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FIFA World Cup 2018: Mexico and Switzerland Have Thrown Competition Wide Open

June 17 was meant to be the World Cup’s first Super Sunday, featuring both Brazil and Germany, with nine World Cup wins between them. But Switzerland, ranked 6th in the latest FIFA rankings, and Mexico, winners of the Olympic tournament in 2012, were in no mood to follow the expected script.

Dileep Premachandran | News18 Sports

Updated:June 18, 2018, 9:53 AM IST
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FIFA World Cup 2018: Mexico and Switzerland Have Thrown Competition Wide Open
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New Delhi: June 17 was meant to be the World Cup’s first Super Sunday, featuring both Brazil and Germany, with nine World Cup wins between them. But Switzerland, ranked 6th in the latest FIFA rankings, and Mexico, winners of the Olympic tournament in 2012, were in no mood to follow the expected script. Here, we look at the highlights from two matches that showed just how open this competition is.

No Basti, no Fantasti: It’s easy to forget the disarray German football was in at the turn of the millennium – they finished bottom of their first-round group at Euro 2000. One of the architects of the revival that followed was Bastian Schweinsteiger, an all-action box-to-box midfielder with a knack for scoring vital goals. It’s a sad indictment of how England-and-Spain-centric club football has become that a generation of fans will probably remember him for two seasons of strolling around ineffectually in Manchester United colours, rather than all the greatness that went before. As much as Philipp Lahm, it was Schweinsteiger that kept Germany ticking over, providing both graft and skill while the goalscorers took the plaudits. On Sunday, as the German midfield looked mired in treacle against the speed of Mexico’s counterattacks, German fans would have craned their eyes for the reassuring figure, and seen just a gaping void instead.

The Neymar no-show: The harder he appeared to try, the worse Neymar played. He was fouled ten times, often rugby-style, and the frustration regularly bubbled to the surface. When he did have the ball at feet, he frequently dribbled into dead ends, neglected to look up and spot better-placed teammates, and planted a header straight at the keeper. In the dying minutes, when Tite wanted to bring on Roberto Firmino, it was Gabriel Jesus that was withdrawn. But if you looked at their contributions, it was the off-the-pace and out-of-sync Neymar that needed the early shower. As with Lionel Messi, fans will hope that he gets better, and soon.

Swiss take a leaf out of Scolari’s playbook: In the early years of this century, when Luis Felipe Scolari was the most influential coach in Brazilian football, there was great emphasis on ‘tactical’ fouls that broke up the opposition rhythm and disrupted play. Players would be careful to avoid anything too flagrant. Instead, they’d just test the referees’ patience over the 90 minutes, with a foot left in here and a sly shirt-tug there. Switzerland did precisely that to Brazil, stymying any efforts at fluency with an impressively organised display. Even the goal they scored was partly thanks to some skullduggery, with Miranda nudged out of the way in the six-yard box. Scolari won a World Cup and many other trophies playing like that, and his legacy endures, even if not with the Brazilian national side.

Chicarito time: Javier Hernández is just 30, but it feels like he’s been around far longer. In his first World Cup in South Africa in 2010, he emulated Tomás Balcázar, his grandfather, who had also scored a World Cup goal against France, 56 years earlier. After spells at Manchester United, Real Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen, Chicarito took a big step down to play for West Ham United last season. Back in 2010, he was officially the fastest footballer at the World Cup. Though not quite as jet-heeled now, his pace ran the Germans ragged each time Mexico countered. Had his choice of final ball been better, they could have won by three or four.

The sitters: Tite started with Casemiro and Paulinho at the base of midfield, but by the final whistle both had been replaced, by Fernandindo and Renato Augusto. Not one of the four did a bad job. They protect the ball, move it with short passes and mop up danger that comes their way. What they lack is that bit of stardust. In 1982, with the team Brazilians consider the best never to have won the competition, the sitters were Falcao and Cerezo. Falcao scored wonder goals against Scotland and Italy, and both provided plenty of creativity to go with their more prosaic duties. Tite now has to figure out which pairing can do an approximation of the same, especially if Neymar is off-colour and Coutinho fades as he did after his wonder strike.
| Edited by: Baidurjo Bhose
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