Three Keys to Understanding Latin American Soccer’s Failure in Russia 2018
For the fourth consecutive time, the FIFA World Cup champion will be European, after the elimination of Uruguay and Brazil, the last representatives of Latin America in Russia 2018. Never before in the almost hundred-year history of soccer’s main sporting event the teams of the so-called “Old Continent” had had such a clear dominion over the universal soccer landscape. What happened to the Latin American teams? Why could none be included among the semifinalists? At PanamericanWorld we try to answer those questions.
Latin America had eight representatives in the World Cup in Russia: five for Conmebol and three for Concacaf. Of these, five advanced to the second phase (Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay and Mexico) and three were eliminated (Peru, Costa Rica and Panama). In this initial stage, we can highlight Mexico’s victory over Germany and the very strong Uruguayan defense, which did not allow goals. The rest had more shadows than lights. Argentina was a permanent chaos, Brazil showed nothing of the promised “jogo bonito” [“nice playing”] and Colombia suffered more than expected to reach its ticket. “They will improve in the round of 16”, many of said; however, it didn’t happened.
Argentina was the first of the survivors to pack. It lost a great game against France and the barrage of criticism hasn’t yet stopped. There they no longer know who to blame, if the “innovator” Jorge Sampaoli, who decided never to repeat an alignment or Lionel Messi, in “hibernation” mode throughout the World Cup. The certain thing was that the “golden generation” of the Argentine soccer will retire of the team without obtaining an important title. Mexico started to grow smaller. “Let’s imagine chingonas [awesome] things,” said Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, after the spectacular victory against a German team that had nothing to do with the 2014 champion; but the Tricolor lost again the elusive fifth game, falling against Brazil. For coach, Juan Carlos Osorio, the cause of the defeat seemed to focus solely on the histrionic ability of Neymar Jr.
Finally, Colombia went down. The saving head of Yerry Miná reappeared at a decisive moment; however, in the penalties lottery, when they had an advantage, the South Americans failed the aim. Diego Armando Maradona left nothing unsaid —as is usual for him— and managed to antagonize (a little more) with FIFA officials, considering that the performance of the US referee had favored the English; but, then, he had to apologize. If they are going to identify a guilty party, it would be better to begin with the inability of the Colombian strikers (with Radamel Falcao at the head) to score, in the (few) moments when they created danger.
Only two Latin Americans could be included among the eight best and both fell in the quarterfinals. Uruguay wasn’t favorite against France; but it left the feeling that it could do a little more in that duel. We miss the absence of the “garra charrúa”. Meanwhile, the one favorite to win the Cup, Brazil, was eliminated for the fourth consecutive time in this phase. What were the three keys to the Latin American debacle in Russia 2018?
The main stars of the Latin American teams were far from the level they usually show in European clubs. Lionel Messi has been the main pointed out player in the Argentine disaster, not only for his ineffectiveness (barely a goal), but, above all, for his dismissive attitude. Anyway, there is no shortage of defenders for the “Pulga” [Flea], who claim, with a high dose of reason, that the rest of the team did little to help the captain.
Neymar Jr. did worse. After over three months away from the playing fields, the 10 logically didn’t arrive optimally to the World Cup; however, the main problem wasn’t in his lack of rhythm, but in that the cameras unmasked his simulations, from an invented penalty to falls that should never have been so loud. It’s true that Neymar received a strong punishment from rival defenders; but the 14 minutes he stayed on the court were a clear sign that the talented soccer player exaggerated. When Brazil needed him most, at the decisive moment, against Belgium, the 10 failed the opportunities he had. This wasn’t his World Cup either.
Another star that, without being completely “an enemy” of the goal, didn’t meet expectations was Luis Suárez. The Uruguayan striker scored two goals in the knockout phase and gave two assists to Edinson Cavani in the last 16; nevertheless, the French managed to control him completely and his goal-scoring instinct disappeared, in a moment in which it was crucial that he got out the “garra charrúa”.
KO FOR INJURIES
The injuries had a significant impact on the chances of Colombians and Uruguayans in the World Cup. The absence of James Rodriguez in the match against England was key in the way in which the South American team faced the Europeans. His presence in the field would have given new vigor to the attack and, of sure, James would have been of the chosen ones to throw in the penalty shootout. It could not be. His desperate gestures and the tears of frustration, from the bench, remain a sad reminder of the Colombian elimination.
After scoring two spectacular goals against Portugal, Edinson Cavani felt a pinch in the calf and had to leave the field, helped by Cristiano Ronaldo. Now it doesn’t seem risky to say that that’s where Uruguay’s hopes in the World Cup ended. Without Cavani in the starting lineup, the French defenders focused all the pressure on Suarez and placated, without too many setbacks, the Uruguayan attack. Would history have changed with the “Cannibal” on the court? Probably the final score would have been different.
Two Latin American goalkeepers committed unwise errors that cost a lot. The first was the Argentine Willy Caballero. Argentina held, as it could, a Croatia that looked superior, but had not managed to score. Then, a blunder by Caballero served the ball for Ante Rebic to open the scoring. From then on, it was a Croatian ride that humiliated the Argentine team and sent Caballero to the bench.
Even more serious was what happened with Fernando Muslera. The Uruguayan goalkeeper with the most matches in World Cups acted a bit disappointing in the match against France. The Europeans dominated, although only by the minimum, so the Charrúas fanatics hoped that, in a spark of inspiration, Suárez or some other player equaled the challenge in the second time. Those hopes ended when Muslera let in a strong shot, but without any effect, from Antoine Griezmann.