Red Bulls defeat Union to secure first win of the season

By Samindra Kunti – “Are you kidding me?” shouted Red Bulls coach Mike Petke on the touchline after a harsh foul on Peguy Luyindula went unpunished in the early minutes of the New York vs. Philadelphia game.

Petke was agitated and that would not change during the first half. His team dominated much of it, but lacked confidence in the final third.  An industrious Dax McCarthy demonstrated a lot of forward intent, but his incisive play was not matched by his teammates.

The Red Bulls threatened on the right wing at times. Kimura tried to overlap.  Bradley Wright-Philipps got a sight of goal twice, but proved to be clumsy. For much though, the Red Bulls played rather uninspiringly. They struggled with the pace of Christian Maidana.

Petke was not happy with his troops at the interval. He told them their performance was simply not good enough. They needed to step it up.

New York poured on the pressure in the second half and that culminated in a goal in the 57th minute: Roy Miller combined with Eric Alexander on the left flank, and the left-back picked out Thierry Henry wide open inside the box. The French captain didn’t hesitate and comfortably beat Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath. 

The hosts doubled their lead ten minutes later when Alexander proved to be provider again. Lloyd Sam powered his cross past a helpless Zac MacMatch.

But the visitors were given a lifeline when Ibrahim Sekagya got sent off for intentionally handling the ball inside the penalty area. Sebastian LeToux converted from the spot.

The Red Bulls, however, held on to secure their first victory of the season. "We just got to believe in ourselves," said midfielder Tim Cahill, who entered in the second half for his first appearance in three matches since injuring his hamstring in the first half against Chivas USA on March 30. "We found our feet today. We found three points. This is the beginning of our season."



Soccer fans always look forward to the home opener of the season.  They get twitchy in the off- season; They need soccer to sustain themselves. By the time the home opener arrives, they crave the game.

On Saturday afternoon,  New York fans welcomed back soccer as the Red Bulls took on the Colorado Rapids at Red Bull Arena in Harrison. Blue skies and mild temperatures provided an excellent setting for an afternoon of soccer in the Big Apple.

The fans in the South Ward attempted to make the game a fest. They sang and danced throughout the game, but they had been warned that the Red Bulls might not whizz their way past the Rapids. Last week Mike Petke’s team slumped to a 4-1 defeat away to Vancouver.

Petke took the blame for the humiliation. His game plan of pairing Tim Cahill and Peguy Luyindula up front completely backfired. His defense was also not without fault. This time Petke went for the orthodox partnership of Thierry Henry, returning from injury, and Bradley Wright-Philipps.

The Red Bulls applied pressure early on; Cahill failed to convert a free header from Henry’s cross. Lloyd Sam’s  pace opened up space on the right, but few crosses turned into real danger.  Gradually the Rapids restored the balance. Deshorn Brown unsettled Armando and Jamison Olave at the heart of the Red Bulls’ defence. Robbles, like so often, produced three excellent saves to keep a clean sheet.

New York stormed out of the locker room and again Cahill had a free header. This time, the ball just sailed over the bar. But it was all a bit lacklustre by the Red Bulls – laborious, but without real direction. Armando and Olave didn’t click, and looked fragile. In the final third the Red Bulls were often at a loss.

In the 57th minute, the captain delivered. Lloyd Sam sent in a delicate cross from the right, Cahill drew two defenders and Henry’s diving header left John Berner, the visiting goalkeeper, with no chance.

But clumsy defending cost the Red Bulls. Olave bumped Vicente Sanchez. The referee pointed, somewhat controversially, to the spot and Sanchez cooly converted the spot-kick to the bottom right corner. The Red Bulls were deflated and only regained their composure in the dying minutes. They heaped on the pressure, but there was to be no grandstand finale, common currency last season.

During midweek, Petke indicated that the loss against Vancouver had been analysed – that all the t’s had been crossed  and the i’s dotted. Not so by Saturday’s evidence. If Petke wants to send the fans home happy, he’ ll have to go back to the drawing board.

Another routine embarrassment for the Knicks

By Samindra Kunti – The Knicks never cease to amaze this season: while they lost away to Miami Heat by 26 points yesterday, New York slumped to a 126-103 defeat at home to the Golden State Warriors on Friday night as their chances for a play-off berth are fading rapidly.

Worse, even Carmelo Anthony has lost the will to compete. With 23 points he top-scored once more for New York, but for most of the game Melo looked tired and uninspired.  It didn’t help that the Knicks went to bed at 3am after returning from Miami.  With four minutes and 30 seconds left, he threw the towel.

“When we lose games, it’s embarrassing like [Friday night],’’ Anthony said.

