Ugliness in the beautiful game, aka “This is a man’s world”


“I never meant to hurt anyone. I was defending my shirt.”

The beautiful game wasn’t at all today as Brazil faced off against Colombia in the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup. The sad part is that you could see it coming even before the match started as the coach of Brazil, “Big Phil” Scolari, went on at a presser about no more Mr. Nice Guy, and people are going to see a different side of Brazil.

Against Colombia Brazil came out kicking, a tactic facilitated by the appalling refereeing display by Carlos Velasco Carballo, a ref who, it will shock no one, plies his trade in La Liga. He did nothing, called nothing, and rewarded the increasing violence with a series of stern gazes, but no cards. Then Colombia started kicking back.

In the second half Juan Zuniga went in hard on Neymar. It didn’t look like much at the time and when Neymar went down clutching his back and stayed down, it’s a safe bet that a great many people scoffed and said “Oh, get up.”

It wasn’t until he was on the stretcher, weeping, that people began to suspect that it wasn’t just another boy crying wolf incident. Then came the word: fractured vertebrae, with a 4-6 week recovery period.

Football has a culture that, however implicity, condones violence. Fans of the Premier League talk about it being a “man’s league,” with fast and hard challenges and physical play. Players are lauded for not shirking a challenge, for facing up to the physical part of the game “like a man.” Diving and embellishing are considered more reprehensible than the physical act that resulted in the incident, because you take your hits like a man in this man’s game.

And then as a player is laying on a stretcher, shedding tears because his World Cup, in his very own country is over, people begin to wonder — at least some do, about the ugly, violent side of the beautiful game.

What’s fair and what’s foul

A foul is, simply enough, preventing or impeding illegally, through physical means, a player on the opposing team. There are even degrees of foul, ajudged subjectively by the referee tasked with controlling the match. There’s your regular foul, your yellow card and your red card. It’s the subjectivity that often causes problems, as it did today when simply put, no cards reared their heads until it was too late, even for clear cardable offenses.

There were 54 fouls in today’s match, and while there is plenty of blame to go around, at some point there has to be a question of responsibility and culpability.

I race bicycles, in a discipline called match sprinting, in which two riders face off on the track, the objective being to win the race. Match sprinting can get physical. Shoulder bumping, wheel flicks, knees flying and head butting. As you take part in this racing, with the objective being to work a favorable result, you never think about the consequence … what if your tactical hook or chop at the front wheel of another rider results in serious injury. Crashing is part of the sport.

Sprinting has cleaned up a lot over the years, but still, as seen here, crashes happen.

Kevin Sireau didn’t think, as he tried to make space on Gregory Bauge, that he was going to crash. It isn’t, and can’t be part of your mind set. You’re trying to win a race. You shove the bars in, shoot the elbow and assume the best.

How different is football? Look at the Blaise Matuidi tackle during the France/Nigeria match, also at this year’s World Cup:


Quite clearly, Matuidi was going for the ball, and missed. And he got ankle. But the way that he went in almost ensured that if he missed the ball, he was going to get the opponent’s ankle. He did, and received a yellow card.

At the time, some called for a straight red. Diego Maradona called the stomp worse than Suarez’s bite which, from the purely physical and consequences worldview, is. This is what Nigeria’s FA had to say about the matter:

Onazi was brutally attacked by French midfielder Blaise Matuidi in the second half of the game and had to be stretchered of the pitch. He was rushed to a hospital where it was revealed that his tibia and fibula are broken and will keep him sidelined for a couple of months.

And this is the real challenge in trying to eradicate violence from the game — same as in match sprinting, finding that balance between safety and a lack of inhibition as an athlete pursues a result. When an athlete begins to think, he is subsequently inhibited. Jack Tatum was never the same player after the tackle that left Darryl Stingley a quadriplegic.

But at the time he was making the tackle, he was playing his game, just as Matuidi was playing his. But then you have the Zuniga case, where the intent wasn’t anything approaching playing the ball. What will the consequences be, and what should the consequences be?

Many argue for the “eye for an eye” theory, that the suspension lasts as long as the injury caused. But again, it’s the parsing by intent. Is the Matuidi incident as severe and violent in intent as the Zuniga one? In the blizzard of outrage, it’s important to temper reactions, as difficult as it might be.

What’s important to note is that both were violent acts, intended to send a physical message while also pursuing the play. That they were part of the game is where the complexity arises.

Yet simply enough

Both the Matuidi and Zuniga incidents stem from the game’s culture. It’s physical, and violence is okay. It isn’t directly encouraged, but we hear TV announcers say, in match after match, “That was just a hard foul.”

Just a hard foul.

I quip that Mascherano would slide tackle his mother, but what if his uncompromising slide tackles one day go awry and destroy an opponent’s ankle ligaments? It’s a struggle that certain types of players make on almost every challenge they decide to make, even as they don’t really know they are making the consideration.

As a supporter of FC Barcelona, it is assumed by me that our players are going to get kicked, rather than kick. They will appeal to the ref to stop the excessive physical play and if that fails, they will begin to embellish. And the man’s men will call them wimps, that they don’t like it up ’em, or innem, or whatever they don’t like. And the kicking will continue, match after match, because how else are you going to stop a superior player?

