German pain, VAR and mouth-watering prospects ahead

Saturday, June 30, 2018

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We have repeatedly said in this space that the available evidence suggests the standard of football is gradually leveling off at the international level.

And yet there are only two teams outside of Europe and South America in the FIFA World Cup's Round of 16 which kicks off today with France facing Argentina.

Only Japan out of Asia and Mexico from CONCACAF (Central and North America and The Caribbean) are left to rub shoulders with the traditional powerhouses and both are expected to fall on Monday to Brazil and Belgium.

It's testament to the distance still left to be travelled by countries outside the fold of Europe and South America.

Still, the shocking elimination of defending champions Germany by South Korea (themselves eliminated) will echo down the ages.

It's not by chance that Germany commands such great respect in the football world. The German reputation for scientific organisation, planning and precise execution at football first took life in 1954.

Back then West Germany — split from East Germany in the humiliating aftermath of defeat in World War Two — won the World Cup against all odds, beating stylish and highly talented Hungary, then thought of as invincible.

Since that '54 triumph, Germany won World Cup titles in 1974, 1990 and 2014. Who will ever forget their imperious 7-1 trouncing of hosts Brazil in the World Cup semi-final four years ago?

Such was their command in 2014 and their dominance in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup that no one in their right mind would have dared bet against them qualifying for the Round of 16.

But in football four years is a long time. And all of a sudden at this World Cup, the Germans seemed very vulnerable – their star players suddenly slower, less efficient, less precise, and against South Korea they paid the ultimate price.

So, today we look to the enthralling story of Mr Lionel Messi and Argentina. After their fabulous recovery against Nigeria can they now conquer France, considered among the strongest all-round teams left in the tournament? Will Portugal with their great striker Mr Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos get past solid, efficient Uruguay?

Can the hosts Russia — ridiculed by many before the start of the tournament — upset stylish and highly fancied Spain tomorrow?

And on Monday will Mexico bring glory to their country and the wider CONCACAF by upsetting popular favourites Brazil?

At an organisational level the World Cup has gone well so far. The VAR (video assistant referee) system has mostly worked fairly, we think, and over the long run, will, we suspect, lead to fewer mistakes and cleaner football – fewer malicious, dangerous tackles and fewer serious injuries.

We also see value in the rewarding of fair play. Readers may have realised that Japan got through to the round of 16 on a tie-break ahead of Senegal because they had fewer yellow cards. Again, we say, here is a system that will serve football well.

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