What A Week For Sports Enthusiasts!

 Flashback:  Asamoah Gyan (right) scored the goal that sent the US packing in the 2010 World Cup.

Flashback: Asamoah Gyan (right) scored the goal that sent the US packing in the 2010 World Cup.

Who would have thought that the opening games of the World Cup would coincide with Game 5 of the American National Basketball
Association (NBA) finals of 2014?

This was a surfeit of excitement at its best – all within a mere three days. Those who don’t appreciate sports are ever ready to question the reasons behind the addiction of those of us who admit to being sports-maniacs.

I am sorry I can’t help the spoilsports, because — in all honesty — how can you explain that the prospect of Brazil being beaten by Croatia in a World Cup match is worth dying for? Yet, for some few minutes, Croatia played as if they might pull off that unimaginable feat. Brazil has been World Champions four times already, yet here was Croatia, which didn’t even exist until Yugoslavia crumbled up two decades ago, trying to tell Brazil something.

Croatia actually attacked Brazil so often and so well that the Brazilian defence panicked. And once they panicked, they made mistakes. Marcelo, one of Brazil’s most accomplished players, shot the ball into his own net, in an attempt to clear it away from a Croatian striker. That is what makes football so exciting — it can produce unexpected incidents. Of course, Brazil recovered from that mishap and beat Croatia by 3 goals to 1. But suppose Croatia had been able to capitalise on the initial Brazilian discomfiture and added enough goals to beat Brazil? There is no point trying to explain that to someone who doesn’t understand world football! To such a person, football is played by two teams — one has to win and one has to lose. So what’s the big deal?

If only life were that simple! Croatia beating Brazil would have made a lot of waves, but the fact that that didn’t happen doesn’t mean that a lot of waves have not been made already at the World Cup tournament.

The revelation at the tournament, so far, has been the knocking down of Spain as the King of World Football — a reputation Spain obtained by winning the World Cup in South Africa in 2010. In 2010, they beat a better-fancied Netherlands. And this year, the Dutch decided to teach them a lesson.

The Dutch played open football, whilst the Spaniards stuck to the stodgy football that is so boring — defending the middle and making sure that no-one breaks through, while limiting themselves to occasional, only opportunistic forays, into the opponents’ goal area.

That type of football – hanging on to the ball in your own area and passing to one another endlessly — is called “tiki-taka” football, and ironically, it is a version of the “total football” which – guess it – the Dutch invented and perfected in the 1970s and 1980s, and which justifiably failed to win the World Cup for them, though they came near winning quite a few times.

Spain, using Dutch tactics, beat the Dutch “at their own game” in 2010 when the two countries met in the final in South Africa in 2010. Well, perhaps because the Dutch have been affected by the spirit of “original”.

Brazilian football in 2014, they played an excellent game that could have been orchestrated by any of the advocates of “open football”, including Yours Truly.

Amazingly, the Dutch, inventors, as I say, of total football, changed tack — they know exactly how to defeat ”tiki-taki’ tactics, and they set about showing the Spaniards – and everybody else — how it is to be done.

The London Guardian correspondent reported that this match was “an emphatic reversal of fortunes from the 2010 [World Cup] final and a much better game….[It deserves to be remembered as a World Cup classic – Robin van Persie’s first goal and [Arjen] Robben’s second just might be — and it certainly provided more entertainment than the kickfest in Johannesburg [in 2010].”

What is most remarkable about the match is that the Dutch let in a goal first, thereby giving the impression that they were once again going to fall prey again to their masters, the Spaniards. But that was a decoy of intentions, so to speak.

The first goal had arrived for Spain in the 30th minute of the first half. It was a controversial goal – a penalty! Xavi of Spain had played a magnificent pass to Costa, whose turn in the area was far too quick for Stefan de Vrij of the Netherlands.

When the Dutch defender’s trailing leg brought Costa down, the Italian referee pointed straight to the spot. (TV replays showed that De Vrij had made only minimal contact and that Costa’s fall was exaggerated, or might even have been faked).

So Spain went ahead. But at the stroke of half-time, the Dutch equalised with a goal “from nothing”.

Daley Blind got a ball from halfway on the left touchline and sent an unbelievable, diagonal ball towards the Spanish goal.

Robin van Persie’s run picked it up as if there was a magnet on his head directing the ball to his head. Van Persie made a slight correction to his stance and then spilled a diving header into the Spanish goal. The goalkeeper didn’t have a chance and the Dutch were right back in the game.

In the second half, the Dutch appeared to be going back on their open football strategy and began to hold on to the ball in their own half. Spain won a throw-in but gave it straight back to the Dutch. Before they knew it, Blind had once again popped up with a killer final ball, this time to find Arjen Robben in the centre.

Robben brought down the ball effortlessly with one foot, turned past a Spanish player with the other and then unleashed the ball ferociously into the Spanish net. Spanish goalkeeper Casillas, could not reach it.

The match then turned into a massacre of the Spaniards. The Netherlands won by 5 goals to 1, but most people I have spoken to say they would not have been surprised if the final tally had been 6-1 or even 7-1. Spain looked plain silly – cow could such a country have won the World Cup?

Everyone will be happy if the Netherlands win this one, for they taught everyone how football should be played, and it is important that the world of football should rediscover that entertaining football can also yield the correct results.

I was happy that the Dutch had brought to Brazil, the spirit of great football. But I must admit that I was even happier that Coast Rica beat Uruguay. (No Ghanaian will need to ask me why).

I was also glad that England was able to score a goal against Italy through a young, black lad called Sturridge: England officials, in my opinion, do not encourage young black players as much as it should.

This time, they’ve got three good ones: Sturridge, Welbeck and Sterling. I hope they will be given a chance to shine, for it is usually not enough to be selected, but to be allowed to play in the position one is used to. Otherwise, one can become a flop.

The other thing that made me happy about the England-Italy game was that Italy’s victory was secured by Mario Balotelli, who is of Ghanaian parentage. I must admit that I asked myself the question: suppose Ohene Gyan were alive and in charge of our football, would Welbeck be playing for England and Balotelli for Italy?

The answer to both questions, in my estimation, is a Big No! Ohene Gyan would have moved heaven and earth to get these boys to become proud of Ghana and to feel honoured to play for Ghana. Because of their ancestry. Today’s football officials sometimes cannot think beyond their noses.

I did mention earlier on that the NBA Basketball Final Game 5 also took place this weekend. It was won by the San Antonio Spurs, who stopped the dramatic run of NBA championships which the Miami Heat and its all-conquering hero, LeBron James, have been winning.

What makes sports interesting is the ups and downs that teams undergo. Nothing is to be taken for granted. It is a good way to be taught important lessons about life in general.

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