Problems and solutions

The biggest dilemma that the game faces is how to deal with violence. Not the overt violence, where a player leans in and bites someone. That is an act of, for me, unspeakable violence even if no damage is done. But what of the violence that occurs as a regular part of the game? The hard fouls, the “professional” fouls, the incidents that can result in a serious injury? Is there a way to eradicate violence from the game, without making it figure skating on a grassy pitch?

Proponents of the physical game and “letting them play” would argue that no, nor should there be. That when men play a game fast and hard, there will be injuries. You punish the deliberate, malicious ones that result from truly violent play, but if a guy is going for a ball and gets an ankle instead, that’s just part of the game.

Others, and I am in this camp, don’t want violence in the game even as I understand that men flying at full speed means that accidents will happen. For me, the Matuidi challenge is different from the Zuniga one because of the circumstances, rather than the result. Zuniga was going for Neymar, and had no interest in the ball. Matuidi was going for the ball, and screwed up.

Compare that to that half-assed Alex Song punch at a Croatian player, which resulted in a straight red. In terms of consequences, it was the least violent act, yet it received the sternest in-match sanction because of the nuances of football’s culture of violence. If you kick someone as part of play and injure them, well, it was an accident. If you take a punch at them, that is outside the boundaries of the game, as as such strictly verboten.

So Song, Matuidi and Zuniga. What should their penalties be? As part of the effort to eradicate violence from the game, it’s easy to set up an independent panel that reviews incidents with an eye toward evaluating them, and meting out the appropriate sanction. This shouldn’t inhibit play too much, even if it might as the Big Brother is Watching notion begins to enter player heads.

Yet the MLS has such a system in place, and that game isn’t inhibited at all. That is the easiest way to do it.

Another way is to standardize referee training. There is no reason for a foul not to be a foul, across all leagues and competitions. One ref’s no call is another’s foul is still another’s card. Then there is red vs yellow, and what time is too early to give a yellow, and you can’t call every foul, etc, etc. Yet the challenge is that with each and every foul that doesn’t receive the appropriate sanction, the physical play becomes fouling becomes violent. Then a player is out for months, and people are saying what a shame it is. The consequences elevate the act.

Man culture

Until the game fixes its culture of machismo and tacitly endorsed violence, nothing will change, and players will continue to get hurt. Recall when Neymar ran afoul of Scott Brown, as Barça played Celtic in Champions League:

More people snarled at Neymar and his “playacting” than the violent act of Brown in bringing Neymar down, then giving a little kick for his trouble. “Man up, stop diving,” manly men growled. In doing that, they condoned violence. A few people said that simply, Brown didn’t have to do what he did, and were called supporters of diving, Neymar fanboys, etc, etc.

No. Hell no. Some people simply don’t want to see violence in the game.

Will there be fouls? Naturally. That’s unavoidable. Keeping those fouls from crossing the line into violence is the challenge that a referee faces. Eradicating violence from the game is a dilemma that, frankly, we all face.

By Kxevin

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.


  1. I’ve played a fair amount of football, and it’s definitely a contact sport. It’s funny how little we think about how hard to go for a tackle…until someone gets hurt.

    Great post Kevin. One thing you hint upon is that the violence in contact sports guarantees ugly consequences that then become badges of honor (would you rather lose possession or flash a bruised shoulder?)

    There’s no place for losing possession by being outmuscled – you learn THAT pretty early – but at least as I grew up and played soccer (mostly in the street, alleyways, school yards, always unsupervised) getting hurt or hurting others was never on my mind.

    Another interesting angle on this is coed sports – I am firmly against any kind of sexism and patriarchy so apologize if this comes off as such, but in coed football I think there is a difference in how hard you go in for a challenge. Of course you don’t want to be reckless either way, but when I played I was more conscious of accidentally hurting someone. (One could say that for two men with a size mismatch too, granted, so maybe I’m completely off here.)

    How hard can we play without risking serious injury? Wonder what others who play think.

    1. There was this one time i was the situational CB of my school team and in games that ensued i would congratulate other teams for breaching our defence, i would applaud a misplaced pass with a positive intent from oponents. I usually played fair and worried how everybody else was playing. But there was this particular event that made me jump out of character.

      Being the CB and the defence leader is and holding an highline is a wary task, it means that everytime your defence is breached you have to chase the opponent down with you facing goal-ward, in this particular game i remember screaming for a tight backline and two of my defenders squeezing posession of a striker but not to safety, i had two options break the line and sweep the ball or retain the line and sit deeper.
      Option A was an easy pick, so i left my role in defence and ventured further off the pitch, then i was beaten to the ball by another of the opponent’s forwards, and he made a marseille roulette past me, then the crowd went wild, but he was so far from goal i could still catch him so i set out to foul him, but every step he took towards my goal fuelled my anger and i didnt want to foul, i wanted to injure him, the more the crowd grew frenzied by the possiblity of a goal the more blood thirsty i became… By the time i got to him i was sure i was going to kill him, but luckily for the both of us, i slid too early so there was no force at connect… Dude went on to score the goal and i watched him celebrate through a sore ankle…

      I was just crazed! No other explanation.

