Kolkata: Germany under-17 coach Christian Wueck was furious. He slammed the door of the press conference centre behind him as he barged in. This was a man not ready to face any questions, as he felt that his team had been hard done by in the Fifa Under-17 World Cup quarter-final against Brazil in Kolkata.
It had been a tough match for his young German team and the former Nurnberg winger was in no mood to go easy on the officials after his Under-17’s were roughed-up on more than one occasion by their Brazilian counterparts.
Predictably, the first question was on the refereeing and as Wueck threw his accreditation card on the podium, he didn’t hold back, “Well, you saw the game, didn’t you? You should be asking him (referee) the question. I think the referee is responsible for the result.”
It would be too harsh to state that Brazil, a five-time World champion at the senior level and three-time winners at the Under-17 level were trying to take out their opponents or that they were completely devoid of samba flair.
Indeed it would be uncharitable to suggest that but observers of the beautiful game have noticed subtle changes in Selecao football in the past, that their game isn’t exactly what the Brazilians claim it is – romantically beautiful.
Dunga was the captain in 1994, when functional football under Carlos Alberto Parreira led them to the World Cup trophy after 24 years as Roberto Baggio missed the most important kick of his career at the Rose Bowl, Pasadena. Four years later, Ronaldo’s withdrawal, then inclusion, leading to virtual anonymity during the final led to a dark, gloomy defeat at the Stade de France. Was it perhaps at these two tournaments that the Verde-Amarela (the Green and Yellow) finally realised that flair and guile wouldn’t be enough anymore?
Incidentally, it was Dunga who came back to manage the team for the 2010 World Cup, only for the team to play a defensive-minded, stodgy game and be knocked out by the Netherlands in the quarterfinals.
Dunga would then again take charge of the team as it sought to recover from the ashes of the 7-1 humbling at the hands of world champions Germany at the Maracana. Tite would take over from Dunga midway through qualification and make sure Brazil qualified for Russia after initial hiccups but the question marks over their style haven’t gone away. Sure, Neymar continues to be the spiritual successor to many a Brazilian great but the suspicion remains that a deeper appreciation of football’s necessary evils has crept in.
In Kolkata, in front of a packed crowd backing the boys in yellow, this theory was fuelled further as Carlos Amadeu’s boys resorted to some less-than-pleasant conduct when faced with a tough opponent in Germany.
Sure enough, Germany after overcoming a slow start were the dominant team and went ahead through a penalty converted by the mercurial Jann Fiete-Arp, his fifth goal in as many matches.
Brazil were out-thought and out-fought as Germany had been set up perfectly to nullify the their opponent’s midfield and stifle any chance of the South Americans building an attack. And no one could have predicted what was to follow in the second half.
Signs of tiredness were creeping into the junior Nationallmannschaft’s play but more importantly, they were being battered, not just in a footballing sense, but also physically. It started with a few pushes and shoves.
Lincoln then kicked, nay, lashed out at Josha Vagnoman out of what it seemed was pure frustration. Vagnoman, surprised and furious, took a moment to register what had gone down but did not react, ever trained in the German way of a single-minded focus towards winning.
The referee, Jair Marrufo, did not show the talented Brazilian youngster a card but gave him a telling-off. It should have been a red.
The worst was yet to come. After Weverson came on and thundered the under-side of the crossbar en route to a wonderful equaliser, an elbow by the South Americans went unpunished.
“Look at Jan Boller’s face, just below the eye. It is cut. This was just before the winner. Before the tournament started, teams were spoken to by officials and it was said any elbow or hand to the face would fetch a red card. But nothing happened tonight,” Wueck would fume later. To add insult to injury, Paulinho’s superb strike would condemn Germany to a final 13 minutes of agony where tired bodies would chase a levelling strike, only for more nudges and jabs. On another occasion, Arp was brought down in the box, rather theatrically, but after a foul was committed – the referee allowed play to continue.
Brazil coach Amadeu defended his side stating that his team had won the fair play awards at the Under-15 and Under-17 South American championships and that he would have spoken to his players had he noticed such incidents.
Wueck would later mention that his players were crying as they felt hard done by. There is no questioning the quality of Brazil’s strikes but whether the physical grinding down of their opponents was required, is up for debate.
As for the referee, one can only hope that the law is laid down at every level of football, irrespective of age.