In the name of decency, can someone please sanction Gaston Ramirez?

In the Walt Disney classic, Beauty and the Beast, the character Gaston is everything a cartoon villain should be; boorish, arrogant, conceited, cowardly and above all else, a small minded bully. It is therefore an unsettling coincidence that Gaston’s Uruguayan namesake Ramirez should display those exact same qualities whilst in action for his country during a crucial world cup match.

The major controversy from Tuesday night’s clash between Italy and Uruguay was not the suspected bite by Luiz Suarez on Giorgio Chiellini but rather the reaction of Ramirez towards Chiellini afterwards. The Italian defender was rightly incensed by Suarez’s conduct and made an attempt to show the referee the teeth marks adorning his shoulder. That Ramirez took umbrage with Chiellini speaks volumes about his character. He even went as far as to attempt to force Chiellini’s shirt back over his shoulder. There is only one word for this kind of behaviour, contempt; contempt for the victim of a crime and an astounding level of arrogance to believe that the victim should remain silent.

Make no mistake about it, Suarez has committed a crime here. If you and I were to approach someone in the street tomorrow and sink our gnashers into their shoulder we would be hauled in for questioning by police and referred for psychiatric examination. However, Suarez does not live in the real world. He lives in the cosseted world of the wealthy individual where indiscretion can be made to disappear like a magician’s handkerchief.

This is the third such incident where Suarez has bitten an opponent. In 2010 whilst playing for Ajax he received a seven game ban for biting PSV’s Otman Bakkal. His transfer to Liverpool occurred during this suspension so were he to return to the Eredivisie later in his career he would start with a ban. In April last year the FA handed down a ten match suspension for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic. As this latest nibbling incident occurred during a match organised by FIFA it is in the hands of the world governing body to sanction Suarez. In a statement released last night, FIFA declared that the maximum ban permissible under their regulations is 24 international matches. If Suarez is found guilty (and I use the word if in the name of democracy) then FIFA should not hesitate to issue a 24 match ban and thus effectively end the Uruguayan’s international career. His behaviour is clearly not unprecedented and the punishment should reflect this.

And yet despite all the recrimination (there was also an eight game ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra) Suarez continues to transgress and, infuriatingly, play the victim. You could be forgiven for asking how one player can have such a lengthy charge sheet without appearing to show any remorse?

The answer lies in the conduct of Ramirez. His outrageous behaviour in protecting his teammate was typical of the indulgence Suarez has received throughout his career. Strong willed managers will, naturally seek to protect their prize assets when the chips are down. One only has to think of the way Alex Ferguson refused to sack Eric Cantona in 1995 following his assault of a Crystal Palace fan as an example of a manager creating a siege mentality to strengthen his club in a desperate situation. However, the indulgences bestowed on Suarez go beyond the realms of siege mentality. Whereas Cantona was punished judicially, and Ferguson made no attempt to resist this process, the reaction of then Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish during Suarez’s racism ban was little more than posturing. The Liverpool players and Dalglish himself wore t-shirts protesting Suarez’s innocence after an independent panel had found him guilty. As a show of defiance, it was lacking in dignity and class.

Ramirez however, has gone above and beyond the previous ways in which Suarez’s teammates have attempted to shield him from blame. In reacting angrily towards Chiellini, Ramirez showed that he is little more than a coward, a coward who felt the need to bully an opponent into concealing the truth. If and when Suarez is suspended, similar punishment should also be handed down to Ramirez though it is unlikely that this will happen as retrospective action against indecency is unprecedented in football. Ramirez the coward will, unfortunately, be able to wriggle his way out from under the microscope.

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Preview ahead of the final group games.

One thing has become clear in this World Cup: Anything is possible. Throw the common wisdom out the window.

The reigning champs are already out.

Three teams from CONCACAF, the confederation of North and Central American teams, could make it to the knockout round for the first time ever.

