Talking Tactics/Brazil blend flair, gamesmanship
My Choice/ Ahn Jung-hwan, the people’s player
In The City
Long Whistle/ Refs more to blame than their assistants
Robin Singh named India U-19 coach
Bangalore Racing/ Al Habib may upstage rivals

 
 
TALKING TACTICS/BRAZIL BLEND FLAIR, GAMESMANSHIP 
 
 
BY P.K. BANERJEE
 
June 21: 
It took two strokes of pure brilliance to change a story that was following the script to the comma. This World Cup has been full of blues for teams sporting that colour — Argentina, Italy and France. The sight of Brazil discarding the traditional yellow for blue for this match and an equally traditional defensive blunder indicated it could be England’s day. But then, there was Ronaldinho.

The Brazil coach’s emphasis has been on doggedness in defence and midfield and there is no place for anything delicate in Luiz Felipe Scolari’s regimen. He encourages the use of force, theatrics and all other tricks of wasting time. But he knows if his team can show rigidity in the rear, the gift of talent upfront can win him matches. It was Ronaldinho’s turn to affirm the solidity of this plan.

However, if England think their ouster was caused solely by individual brilliance, they would be overlooking the gross tactical mistake of keeping David Beckham on the pitch for the entire match. Sven-Goran Eriksson’s team also ran out of ideas while trying to snatch the equaliser and it seemed their plan was one dimensional — play the waiting game and look for the chance to counterattack. They were hardly as impressive when the onus was on them to attack.

The start was predictable, with Brazil looking determined to plug the holes in midfield and retain numerical supremacy in their half. Neither team tried to gain early ascendancy and England were spot-on in defensive organisation. They had a parallel line of resistance ahead of the back four and shut down all roads leading up to the goalmouth. Ronaldo was under tight marking and England ensured he wasn’t fed.

England’s plan seemed to pay off. They were waiting for Brazil to err, and defender Lucio obliged despite having his man covered following a lob from the deep. Michael Owen finished with majestic elan, though he must have thought for a second that he had been beaten to the ball.

This sudden lead was exactly what England wanted, and they started defending with greater resilience. Brazil were lost in the crowd after nearing the striking zone and needed something special. Ronaldinho’s magic run through the heart of the defence provided just that. There was more… It was impossible to think of scoring from that free-kick, from that angle. When David Seaman watches the video, he will curse himself for letting it in. Ronaldinho’s expulsion looked harsh, but gave England just the chance they needed. But they couldn’t take the advantage of playing against ten and this is where Beckham’s presence let them down.

Playing more like a roaming winger, rather than the midfield navigator he was expected to be, a few long and correct passes was all Beckham managed. After playing the first pass that started the moves, Beckham rarely cut into the striking zone, which reduced him to just 50 per cent of an attacking midfielder. He was less than that in defensive activities and seemed to cower away from the spot of action when it was getting physical. Because of his token presence, England could not take advantage of being a man up.

Brazil’s defensive organs performed beyond expectation after taking the lead. They worked in such a way that all English forays narrowed down to a point in front of the defensive third instead of stretching towards the wings or working through the middle. Brazil also followed Scolari’s instructions by killing time as was evident in Rivaldo’s theatrics. He can’t keep getting away with it and I’m sure Brazil need his left-footed wizardry more than his play-acting.

Later, Germany escaped the US onslaught despite being outplayed in midfield. The Americans surprised them by their speed and ability to share load. There was nobody in the German midfield to shoulder responsibility, and but for goalkeeper Oliver Kahn and a disallowed penalty, the US would have embarrassed the three-time champions.

Germany allowed too much space in the middle-third and though the expertise in delivering from dead-ball situations saw them through, Rudi Voeller’s team needs to improve by several notches to make further progress.

   

 
 
MY CHOICE/ AHN JUNG-HWAN, THE PEOPLE’S PLAYER 
 
 
BY HABEEB
 
June 21: 
Quite a heady affair, this Brazil victory… a surfeit of talent, a surfeit of technique. But let me stick to the pre-quarter finals for my selection this time. For the Brazilians, it’s like choosing the Rolls Royce over the Volkswagen for class. It’s not even the beginning of a selective exercise. But, watching the last 16 matches, I was convinced there was talent elsewhere too.

Ahn Jung-hwan of South Korea makes an impression as good as any in this World Cup. He scores, he snatches, he screens, he turns, and even if he has missed a penalty, this 26-year-old has the guts to go at it again and head in the golden goal that takes his country to the quarter finals. Watch him Saturday, versus Spain, for effect. This Volkswagen is in a sturdy, economical class of his own whose dividend is accrued in the long run.