  2. Neymar out of the WC *crying*,there’s no point watching the WC again,guess its only LIO left.hope he makes it through

  3. When I used to play, there were instances when I had tears in my eyes, because opposition players would come on just to kick, but the refs wont do nothing. Those tears were also because I knew clearly if not for those fouls, I could have had a better impact and helped my team. The actual pain from the foul was an altogether different aspect too. I commented in the previous thread that, I am ready to take a bite over a foul any time. May be Suarez is the gentleman here, he only bites, doesn’t create a dangerous injury which will take a player out of the game.

    However, Brazil played a very physical game there. With a good ref, Fernandinho could have gone out even before the second half with 2 or 3 yellows. The ref did nothing, like mostly in this WC, for Brazil fouls.

    Any foul which can hurt a player in a way to miss any number of games, should entail serious punishment, even it is decided after the match.

    1. There were a lot of fouls in that game and there should have been half a dozen yellows shown, but there were few dangerous fouls from either team.

      A knee to the back is a different thing altogether.

    2. Of course, I agree. But this is what happen always right. Even hard fouls, which many not be taking a player out, should be dealt with, why wait for a player to be out, to take action?

      But the ref lost his control of the game quite early in the first half itself and had he taken out some cards, players would have been more careful. This coming from a card happy ref in Liga, its interesting.

    3. Also, please dont shout at me for saying this. I am one carrying a lower back disc and hip injury because of 2 falls on the same day, within one hour.
      This Vertebra injury of Neymar could be more out of the cumulative falls he had, rather than from the knee of the player. May be the knee just lead to its culmination.
      (Please dont say, I am taking side of Zuniga for saying this)

      Neymar often goes down, necessarily and unnecessarily, and at times some of his falls look quite hard. In the same game, he also went down on his back during the goal celebration.

  4. The English will stop thinking about it being a man’s game and “get up and on with it” when their star player loses a knee to a challenge.

    Of course, for that to happen there would have to be an English star player first.

    1. And if you would recall, Peter, how the guy who got Beckham injured for months was tirelessly villified.

    2. Yeah, but he was Argentinian. There’s a lot of bad blood. You can’t expect the press that during the Falklands War plastered a front page photo of a sunk Argentinian ship and the headline “Gotcha!!!” to refrain from vilifying an Argentinian-born player because he deered to kill a king’s dare. There are appearances to be maintained, after all.

  5. How Fernandinho ended up without being sent off is also beyond me. James (who could have suffered a similar fate to that of Neymar’s) was patently the target, and he was the enforcer entrusted with the responsibility to inhibit him- any means possible. That he didn’t receive a card after 3 consequent fouls shows the need to address this untoward rabidity.
    Then again is the disturbing case of Atletico.
    A superb team no doubt. This coming season, I hope a tougher stance whoud be undertaken to curtail their extremities.
    Sanity urgently needs to be restored in this sport.

    1. In some (influential) circles Atletico are seen as necessary evil and a tool.

      1. Increases the competitiveness of “boring Liga”
      2. Lowers the chances of a certain non-Madrid team from dominating due to increased overall “physicality” of La Liga
      3. Increased central influence.

  6. I believe that it all boils down to individualism rather than systematic. It can be said that a foul is just a singular movement after several motions, such as persistent dribbling, provocation, mistiming or excessive show of aggression.

    How a player goes into a challenge cannot be influenced by outstanding rules put in place to curb or punish the act discharged. but by the craze of the moment, the consequence of an overlooked foul, or a series of personal egotistical embarassment, the lure of the foul, or the situational aid.

    A player might watch you kick his team mate without being punished and sees it as blood drawn against his people, so he goes into a challenge with a war chant in his belly. Or a player might go hard on a persistent dribbler to send a message across. or for the case of the ney ney injury, the player’s tackling options had been trimmed to abusive, as a consequence of series of events mentally noted only by zuniga.

    Football is a group game and a group consists of varying individuals, a larger than life player, a pissed off husband, a disgruntled manager, an off-day referee, a physical and a mental bully, misplaced emotions, a strict dad, a warring son, a good guy, a bad playboy, an honest man, an insecure persona, a vandetta retributer, etc. All these different individuals looking to cancel eachother’s ability out is always going to pose a physical threat, and clashes will be had, savages will emerge, and villians will be made, but in this sport named football, there are no heroes, only champions!

    1. Great comments! It kind of makes the idea of intent so misleading. One player makes dangerous challenges because he’s a tough competitor another because he is a vigilante. Others bite people, elbow or step on people’s hands because they are mentally unstable. So what is the penalty for excessive aggression in a game that you can’t win without at least a large dose of it?

      The problem with football is that there is a fine line between aggressiveness and aggression and it is up to the ref to define what that line is. In Brazil v. Columbia the players quickly learned that there was no ref there to define that line, just a well-groomed Spanish man impersonating one.

      So we were treated to a sort of Lord of the Flies in 90 minutes which culminated in a final act of violence. The good news for Barca fans is that Neymar should be all right for next season because it could have been much worse.