In Group C, the supposed group of champions, three teams ranked in FIFA’s top 10  — former World Cup champions Italy, England and Uruguay — were supposed to fight it out for two spots in the knockout stages. Instead, unheralded Costa Rica are through and currently top the group, England are out, and Uruguay and Italy face off for the right to move on.

The four tournament favorites have all looked beatable. Brazil drew with Mexico, Germany drew with Ghana, Argentina needed a stoppage time goal to beat Iran, and Spain is out of the tourney. Mexico, Ghana and Iran are ranked No. 20, 37, and 43, respectively, by FIFA.

Yes, all but one of the early teams to clinch advancement are highly ranked teams. But so much remains open that it feels like a different sort of tournament. Goal-scoring is up. Games are wild. This kind of thing doesn’t often happen.

Qualification scenarios

Every team has one game left to play in the group stage, so every team knows what must happen for them to move on. Here’s a breakdown:

Eliminated: England, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Australia, Spain, Cameroon.

Advanced to second round: Netherlands, Chile, Costa Rica, Colombia, Argentina, Belgium.

Several groups feature matches between two teams fighting for the same spot in the second round, notably Mexico-Croatia on Monday and Italy-Uruguay on Tuesday.

There is even the unlikely but possible scenario that one second-round spot could bedecided by a coin flip between Nigeria and Iran.

For full tiebreaker rules — and they definitely matter, certainly for Team USA — click here.

 

Huge disappointment but England must continue to be brave

In the end, Roy Hodgson and his youthful charges will go down in history for producing the worst showing by an England team at a World Cup. The first England side to go out of the world cup in the group stages since 1958. The first England side ever to lose its first two world cup matches. The stats make for grim reading.

However, this team should be remembered for being the bravest England outfit at a major tournament since Euro 2004. Faced with an immensely challenging task just to qualify from Group D, England went on the offensive. Although the performance against Uruguay was not quite as impressive as the effort against Italy, there were still signs that England are a much improved unit going forward. Wayne Rooney, back in his prefered number 10 role was a constant threat and it was a relief for all concerned to see him finally break his world cup duck. Daniel Sturridge’s presence and pace when running in behind defenders asks questions of opposing teams that England haven’t been able to pose since Michael Owen was in his prime. Raheem Sterling was illuminating in the first half against the Italians and Ross Barkley impressed in both games from the bench. The kids are alright.

There is no doubt that England let themselves down defensively. The suspicion was, even before a ball had been kicked in anger that the back four would be England’s major weakness in this tournament. Glen Johnson, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines are all very accomplished Premier League performers. However, as a unit they lack that genuine enforcer and organiser that underpins all of the great defences. John Terry’s name will be mentioned repeatedly in the coming weeks but Roy Hodgson should not be condemned for ignoring a player who had turned his back on playing for his country. How Hodgson must wish he had been blessed with the options available to Sven Goran Eriksson who was able to leave Ledley King, Jamie Carragher, Sol Campbell and Jonathan Woodgate out of his starting line up in central defence.

But England’s problems in defence only serve to highlight the importance of continuity for this squad. In the wake of the defeat to Uruguay, FA Chairman Greg Dyke finally said something sensible (as if this world cup hadn’t provided enough shocks!) when he declared that Roy Hodgson’s job would be safe. The manager is contracted until Euro 2016 and for England to be successful that contract must be honoured. With another two years working with the players, Hodgson should be able to iron out the kinks in defence. Either the back four he has now will be stronger for this experience or the development of young players such as John Stones and Luke Shaw will mean that competition for places is a fierce as it was in 2006.

I mentioned on a previous post that the reason for Germany’s success in recent tournaments was the stability garnered from coach and players working together over a sustained period. If Hodgson is allowed to continue then the young players he has nurtured so well over the last two years will be a formidable outfit in France in two years time.

