Friday, August 5, 2011

U20WC - The Musical

Alleged Everton fan Sir Paul McCartney once sang about 'the ever-changing world in which we live in' and how it might make one 'give in and cry'. Now it is a rare occasion when I disagree with the true King of Pop, but soccer fans the world over can take comfort in the fact that there are some things that simply never change. Don’t believe me? Obviously you haven’t been watching enough of the Under-20 World Cup.

Rivalries are supposed to be eternal, but are they ageless? About a month ago while taking in the U-17 quarterfinal between England and Germany, I asked an English expat with whom I was watching the game if the rivalry that exists between the two men’s national teams trickled down to the youth ranks. He said no, and judging by the competitive but thoroughly non-vitriolic game played out that day, he was right.

As for England-Argentina, they definitely don’t like each other. At all. The 0-0 draw in Medellin saw little love lost in the Anglo-Argie duel that was as entertaining as it was scoreless. The numbers didn’t lie as 21 fouls were committed and three yellow cards were given in a game where referee Walter Lopez let plenty of physical play go without reprimand. Though the contrast in styles between the relentless English and the more patient approach of previous opponents Mexico seemed to throw Argentina off their game, they were more than willing to contribute to the match’s highly unfriendly demeanor.

In the modern game where classic rivalries seem to become stale and fan made, it was refreshing to watch 90 minutes of good old fashioned piss and vinegar between two squads composed of players who were at most a twinkle in their mother’s eye when The Hand of God smote the English at Azteca. Surely most of this England team wept when a young David Beckham was petulantly sent off in St. Etienne. Regardless, the fact that this sort of genuine historic rivalry is well-recognized by today’s youth does help me sleep at night.

While Argentina entered the tournament as favorites, Nigeria have certainly thrown their collective hat in the ring on the back of their 5-2 shellacking of Croatia Wednesday night. It should not have surprised anyone to see the young Super Eagles run the Croats ragged with their superior pace and strength for the first 25 minutes of the match. Then, this happened...

Nigeria vs Croatia U20 2011 World Cup door 2drama

Croatia did make a game of it, getting as close as 3-2, but Nigeria never left the result in doubt. The trademark athleticism of the Nigerians has given them success at youth tournaments in years past, but the on-the-ball technical skill and combination play of this group made for an aesthetically pleasing display of power and precision. Consequently last year’s Euro U19 semifinalists were made to look dull and unimaginative. Without a doubt the verve and rhythm with which the Nigerians attacked invoked comparisons to Brazil. That said, there is a reason successful attacking teams are always compared to Brazil.

Just as Nigeria made a statement in their match so too did the young Brazilians that danced around Austria in Barranquilla. In addition to baring witness to the Brazil’s young stars dance around das Team on Wednesday, Barranquilla was first the birthplace of another world-renowned dancer.

If there was any doubt as to whether or not Brazil came to lift the cup, it has since been erased. This is a soccer tournament after all and if somebody tells you that Brazil danced around Austria, they’re not lying either. While the Seleção’s role as contenders is a constant, the lesson learned by the Austrians is also a classic: bunkering against Brazil is a recipe for defeat (unless you have Kasey Keller circa 1999). And while a bunker may be one thing, the butchery show that Austria showed the world is entirely another. Equally pathetic was Mark Geiger’s unwillingness to punish the young Austrians for their violent approach. Perhaps this is why FIFA never lets American refs work the big show. In the end though karma, was served to the beautiful game as Brazil sexily strutted to a well-deserved 3-0 victory.

Heading into the last set of group fixtures only 4 of the 16 second round spots have been secured. With all but a few teams having all to play for, the final clashes in round robin action are set to be as dramatic as ever.

"Nothing’s gonna change my world." - John Lennon

- Jacob Klinger

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