In the Copa America competition, as well as South American football in general, when “giants” of the region are mentioned, it is really referring to only two teams. The two teams are Brazil and Argentina. Copa America itself is actually all about these two teams. It is just like a special festival created just for the clash of these two teams, with the rest of the participating countries in the competition just to make up the numbers and to complete the “Festival”. Just take a glance at the group draw. Brazil and Argentina are allocated to one slot in Group B and Group A respectively. Argentina is in Group A because they are the hosts of this competition. However, Brazil are allocated a different group and not in the same group as Argentina. The reason is of course the seeding system in place in which the giants of the competition cannot be in the same group, and that a group will be comprised of favorites and underdogs. In this set-up, assuming that Brazil and Argentina make it through the group stage and win every single match afterwards, they will only meet in the Final of the competition. To be frank, this is the final everyone associated with the competition wants to see. Clash of the titans, clash of the world’s best players. Dream and epic final. Everything is set, but sometimes scripts are not to be followed. At the time of writing, the quarter finals stage of the competition have been concluded, and Brazil and Argentina have crashed out of the tournament.
Some fans might react to this news just like how English fans reacted to the news of their national team’s shock 0-1 defeat to the United States in 1950. They might think that there are printing errors in the newspapers or websites that they are reading, or disruptions in the radio or television signals. The final of Copa America have been contested between Argentina and Brazil in the past 2 editions since 2004, and this is a period of 7 years. Fans are sure to have got used to this final match-up. It might be weird to see the semi-final consisting of Venezuela, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. This is so even though these teams have their superstars as well such as Jose Paolo Guerrero (Peru), Juan Fernando Arango (Venezuela), Diego Forlan and Luiz Suarez from Uruguay, as well as Roque Santa Cruz and Nelson Haedo Valdez from Paraguay. Still, Copa America seems to have just lost most of its gloss with the demise of BOTH Argentina and Brazil. Their demises can be summed up by the abbreviation “IOU” which is in this case stands for Ineptness, Overhyped, and Unfocused.
The first component of the IOU is Ineptness. For fans of Brazil and Argentina, especially those in those countries, associating these teams with the word “inept” is certainly an outright blasphemy. However, ineptness can be identified within the two South American footballing giants and they have themselves to blame for their predicaments. For Argentina, it was widely expected that they would have steamrolled past their group matches against Colombia as well as the two minnows Bolivia and Costa Rica. Argentina failed to win their first two matches, and in these matches Argentina struggled to find the winning formula suited for them. It seemed that they were without clear and coherent plan as they mixed and match tactics and formations on these two matches. The inclusion of Tevez is another one, in which the manager Sergio Batista had made it clear Tevez will not feature in his plans. However, Batista, seemingly being indecisive or succumbed to the relentless media pressure, includes the Manchester City (for now) forward at the very last minute. For Brazil, their ineptness stems from the fact that they do not look like a team at all. They simply do not operate as a unit, more of a hastily assembled individual stars with little team chemistry. The focus is on individuals instead of the team, such as how in the tournament it could be seen –and not helped by the media hype- that Dani Alves and Maicon are jostling really hard just to grab the right back berth in the team as their own. Only victories in their respective last group matches propelled them through the group stage.
At this point, it seemed that order had been restored. Despite their atrocious starts, both Argentina and Brazil managed to get through their groups and now it seemed that the much anticipated and hyped final between the two giants are on again. Turned out that their slow starts were not merely “warming up” before the competition gets to the crucial knockout stages. They were duly knocked out in the quarter finals stage. While many would ardently argued that the manner that both team lost was a lottery (ie. Penalties), with the stars at their disposals, Brazil and Argentina should have the firepower to see off Paraguay and Uruguay respectively before 90th minute.
The second component is Overhyped. To be air to both teams, the catalyst of this is undoubtedly the media. Almost if not all of the spotlights in this competition are aimed at the two teams alone. The other 14 teams seem to be left in the dark with no attention whatsoever to them. As mentioned earlier, Copa America is only hyped as the battle of supremacy between Argentina and Brazil. The media does not stop there, however. They even create another battle to be hyped up at the micro level, which is the battle between Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Brazil’s rising star Neymar. This battle is so hyped up that the media have started to compare this battle with the gigantic battle between Diego Maradona and Pele himself.
