Ondrive with Sham Samaroo
December 10, 2022
All chatter in the lead up to Qatar was who would be Brazil’s opponent in the finals. But this week it was the ugly display by Netherlands that briefly threatened to steal the limelight from magnificent Morocco. Morocco became the first Arab nation, and the first from Africa, to reach the semifinals of the hottest (no pun intended) sporting event on the planet. But don’t be fooled into thinking this was all about luck. On their march to the semis, Morocco beat Belgium, Spain, Portugal, and drew with Croatia without conceding a single goal. In fact, they made the semis conceding just once in a 2-1 win over Canada in group play.
Against the backdrop of numerous criticisms, fairly and unfairly, Qatar 2022 is slowly emerging as one of the best and most exciting editions in the 92-year history of the World Cup, silencing the voices of gloom and doom. Early round play gave us its fair share of surprises with four-time winner Germany exiting before the playoffs along with two-time winner Uruguay, Belgium, and Mexico. But the best was yet to come. In the quarters, Croatia did a repeat of Russia 2018 when they trudged to the finals by grinding out three playoff wins in overtime. This time they edged Brazil in a penalty shootout. But the magnificent Brazilians have only themselves, or more correctly, their coach to blame. Brazil only knows how to samba (attack). One of my pet peeves this tournament has been the annoying, conservative approach of Coach Tite, and in my opinion, it eventually led to their demise.
If the Brazilians were a disappointment, King Lionel, Messi that is, was sublime. But, to quote Messi, Argentina were made “to suffer” in their quarterfinal win by a confrontational display from the Netherlands, physically and verbally. This was indeed unfortunate because it was the Dutch who captured the imagination of the world back in the 70s with Total Football: As one writer puts it, a style of play where success blossoms with a collective, almost telepathic understanding of space and movement among all 11 players. Their leader was none other than the brilliant, floppy-haired Dutchman, Johan Cruyff. Netherlands’ confrontational play on Saturday brought back memories of their disgraceful conduct at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Their legendary countryman, Cruyff, must be rolling over in his grave to see his countrymen conduct themselves in such an ugly and ungainly light.
After the game, Messi, the gentleman of soccer, was finally forced to break his silence. Messi took Dutch Coach, van Gaal to task for snide remarks he made prior to the game. Van Gaal said that Messi did nothing for his team when they lose the ball. It was a sly, calculated attack by Gaal to unsettle Messi. A day earlier, Van Gaal revealed that he was battling cancer, something he said he kept silent about for years. Normally, one’s first reaction would be empathy. But the timing of the disclosure and the subsequent criticism of Messi and Argentina one day before the big game begs the question: Was there an ulterior motive? Was the disclosure meant to disarm his opponent while he cunningly attacked them? Recognizing that his team was no match for the Argentinians, the experienced van Gaal’ comments ignited tempers and set the stage for confrontation on the field. A total of 17 yellow cards were handed out, a clear indication that the referee lost control of the game. “I don’t want to talk about the referee” said Messi… “but [FIFA] can’t put a referee who isn’t up to the task.”
In the fourth QF, England fell to defending champions, France, but as Coach Deschamps puts it: “France was a bit lucky”. Still, England like Brazil, have only themselves to blame. Captain Keane skied an 84th minute penalty to pull level with France. The semifinals are next week. Will Croatia repeat as finalists or will Argentina prevail? Moroccan coach, Walid Regragui, has described has charges as “the Rocky (Balboa) of this World Cup.” Can they floor France to become the first Arab team to reach the World Cup finals? Your guess is as good as mine.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the position or policy of the THE WEST INDIAN.