    2. It seems Scolari wanted them to get high – I mean very physical. If this is what he did for a James and Columbia in front of him home crowd, what would it be if at all Brazil faces Messi and Argentina.

  7. If I was on the board of Barca I would have taken every penny the club had and kept Sanchez and bought pogba. 100 mill. It’s yours.

  8. Interesting discussion and thoughts from all. My take on this is very simple, it comes down to one thing, impulse control. Players loose their heads on the pitch, it is a part of the game, each individual will have a unique way to manifest that loss of control. We have seen this sort of manifestation to varying degrees this WC. Some worse than others.

    For me, the most important thing to look at is not the manifestation itself, but the result of whatever the action is. For some, what Suarez did was worse than what happened to Neymar, and I can appreciate that point of view, while I do not agree with it. In my mind, the infringement, the loss of control in the heat of the moment is in a way irrelevant, it is the result of that loss of control which has a bearing on the game, the opposition player and in some cases an entire nation. Suarez, Matuidi, Song and Zuniga all lost their heads in the moment and all did something stupid. Two ended up breaking bones, two left no permament damage whatsoever. The arguament that Suarez’s infringement is worse is based on the logic that it has no part in the game, however one could also argue that what the other 3 also have no part in the game. Let me explain my thinking:

    Zuniga’s was pretty clear, he wasnt going for the ball, he wasnt trying to win a dual, he was trying to hurt a player. He lost his head and in the heat of the moment just went in hard. In what is sense is what he more part of the game than what Suarez did? Result: Neymar out for 4-6 weeks, hopes of a nation dashed. I guarantee every single Brazillian, no more so than Neymar himself, wishes that Zuniga’s manifestation to his loss of control was something as innocuous as a bite.

    Song is a trickier one. Again, what he did had no part in the game, there was no ball in sight, but no damage was done really. Player lost his head and his reaction was to throw out an elbow to another player’s back. He got sent off. Fair enough. If that is the punishment to this reaction, which has nothing to do with playing football, then why should a bite be any different? The result was effectively the same. Stupid action which resulted in no real damage. It equally has nothing to do with football and is actually LESS violent. Violence is defined by the result of the action being commited not the action itself. If I bite somebody I am being violent, if I punch them in the face I am being even more violent, if I take a bat and break their leg even more violent. So I dont understand the train of thought that says a bite is somehow more violent than an elbow to the back, which if it makes the correct contact, can actually have some very serious long term effects. So even though there was no serious damamge what Song did could be argued is actually worse because the potential for damage is higher.

    Matuidi’s is a bit of a funny one. The arguament here is that “Oh he went for the ball but he missed it, it’s a part of the game”. Well, that is not how I see it. He went for the ball knowing very well that chances are he was not going to get it, AND more importantly in the way he was going for the ball IF he missed he was going to seriously hurt the other player. When you play football you know very well the type of challenge you are going in for and the potential damage it can do. HE could have gone for that ball in a lot of different ways that would have resulted in less severe results had he missed it, but he didnt. He didnt because he knew that at worst he would get a red card, not a lengthy ban. He didnt because he knew that the perception would be that it is all part of the game and that he was “going for the ball”. This for me is a very dangerous perception. The fact that he gets a yellow card for that challenge while Suarez gets a 4 month ban for what he did is beyond my comprehension.

    This is not to say I would like Suarez’s ban to get reduced, not at all. If that is the correct puncishment for his loss of control and reaction then fair enough, I can appreciate that. However if that deserves a 4 month ban, what do these other transgretions deserve? Certainly a hell of a lot more than a yellow card. If you ask me the punishments should be more severe because the results is so much more severe. In two cases players were very seriously injured. In Neymars case it could actually have been a lot worse and with back injuries you can end careers.

    What I think needs to be done is that players who carry out these actions needs to be punished more. What Suarez did was wrong, no arguing that, his punishment was severe but can be argued perfectly justified considering previous transgretions. The same level on punishments needs to be divied out to these 3 other players. They should all be banned for different periods of time. If bans like these are handed out then the next time Matuidi goes in for a challenge he is going to be conscious of the fact that if he misses the ball and breaks a leg the result is not a yellow card but a ban, so he will go in for the challenge in a way that is less likely to do permanent damage.

    1. To be clear, my Matuidi point is that the fact that he was going for the ball complicates matters in a way that is different from the Zuniga foul. That he was going for the ball, it is clear above, doesn’t absolve him. It just adds a layer of nuance to matters that might not be appreciated at first glance.

      FIFA’s disciplinary committee is looking at the Zuniga foul but NOT the Matuidi incident. I can’t explain that one, except for that nuance that I mention.

      The Song incident, given the Cameroon match fixing allegations, might be an entirely different kettle of fish. Part of the fix was that a Cameroon player would be sent off in the first half. Note how half-assed Song’s semi-punch was, enough to be clearly seen but not enough to really do anything to the player he made contact with. Will be interesting to see how that plays out.

    2. The problem is that if you start castigating players for what could be interpreted as a genuine challenge on the ball, football would fast become a non-contact sport.

      It still could be argued that Matiudi was going for the ball. He deserved a red for me, and a hefty compensation for the other player, but even though it was violent and brutal, you can argue it was an honest-to-god going for the ball.