Yes, I know he has not been able to get into the Perugia starting line-up (loaned to the Italian side from Pusan Icons), and I know that his goal actually cut off his Italian stint — now, that was a show of sheer hubris from the Italian side — but I also believe in fresh faces and in sheer guts.

If I was taking down notes, I noticed no type-set move in this man. Pretty nondescript on the contours, engine capacity medium yet tuned to high torque, hardly silent and smooth, yet eminently effective. No, I concluded. Definitely not a Rolls Royce among footballers, a Volkswagen more likely, and a man who you can rely on to get you home safe. That’s his USP. With even the Brazilians realising the goodness of gamesmanship and the tricks of the trade in amalgamation with style, you have a winner in this former Korea league Player of the Year.

What is more interesting in Ahn — Volkswagen or not — is that he does not get lost in the crowd. Not because he is Korea’s pin-up boy, but because he has the dribble, and the shooter-knack and the header to foot. The problem is, sometimes you believe your Volkswagen is actually a Hummer and can drive you up the steep. Well, it can’t. Ahn needs his team for support in good measure… the good news is that this Korea team is beautifully and effectively one. However, that also happens to be the bad news. Ahn will have to learn to act more without the just-right support system. Fortunately, the people’s car is geared to the learning curve, and that makes me optimistic.

Ahn apart, and away, too, from the Ronaldos and the Rivaldos and the Ronaldinhos, I think I need to quickly mention Robbie Keane of Ireland. Or, what he could have been. I like people who can push through initiatives, people who can score, and people who work hard. Gives me a creepy feeling, ‘the right man in the wrong squad’ probably. But what to do…

And that footnote-man, that last line of defence in the Turkish team: Rustu Recber. He is unconventional and unsteady, say some. But so am I, I would like to believe. I like him. What is a goalkeeper without some weird idiosyncrasies, some odd line of thinking. He has the class of a wayward Mercedes, maybe.

   

 
 
IN THE CITY 
 
 
 
June 21: 

Karthikeyan’s test

Narain Karthikeyan will have had only Friday’s hour-long practice session to get to know the Albacete track in Spain, when the F3 Nissan World Series leg kicks off on the weekend.

Having finished third in his last outing, he will have to depend on a great deal of ingenuity in his Tata RDC Motorsport car.

Albacete’s flowing corners make it one of the fastest circuit on the calendar,” said Karthikeyan, according to information reaching here, confirming that all he knew of the track were from videos.

Series leader Ricardo Zonta will be favourite. Everything Karthikeyan achieves here will be, thus, a bonus.

Barreto to lead Mohun Bagan

Jose Ramirez Barreto will lead Mohun Bagan in the forthcoming season. R.P. Singh was earlier named captain, but the midfielder has since signed for Mahindra United.

Meanwhile, Mohun Bagan have been unable to confirm Bhaichung Bhutia as yet. It was learnt that the star player is not ready to follow the terms and conditions of sponsors McDowell.

He is also reportedly not ready to undergo a fitness test. Moreover, his unavailability till the National League because of India commitments is making the authorities think twice.

Matches cancelled

All CFL matches scheduled for Friday were cancelled for the World Cup. The IFA has also decided to cancel matches on Saturday, Tuesday, Wednesday, June 29 and 30.

Moullick dies

Former India international Ashim Moullick, who played for Mohun Bagan and East Bengal in the 60’s and early 70’s died in the city Friday. He was 59 and is survived by his wife and daughter.    

 
 
LONG WHISTLE/ REFS MORE TO BLAME THAN THEIR ASSISTANTS 
 
 
BY MILAN DATTA
 
June 21: 
The assistant referees (linesmen) doing duty at the World Cup finals came in for severe criticism from Fifa. I must say I see no logic in this. Firstly, these men are already under great pressure, so why should the game’s governing body hit out against them while the tournament is still on? A few individuals have made some mistakes and Italy may have suffered from some poor judgement by assistant referees in their matches against Croatia and South Korea, but why make a generalisation?

If you ask me, it’s the referees who have been at the centre of the bigger controversies, not the men with the flags. Red cards have led to raised eyebrows from group league stage till the last Round-of-16 match.

In a high-profile second-round clash, Belgium striker Marc Wilmots’ headed ‘goal’ against Brazil was turned down by Jamaican referee Peter Prendergast. As Wilmots and Brazilian defender Roque Junior went up to meet a cross from Jacky Peeters, the Belgian won the aerial duel and headed it into the goal cleanly. There was no flag from the assistant referee, yet Mr Prendergast blew in favour of the big team.

