The middle of last week saw a very large number of international football friendlies, played all over the world. With the World Cup less than 90 days away, coaches and team managers keenly watched these games with the aim of deciphering possible final combinations. However, not all matches involved the already announced 32 world cup finalists, as other nations, who failed to make it to Brazil, also participated. Since most football stars are playing in various international leagues all the year round, the friendlies afford them invaluable opportunities for combining under national colors to sort out adaptability issues arising from playing under different circumstances. The friendlies also provide preliminary testing ground and help team coaches in planning strategies and selecting the final teams. Since no one wants to be left out of football’s most celebrated event, professional footballers, too go into friendlies with utmost seriousness. Most matches were held in the night of last Wednesday, either at home or away but as it turned out, there were mixed fortunes for some of international stars, raring to go to Brazil this summer.
Hosts Brazil had a great outing away from home at Johannesburg, where they defeated South Africa 5-0. Brazil’s FC Barcelona star Neymar scored a hat-trick in that game and further consolidated his position in the team. Though his selection is never in doubt, Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari must have been delighted with the performance of his star player. In November last year, Scolari had told media that the 21-year old Neymar, who moved from Santos to FCB, was already in the same league as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who are rated as world’s best football players.
Playing at home against Cameroon, Portugal thrashed the visitors 5-1. In the full-capacity Lisbon stadium, Cristiano Ronaldo displayed sublime form and scored twice to make history. Ronaldo is now Portugal’s all-time leading scorer with 49 goals, two more than the legendary Pauleta. From the half-time score of 1-1, Cameroon conceded 4 goals after the break, in a space of just 18 minutes.
England managed to beat Denmark 1-0 with a late goal coming from Liverpool star Daniel Sturridge. Fantastic saves by Denmark goalie Kasper Schmeichel was a major highlight of the Wembley game, where England scraped through, when a cross from Adam Lallana was smartly headed in by Sturridge in the 82nd minute. But England Coach Roy Hodgson might not have been too happy see his boys struggling to convert their ball possessions into goals. In addition, the English side appeared threatened, whenever counter-attacks were mounted on their goal. There was encouraging show from the still athletic veteran Ashley Cole, 18-year old Luke Shaw and another Liverpool star, Raheem Sterling, though somehow Rooney looked listless. Hodgson is likely to announce his team of 23 and 7 standbys on May 13, just before another friendly with Peru at Wembley. After Peru, England will undergo a weather-conditioning training at Miami, where they will play two more friendlies with Ecuador and Honduras, before flying to Brazil.
Like England, Germany’s friendly with Chile ended in an unconvincing 1-0 home victory in Stuttgart. Though Mario Gotze put the Germans ahead in 16th minute, the home side was kept under pressure by the visitors. German Coach Joachim Low will need to revise his strategy after this friendly, where they missed several chances. It was a below-par performance for the Germans, who are widely regarded as World Cup favorites.
In an away game at Bucharest, Argentina struggled against Romania with the match ending in a goalless draw. Lionel Messi was sick and so was Sergio Aguero but they did their best under the circumstances. It must have been an agonizing sight for the Argentina Coach Alejandro Sabella when Messi vomited on the pitch but kept playing on. Luck favored Argentina, when a goal scored by Romanian star Alexandru Maxim, 10 minute before half-time was disallowed. Argentina’s one big chance came when Palacio had the ball to shoot from a close range but he missed. It wasn’t a performance Argentina would be proud of.
France had a good home game against Netherlands in their 2-0 victory at Paris with Karim Benzema and Blaise Matuidi scoring superb goals. One of World Cup’s dark horses, Belgium allowed a 2-0 half-time lead nullified in a drawn game against Ivory Coast at Brussles, where no team looked impressive in defense, as all four goals were scored from uncleared crosses. Until 74th minute, Belgium had the match in their bag but old war-horse Didier Drogba scored for Ivoirians at that point and two minutes from close, Max-Alain Gradel latched on to a cross to make it 2-2. Uruguay were held to a 1-1 draw by host Austria at Klagenfurt stadium to the utter frustration of the Liverpool and Uruguay star Luis Suarez. Suraez looked good but missed some easiest of chances. Overall, it was a good away performance for Uruguay and Coach Oscar Tabarez must have been pleased.
In other friendlies, played at homes of first-named countries, Japan beat New-Zealand 4-2, Georgia beat Liechtenstein 2-0, Russia beat Armenia 2-0, Azerbaijan beat Philippines 1-0, Lithuania drew 1-1 with Kazakhstan, Bulgaria beat Belarus 2-1, Albania beat Malta 2-0, Algeria beat Slovenia 2-0, Greece lost to South Korea 0-2, Hungary lost to Finland 1-2, Montenegro beat Ghana 1-0, Bosnia-Herzegovina lost 0-2 to Egypt, Czech Republic drew with Norway 2-2, Israel lost 1-3 to Slovakia, Andorra lost 0-3 to Moldova, Colombia drew with Tunisia 1-1, Cyprus drew with Northern Ireland 0-0, Macedonia beat Latvia 2-1, Luxembourg drew with Cape Verde Islands 0-0, Turkey beat Sweden 2-1, Gibralter lost 0-2 against Estonia, Ukraine beat USA 2-0, Switzerland drew with Croatia 2-2, Poland lost 0-1 against Scotland, Ireland lost 1-2 against Serbia, Wales beat Iceland 3-1, Australia lost 3-4 against Ecuador, Spain beat Italy 1-0, Honduras beat Venezuela 2-1, Nigeria drew 0-0 with Mexico, Costa Rica beat Paraguay 2-1,