While it is true that the Argentine and Brazilian superstars are supposed to be able to professionally handle such media pressure, it cannot be denied that such pressure will adversely impact the whole teams’ morale. Every inch of their movements are being assessed thoroughly. Any misplaced pass, any small trip, every blade of grass covered by the players, especially Messi and Neymar are put under scrutiny. No matter how professional of superstars they all are, they are after all human beings. They will be affected by the gaze of the whole world on them. Sub standard performance follows, and knock-out the next to follow. While they are being scrutinized 24/7, other less heralded teams in the competition such as Peru and Venezuela can go about doing their business in the competition with less pressure away from the glaring spotlight and media scrutiny.
The third and last component of the IOU would be Unfocused. While players of teams like Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Paraguay simply focus on the task at hand, focusing on how to bring glory to the shirts that they have rightfully earned, the Argentine and Brazilian players are already focusing on the glaring and glamorous lights of Milan or Madrid rather than the competition. We could see how firstly, Neymar and Ganso are already busy looking forward to their European adventures as top clubs all over Europe are constantly jostling with each other to get their signatures, while players like Aguero are more focused on stating how unhappy they are in their current club and wanting “new challenges” in a more glamorous and richer club. All of these European transfer speculations can only be detrimental to the performance of these Europe based players and also those about to make the great leap forward in their careers by securing moves to top clubs such as AC Milan and Real Madrid.
However, to be fair, especially for the last part (unfocused), the sub standard performance of Argentina and Brazil can be attributed to the fact that most of them have been in a grueling season. They have played as many as 50 high stake matches week in week out, and the last thing they want to do is to still be toiling around those pressure cooker matches during what is supposed to be their well-earned summer break. This issue can be related to the “club vs country” debates that are always perennially raging across the football world.
A Copa America without Brazil and Argentina will feel dull and incomplete. However, we have to give credits where it is due. This Copa America somehow shows how football has won. This phrase is almost always used when less heralded underdogs have risen against the supposedly superior teams. Copa America has been hyped up as the battleground of only Argentina vs Brazil, and the stage and arrangements have been set so that they will meet in the final of the competition. Despite this, the underdogs have risen, and they have deserved their slots in the semi-finals with their tough fighting spirits until the end. Let us enjoy the semi-final stage onwards where those who have been in the shadows have finally risen to take their deserved spotlights.
The very sight of Malaysia lofting the AFF Suzuki Cup Trophy high into the sky to the tune of Queen’s famous hit “We are the Champions” is sure to bring agonizing pain to any Indonesians with a tinge of patriotism in their hearts. That is what has just happened in admittedly quite a scintillating encounter between bitter rivals Indonesia and Malaysia in Jakarta for the 2nd leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup final. Indonesia were left to chase for no less than four goals after the 3-0 debacle from the first leg in Kuala Lumpur and to be frank, Indonesia had every chance to overturn that deficit but their true performance come a little too late, and had the goals arrived much earlier, especially if Firman Utina’s early penalty had found the net, nobody could rule out a thrashing in store for the Malaysians. However, many things prevented Indonesia from achieving that such as the performance of Khairul Fahmi, the young and amazing Malaysian goalkeeper whom I really admire, the still over-reliant on the “Bule” players, the double edged effects on the fervent and massive support for Indonesia, as well as certain mental thresholds in this match.