The infamous ‘Hand of God’ reappeared and this time, Mexico were at the receiving end. Garcia Aspe’s curling corner-kick was punched away by US medio John O’Brien, but Portuguese referee Vitor Pereira looked the other way. The Mexicans were denied a clear penalty and, a chance to neutralise America’s 1-0 lead.

Swedish referee Anders Frisk’s penalty call in favour of Ireland against Spain was definitely questionable. Spanish defender Juanfran only attempted to clear the ball, he didn’t trip Irish striker Damien Duff. When Iker Cassillas partially saved the penalty taken by Ian Harte, another Irishman Kevin Kilbane suddenly pounced on the rebound a couple of yards away from the goalkeeper and took another shot. That he failed to score is another matter. The question is how did Kilbane, who was supposed to be 10 yards away from the penalty spot at the time of the kick being taken, come so close to the goalline ahead of Harte?

There was a similar incident in the league match between Sweden and Argentina. Hernan Crespo gave Argentina a late equaliser by rushing in and slotting home a rebound after Ariel Ortega’s penalty had been partially saved by the Swedish goalkeeper. In both situations, there were clear cases of encroachment by the second man but the referees failed to notice them.

The Swedish referee in the Spain-Ireland duel had the courage to award a second penalty against Spain when, in the 89th minute, Spanish captain Fernando Hierro pulled Irish striker Niall Quinn’s shirt when he went in for a header. This time, Robbie Keane converted the penalty, pushing the match to extra-time and, subsequently, a tie-breaker.

Italian captain Totti was very unlucky to be shown a yellow card at a crucial juncture of the clash against Korea. He was charged for simulation but replays showed it was Totti who was fouled by Korean defender. That was not Ecuadorean Byron Moreno’s only mistake, he lacked authority throughout the match. He should have sent off Tae Young-kim with a second booking for fouling Alessandro Del Piero instead of asking the Korean to shake hands with the Italian striker.

Pierluigi Collina was his calm and confident self in the Japan-Turkey clash played in front of 50,000-odd fans cheering for the home team. The efficient supervision of Guatemalan Carlos Batres (Germany-Paraguay) and German Markus Merk (England-Denmark) also merits mention. Michael Owen’s goal, after he received a ball from Nicky Butt standing in the same line with Danish defender Rene Henriksen, was really well judged thanks to excellent understanding between the German referee and his Czech assistant.

   

 
 
ROBIN SINGH NAMED INDIA U-19 COACH 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, June 21: 
Former India allrounder Robin Singh was named coach of the under-19 team for the tour of England in July, BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah said Friday.

Arjunsinh Rana, who had been with the India A side in the past was named the team physiotherapist.

Ashok Ori, the vice–president of the Rajasthan Cricket Association, was appointed the manager for the series.

Robin Singh was recently associated with the South Zone wing of the National Cricket Academy as one of the coaches.

He had also been named as one of Kapil Dev’s assistant for the pace wing in Bangalore along with Sunil Valson.

   

 
 
BANGALORE RACING/ AL HABIB MAY UPSTAGE RIVALS 
 
 
FROM WILLIAM TELL
 
Bangalore, June 21: 
The Saturday afternoon’s main event, the 1,200m Stewards Cup for horses rated 40 and above, looks to be a very open affair with all the eight runners in the fray having no form to go by. However, on class, the three most likely to be involved at the finish could be Royal Satin, Al Habib and Allabreva.

Any of the three may emerge as a winner. But going by their past performance and also by their current track trials, the one who may come out and score in the hands of K. P. Appu is the Darashah-trained five-year-old horse Al Habib.

SELECTIONS

2 pm: Princess Cut 1. Some Romance 2. Bansuri 3.

2.30 pm: Enthronement 1. Dark Felt 2. Catch Word 3.

3 pm: Dancing Clear 1. Cherry Blue 2. Prince Thunder 3.

3.30 pm: Odeon 1. Caesarr 2. Kyosoba 3.

4 pm: Al Habib 1. Allabreva 2. Royal Satin 3.

4.30 pm: Firecrest 1. Pretty Move 2. Adolfito 3.

5 pm: Rose Garden 1. Another Time 2. God’s Gift 3.

5.30 pm: Breaking News 1. River of Stars 2. Private Emotions 3.

Day’s Best Odeon

Double: Firecrest & Breaking News

   
 

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