It’s raining goals in Brazil, the attackers’ World Cup

Saturday June 28 2014

 

By MARK SSALI

Calling this the most exciting World Cup in history as some have, either boldly or overzealously, is at the very least premature, but there is no arguing against the fact that the Brazuca has been flying into the net like a bazooka.

Coaches, tactical geeks, pundits and pragmatists alike cannot be too happy with proceedings as they have been in Brazil so far, but they represent a dissenting minority that would not be heard above the noise that is following every goal on the packed terraces of this massively attended football carnival.

And it is not just the fans in the stadiums that have welcomed this goals galore; it is Fifa too, under fire from several quarters before the tournament started, but now relieved that the football has taken over; likewise the organisers in Brazil, who have seen the strikes in the streets take a back seat to the strikers on the pitches; the television people, for whom the heavy investment is paying off with the ratings soaring and viewership no doubt multiplying; cue the sponsors, grumbling before kickoff but rumbling now; and the betting syndicates, which have been laughing all the way to the bank from the time Holland upset Spain, through Costa Rica’s heroics, down to unlikely goal harvests for Australia against Holland, Algeria against South Korea and Nigeria against Argentina.

That it is an attackers’ World Cup has not made my little game of picking a best team for each round as smooth as usual though, under these circumstances it would be easier to name the best players of the tournament than name a balanced Eleven. But I will endeavour all the same.

In goal
Shutting out Brazil in the second group game has been the single most eye-catching display of any goalkeeper at this tournament so far, and for that Guillermo Ochoa gets the nod over Nigeria’s Vincent Enyeama who has carried his club form with Lille to Brazil. The Mexican also came up with the saves to knock out Croatia afterwards.

Full backs
I did contemplate playing a back three the way Holland’s Luis Van Gaal has successfully done, but in the end I decided to go with a back four to at least make up for the understandably and inevitably attacker-heavy line-up.

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So at right back I go with the American Fabian Johnson, born in Munich and plying his trade for German club Hoffenheim. He has been superb going up and down that flank, and keeps out Switzerland’s Stephan Lichsteiner and the Ivorian Serge Aurier. Holland’s Daley Blind slides back from Louis Van Gaal’s wing-back position to my left back slot, ahead of the Brazilian Marcelo and the Swiss Ricardo Rodrigues.

Centre backs
Thirty five-year-old Rafa Marquez has turned back the clock quite admirably, and he is joined here by the Uruguayan rock Diego Godin, the pair keeping out Belgium’s captain Vincent Kompany and the little Chilean terrier Gary Medel.

Midfield three
In further confirmation that, rather than this be the midfielder’s World Cup in which we expected numbers, patient possession and pressing to dominate, it has instead been the attacker’s tournament, with quick forward bursts taking over. No wonder a box-to-box midfielder takes up the holding role, Blaise Matiudi being France’s driving force from the middle in some impressive displays. Just ahead of him are the Bayern pair of Arjen Robben and Xherdan Shaqiri, who have dropped deep and assumed the responsibility of carrying their teams forward, creating and scoring too.

Forward three
There is no need for the justification of Lionel Messi and Neymar’s slots, and that is not because they top the scoring charts but because they have been their countries’ star men beyond the statistics. They take the two places on the right and left of the spearhead, who is Robin Van Persie.

The Dutchman only gets in here ahead of the equally imposing Karim Benzema of France, Enner Valencia of Ecuador and Thomas Muller of Germany because of the way he put champions and favourites Spain to the sword, in a performance that in many ways set the tone for the goal-fest that this tournament has turned out to be.

Coach
Costa Rica’s Jorge Luis Pinto, the self-styled General, gets in ahead of Chile’s Jorge Sampaoli, although both have been exemplary.
The lineup: Ochoa (Mexico); Johnson (USA) Blind (Holland) Godin (Uruguay) Marquez (Mexico); Matiudi (France) Shaqiri (Switzerland) Robben (Holland); Messi (Argentina) Neymar (Brazil) Van Persie (Holland).

mmssalli@yahoo.com, @markssali on twitter