The preparation can begin immediately. The final game in Group D against Costa Rica is almost a free hit for England. How encouraging would it be to see England start with Barkley, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain? There is room also for Hodgson to show sentimentality which is rare enough in any form of football let alone a world cup. This game will undoubtedly spell the end of the road in international football for Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. With 217 caps and 50 goals between them, it would be fitting if both the captain and vice captain were able to bow out on the pitch against Costa Rica. The thought of Gerrard being replaced by Lampard with twenty minutes to go and handing over the captain’s armband whilst both players are applauded by their team-mates is already bringing a nostalgic tear to the eye.

When the qualifiers for Euro 2016 get under way, I would like to see Joe Hart given the captain’s armband. He has not been his usual assured self during this tournament but he has shown at Manchester City under Manuel Pellegrini that he responds well to proactive man management. Appointing him captain of a brave young squad could be a masterstroke for Hodgson.

It is important now that England focus on the positives from this campaign. They have taken the game to two quality sides in stifling conditions and come up just short both times. They have finally embraced the attacking philosophies that the rest of Europe had adopted years ago – the days of four four two are over. They will be inevitably criticised for their naivety but it won’t take them long to realise that the same people bemoaning the lack of experience in the squad are the same people who were praising the manager for putting his faith in youth when the squad was announced on the 12th of May. If Hodgson and his players are allowed to stay together then the future looks increasingly bright.

Euro 2016 will mark fifty years of tournament football since England were world champions. In England’s brave new world, that fatalistic number has a pleasant ring to it.

The Reign of Spain Ends in Pain

Former World Cup champions Spain have been booted out of the tournament, losing to Chile 2:0 in Brazil. Their defeat has triggered a social media storm, with memes poking fun at the Spanish team flooding Twitter.

Spain’s performance at the World Cup this year has been dubbed “the great disappointment” by the Spanish media.

The defending champions were humiliated right from the onset of the tournament, losing 5:1 to Holland. The Spanish team was finally knocked out of the running by Chile on Wednesday evening, prompting a wave of scathing memes on Twitter under the hashtag #CHIvsESP.

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“The King just sent a Whatsapp to Del Bosque (manager of the Spanish team)…”
“Shall we abdicate together?”

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Continuing the theme, Twitter user @viniami2009 posted a meme of Del Bosque.

“Come on guys, let’s get back to Spain to see the coronation of the new king.”

 

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“Don’t turn off the engine! We won’t be long!”

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Disappointed fans targeted Spanish keeper Iker Casillas, who was responsible for letting in seven goals over the course of the first two World Cup matches.

“If you know I’m gonna mess up, why do you bother inviting me?”

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Fans also targeted Spanish striker Diego Costa, who changed his nationality from Brazilian to Spanish to play for the World Cup team.

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Following the match, elated Chilean football fans flooded Italia Square in the country’s capital, Santiago, to celebrate victory. The Chilean team now goes on to face The Netherlands on Monday.

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5 reasons for Englands losses this WC.

England’s defeat makes them the first ever Three Lions side to lose their third consecutive World Cup match.

Luis Suarez

You got the impression in the run up to the game that Uruguay were so confident that the Liverpool striker’s mere presence would befuddle England – that they would have fielded him in a mobility scooter if necessary. And sure enough, a month after undergoing keyhole surgery on his knee and almost six weeks since he last played, Suarez needed only two telling contributions to prove them right.

He took his chances superbly in a manner which underlined the fact that England have not, for a very long time, had a player capable of influencing a match single-handedly at an international tournament.

That is the true barometer of the over used phrase “world class” and frankly, none of our players fit that bill.

Dodgy defending

The one nagging doubt which refused to go away during England’s largely successful qualifying campaign was whether the central defenders would be good enough when it came to facing the likes of Suarez at the World Cup.

Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill, both decent, honest and hard working lads, always felt more like the best of a bad bunch than the cream of the crop and neither covered himself in glory last night. Jagielka was unable to match the anticipation by Suarez of Edinson Cavani’s fine cross for the first goal, and Cahill was caught in no man’s land as Steve Gerrard inadvertently flicked on Uruguay keeper Fernando Muslera’s route one clearance for the second.

