I do not like international breaks. Three weeks it will have been since our last league game when we play QPR on Saturday afternoon. That’s too long. As Giles Smith said last week “you could hold an entire Paralympic Games in that time and indeed, some people did just that”. A whole week is also too long for this blog to go un-updated so here’s a roundup of how our first team performed, away on international duty…
You’ve got to love David Luiz. Maybe I’m a bit weird but there was definitely something very endearing about watching that nutcase captain the most famous and culturally rich football team in history. I’m not suggesting for a second he shouldn’t be or isn’t capable of leading Brazil, but still, it was definitely a strange sight to me. However, given there’s no chance of my own country winning in 2014, if for some reason Thiago Silva is unavailable, to see Luiz lift the World Cup trophy for Brazil, in Brazil, would be one of my all time favourite football moments – for numerous reasons.
Although, there’s no chance of Brazil winning the World Cup in two years with performances like their one against South Africa. There’s also no chance of them winning by playing warm up games against sides like China, where the gap in quality is so large the result couldn’t possibly ease any of the pressure that’s on Menezes and his side at the minute – even if they do win 8-0!
If there’s one good thing these matches have provided, it’s a clear answer to a question that we’ve all been asking for a while – where should Ramires be playing? After let’s face it, a pretty terrible start to the season on the right wing, Rami had his best performances since The FA Cup final this week, playing in a double anchor alongside Spartak’s Romulo. With the freedom and space to make full use of his pace and stamina, he’s quite capable of doing all the running and grafting and ball chasing, so the front attacking four don’t have to. He looks so much more comfortable and affective in that role – I really hope Di Matteo watched these matches.
It’s difficult to report on David Luiz’ performances for you, given he didn’t have any defending to do. Regarding that mercurial little genius wearing the #10 shirt however, I could write reams and reams. Apart from one bizarre open-goal miss, Oscar’s performance was as typically immaculate and as instrumental as ever; the 21 year old was directly involved in 5 of Brazil’s 8 goals! He played a beautiful return ball to Ramires for Brazil’s first goal, his Chelsea teammate making a lightning fast run from deep before chipping the keeper. He also unselfishly played two square balls for Neymar tap-ins; he was predictably involved in the best team move of the game as well as he spun and played an almost impossible through ball to Hulk who then found Lucas Moura who finished well. Oscar then completed the rout scoring Brazil’s 8th from the penalty spot after Marcelo was elbowed in the face.
Yes it was only against China but Oscar’s quality is always so clear, he has to start playing #10 for Chelsea. After performances like this it’s impossible to understand why any coach wouldn’t select him whenever he could. The kid is a superstar – he’s going to win Chelsea a lot of matches and probably trophies as well.
There’s no doubt about it, Belgium are “the nation in vogue” at the moment. Their transcendence from international minnows, to a decent side to an impending superpower has been talked about for a long time, though now it’s been 10 years since they last appeared at a major tournament!
Their team is full of world class talent, most of which plays in the premier league and most which is aged between 20 and 26. As Eden Hazard said in interview last week, “it’s now or never for Belgium”.
Eden Hazard: “We have a great generation of players, but we have to do it on the pitch. We have talked enough. It’s time for action. The talent is here, we know that. But we have to show that with results. It’s everything or nothing and we absolutely have to qualify for the World Cup.”
He may be overstating the case a little, but Hazard’s being refreshingly honest here and in the past has been refreshingly self-critical of his and his countries performances so far and to be honest, Belgium’s first two performances this time around weren’t great. A scrappy 2-0 win against a resilient 10-man Wales, with both goals from set pieces, and a disappointing home 1-1 draw against Croatia – not exactly what they wanted.
Problems in the team are obvious to see, mainly they haven’t got a decent centre forward; Kevin Mirallas isn’t a genuine #9 striker, Benteke is hard working but technically average and Romelu Lukaku is still very raw. Also, in both games they starved Hazard sticking him on the right wing. In the future, passing the ball to him more often would probably be a good idea.
As Martin Samuel pointed out in his online column for the Daily Mail last week, there is something incredibly reassuring and comforting about watching Frank Lampard about to take a penalty. Whether it’s 5 minutes into a game against Moldova or in the 90th minute against Ukraine, to save a point at home and preserve Roy Hodgson’s unbeaten record, you just know it’s going in. In England’s first two qualifiers, Super Frank netted three times, breaking the record for penalties scored in an England shirt; he also matched fellow midfield legend Bryan Robson’s tally of 26 for his country. Elsewhere John Terry suffered an injury against Moldova and may not be fit to play until after our match at Loftus Road this weekend – which is a massive shame. In a small stadium full of people, some of whom hate John Terry for a living full time, what odds would you get on him scoring? Evens, at least.
This time around the Spanish FA were kind enough to not select Juan Mata, who I think has been playing football non-stop for three years and was instructed by the club to go away and do some serious relaxing. He hasn’t had a bad start, but the little Spaniard is so far yet to impact a game the way he regularly did last season. Meanwhile, Fernando Torres made his 100th appearance for Spain as he captained his country in a friendly against Saudi Arabia. He didn’t score.
Petr Cech kept a clean sheet in the Czech Republic’s opening qualifier before being rested after an apparent elbow issue was raised. As it stands, he is due to have corrective surgery at the end of the season; however, a serious knock may force his hand into having it sooner, which is a fairly terrifying prospect. Finally, Branislav Ivanovic led his Serbia side to a fairly disappointing 0-0 draw in Scotland, before ensuring Wales got off to their traditional flyer by hammering them 6-1. He even got on the score sheet himself, finishing with a neat half-volley on the edge of the area.
To summarise then: Torres = Centurion. JT’s got a sore ankle. Lamps = Legend. Mata = Chilling. Hazard = One determined young Belgian. Cech = Messed up elbow, but hopefully Ok. Ivanovic = A very good finisher for a right back. And Oscar = Really really good. Get him in the team!