Neymar-less Brazil can still beat Germany
What a mixture of emotions the whole of Brazil must be feeling this morning as they look back on another dramatic victory over Colombia and forward to a World Cup semi-final against Germany without their captain and their star player.
The loss of Neymar is huge on so many different levels. Jo is the only reserve striker, but whoever you brought in would struggle to fill those boots. There is a psychological aspect too, with the whole squad knowing all too well how important Neymar is.
Then at the other end of the pitch they must do without their captain, Thiago Silva, who collected such a silly booking when all sorts of bad challenges went unpunished. But it is a team game and now the others must step up. One consolation is the performances of David Luiz, who many people predicted would cost Brazil with his defending but has done the opposite and on Friday came up with one of the goals of the tournament.
If anyone can expose him it might be Germany in what promises to be a mouth-watering semi-final. They are great party-poopers, but even without Neymar I still think Brazil have enough to beat them. From a neutral point of view, you would hope that the drama and intensity continues but with the referee taking a stronger hand from the start. Sometimes even that doesn’t work, as Howard Webb found out in the last World Cup final, and Brazil in particular have made something of an art of tactical fouling, which is why we saw so many free-kicks the other night.
What would be a real shame would be if what has been a terrific tournament deteriorated from here on in now that there is even more at stake than before.
It was certainly a dramatic finish to the last quarter-final last night, when I hope plenty of Newcastle supporters were still up to watch Tim Krul save the day for the Netherlands. Tim is a smashing lad and it was great that he got a chance for the first time in the competition and took it so well.
The most controversial and shocking moments of the World Cup so far
The most controversial and shocking moments of the World Cup so far
1/15 Yuichi Nishimura gives Fred a penalty
The opening game of the World Cup between Brazil and Croatia was meant to be all about the hosts, but it was Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura who stole the show. With the scores level at 1-1 and Croatia looking as likely to take the lead as the team in yellow, Nishimura gave an incredibly soft penalty after minimal contact between Dejan Lovren and Fred. Neymar, who perhaps should have been sent off earlier in the game for an elbow on Luka Modric, stepped up to score his second of the match and Brazil eventually won the match 3-1.
2/15 Finally, justice for Mexico
Mexico completely outplayed a poor Cameroon side but only after not one but two disallowed goals for Giovani Dos Santos. The former Tottenham striker had a volley and a header disallowed despite replays suggesting both should have stood. Thankfully Oribe Peralta scored during the second half and Mexico won the match.
3/15 The pantomime villain
The 5-1 defeat inflicted on Spain by the Netherlands was perhaps shocking enough, but the greatest moment of controversy came when pantomime villain Diego Costa appeared to aim a head-butt at Bruno Martins Indi. Being booed throughout by the locals due to his switching nationality, the soon-to-be Chelsea striker appeared to move his head towards the Netherlands player.
4/15 Hart goes mental at ball boy
Perhaps angered at being completely duped by an Andrea Pirlo free-kick that thankfully for England hit the bar, or maybe just desperate to get the game going again, Hart went wild as he looked to retrieve the ball. The Manchester City goalkeeper screamed and swore at the poor ball boy behind the goal.
5/15 Just because your losing
A superb performance by Joel Campbell not only earned Costa Rica a win against Uruguay, it also saw him given a good kick by Maximiliano Pereira. The Uruguay defender put in a spiteful challenge on the Arsenal striker and waas shown the first red card of the World Cup.
6/15 Play on
Thanks to the referee, this was a moment of controversy avoided. With the scores level at 1-1, Ecuador had a great chance to take the lead in injury time. But after a superb defensive block by Valon Behrami, the Swiss broke. A dreadful challenge went in but referee Ravshan Irmatov waved play on and seconds later there were jubilant scenes as substitute Haris Seferovic rifled into the net.
7/15 Goal line technology
Making its first appearance at a World Cup, Fifa have been making the most of the goal line technology at their disposal. Goals that have clearly crossed the line have been replayed in great detail, just to confirm they have. But during France's win over Honduras the technology caused confusion, particularly for BBC commentator Jonathan Pearce. Karim Benzema's initial shot was shown not to be a goal, but when the cameras were rolled forward, it was shown that goalkeeper Noel Valladares had nudged the ball over the line. Quite simply it was a goal, but it still left a few people perplexed, particularly the former Robot Wars commentator.
8/15 Broken nose
Clint Dempsey has always been something of a hard man. The USA forward once told of how he tried to punch a teacher. But it seems the former Fulham man can take it as well as dish it out. After putting his team into an early lead against Ghana, the Stars and Stripes captain broke his nose after a collision with John Boye. He played on.
9/15 Pepe plonker
Pepe has never professed to be a mildly mannered defender, but even his actions against Germany were shocking. A coming together with Thomas Mueller saw the Germany striker making the most of the situation, going down rather dramatically. Angered by this, the Portugal defender decided to make sure there really was some damage done by pushing his head towards the Bayern Munich midfielder. It led to a straight red card and contributed to Portugal being mauled 4-0. To rub salt in Pepe's wounds, Mueller scored a hat-trick.
10/15 Deja vu for Capello
Fabio Capello could have been forgiven for thinking he'd see it all before during Russia's first game. The match with South Korea ended 1-1 and involved an horrendous goalkeeping mistake by Igor Akinfeev, bringing back echoes of England's opener against the United States four years ago in which Rob Green let the ball trickle into his net.
11/15 Marcelo dive
Perhaps encouraged by the refereeing mistakes in Brazil's favour against Croatia, when the hosts were struggling to break down Mexico, Marcelo took a theatrical dive in the box. It was the worst bit of simulation this World Cup had seen, and thankfully the referee agreed.
