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Sue the player – not the Federation

8 Aug

Bayern Munich is seeking reparations from the Dutch medical team. Arjen Robben, playing injured throughout the World Cup, re-aggravated a left hamstring injury leaving him sidelined for the first two months of Bayern’s 2010/11 Bundesliga campaign. And apparently it’s the medical staff’s fault.

I should note this is not the first time the Dutch medical staff and the football association (KNVB) have come under fire. Back in November 2009, Robin Van Persie injured himself in a friendly against Italy sidelining him for 6 weeks with a serious ankle injury. Arsenal immediately filed a complaint seeking compensation from the KNVB. Aside from wanting them to cover his salary for the time missed, they were furious over alleged mismanagement of Van Persie’s treatment. Did Arsenal have justification? Sure they did.

Drawing parallels between the two however, other than the fact that both implicate the Dutch as plaintiffs, would be inaccurate and unwise. Club teams loathe international friendlies – especially meaningless ones. Van Persie’s situation was one of these instances in that the Netherlands had already qualified for South Africa months before. Only three months into the Premiere League season, Van Persie was getting plenty of playing time and had plenty more yet. There was no reason for him to play against Italy. I have no problem calling him up, but don’t play him. An entirely different scenario is what makes Bayern’s case groundless and moot.

This was no meaningless friendly. This was the greatest tournament on the planet that comes around every four years. It is a stage that kids, from the time they are born, dream of performing on. Oh, and Arjen Robben happened to be the most explosive player in the best form of his career. Robben knew he was hurt – hell, everyone did! He sat out the first two group stage matches and only came on in the 73rd minute of the third. No misdoings by the medical staff yet as far as I can tell. They hit a wall though – confronted by a hungry, passionate, anxious winger whose left foot had the ability to lead the Netherlands to glory. What were they going to do? Chain Robben to the bench? What was Bert Van Marwijk going to do? Bench his star player, whom he knows can take them to the Promised Land?! (Not to mention the fact the Oranje noticeably lacked creativity in the games he missed.)

A freight train couldn’t have prevented Robben from getting on that field and risking injury for the sake of his country. Bayern Munich would have you believe my idea to chain him to the bench was one they should have carried out… In all seriousness, though. Where do they get the nerve heaping injustice upon the Dutch Federation for something only Robben is guilty of?

Robben’s injury history is well documented. Quite fittingly, he is often referred to as the “man of glass.” He often wears spandex body suits during games, to ensure his muscles remain warm and loose. Bayern’s argument carries an assumption that Robben is a helpless baby deer, unaware of his surroundings and his own condition. Give me a break. Nobody knows Robben’s physical limitations more than he does, and he made the decision to push those limitations, which clearly risked and resulted in long-term injury.

So Bayern wants somebody to satisfy their urge for compensation? Why don’t they just ask Arjen himself?! He’s more culpable than anyone else. Of course, in the ideal world of football, players are never held accountable for mismanaging professional medical advice. If ever an exception should be made, it’s right now. Bayern should look no farther than their own locker room to find the man to pay them back.

Don’t you just wonder if Robben had beaten Casillas on that breakaway and won the World Cup for his country, would Bayern still be doing complaining…?

World Cup Final Preview

9 Jul

WHEN SPAIN HAVE THE BALL

Well it’s obvious this will be a common sight. The question is where the weaknesses are in the Dutch defense. Gio van Bronckhorst is no Jerome Boatang of Germany who was subbed off in the 52nd minute against Spain, so attacking down the right will be a bit more difficult this time around for Sergio Ramos. I think the best bet would be the left side against Gregory van der Wiel – a 22 year old lil’ baby instead of the 35 year old captain. As good as he is and will be, van der Wiel is ill prepared for the mental discipline needed to defend against the movements of Pedro (if he starts), Iniesta, and Villa.

Busquets and Xabi Alonso will need to help Xavi more than they have in previous games. Mark Van Bommel and Nigel De Jong are two big and very physical midfielders who will surely smother anything that enters the center circle. In order to free up Xavi, he cannot be forced to come back too deep to receive the ball. Meaning, Busquets and/or Alonso will need to push up a bit farther to provide a little wiggle room for the maestro. Allow Xavi to get closer to the forwards where he can send that killer pass into the box. Otherwise, the Dutch midfield will squeeze him out.

Lastly, that free flowing movement up front will be key once again…assuming Pedro gets the start. Pedro and Iniesta switching from right to left and vice versa will keep the Dutch defense on edge. Villa will have to be a different player than he is when Torres plays, but the gaps will be there for him. This Dutch defense is a tad inferior to the Germans, which should bode well for the men up front. I want to say that because it’s a final, many goals will be necessary to win. However, with this team we know that isn’t the case. Score first – that’s the most important.

WHEN THE NETHERLANDS HAVE THE BALL

Which will be sparse. However, they have the key to unlock that high defensive line the Spanish play, and his name is Wesley Sneijder. The second best midfielder on the planet only needs a split second to turn and release a devastating ball behind the back 4. I would expect Ramos and Capdevila to push up as they have all tournament from their defensive positions. That will leave TONS of space to exploit on the counter. Ramos has always been faulted for being caught out of position so Dirk Kuyt will have plenty of open space to run at on the left side. As for Robben on the right, whether it’s open space or simply a one-on-one (perhaps Capdevila will be a bit less adventurous knowing the threat he leaves open behind him), he is MUCH quicker than Capdevila and should have no problem beating him.

