

In the end Brazil literally came within six inches of exiting the World Cup.

That’s the width of the crossbar and the only thing that saved the Seleção from Mauricio Pinilla’s potential game-winning strike.

Eventually, after huffing and puffing for 120 minutes, Brazil overcame Chile on penalties but it had been the most uninspiring of displays from the hosts, not the mythical Seleção of 1970 or 1982, or the Brazil many grew up idolising.

This was stale, uninspired and with no magic.

Of course, a lot of that was down to Chile who put up a fantastic display, harassing their hosts in regulation time and then showing resolve to hold out for a shootout. But even so, this wasn’t Brazil and the most damning verdict one could give is it wasn’t much of a surprise.

Calling Brazil a team of flair and skill today has become wholly erroneous; they have long abandoned their magic. Today Brazil are functional and pragmatic, and this progressive shredding of their flamboyance has come to a head at this World Cup.

Despite playing at home in this grand carnival of a World Cup, Brazil have failed to inspire. Even after a bright start against Chile they once more fell into their now tentative ways in the end resorting to long balls from defence in search of a winner.

Long ball fever v Chile

Total long balls
Accurate long balls
Thiago Silva
David Luiz
Dani Alves

“Never seen so many long balls played by a Brazilian side.” - @Tim_Cahill

Pass success
Passes Completed
Attacking 3rd passes
Totals shots
Shots on targets

For the majority of their last 16 encounter at the Estadio Minerao, Brazil were out-played. Chile had better build-up play while the hosts not only lacked imagination but the ability to execute – Brazil’s passing accuracy of 72.9% was their second lowest in a World Cup match since 1966, their lowest being 72.4% against Germany in the 2002 final.

"The Seleção managed to create a few chances, but the fact is that we are lacking a proper game-plan. There is no more build-up from the back and players once again resorted to long balls to Neymar." - Zico on Brazil’s performance against Chile

On a wider scale, Brazil’s performances at this World Cup, their World Cup, are the harvest of a long-time shifting in football mentality.

A lot, maybe too much depends on Neymar
Brazil’s game-plan has always depended on two fullbacks bombing forward and two or three fantasy talents – Ronaldo, Romario, Rivaldo etc. However, the 2006 World Cup where Brazil crashed out in the quarters, with perhaps their most star-studded squad ever, represents a turning point in how this approach was interpreted.

Amidst the country’s collective grief and anger at an early World Cup exit, a collective blind eye was turned to the slow changing of the national team’s traditions by Dunga’s appointment as coach.

Quick, pain-relieving successes came, but the Seleção’s enduring charisma left.

Brazil’s Copa America win in 2007 came thanks to a counterattacking display in the final against Argentina and so generally have Brazil’s triumphs since – the 2009 Confederations Cup and last year’s win in the same tournament against Spain.

“The Brazilian football which is admired all around the world for its touch, for exchanging passes and dominating the game, no longer exists. Today's Brazilian footballing style is an affront to our culture." – Socrates, 2010

The type of player picked for the national team has thus changed, the kind of player produced also not as exotic.

Today the overall quality in Brazil team isn’t of the same standard and, as such, no one has been able to step up and support Neymar, Brazil’s only true superstar at present.

Oscar has shown flashes but has been inconsistent, so too Hulk. More worryingly, upfront Brazil simply don’t have an international class striker – between them Fred and Jo have managed one goal in the tournament thus far.

Brazil over the years

Roberto Carlos
Roberto Carlos
Roberto Carlos
Dani Alves
Mauro Silva
Cesar Sampaio
Gilberto Silva
Gilberto Silva
Ze Roberto
Luiz Gustavo
Ronaldinho Rivaldo

There are still very good footballers in Luiz Felipe Scolari’s squad but none of the transcendent quality of years past because Brazil isn’t producing the same player it was.

Whereas 15 years ago there was a Rivaldo to call on, now there’s a Willian, a talented but more functional player.

“Creativity and instinct are being undermined by a focus on results when kids should actually be worried about developing their fundamentals,” Zico complained recently. “Worse, in my opinion, is that youth academies seem to be picking players with focus on size instead of talent.”

Equally, those players who do posses that rare guile are leaving for Europe far too early and aren’t benefitting from the grounding their peers had in the past or that a Neymar has ha for instance.

Kerlon and Keirrison are but two examples of precocious talents that left Brazil too early while Philippe Coutinho, who joined Italian giants Inter Milan at 18, is only finding his feet now at Liverpool.

Brazil's 12th man will carry them to the title...
Brazil’s changing philosophies over the years, in terms of tactics, player production and exportation, have thus brought them to this point where the Seleção is largely predictable and unimaginative.

That all said, this World Cup means far too much to Brazil, so much that they remain the side to beat.

Apart from being host nation, no other contender has yet looked wholly convincing and the longing for a World Cup triumph at home – from players and fans alike – can’t be overstated. In possibly the world’s most diverse nation, a country still blighted by poverty and inequalities, football remains its greatest unifying force and hope.

In beating Chile and in their 3-1 opening game comeback against Croatia, Brazil have already shown that what they lack in flair they more than make up for in courage and willpower.

Brazil may have abandoned their mythical flair, but they will still win this World Cup.

Written for BSports StatsInsights