Both former England manager Glenn Hoddle and ex international defender Rio Ferdinand described it as “schoolboy defending” from their respective TV sofas and one can imagine John Terry, wherever he is on holiday, kicking his sun lounger in disgust and pondering what might have been.

Lack of adventure

After the opening game against Italy there were encouraging signs that, although beaten, England had at least shown a spirit of adventure both in the team selection and their willingness to get forward. Having been humiliated by Costa Rica, Uruguay appeared jaded and lacking in pace, with a goalkeeper who looked like a man trying to catch a bar of soap fired from a howitzer every time the ball came anywhere near him above waist height.

Even with Suarez and Cavani back in harness in a team which showed five changes, the 2010 semi finalists approached last night’s game with little more than a narrow 8-2 formation which invited England to attack down the flanks.

Unfortunately it was 75 minutes before the penny dropped. Glenn Johnson’s dart down the right after good work by Daniel Sturridge set up Wayne Rooney to finally tap in his first ever World Cup goal after 760 barren minutes on the biggest stage of all. But it was to be a largely isolated incident as the likes of Egidio Arevalo Rios and Alvaro Gonzalez cut off the supply at source.

The enemy within

Uruguay’s goalscoring hero, of course, has recently been voted by his peers and the press as the top performer in the self proclaimed “best league in the world”. All 14 players who represented England in Sao Paulo are also Premier League stars and yet the maxim “the better the devil you know” does not seem to apply to them, while the foreign imports certainly seem to subscribe to the notion that familiarity breeds contempt.

This is the sixth World Cup match in which an English based player has scored against his adopted country (there are no prizes but try to guess the others) and England have never won a single one of those ties. FA Chairman Greg Dyke’s belief that the premier league’s cosmopolitan nature is stifling the national side will strengthen after this latest capitulation.

But does anyone genuinely believe that country will ever again come before club in English football?

Time to say goodbye?

Just about everyone who attended Fabio Capello’s final media conference of the last World Cup campaign came away with the feeling that an era had ended and that this was the time to take risks and look ahead into the future.

The coach had to go, as did many of his senior players, in order for England’s national team to evolve as other nations already had. None of which happened of course.

This time I detect a genuine feeling that the nation believes Hodgson deserves to survive (as do I) – but only as the custodian of a new generation. We must say farewell and thank you to Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Glen Johnson, Phil Jagielka, James Milner, Rickie Lambert, Ben Foster and possibly even Wayne Rooney.

The time has come for a team built around Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge, Jack Wilshere Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, aided and abetted by Luke Shaw, John Stones, Jon Flanagan and Saido Berahino. With the expansion of Euro 2016 into a 24-team tournament you would expect even a new breed of England players to qualify and even if they failed it would be a price worth paying if it meant they came back stronger for the 2018 World cup.

How many more nights like the one in Sao Paulo can we really take?

A Sweet Defeat or a Bitter Victory?

It seems that no matter what he does, Roy Hodgson will always be damned with the tag of conservatism. Despite throwing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in to Euro 2012, Andros Townsend in to crucial World Cup qualifiers and a host of young players in his final 23, there will always be those who prefer to remember the man who seemed almost deferential to Manchester United during his ill fated reign as Liverpool manager.

England started this world cup as massive underdogs. The announcement of a group containing Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica was met with a cut throat gesture by FA Chairman Greg Dyke. Ahead of last night’s game with the Azzurri, England supporters were clamouring for Hodgson to throw the youngsters into the deep end to see how well they could swim in the Amazonian humidity. The general consensus was that it will be better for England to crash out of this tournament swinging from the hip as opposed to the plodding, tentative ineptitude of South Africa four years ago.

It was therefore, a pleasant surprise to see Hodgson and England throw caution to the wind last night and start with Liverpool’s highly rated youngster Raheem Sterling. His inclusion illuminated the first half and one early shot from long range that rippled the side netting had the broadcasters convinced that England were one nil ahead.