12/15 Really disgusting Cameroon
The actions of Alex Song and Benoit Assou-Ekotto were labelled 'really disgusting' by their own coach after Cameroon's 4-0 defeat to Croatia. Song was sent off for a shocking elbow on Mario Mandzukic, but things really descended into chaos when Assou-Ekotto became involved in an on-pitch argument... with his own team-mate!
13/15 The end of the Spanish reign
Having won the last World Cup and the European Championships either side of it, the end of Spain's dominance came in shocking style. Having been whipped 5-1 by the Netherlands, a result was needed against Chile. But the tiki-taka that once mesmerised audiences looked flat and uninspired. Chile won the game 2-0 and Spain's defence of their crown was over before it really got going.
14/15 Luis Suarez bites again
The Uruguayan striker has been built up as one of the most lethal finishers at the World Cup, and rightly so, but he shocked the world when he appeared to bite Italy's Giorgio Chiellini during the 1-0 victory over Italy. It was the third time Suarez had been involved in such an incident, having previously been found guilty of biting PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal and Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea in recent years.
15/15 Beam me up Fabio
Igor Akinfeev makes his second appearance here but on this occasion it wasn't his fault. According to Fabio Capello, the Russian goalkeeper was blinded by a laser beam shone in his eyes from someone in the crowd during the build-up to Algeria's equaliser in their 1-1 game. It was a result that saw Russia exit the World Cup.
Players know they can get away with diving
By rightly banning Luis Suarez for something the referee either did not see or did nothing about, Fifa have shown how retrospective action can lead to justice being done. So why not the same action for something much more common than biting – namely, diving? Just like the curse of holding and grabbing at set-pieces, it would not take many cases of severe punishment before the message got home.
I honestly think the referees have created part of the problem for themselves by not giving a yellow card for simulation early on in the tournament. I mentioned in a previous column that they let a few dives go without giving a yellow card, and if I picked up on it then certainly players and managers in the tournament would have done, realising they can get away with it. Obviously two yellows and you miss a match, so whether they were being encouraged from above not to lose top attacking players from the tournament I don’t know, but it’s still not right.
Of course, these are often very difficult hair-line decisions, even for the top referees. Take the Arjen Robben incidents in the match against Mexico. For me, the penalty was 50-50 and therefore should not have been given, especially in the last minute of a crucal game with a nation’s hopes riding on it. It just wasn’t clear cut. It needed to be cast iron to give that, so you could understand Mexico’s frustration.
In the Premier League there are players you know will go down if you touch them, Suarez being one. We warn our players about that and I’m sure other managers do the same. It’s not something that referees warn players about, however. They don’t visit dressing-rooms these days so all that happens is the captain and manager or his assistant takes the team sheet to the ref’s room, where they will say something along the lines of, “you help me and I’ll help you”. Pre-season, and maybe once during the season, there will be a visit from a referee to talk about anything special they have been told to clamp down on, or if there’s been an actual rule change. So a couple of years ago they said they were going to be strict on holding, but now you can grapple someone almost to the floor again.
If a player was actually sent off for a really bad simulated dive, that would stop it. You wouldn’t want to risk losing one of your best players for that. But of course it would have to be clear cut, with at least two of the officials absolutely certain, because to get that wrong really would mean trouble.
But if the incident is picked up clearly enough by all those television cameras, that’s the best way of protecting and helping referees. At least it might bring a ban for the next game, which would make managers and players think twice.
Water breaks good, TV adverts bad
I am all in favour of the water breaks being used for health resons but also for tactical reasons. It was surprising that anything was made of Louis van Gaal saying he used the break to change the system the Dutch were playing, which seemed perfectly reasonable to me.
It’s not as if you can’t get a message over to the team during a game, whether it’s to a player nearest to you on the touchline or one who’s been off the field for treatment. Managers can hardly be expected to take a vow of silence while the players are having a drink. The only downside from a coach’s point of view would be if your team has all the momentum and the game is suddenly stopped for three minutes. But I thought it was handled well. You could see people in the stadium enjoying a little break and chat; similarly with the television coverage, where they didn’t give us three minutes of adverts, which some people had feared if it just became a commercial opportunity to be exploited.
What really helped us to sign De Jong
Most Premier League clubs will have had two or three scouts out in Brazil, although these days they already know all about most of the European players at least. With some of those you fancy, you’re actually hoping they don’t have an outstanding tournament or the price will shoot up, as has been the case at this World Cup with people like James Rodriguez and Alexis Sanchez.
For that reason we at Newcastle were happy from a selfish point of view that Siem de Jong, the Ajax captain we signed this week, did not make the Dutch World Cup squad after being injured beforehand.
During the trounament my phone has also been buzzing with texts and calls from agents advising me to look out for this or that player from the Ivory Coast or the USA or Colombia. Agents tend to have a bad reputation but they can be a good source of information and are not simply to be ignored.
What has made the whole thing easier these days is a brilliant computer system clubs use called Wyscout, developed in Italy, on which you can pull out information and video clips of almost any player from across the world. As an example, I got a tip from an agent during the World Cup, liked what I saw and was able to check the player out both through our own extensive scouting records and then on Wyscout. He is one we’ll be keeping an eye on.
If it were my decision, I’d have new technology in our game
The drinks breaks, as used in cricket, are an example of not being afraid to learn from other sports. Having an enjoyable day at Wimbledon last week, I again saw the use of Hawkeye for debatable line decisions, which all the players accept, as they have to, and which the crowd like too.
Similarly I’m very much in favour of Sepp Blatter’s suggestion of being allowed to challenge two decisions per game, if the technology is right. Whether we would ever go so far as managers being able to call actual time-outs as in basketball is another matter but all these things are worth consideration and debate.