      Nothing of the sort could be argued about Zuniga’s actions. The only way he can get the ball is if Neymar is a hologram and Zuniga doesn’t jump.

      Funny thought – star players will get at least a modicum of protection if their opponents know that “you injure him and your income is gone to compensate his missing from the pitch”, with a progressive multiplier based on the offender’s salary, so that someone like Pepe doesn’t go around kicking knees and stomping on ankles. Losing one’s money has the tendency to focus one’s mind.

    3. I agree with both Hilal and Peter.

      Hit them where it hurst their pocket books. Kinda like the NFL (shudder).

    4. I don’t see it as a retribution but justice. If you injure long-time a professional player, you face the in-game punishment, as well as you pay for his downtime. When you hit someone’s car, you pay for the repair. You injure someone, you are saddled with recovery payments, especially if they can’t do their job while they’re recovering. I don’t see why something like this isn’t implemented. 🙂

      For tournaments like the World Cup, for each long-time injured player the national federation of the offender could get something like 5%(1/20, basically a bit more than one player’s contribution) of its tournament bonus deducted and given to the victim’s federation, which would share it 50/50 with that player. For a team that is eliminated in the quarter-final that penalization would be $700 000, which means 350 000 for someone like Neymar or the Nigerian player whose leg Matiudi broke. Not sufficient to compensate for a broken World Cup dream, I know, but it would help.

  9. The important thing to note is that Neymar has taken harder fouls, leapt to his feet and kept on scampering. Circumstances collided in this particular case to yield an unfortunate result. The problem isn’t the specific incident, to me. It’s the level of violence in the game.

    Tough Guy Scolari came out to “show them,” and they kicked the crap out of James Rodriguez all match. So of course Neymar is going to get his from Colombia, once the ref lost control of the match.

    It’s the violence at an accepted level that the wrong thing here. People can parse fouls all they like, and talk about which is which, blablabla, ad infinitum. But there is violence in the game, and that violence is accepted.

    Fouls are one thing. Violence is something else. It says something that Suarez can bite people, and we have points of comparison. “Well, it isn’t as bad as …”

    The game has a problem.

    1. Yes exactly, violence is violence and trying to distinguish or set a level of acceptable violence is wrong. All violence should be punished.

      I think the reason why Matuidi’s foul is not being looked at while Zuniga’s is, goes back to the perception that he was going for the ball, while Zuniga was clearly not. However it is still a violent action and he could go for the ball in a far less violent way. Like you rightly pointed out, it does make it a bit more nuanced, but I do still think that if tackles like that were punished more severly players would certainly think twice and would be a bit more careful.

    2. I think the fact that Matuidi fouled a Nigerian player as opposed to Zuniga fouling Brazil’s talisman also plays a role in why Matuidi is getting away with it.

    3. People are starting to point out that Neymar could have been left wheelchair-bound for life by this had it gone just a little been more wrong. Which is true. Broken ankles are bad but they heal, this could have been a real tragedy

  10. Fwiw, I’m old enough to remember a lot of WCs which were much more violent than this one has been so far. It’s down to the ref- always has been. He has the complete ability to set the acceptable level of aggression. The problem is consistency bit quite often I remember in the old days refs coming into our changing room and setting down some points to remember such as any studs up tackle would automatically get a card. We’ve actually come quite a long way, with an understanding now that the tackle from behind is likely to get you a card and studs up tackles may well result in a red. I don’t see the game getting generally any more violent – every tackle is violence to some degree in that you’re deliberately making contact with an opponent – and it would help refs if they didn’t have to constantly run their decisions through the mill of whether or not the player is faking injury..

    Btw, one side effect of Neymar’s incident is that Messi may well get a bit more protection today. Also, although I wouldn’t expect him ever to feel this way, in a sense this takes a lot of the pressure of possible failure off his very young shoulders. I don’t think Brazil were good enough to win, even with him and the fallout won’t be good.

  11. Please correct me if I’m wrong and don’t take it in the wrong sense but Demichellis looks like the smartest player in the world cup post his hair cut…

  12. Just in over the transom is that Abidal left Monaco to join Olympiakos. This, after just signing a one-year contract with the principality side. Rumor is that the Valdes treatment was the catalyst (unconfirmed, probably never will be).

    1. But I just read on Barcastuff yesterday that he renewed for another year. Would be really brave of Abidal if he really left Monaco because of Valdes. But considering that it was just yesterday that Valdes was rejected, it can’t be that Abidal could’ve find a new a new club so soon.

    2. Interesting. Valdes’s agent has stated that they will be going to the courts in order to resolve this. FIFA regulations are apparently in clear favor of Valdes, meaning he could get a multimillion-Euro settlement, if he ends up playing for another team on a lower salary.

      And I was just about to start rooting for those guys, what with Berbatov, Abi and Valdes in their roster…

  13. In other news, Messi and Mascherano were brilliant today. (Yes, Mascherano!) Belgium certainly helped by being clueless, and just aimlessly lofting balls into the box as if someone told them they were taller than Argentina, and if they just keep doing that …

    Courtois still seems to have Messi’s number, though.