England’s performance as a whole was by far the most adventurous and enterprising in a major tournament match since the group stages of Euro 2004. Yet England still, agonisingly, lost the game. Herein, lies the catch 22 situation facing Roy Hodgson for the remaining two group games. Had he not started with Sterling and played an extra man in midfield, England might not have been caught out as easily as they were for either of Italy’s goals. Had England sacrificed their adventure for greater stability, the match would almost certainly have ended in a draw. England must beat Uruguay on Thursday night to have any chance of progressing to the knockout stages but defeat will see them almost certainly out. Do England continue with their attacking intent and risk defeat or do they go back into their shells? For the supporters there is no debate. Watching England on Saturday night was almost a cathartic experience. There was pride in the team’s performance and a sense that the players were connecting with the fans again after being so detached in South Africa. The feeling among England fans was that the defensive naivety and the defeat could be forgiven because of the courageous aspects of the performance. There is definitely a good way to lose and this was it.

If England continue in this attacking vein on Thursday night and still come up short then so be it. The fans will get behind a team that sets out to entertain. After so many years of seeing England go down with a whimper, it was perversely all the more upsetting to see them lose when playing well, And yet, at the same time, it was undoubtedly more uplifting.

Compelling Evidence to Suggest that Holland CANNOT Win the World Cup

There are few relationships in football more jealous than that between a Dutchman and the ball itself. It is a truth universally acknowledged that Dutch footballers are blessed with an extraordinary first touch. As these gems from Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Dennis Bergkamp demonstrate, once the ball is under control it seems to become a part of the player’s body.

However, it is also universally acknowledged that Dutch players are amongst the most egocentric in world football. The penchant for a beautiful first touch is symbolic of a desire to keep the ball exclusively. It is has often been the case that the individual takes precedent over the needs of the team and infighting has blighted many a Dutch world cup campaign. And despite their magnificent performance in demolishing world champions Spain 5-1 on Friday night there were signs that all may not be well in the Dutch camp.

Upon scoring the equaliser (an early contender for goal of the tournament) Robin Van Persie sprinted fifty yards to celebrate with manager Louis Van Gaal. The two will shortly be club colleagues at Manchester United. Van Persie was seen as a disruptive influence at Old Trafford last season and it is likely he would have walked away had Van Gaal not been appointed. Van Gaal is not renowned for being a genial manager and therefore his celebration with Van Persie implies a hint of favouritism towards his captain. The potential is there for disharmony among the other players in Van Gaal’s squad.

There appears to be no such tension between Van Persie and Arjen Robben. When the striker was substituted he handed the captain’s armband to Robben with great pomp and ceremony. However, there were hints that all is not well between Robben and the rest of his team mates. For Holland’s fifth goal, Georginio Wijnaldum was perfectly placed for a tap in yet there was never any danger of Robben passing the ball. The shrug of Wijnaldum’s shoulders as the ball hit the net told it’s own story.

Wijnaldum was then guilty of the cardinal sin of switching off after his late shot was saved by Iker Casillas. He threw his arms into the air and was stationary when a follow up shot form Wesley Sneijder was also saved. Sneijder’s own discontent with his lack of goals seemed to outweigh any joy he should have felt for the beautiful through ball he had played for Robben’s second goal.

Spain have been plagued with self doubt since last season’s 3-0 Confederations Cup Final defeat to Brazil. The aura of invincibility has gone and they were there to be shot at by Holland on Friday night. However, wilier teams will pose a much greater threat to Holland throughout this tournament. If the supply to Robben and Van Persie is cut then the frustration will start to grow. Few teams do individual skill like Holland. The legendary Johan Cruyff even had a piece of skill named after him. Yet the fact that the whole has never been greater than the sum of the parts has meant that Holland are the greatest nation never to win the world cup. In this observer’s eyes that trend looks set to continue.