Worth Every Cent

After Luis Suarez went all, ‘I Feel like Chiellini Tonight; Chiellini Tonight!’, I was hoping for something to remind me again about why I love football.

After going All-In on Suarez as a prospective positive influence, not just on his team – which he obviously still was – but for rusted-on fans and casual observers alike, I had to really think hard about buying in again for the two matches to close Group C, so I could recoup all that lost emotional capital.

Colombia was already through, and while still a mathematical chance of being usurped at the Top of the Group if they lost to Japan, and Ivory Coast trounced Greece … Well, these are the tasty margins touts all over the world feed on, like they were Uruguayan strikers on the ‘slaver’ for swarthy defenders.

Where some would see a delectable longshot feast, others would see a dangerous illusory ‘good thing’ being exploited. Two teams in Japan and Greece that were pot-committed, had no choice but to go all-out for victory. The Ivory Coast, with its ‘easiest’ draw over the last three Mundials, could get by with just that – a draw – in order to progress. Only Colombia could play the cards as they lay, after they were dealt.

Ironically, the two nations who were naturally more offensively minded and technically more offensively able – especially so far in Brazil 2014 – were the ones most favoured by hedging their play for a result. Greece & Japan on the other hand, had to go All-In, ‘In the Dark’, with no thought but putting everything they had towards winning.

Would such a recipe restore some sense & sensibility to my taste-buds after the events just past, that would make even a football glutton’s lead-coated leatherbelly guts tired?

Here’s five reasons why they did.

1) They made me more than happy to be wrong.

Every know-it-all like me would curl their lip disdainfully at the mere presumption we could ever be mistaken. Especially about something we ‘know’ so much about.

I was sure this Greek team didn’t have the spirit or togetherness to produce such a performance. Especially without their most potent attacking weapon, Kostas Mitroglou.

I was sure the Greeks would fall back in dismay, in the face of the natural born footballing aggression from the country with some of Africa’s best-performed individuals.

I was sure that despite the laudatory comments fans and experts alike were heaping on the defensively resilient 10-man group that held out Japan, Greece didn’t have it in them to actually live up to what I saw as false praise.

I was sure the 0-0 scoreline against Japan had everything to do with Japan’s offensive ineptitude, rather than shorthanded Greece’s (after ‘Captain on the Pitch’ Kostas Katsouranis picked up a second yellow card to be sent off early) defensive fortitude.

I was sure ‘this Greece’ had no hope to outscore the deadly handful of Ivorians up front, including Drogba, Kalou, Gervinho, Bony – Yaya Toure running through midfield.

Suuure? I was.
Right? I absolutely wasn’t.

2) The Greek Story for Brazil 2013 becomes a blockbuster.

‘When your life is no longer your own’.
‘When everything you know is wrong’.
‘One Man? NO! One Team … Now more than Ever!’

Starting in the 12th minute, with the injury enforced substitution of Greece’s lone remaining first choice attacking midfielder Panayiotis Kone, they must have thought someone had put an Irish hex on them.

Murphy’s Law reigned, as the next intrinsic first choice player, the goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis, was unable to overcome a back injury, and had to be replaced by reserve keeper, Glykos. Sweet as the eager young lad’s name may be, he seemed to be a final nail in the sour maelstrom Greece’s World Cup had become.

Training ground bust-ups, begat sustained injuries, begat pointless on-field indiscretions, to rob Greece of her annointed ‘best chance’, culminating in the enforced substitution of two players within the first 24 minutes of this most crucial game.

Talk about going All-In, ‘in the dark’. Sure you may luck into ‘Aces’ on a board with paired face cards, then hit an Ace on the River, just after you’ve snuck a peak into your immediate future. That could be fate’s way of telling you that you were sitting on a Full-House all-along.
It turns out Greece was. The enforced changes – as well as the pre-game fresh faces – all played their part in Greece gelling as a Team, all over the park. Gone were the histrionics of the first two games. Gone was the selfish unilateral ‘endeavour’. In their place was a team running aggressively, pressing collectively AND with coherence.

Which leads me to my next point:

3) Doing your homework can actually be useful.

In Poker, gamblers talk about the different strategies they feel they can employ, thus creating an ineffable ‘table identity’, to confuse opponents at any given time. You can play the cards; play the man; play the bully … All in an attempt to confuse your opponents.

But sometimes going to school on what you can learn of your opponents’ preferences can lead to an educated gamble rather than a desperate bluff. Greece’s inclusion of two attacking players in Salpingidis & Christodoulopoulos to complement the quality of a Samaras no longer obliged to come so deep and nurse the ball forward, gave their back-five time to control the space in front of them.

Not only that. Coach Santos’ inclusion of the Greek National Team’s eternal warrior, Giorgos Karagounis, from the start ensured there would be a sure hand controlling discipline and ball distribution throughout. The team was in good hands and ALL the players could play their game, in a collective designed to take advantage of what Ivory Coast would give.

4) In a nutshell, two unnecessary, errant passes defined Ivory Coast’s failure to progress.

You can talk about lucky penalties – putting your leg in the way of a player about to shoot, inadvertedly or not, is a foul if contact causes them to fail to execute. That it happened in the ‘box’ means it’s a penalty, regardless of the comedy capers aftermath.

It all boils down to Ivory Coast doing enough to progress, only to be cruelled by two specific unnecessary mistakes, that led directly to goals.

5) Redemption is at hand for a man who has learned from his biggest mistake in football.

Colombian coach Jose Peckerman should have won the 2006 World Cup with an uber-talented Argentina. They were dominating hosts Germany in the Quarter-Finals, leading 1-0, when he decided he would change his singularly creative team’s dynamic, in a misguided attempt to just do enough to progress.

He bottled it.

Closing his team down with unnecessary structural changes to save the game not win it, he let Germany back in. They equalised and the game went to penalties, where the clinical Germans did not miss.

When Japan equalised right on half-time, the question was, ‘Would Peckerman settle from a position of strength again?’ In the second half he answered clearly, as he utilised the attacking weapons at his disposal – James Rodriguez and Jackson Martinez – and their assured ball-control to best effect.

They eviscerated the desperately committed but ultimately wasteful Japanese, with their intelligent running, precise passing and skillful finishing, to the tune of 4-1. No longer content to progress, this time Peckerman was playing to win.

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