    1. Masherano has been brilliant in every match thus far and everyone here shares the same opinion.

      Me and my brother came to the conclusion that Courtois must’ve whispered something into Messi’s ear around 2 seasons ago after the last time he scored on Courtois lol.

    2. It was such a shame that Messi couldn’t score on his one-on-one with Courtois – you’d bet on him scoring on any other keeper in that situation!

  14. And lest I forget, take a moment to put Alfredo di Stefano and his family in your thoughts. Suffered a heart attack one day after his 88th birthday, and reports have him in a coma.

    1. Oh man so unfortunate especially the timing. I hope he’ll wake up to good news if his country wining the World Cup.

  15. Strongest match by Argentina so far. Their defense was so much better with Demeichelis in, can you believe that, that’s how horrible Fernandez is. And of course with Gago out, there’s less turnovers.

    But now with di Maria out injured, it’s going to be really tough for them. He is a tireless worker for the team. So unfortunate. Lavezzi is the closest to di Maria in terms of work rate but for some reason Sabella keeps on pulling him out.

    Finally Higuain got his confidence back. It went missing since the 2nd match. Contrary to popular belief he had a super sub performance in their first match.

    Rojo coming back is going to make them stronger but with the loss of di Maria it’s just too much of offensive threat gone and also the defensive aspect. I don’t think they have a chance to beat Germany or Brazil provided they make it to the final. Holland is stronger but they are slow starters.

    1. Higuain goal was the only good thing that he did in this entire match/tournament. Even though his game was a bit better yesterday but I don’t know why he isn’t substituted whereas the worker Lavezzi is…
      For me him and Fred are just occupying spaces for their teams whilst giving very very less contributions overall…

    2. Precisely because Lavezzi had worked his ass off both offensively and defensively. Palacio was brought up to do the same as Lavezzi – lots of defensive work with very good potential forward.

      It was also about something else – Basanta was playing on the left instead of Rojo, so Sabella probably wanted someone to reinfoce that side, which meant leaving Higuain on the pitch. Furthermore, Higuain had already scored a goal and almost scored a second with a solo run through half the pitch. His tail was up and he was causing tension in the Belgian defence. It’s psychological, keeping the Belgian defence back and looking over their shoulders instead of pushing forward for every cross, set piece and corner.

      Don’t forget, just like Van Gaal showed last night, the three reserves can be key. When someone like Lavezzi has played his heart out and the team is leading, the sub often means “Awesome job, now let the others take over, you get to rest because I want you to do even better in the next game!”

  16. Going back to Kxevin’s excellent post, I think that violence is part of all contact sports, and it is up to the ref and the organization in charge to police aggression. The problem with football is that aggression and violence is often in the eye of the beholder and that is where our club’s problem now comes with Luis.

    As many correctly pointed out, it is easy to look at biting and say that that does not belong in the game and then sanctimoniously give the player another big suspension while ignoring many other infractions that could have ended in permanent injuries. The problem for Barca is that the next sanctimonious suspension for Luis for something crazy may be a permanent ban from football.

    The Columbia vs. Brazil game brings the issue of violence in sports again because of the importance of the player injured and the foolish honesty of the player who fouled him. Here Kess’ posts become particularly important about the many reasons that aggression and violence can appear in a football game, but mostly it comes down to human nature and the fact that it often is not sufficiently penalized.

    Neymar was fouled because Zuniga felt aggrieved and in a split second decision wanted to send a message. Had Neymar not been hurt, then we would not be having this discussion. Had Neymar been paralyzed, then we may have seen radical reforms in the sport and Columbia and Brazil may have temporarily cut off international relations.

    That is the way it has always been. It’s all a game until it is not, and then we have to examine the many ways that a given sport is barbaric. But then Messi scores an amazing goal and he sends Neymar a get well soon tweet and much is forgotten.

    Athletes get paid a lot of money but many put life, limb ,and particularly in the NFL and boxing, their brains on the line.

    I referenced the Bob Dylan song before about a boxing match 50 years ago that had people questioning whether a much more brutal sport should even be legal. The questions now are similar, but fortunately the injury is not, but we still can ask: Who is to blame?

    1) Scolari
    2) The Ref
    3) FIFA
    4) Zuniga
    5) The Fans
    6) All of the above

    1. Sorry, you’ve lost me. Are you trying to suggest football should be illegal or is barbaric ?
      Have I missed something ? There was I sitting watching what I thought was one of the more interesting WCs…. Bit of an overreaction, much ?

    2. I don’t remember saying that. The problem with football is that there is no clear line between violence and aggressiveness. If you watched Mou and Pep Classicos, I think this point is obvious.

      The ref and the fooball authorities are the ones who have to police the game and the fans will have to decide what level of aggression they will tolerate. Usually it is the one that helps their teams win the most. So for Real the standards of rugby were fine and for Pep’s Barca the simple enforcement of the rules would have been nice:

  17. It has been 24 years that Argentina last made it past the quarter finals of a World Cup. I was 7 years old. Failure after failure, quarters were finally achieved by this most unskillful of teams that they’ve had through the years. This is as far as they go I think. Holland has too much on them, now that di Maria and Aguero are both out.

