The World Cup continued unabated yesterday with Germany and Algeria providing the drama after France’s routine – and dull – win over Nigeria. Mesut Özil’s goal in the 120th minute was, it seemed, the icing on the cake but it turned out to be the cue for an Algerian fight back; one goal and a presentable opportunity in what remained of the match scant reward for their endeavours. Overall, the Germans were the better side but in the footballing equivalent of Rocky, they were time and again rocked on their heels by the spirited African attack. Somewhere the Algerians have been called “plucky” by a journalist or headline writer; you know they have, you just know it.
Özil is being criticised in some quarters for an indifferent display, the Evening Standard declaring that he had not shaken off his “Arsenal form” as if it the term was some sort of insult. He was certainly profligate, passes askew but in general, his performance was in keeping with that of his teammates. Unable to lift them, he sank to their levels which was roughly where Thomas Müller’s knees were. Germany could – should – have won more comfortably but were picked off by the Algerians on more than one occasion, grateful to the alertness of Manuel Neuer in sweeping up behind the defence. Per Mertesacker, aching for a killer bassline, was tetchy with the media which suggests that bravado was not the sole preserve of Uruguayan footballers,
“What do you want from me? Do you think that this is a circus band? We fought to the end.
The main thing is we won and we’re in the final eight and that’s what counts. It doesn’t matter at all to me how we won.”
Which is the essence of tournament football. None of the footballing superpowers – if Suarez remained would, I wonder, Uruguay be a supperpower – have been consistently exceptional. Brazil have stuttered under the weight of a nation’s ambitions; Germany, France and Argentina have all flattered but been relatively mundane in one or two matches. To believe that the World Cup will be won by a country that plays dazzling football in all their matches, is at best naïve. The best team in the tournament will dig out the wins, in the way Brazil have or Germany did last night.
France as well. They won the match, it was all that mattered but it was a laboured performance which lacked the zip of their wins in the group stage. Were Nigeria that much better than Switzerland or Ecuador? They were more durable in defence, that’s for certain and the French could easily have been reduced to eight or nine players with Matuidi and Giroud lucky to stay on the pitch. Mind you, given it was a Chelsea player on the receiving end of Olivier’s elbow, are FIFA going to be that worried? Probably; it might well be the end of Giroud’s World Cup campaign. At least – touch wood – he is returning unscathed.
All this against the backdrop of Luis Suarez’s curious apology for biting anything which moved. In a move befitting his sins, Suarez compounded the crime by dropping in a touch of Blatter-speak, referring to the “football family“. The timing of his missive was immediately linked to Barcelona’s interest in acquiring his services. The fee of £80m is bandied around once more, £32m of which will come from Arsenal from the purchase of Alexis Sanchez; I love it when a transfer circle is completed.
Money, I am sure, is at the root of it all but interest from the Catalans is not the only issue to be considered. Suarez’s brand has suffered financially already with Adidas dropping him from an ad campaign whilst one other sponsor, 888poker, has severed their ties with the player according to The Guardian. I have no doubt that the advice to show contrition was based more on compensation than contrition. Whether it is enough to see his ban reduced remains to be seen. FIFA’s four-month total ban from football was decided, I believe, with scope for a successful appeal against the sentence. Reducing that by one month still gives the impression of severity whilst allowing club and country some comfort that they have ‘won’ as well. If nothing else, FIFA are politically savvy.
Arsenal are proving to be quite a key player in this summer’s window. This without even spending a penny. Whilst the purchase of Sanchez funds Suarez’s move to Barcelona, the money spent of Sami Khedira will pay for James “Hamez” Rodriguez to move to Real Madrid. That puts pressure on the Arsenal coffers, a £74m outflow in fees alone according to this morning’s valuations and much more of a setback than the £42m Daily Star hacks want us to believe the club is facing. The club’s bank manager will be a little happier to find that Mathieu Debuchy’s £12m fee is for the most part funded by £11m to be received for Thomas Vermaelen’s services from Manchester United. The £6.5m for Keylor Navas is pocket-money, despite solving Arsenal’s apparent goalkeeping crisis. If we have a crisis in goal, what on earth is happening at right back and centre forward?
Finally, the club has confirmed that the new kit will be unveiled on 10th July. If it hasn’t leaked to the internet before then…