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After the amazing 4-0 obliteration of a hapless Aston Villa side under the winter sky of Manchester, once again the Manchester City roller coaster is going up. Media, pundits, and fans alike have once again made an extreme U-Turn after labeling the team as a team full of money-minded mercenaries heading to chaos, once again they have labeled Manchester City as a genuine title contenders. There is no way to blame the general public for the seemingly hypocritical assessments of the team as results create the talks not the other way round. However, even though Manchester City were top of the Premier League table for just minutes, they were almost immediately overtaken again by their bitter rivals Manchester United after they have extended their unbeaten run by securing a 1-1 draw against Birmingham City. The Red half of Manchester is precisely the reason why Manchester City is unlikely to win the title despite the re-ignited talks of a genuine title challenge. No matter how many 4-0 or even 10-0 victories they accumulate over the season, they will not win the title unless they are able to totally banish Manchester United, on and off the field. The following will be the reasons why Manchester United will always reign supreme in Manchester unless Manchester City could muster something really meaningful from now onwards until the end of the season.
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The AFF Suzuki Cup Final has arrived and even though in the whole world generally, this regional (ASEAN) football competition might not be too insignificant compared to certain domestic football competitions such as the Barclays Premier League just to name one. However, I could almost guarantee that people from outside of the football mad region would not understand the importance and the sheer enthusiasm that is emanating from the fans. This is especially true for the countries which are still involved in this competition, Malaysia and Indonesia. The euphoria in both of these countries, especially in the ultra football mad Indonesia is really overwhelming. The AFF Suzuki Cup Final is really anticipated even more so than a World Cup Final. This is especially true since Indonesia has not won this regional competition stretching back all the way from 1991 and now they have a perfectly great chance to go all the way this time with their “Bule” (Pron. Boo-Lay) infused team. “Bule” is a colloquial Indonesian term for Western people in general and anyone with Western blood in their veins and also even for someone who looks Western, and thus in this context, it refers to Christian “El Loco” Gonzales, the naturalized Indonesian striker of Uruguay origin, and Irfan Bachdim, a promising young striker with Dutch heritages.
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El Clasico has become arguably the most highly anticipated match not only within the circles of everyone associated with the Spanish La Liga, but also in the whole football universe. This is a match in which anyone attempting to predict the result prior to the match objectively and rationally would throw in bombastic predictions such as a thrilling 3-2 victory for one of the sides or an explosive 4-4 stalemate. On paper and on an ideal world, this match would produce that kind of result, but too bad, football matches are not being played on paper and that this world is too dynamic to be considered ideal. So there we go, Jose Mourinho’s and this season’s very first El Clasico did not really provide fans around the world with the aforementioned explosive results as many would have predicted, but instead of a result befitting a match which is likely to be the determining factor of which team wins the La Liga title this season, it ended just like a match between the champions and a relegation fodder. 5-0 for Barcelona, the defending champions.
The first Manchester Derby of the season has been concluded. Each of this fixture in any competitions are expected to be an explosive affair which is filled with an eclectic mix of all emotions clobbered into one huge volatile and colorful mix. The build-up of this fixture is always intense with goading and mind-games being thrown about by both sides of the great Manchester divide. The end results usually also live up to the pre-match hypes and the aftermath of the game is usually filled with an even more intense fallout and drama. However, there was a rather eerie silence prior to this fixture which has been one if not the hottest and most anticipated fixture in the whole of Barclays Premier League thanks to the recent transformation of Manchester City from a mid-table dwelling mediocre side to the richest club in the whole world. Besides a rather forced statement from each side prior to the game, there is not much hype surrounding this usually much-hyped match. Even at a personal level, the day prior to the match did not feel like a Derby day at all. It felt even more ordinary than an ordinary match-day! Probably it had something to do with the fact that the Derby happened to occur in mid-week, a curious choice of a match-day anyways for a match of this stature in which everyone is so lethargic and uninterested as it is too early for them to look forward to the next weekend while it is too late to savor any enjoyment leftover from the previous weekend. In any case, it was unusually quiet prior to this game and it seemed to be an omen of what was about to come. An pre-match article on one of the top football sites was also unusually short and it contained a footnote which mentioned that it might even a drab draw. True enough, the Derby turned out to be just like a chess match in which both sides are refusing to capture each other’s pieces and just contend with offering a draw to each other when the chess timer is almost up. Even the aftermath of the supposedly big game lacks the fervor and spirit usually associated with the fallout of the Manchester Derby.
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