The non-contest was over after the first quarter with the Warriors leading, 38-27 –  another sign of how this season is over for the Knicks. Stephen Curry, who scored a dazzling 54 points at the Garden in February, hit 12 points, including two threes.  He’d get a triple double for the visitors, scoring 27 points. The lethargic Knicks defense often left him wide open.

“It was probably the worst of the year, I thought, from a transition standpoint,” Mike Woodson said of his team’s defense. The Knicks’ rearguard looked confused and overmatched. Thompson, part of the ‘splash brothers’, hit five threes, scoring 25 points overall, and O’Neal, 35 and not precisely in his prime, chipped in with 15 points.

At half-time, a shower of boos rained down from the Garden with the Knicks trailing, 73-52.  Threes from Melo, Hardaway Jr. and J.R. Smith briefly boosted the Knicks, cutting the Warriors’ lead to 17 points. The Knicks outscored the Warriors 28-26 in the third stanza, but it was never going to be a renaissance.

J.R. Smith questioned the Knicks’ ‘heart’ after the game.  “We’re not playing like we can [turn it around],’’ Smith said. “It’s not a mental thing. It’s a heart thing. Letting people score 50 points in the paint over and over again. We’re not going to win games like that. Guys getting open, hitting shots, high-fiving. I’m not into knocking somebody down and hurting somebody but we got to do something.”

The Knicks’ exasperation culminated when Tyson Chandler got ejected with four minutes and 33 seconds left for jawing Marreese Speights repeatedly. In many ways, Chandler’s anger was nothing more than a concession that the Knicks got beaten by a young, fresh-legged, and ultimately, better team.

It was the tale of their season, and while it was torture to watch, the Knicks are now gradually acknowledging that the play-offs are a distant dream.  Trailing the eighth seed by six games, New York can only make it on a technicality.

Slowly attention is turning to next season


By Samindra Kunti – Brooklyn, New York. The Nets sneaked a win against the Dallas Mavericks, 107-106 as they extended their winning streak to four games, improving their over -all record this season to 19-22. Mirza Teletovic starred and personified the steady progress of the Nets in 2014.

M. Prokhorov, perhaps a classic New York character, was absent again on Friday to see his franchise take on the much-praised Mavericks. Mr. Prokhorov is an elusive figure, both for media and fans. In fact, Mr. Prokhorov has only attended two games of the Nets this season, the last one being in London when Brooklyn took the Atlanta Hawks apart. 

Mark Cuban, the ever-present owner of the Dallas Mavericks, snapped at Mr. Prokhorov’s demeanor. Mr. Cuban was very much implying that a NBA franchise needs to be closely monitored and run by the owner in order to get positive results.

But at the end of the forth quarter, it was surely Mr. Prokhorov who was sniggering, be it far away. Andrei Kirilenko bucketed the crucial free-throws with 8.1 seconds left on the clock to secure another key win for Brooklyn.

Mirza Teletovic emerged as an unlikely hero to propel the Nets the victory. The lanky Macedonian was instrumental in Brooklyn’s relatively confortable win. The Nets took the lead early in the first quarter and never gave it up, with the Macedonian scoring imperious three-pointers from downtown.

“Europe thought me a lot. I got better at defense and rotation,” said Teletovic. While his all-round play was impressive, Teletovic excelled offensively.

“With Joe Johnson in one corner and Paul Pierce in another, they’re like, ‘O.K., let’s leave the guy from Europe open,” said Teletovic cheerfully. He came on in the second quarter and showed great form, eventually resulting in a game-high of 34 points.

The ball gravitated towards him and a telepathic understanding with his teammates ensured he got the ball at the right time, and in the right place.  The ball movement of the Nets was swift, very much the way Jason Kidd would want to see it on a more consistent basis in the future. That is, with or without Prokhorov in attendance.


Samindra Kunti – The New York Red Bulls clinched their birth in the MLS postseason after a dramatic tie at home to New England Revolution. Fabian Espindola put the Red Bulls ahead after fourteen minutes, but goals from Lee Nguyen and Diego Fagundez turned the game upside down in the second half before Tim Cahill snatched a injury time equaliser. The Red Bulls are now on a streak of six unbeaten games.

After a superb performance by the Red Bulls away to the Seattle Sounders last week, rookie coach Mike Petke nonetheless urged for caution in the run-up to the game against the New England Revolution. "I expect a very difficult game, obviously looking for that playoff spot – the last playoff spot. They are a dangerous team. They have their punch to go forward…” he said.