    1. Aguero with his injuries was never truly in to be honest. Di Maria is a huge blow however.

  18. On a note, Holland will change system and play 1-4-3-3. Suited to Costa Rica’s gameplan, so I will give “Los Ticos” a big(ger) chance to make the semi’s.

    Excited to see how this one roll out.

    1. Somehow they managed to get the game to extra time! A bit of a comedy of errors in the box sometimes, with goal line clearances, scrambles in the box, and 2 or 3 posts preventing a Dutch goal. Should make it better for Argentina in any case, since either team that advances will be that much more tired.

  19. Can we just get rid of club football and have world bup forever?

    And in barca news.. did you know our first friendly is in 14 days..and we have a new shirt sponsor on the sleeve..apparently first in europe to do that..

    1. As much as I like the current world cup (despite all the teams that I root for losing out), I can’t wait for the beginning of the next Barca season to see if we’ll still be playing beautiful football. At least as long as Iniesta still plays I won’t get tired of it.

    2. Barcelona has had a shirt-sleeve sponsor for a long time. It used to be TV3, which IIRC paid 3m per year. The problem, of course, being that a state-owned entity pays to be a sponsor of Barcelona, which could be interpreted as government help, thus illegal.

    1. Maybe because they are shit scared to even breathe in front of him which might cause him falling all over the place 😀

  20. Maybe because every time Robben gets the ball his opponents look like they’re in trouble. Messi is the best in the world, but Robben is having a beast of a tournament. Incredible, really.

    1. The thing is while players like Robben and DeMaria have excellent ability, they still, at times, seems like doing a lot for their liking. Messi, on the other hand, can ignore all his mastery for the team. Yesterday, it was clear ARgentina’s plan was to not be adventurous and control and calm down the play as much possible, and Messi seem to just get along with it. Didnt try anything that would disturb their plan. It was in some ways strange, but thinking further and watching the match again, I understand Argentina had a clear plan and they all stick to it. Having said this, I am finding it difficult to understand why Messi didnt try to go around Courtois, with only a MF running behind.

    2. He was dead tired. That’s what i saw.
      Because he almost never shoots like that when he has only the GK to beat.

    3. Couldn’t go around the keeper. There was a defender looming up on that side. Don’t think he would have had time to round the keeper and avoid the defender.

    4. Yes. And perhaps this shows the difference between a “walking” Messi and a pressing Messi. Increased work-rate equals less technical brilliance. Logical, really.

    5. More like defenders are scared as shit to touch him because he’ll do one of his ridiculous dives and then pull an outrage face as if he had been karate chopped to the ground. What a talented and shameless player…

    6. That’s what I see too. It’s like trying to take on The Terminator and then if you touch him, he dives and you lose.

  21. What’s the law on Krul trying to intimidate the CR penalty takers? Is that a red card? Best way to stamp it out would be to allow the penalty taker to have another go.
    Belgium. Boy, what rubbish. Proof positive, I think, that if you play Fellaini in the midfield, you are going to play s… on a stick football. Yes, the man can head the ball. That’s why he should be centre-forward or nothing. He sure has hell provides no creativity or spark in the middle of the park. No wonder Van Gaal wants to get rid of him.

    1. And he cleverly moved off his line prematurely at least with the 1st and maybe the 2nd penalty as well. ref was a complete ass – did nothing with the intimidation and allowed him an unfair advantage by clearly breaking the rules

    2. PK officiating this tournament has been pretty bad. Neymar and his shitty runups, Rodriguez’s penalty against Brazil, Navas’ various PK attempts against Greece and now today Krul and Holland.

    3. But really, it never changes, does it. First the refs screw the little teams and then they move up the food chain.

    4. The ref should given him an yellow or a red depending on the severity of his behavior, and a second yellow if he continued.

      Then one of the outfield players takes his place.

  22. Why is everyone so upset that Tim Krul won the penalty shoot out for Netherlands?
    He is well within his rights to play mental games with the strikers as they are within their rights to do the same with him.

    Strikers are expected to score and have every advantage in a shoot out. Keepers like Grobbelaar, Dudek and Krul are the best thing that can happen to the sport.

    1. I’m okay with the antics as long as they don’t gain a physical advantage by coming off their line before the ball is kicked. The goal line is like the new painted line for FKs. Mind you, there was one in the Brazil match where the defenders almost got to the ball before the taker !

    2. I understand that point Jim. To be honest, Navas came further out on his penalties than Krul did though, Krul just has a really big wingspan and guessed right every time. I say guessed right but it was a very educated guess in order to get so close to every penalty.

  23. I find it really frustrating to watch Federer play. Why does he love to play the ball right into the opponent like a perfectly weighted ball? Instead of aiming for the corner like what I think players should do, he loves to hit the ball to the middle or to the racquet side of the opponent, softly, giving the opponent time like an invitation for the opponent to aim and hit it into the corner. I don’t see Nadal or Djokovic doing that. I haven’t watched tennis regularly for nearly a decade.

