World Cup: Hosts face stern test from continental rivals

Updated: July 4, 2014
Brazilian skipper Thiago Silva (pictured) and his squad are feeling the immense pressure of a nation's expectations

Brazilian skipper Thiago Silva (pictured) and his squad are feeling the immense pressure of a nation’s expectations

Today’s quarter-finals

France v Germany; Estadio do Maracana, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil; Saturday, July 5, 2am

Brazil v Colombia; Estadio Castelao, Fortaleza, Brazil; Saturday, July 5, 6am


“I’m just here to have fun.” It’s one of the most bewildering comments you’ll hear from an elite sportsperson ahead of a major event or game. And there may as well be a parrot-sized sports psychologist perched on the shoulder of said-competitor, reminding them to follow the mantra. As silly as it sounds, it’s not the worst mindset because there’s something much worse. “I’m actually not happy to here and I’m scared out of my wits”. That’s a pretty good description of the state of the Brazilian squad heading into the quarter-finals of the World Cup tournament on their home soil. Back in 1958, Brazil became the first World Cup team to employ the services of a sports psychologist. João Carvalhaes managed to pull together the disparate spirits of a squad that included Garrincha, Pelé, Vava, Didi, and Mario Zagallo as Brazil went on to capture their first World Cup title. Fast-forward 56 years and it’s the mental state of the players that is again causing concerning. Brazil’s manager Luiz Felipe Scolari has called on a psychologist to bolster the squad’s fragile nerves after a near emotional meltdown during the round of 16 clash against Chile.

The expert counselling before the quarter-final against Colombia on Friday follows a barrage of criticism by the domestic media after key players sobbed before the penalty shootout in the Chile match. Neymar, David Luiz and Júlio César were in tears at the end of extra time, while the captain, Thiago Silva, was so overcome with tension that he asked not to be selected among the penalty takers and sat alone by the touchline as his team-mates walked up to the spot. In the past few days, countless mental-health experts have opined on the subject. The president of the São Paulo Association of Sport Psychology, John Ricardo Cozac, said the behaviour of the team and their manager “demonstrated a dangerous lack of emotional control”. Scolari, who coached Brazil’s 2002 World Cup winning team, has voiced concerns that his players are under too much pressure to win. To ease the situation, he called on the psychologist Regina Brandão, who provided him with a profile of the players ahead of the tournament. She has yet to comment on the team’s state of mind, but criticised the media for ill-informed speculation about the lack of mental preparedness.


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Brazil v Colombia +0.5hcp (one unit @ $1.92) – the psychologist may have worked in 1958, but internal demons have plagued the nation’s football team at numerous World Cup tournaments. We’re not writing off Brazil just yet, but they survived by the width of the goalpost against Chile and face another major battle to overcome the surprise packets of the tournament and continental rivals Colombia. Neymar look sore and sorry at the end of the round of 16 game with knocks to his knee and thigh but is reported to be fit for this clash. Defensive midfielder Luiz Gustavo is suspended so Scolari may revert to the 3-5-2 formation he used with Brazil to win the 2002 World Cup. This could take some of the pressure off Neymar. But unless Brazil can recapture the pre-tournament form and cohesion they’d established under Scolari this could, almost unthinkably, be their swansong.

Things couldn’t be more different in the Colombian team camp. Along with the Dutch, Colombia are the only side with a 100 per cent record inside 90 minutes and, inspired by James Rodriguez, they were again impressive in their 2-0 victory over Uruguay in the round of 16. Rodriguez, with five goals and two assists, has been the undoubted star of the tournament, averaging a goal every 62 minutes. Jackson Martinez was the one change to the established line-up for the Uruguay game, replacing Victor Ibarbo as part of the attacking midfield three behind lone striker Teofilo Gutierrez. Jose Pekerman has a settled 4-2-3-1 and the team pretty well picks itself. They have played six times in qualifying matches with four of the matches finishing goalless while Brazil pinched narrow wins in the other two. Colombia is yet to face an elite opponent but they have the confidence to take on and beat anyone.


Patrick Battiston (pictured) lies unconscious after one of the worst fouls in World Cup history during a 1982 semi-final against West Germany

Patrick Battiston (pictured) lies unconscious after one of the worst fouls in World Cup history during a 1982 semi-final against West Germany

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France (to qualify) v Germany (one unit @ $2.05) – it’s impossible to preview this match without evoking memories of the 1982 semi-final these nations played in Spain. As Patrick Battiston charged towards goal, West German goalkeeper met him with a bodycheck that would have Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka proud. Teammates thought Battiston had been killed such was the depth of his concussion. To this day, Battiston has the broken teeth and fractured vertebra to remind him of the incident. Oh yeh, referee Charles Corver failed to issue even caution! Since the “Tragedy of Seville” as it became know, both nations have captured the World Cup trophy twice and fancy their chances of becoming the first European nation to win the title in South America.

Germany’s form has been heading south since the opening fixture. They brushed aside Portugal (4-0) in their opening fixture but could only draw with Ghana (2-2) and barely scraped by the USA (1-0). Algeria then took them to extra-time in a second-round clash that showed up Germany’s defensive woes. The biggest issue has been Joachim Loew’s use of a last line of four centre-backs but there’ve also been issues in midfield while the goals have dried up. To have any chance here, they need to sort out the Philipp Lahm-Bastian Schweinsteiger-Sami Khedira midfield/full-back mess. A significant contribution from Mesut Özil and Mario Goetze would also be beneficial, and they’ll need Mats Hummels back in defence to counter Karim Benzema.

France were impressive against Honduras (3-0) and Switzerland (5-2) before getting the point they needed against Ecuador (0-0) to be sure of topping the group. They didn’t play their best football against Nigeria (2-0) but kept another clean sheet and showed a clinical edge in snaring two late goals. Manager Didier Deschamps and his players set out to reach the quarter-finals and lay the foundations for a shot at victory in the 2016 European Championships on home soil. Deschamps’ tinkering with the side has proved effective to this stage. He’s likely to start Antoione Griezmann on the left, moving Benzema inside, with Mathieu Valbuena on the right. Their pace will worry the Germans.


Most recent results: 3-0-0, +8.94 units; overall record: 25-1-15, +25.43 units

Argentina v Switzerland +0.5hcp NT (1.5 units @ $2.50) WIN (0-0)

Argentina WIN ET v Switzerland (0.5 units @ $10.50) WIN (1-0)

Belgium WIN v USA (inc. ET; two units @ $1.97) WIN (2-1)

• Selections are listed in three categories – 1) Suggested (likely bet but yet to be finalised); 2) Confirmed (locked in at the price listed); and 3) Leans (tips, but not recommended bets); all times quoted are Australian Eastern Time (AET); prices with thanks to Sportingbet (except where markets are not available), correct at time of publication. Results/comments on today’s games/races will follow in the next post.

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