Thursday, June 12, 2014

FIFA Moves Ahead of NBA with Latest Farce

After ninety plus minutes of play, two things were certain about the first game of the 2014 World Cup between host team Brazil and Croatia.  One is that Brazil emerged with a win.  The other is that Croatia deserved far better and Brazil at least no better than a draw.

Croatia could have weathered suspect goaltending and some curious strategy at points in the game, were they on a level playing field.  Alas, they were not.  As has become the norm on FIFA's largest stage, when it most mattered, the officiating went south--or at least stayed true to FIFA wishes.

With all of the consternation about the cost of the World Cup to the denizens of a largely poor nation, nothing would have been worse for FIFA then to have the host team, the team of the past Century and, perhaps, of the present, not advance to the knock-out rounds of this year's tournament.  Fortunately for FIFA, that result appears highly unlikely, given that Brazil likely needs only to beat either a struggling Mexico or a disgruntled Cameroon side in one of the lightest draws in World Cup history.

Assuming Brazil only received the benefit of the draw from FIFA, and not the benefit of some FIFA-orchestrated conspiracy to advance Brazil through the tournament, Brazil certainly was the beneficiary of several horrendous officiating calls in the second half of the opening game.  The calls, in order, gifted Brazil a penalty kick on what can only charitably be called minor contact in the box--contact arguably initiated by the offensive player, continued with a suspect contact with the keeper call in Croatia's offensive end that likely negated a tying goal that should have been the lead goal, and concluded with the referee turning a blind eye to a clear foul on Brazil that opened the door for Brazil's final goal.

In the end, Croatia could look back on its performance and lament a soft goal to Neymar, a PK that its keeper nearly stopped, some surprisingly hesitant play amidst otherwise aggressive play, and another soft goal to close it out.  All of these things, Croatia controlled.  And, in spite of the transformation of the Japanese official midway through the second half from a competent official to one seemingly on the take, Croatia still could have won or at least tied the game.

For Brazil, the concerns should be myriad.  In spite of winning, the victory surely has to be viewed not only as gravely tarnished but also as undeserved based on play, alone.  Brazil started the game playing as if it was entitled to victory--perhaps Brazil knew something FIFA's critics only suspected.  On Croatia's goal, Dani Alves was woefully out of position, as he was for the better part of the game, and Marcelo was forced to make a late stab--if only he had thought to feign a grievous injury at that point.

Not until Neymar scored off a mis-hit, did Brazil seem to play up to par, and then, disappointingly, all too briefly.  For twenty or so minutes, Brazil seemed to have its way in earning set pieces.  But Brazil were mostly off on their takes and failed to convert.

Defensively, once Brazil shored up its right back position by doubling on the flank, Croatia began to expose the newly created weakness in the middle, nearly converting on several occasions and clearly dominating stretches of the game when Brazil ought to have figured things out.

Ultimately, Brazil has more question marks after this game than does Croatia, at least as far as expectations are concerned.  Brazil needs to demonstrate that it can defend, that it can handle pressure in the defensive third, and that it can take advantage of set pieces.  If it plays the remainder of the tournament as it played for the vast majority of the game against Croatia, it cannot win this year's Cup.  Unless officiating again comes into play.

Up Next:  More Games.

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