    Is that some kind of tactic? When I played leisurely more than a decade ago me and my friends would always try to go for the kill. Likewise with badminton. We don’t leave the ball hanging in the middle or return it to where the opponent already is. A good example is Nadal, he also goes all out always going for the kill.

    That said, Federer when he doesn’t do the above, is the most beautiful player to watch. I hope he’ll win so that he can retire on a high.

  24. That was yet another awesome final Federer was involved in. Being quite keen on tennis I’ve followed his career quite closely from the early racquet breaking days through to today when it’d be hard to argue against him being the best of all time. Sad he lost but it could have gone either way. Also not a great fan of Novak’s mind games but that’s another story.

    The problem Fed has, as I see it is that he comes from a time when the single hand backhand was still common. He hits that as well as anyone ever has but bottom line it isn’t as powerful as a two hander and requires better timing. He’s not going to win many backhand rallies against the top two handlers so he denies them angles by hitting it down the middle or cramping their space until he gets his forehand into play. Nadal, Murray and Djokovic can all hit great running passes to both sides as can Fed but you need more time to set yourself for the one hander. Hence Fed’s attempts to get into the net although Wimbledon hasn’t been a serve and volleyers court really since they changed the grass and made the balls softer. That was, in the end partly what did for Henman at Wimbledon.

    However, I’ve had the privilege of watching Federer once live against Mario Ancic in the Wimbledon quarters many years ago and I sat breathless at the way a human being could glide so effortlessly above the surface, only coming down to land when it was time to land a knockout blow. Ancic played a great serve volley game, spent the whole afternoon picking the return off his bootlaces and lost in straight sets.

    Federer, one of my all time heroes; for the artistry and his manner.

    1. Sorry, Barca, with regard to the going for the lines all the time it’s easier said than done when the game is played at this speed and sadly time catches up with your nerves and you begin to realise how low percentage these shots are. Bit like putting as you grow older. I used to sink four footers for fun but now in the Saturday medal I live in fear of getting one as all those I’ve ever missed come flooding back. The lines thing happened notably with Agassi, to an extent is happening with Roger and will happen to Nadal. It’s why Murray finds it hard to respond to people who say he should be more aggressive. If he doesn’t feel it it’s just asking to lose a lot of cheap points.

    2. The Fed is like Evonne Goolagong, for those of you whose memories go back that far, a thing of aesthetic delight in an ugly world.

      He had a great run, and remains classy even as time and other players catch up with him.

  25. And for the record, to my view Costa Rica got jobbed. They could have and frankly, should have had a penalty in the first half, when a Netherlands player went for an early shirt exchange on a set piece, then in the second when the Costa Rica attacker’s legs were clearly taken out.

    Neither one was in the harsh category, but more than sufficient to have been called. I won’t speculate about whether they would have been called had they happened to a Netherlands player.

    Yes, it’s a powerhouse semifinals, but man … Costa Rica captivated the footy world for that Sunday afternoon.

    1. The set-piece one, maybe, but FIFA would have to completely overhaul their policy with set pieces. I think there was shirt-pulling from all players involved, but I’m not sure, would have to see it again.

      The other one I watched in slow-mo, twice, with a Costa Rican sitting beside me, and neither of us thought it was a penalty. At all. You seem very convinced though, so this one also I’d like to see again.

      Truth is it would have been a travesty had Holland lost, if only for all the chances they managed to miss. RvP is back to his big game disappearing act. Costa Rica was in their rights to set up the way they did, and kudos to them for getting this far, but their first real shot on goal was in the 118th minute of the game.

      Funny thing is I even read a match report in “El Periodico” that said Holland played on the counter attack the whole game. Suuure, with 75% possession and 18 shots to 3.

      Anyway, I’m certain Van Gaal will play five defenders against Argentina. They are the clear favorites, so the pressure is on them. Anything can happen in this game. We can lose 5-0 (everybody would love that) but maybe we can sneak in a win.

    2. Holland’s problem is that they are just not a likable team in terms of personalities and have beaten some of the tournaments favorite underdogs by very slender margins.

      All things considered, though, they play an exciting brand of football and at this point are probably just as likely to win as anyone else. It will interesting how they play Argentina. The game could get pretty ugly. Hope the ref is up to the task.

    3. It depends on the ref. If he doesn’t fall for Robben’s stuff, that will eliminate a significant part of his game, which is behaving in a way that gets the NED team set pieces, where they can create real danger.

      — Levon, I watched the penalty from a number of different angles, and like the Univision crew, I do believe that both of them were penalties. It isn’t even a question of revising any rules, unspoken or otherwise on shirt pulling. The NED defender directly impeded the Costa Rican attacker.

      Is it a no call because both players were pulling shirts? Some would suggest that. For me, the severity of the NED pull on the Costa Rican attacker negates that notion.

      As for the second incident, again I have to side with the Univision crew, who all said penalty. Again, I agree. Nailed down? Nope. But the player was impeded. It was as much of a penalty as Robben’s was against Mexico.

    4. Interesting. I might revise my opinion upon a second viewing, but to suggest that the ref “did a job” on Costa Rica for these two plays seems a bit harsh.

      The only truly bad call was when the ref awarded a hand ball on the edge of the box after Robben shot it against a defenders shoulder.

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