Going through the middle won’t work. We have all seen how relatively boring this Dutch team has been, lacking any sort of fluidity and creativity. The middle is going to be a war zone of tackling and it would be best to spread the Spanish lines and give themselves as much room to operate as possible.

Have a go from distance. Although Casillas is coming off his best game between the posts, he is still not the same keeper he was 2 years ago. The Dutch players should give him an early run-around and see if they can capitalize on any howlers. As for their central striker, I expect Van Persie to be a non factor again. He’s drifted off many times this tournament and has been almost as inept as Fernando Torres. Now he’s going to try and conjure up some confidence to go at Pique and Puyol? Don’t see it happening.

PREDICTION
I’ve heard certain loonies claim that this Spain is boring to watch. After breaking down the argument, it ultimately centered on the lack of goals they are scoring. In response to that, someone said that compared to 2 years ago, “It’s almost like they’ve gone too far.” And I can see what he’s saying. They have mastered this style of football to such an extent that they are are content with a different style of winning. 3, 4, 5 goals aren’t needed anymore. The defense has gotten better, possession has been easier to hold, they get the ball back quicker than they used to, 1 goal is more than enough. It’s a scary thought, but one that you have to admire. There is absolutely nothing boring about watching a team so comfortable in their style of play, break down an opposing team bit by bit. It’s like a clinic in cruel and unusual punishment, knowing that death blow lies in wait somewhere.

I don’t want to completely minimize the chances for this Dutch team to win, because they will have their chances. Whether or not they cash them in is a different matter altogether. The Germans were the team that had the deadliest combination of counter attacks this tournament that could unseat the Spanish and it simply didn’t work. Yes, the Dutch will more than likely pressure the ball and not allow them as much time as the Germans did. But remember, no team applies more pressure on the ball than the Spanish! So when the Dutch get it, they’ll need to be quick and incisive. They haven’t shown that to date and there’s no reason for me to believe they will now.

The better team will win the this game. The best team in this tournament will lift the trophy.

2-1 to Spain. Viva España.

Orange Crush

7 Jul

For the third time in their history, and the first since 1978, the Netherlands will make an appearance in the World Cup Final seeking their first ever victory. In a game that provided thrills, hard tackles, and some incredible goals, the South American continent bowed out to a better, stronger European team. You can argue that missing players, notably Suarez and Lugano and some creative midfielders, would have made a difference for La Celeste. However, with plenty of chances of their own, luck finally sided with the Dutch forcing them to extend their stay in South Africa through the weekend (they only made hotel reservations through the 5th).

The first half was absolutely cracking. As expected, the Dutch held most of the possession and generally found it difficult to get through the Uruguayan defense. Only a wonder strike from Giovanni van Bronckhorst, the 35 year old captain, could break the deadlock early on. As if that wasn’t good enough, Forlan equalized roughly 20 minutes later with a mesmerizing shot of his own with his weaker left foot. Should Stekelenburg have made the save? His instincts took him one step to the right on impact, and I would imagine most keepers would have done the same. To expect a ball with that kind of velocity and movement is madness. In the end, I’m crediting Forlan. However, Uruguay began to unlock a very shaky Dutch midfield that still has yet to defend and close up gaps like it should.

Still, Van Marwijk’s substitution of Van Der Vaart at half time as a replacement for the more defensive minded De Zeeuw showed what seemed like, on the part of the Dutch during the entire first half, a lack of faith in the Uruguayan team to produce goals simply with Forlan. To their credit, Cavani rarely showed himself as a threat for most of the match.

The second half proved somewhat dull with both teams attacking while sacrificing a bit of discipline and possession. Not surprisingly the first menacing dead ball of the second half provided a great opportunity for La Celeste, which Forlan took, forcing a decent save by Stekelenburg. After that though, the Dutch found 2 chances and pounced. First, Sneijder’s sneaky shot through about 4 people taking 2 deflections on the way, and Robben’s clinical header only 3 minutes later.

Uruguay’s second (which in and of itself is one of the better goals of the tournament) came a bit too late, as did the substitution of Abreu who should have been brought on as the third striker much earlier.

I told you it wouldn’t be very pretty, and in fact it wasn’t. The goals were pretty, the game wasn’t. But that’s how it’s gone for both these teams, getting themselves through the toughest of positions with resilience and determination. For Uruguay, hats off to them. 100-1 odds to win the whole thing when we began in June. Yet, they exceeded everyone’s expectations with ferocious defense and a strike partnership that rivalled the best. A special note to Diego Forlan – one of my favorite players on this planet. Goals with his right foot and left, set pieces, exquisite first touches (if you haven’t noticed already, I have a special affinity towards players who use both feet effectively). He truly was one of the stars of this World Cup and we should all be thankful we got to witness his magic on the pitch.

Congratulations to the Oranje. Perhaps not the total football of the 70s, this team is taking care of business and will be tough to beat in the finals.

SIDE NOTE: Robben’s diving wasn’t as bad this game as it has been. What IS bad is Mark Van Bommel - the biggest and dirtiest schmuck in this tournament. The Netherlands have committed the fourth most fouls of any team in this tournament with 82 – Van Bommel leads the team with 14. They also have the second most yellow cards with 12 – Van Bommel only has 1!! I don’t really know why the referees have not booked this guy enough but he’s scum and his performances this World Cup have been a disgrace to this game.

Goal of the tournament?

7 Jul

Watch it about 10 times and let me know what you think. It’s a nominee for top spot right now. Villa still has a shot at it. But for now, enjoy the magic of Gio’s volley. Always rising. Always moving away from the goalie. And juuust past the outstretched fingertips of Muslera.

Simply a thing of beauty.

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