World Cup 2014: A Delayed Reckoning with An Exploding Star

A Delayed Reckoning:

Just like that … A ricochet the other way, and this would have ended Chile’s way.

All credit to both coaches. They clearly went to school on their respective opponents’ weaknesses, propensities and ultimate preferences. And given the way modern coaching is today, Luis Felipe Scolari of Brazil, and Jorge Sampaoli of Chile went about creating a plan to enable their opponents to lose, in preference to encouraging their own team to win.

Some teams have been defined by that over the years. These two teams would never have been my pick to ‘resume normal programming’, after such a promising Group Stage just past.

But after such a pretty start to Brazil 2014, this weekend marks the descent to gritty. The 16 remaining teams need to reach within themselves to find a way to progress, knowing there is no tomorrow.

Some dig deep to produce the very best football they have to offer. Some dig their heels in, so as to stop themselves from being overwhelmed, finding a way to make their journey last as long as possible.

Some will end up paralyzed with fear. And the worst kind of fear at that – that you are not enough. It is that fear that has created the culture of denial in elite coaching ranks. It is that fear which has straightjacketed the ‘creative collective’, into the shrewd practice of ‘negative engineering’.

While Brazil have not looked their usual free, unencumbered selves for most of the tournament so far, Chile’s clever refusal to engage and ultimate show of extreme patience exposed some widening chasms, instead of just the cracks we already knew were there.

It was those chasms that saw Brazil create no concrete shots on goal inside the box, in the first half. Even the goal they scored seemed to be more a result of the defender’s desperate flick, than David Luiz’ knee. The brilliantly named Chilean goalkeeper Bravo, was forced into only one save for the half, from a long-range Dani Alves speculator, that dipped late.

And let’s not forget the carrion nature of the goal Brazil allowed. A lazy throw deep in his left defensive corner from Marcelo, was met by an even lazier lay-off from Hulk – who was playing totally unlike the ‘Avengers’ hero whose name he carries, instead rather resembling the ‘Tiny Toons’ version, Baby Hulk, with his pitiful tumbles & petulant grumbles.

An easy intercept from Chile was moved on first time to the predatory Alexis Sanchez, while the rest of Brazil’s defense spectated. They must have wanted a good view of the goal … And they got it as Sanchez, without hesitation shot sharply under the despairing lunge of Julio Cesar, the now beaten custodian of the Brazilian goal.

That goal killed the match from a Brazilian team perspective. The fear induced from such a cheap concession saw any attempts to produce the vaunted play of jôgo bonito shelved, to be replaced by morsels of individual effort, from a team that lacked mutual trust.

Hulk at least lived up to his name in the second half, drawing a ‘close as a blade or your money back’ parry from Bravo, with a right-foot snap shot, deep inside the Chilean box.

Hulk also had a goal disallowed for handball and saw a cross missed by substitute Jô, where perhaps a desperate defender’s feather touch – that went unacknowledged by the officials – might explain an otherwise inexplicable miss from a delectable opportunity Hulk’s ball set on a plate for him.

Think of any of Brazil’s recent generations of No. 9’s – Ronaldo, Robinho, Romario, Careca – any one of them would have expected to dine out on that chance. Breakfast. Lunch. And Dinner. Not the current generation it seems.

Chile was responsible for the best produced chance of the match, a neat series of interconnected passes down their attacking right flank, culminating in a first time left-foot shot, desperately deflected at his near post by Julio Cesar.

The Brazilians could feel a Reckoning approaching, palpably weighing them down, leaching all ambition but survival, from their play. As the clock hit 90 minutes, it was Chile’s version of negativity that had prevailed. They had invited Brazil to fall apart, playing without cohesion and they had succeeded.

It was now the Chileans with billowing sails, filling the closing moments of regular time with the only concrete displays of attacking ambition.

The pattern continued in the first 29 minutes of extra-time. Desultory ineptitude from Brazil was clearly being allowed by Chile, while they waited for their moment – for the chasm beneath the fearful Brazilians’ feet to become as obvious to them, as to Wile E Coyote, when another clifftop chase of the Roadrunner has ended in disaster.

Who would be left holding up the ‘Help Me’ sign in the Brazilian team here? It was almost Captain Thiago Silva, as he watched, beaten on the right side, just outside the box, when Chilean substitute Pinilla lashed his shot off the crossbar in the 120th minute of the match.

Had that shot not hit the crossbar so flush, there was no coming back and no refuge to flee to, for a Brazilian Host Team not able to make it past the last 16.

It would have been over, in the ultimate display of timing from the tactically perfect Chileans. They understood what vulnerabilities they could cajole from Brazil in the moment, and held fast to their plan even after falling behind.

The deciding crapshoot of Penalties, was once again a case of would and wood – in terms of Chile putting Brazil deep into the nexus of the uncertain possibilities of ‘if’ AND ultimately being denied by a home-team ricochet off the beaten Julio Cesar’s left-hand post – as Gonzalo Jara’s decisively struck penalty hit the post at an angle that meant it would stay out, instead of deflecting in off the woodwork and extending the Brazilians’ agony.

Chile orchestrated a delicious set of circumstances for Brazil to lose today, perhaps because they knew they could break the hosts’ spirit in a game where nobody was playing to win. It almost worked – twice, but in the end, while nobody won, Chile lost first and their journey is done.

Brazil move on to face their delayed reckoning. They are scheduled to meet a team in Colombia – and their exploding star James Rodriguez – that has done nothing but win throughout Brazil 2014.

Either the hosts get their act together and find their game, otherwise the current leader in the race for the Balon d’Or and his cohorts might add Brazil to their list of scalps, posterising some more unlucky victims of their growing list of highlights.

The curiously monogrammed ‘JAMES’ stole Tim Cahill’s thunder, with a mercurial left-footed strike to begin the process of Uruguay’s exit today. Imagine what he might be able to do, to a hamstrung host team, too afraid too play.

Colombian Coach, Jose Peckerman just needs to remember … Keep playing to win!

Leave a Comment