Petke´s worries proved to be unfounded in the first half as the Red Bulls dominated proceedings. Thierry Henry opened hostilities after a mere two minutes when his audacious looping header nearly took Revolution´s goalkeeper Matt Reis by surprise.

Fourteen minutes into the game, Espindola gave the hosts the lead when he intercepted a nonchalant pass from Scott Caldwell and slotted it home from just outside the box. It was a fine finish from Espindola, his ninth of the season putting him on par with Henry and Cahill. He should have made it two in the 24th minute, but failed to convert Henry´s floating cross from the right.

By now the visitors were struggling: Revolution´s midfield proved lightweight as prodigy Fagundez was neutralised. Stoke-bound Juan Agudelo operated in isolation up front with the Red Bulls holding a decent shape defensively. Without support, Agudelo´s hold up play was futile. The visible disorder pervading Jay Heaps´ team was in stark contrast with the all round energy the Red Bulls demonstrated.

For all their slick movement and passing, the Red Bulls were only one up at the break. The Revolution in fact had more shots on target, two to one, during the first half. The Red Bulls have clearly developed a bad habit of contentment when in a slender lead and a position to do seal the game with another goal. It was no different against the Revolution.

And Petke´s XI almost paid for their complacency. Henry´s curling shot from the edge of the box was denied by a Reis´ flying save and Andrew Farell´s intervention neutralised Lloyd Sam's point blank shot inside the box, but at the other end the Revolution showed more urgency, trying to pin back the Red Bulls into their own half.

Last week Petke lauded Luis Robbles for producing an outstanding, if not match-winning, save every game and Robbles did almost that with another fine save to deny Saer Sene from a few yards out after 62 minutes. Robbles´ quick reflexes lifted the ball over the crossbar. Heaps switched to three at the back with fourteen minutes left when he sacrificed his captain A.J. Soares for Dimitry Imbongo.

The visitors pegged the Red Bulls after 85 minutes when referee Fotis Bazakos awarded the Revolution a penalty for a questionable hand ball by Jamison Olave in the penalty area. Lee Nguyen converted from the penalty spot.

Then Andrew Dorman got sent off for studs-up, enabling the hosts to launch an all out siege in search of a winner. But a turnover deep into Red Bulls territory allowed Diego Fagundez to pounce and steer the ball past a powerless Robbles. Inside the space of six minutes, the Revolution had turned the game on its head.

Only for Tim Cahill to emerge as the Red Bulls’ saviour in the seventh minute of injury time: Reis pushed Jonathan Steel’s free kick out of the danger zone: Tim Cahill backed off, positioned himself near the penalty and headed the loose ball with precision over the pack of players and Reis into the net.

Cahill proved that he was is the lynchpin of this Red Bulls side: the dynamo in midfield, he is multifaceted player with the lungs of a horse. Luis Robbles acknowledged the importance of Cahill after the game. “He embodies everything this team wants to be, from the character to just the hard work and he has had an incredible season,” he said.

The Red Bulls earned their way to the postseason the hard way against Revolution and with two remaining games in the regular season – away to Houston and at home against Chicago – the aim is to try and win the Supporters Shield, which goes to the number one team overall in the regular season.
New York Red Bulls 2, New England Revolution 2
October 5, 2013 – Red Bull Arena – Harrison, NJ
MLS Regular Season
Scoring Summary:
NY: Fabian Espindola 9 (unassisted) 14’
NE: Lee Nguyen 4 (penalty kick) 85’
NE: Diego Fagundez 12 (unassisted) 91’+
NY: Tim Cahill 10 (unassisted) 97’+
New York Red Bulls (15-9-8, 53 points) – Luis Robles, Kosuke Kimura (Andre Akpan 91’+), Jamison Olave, Markus Holgersson, David Carney, Lloyd Sam (Eric Alexander 71’), Dax McCarty, Tim Cahill, Jonny Steele, Fabian Espindola (Peguy Luyindula 78’), Thierry Henry.
New England Revolution (11-11-9, 42 points) – Matt Reis, Andrew Farrell, A.J. Soares (Dimitry Imbongo 76’), Jose Goncalves, Chris Tierney, Scott Caldwell (Andy Dorman 56’), Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, Saer Sene, Diego Fagundez, Juan Agudelo (Jerry Bengtson 79’).
Referee: Fotis Bazakos
Attendance: 25,219 (sellout)


Samindra Kunti – Thierry Henry struck a pose again last week against Toronto FC – leaning against the stanchion, head casually held down and a hand on hip, implying “You have seen me score before” – and with it started an online trend. Twitter exploded with Photoshopped variants under the hashtag #Henrying. Muhammad Ali, Star Wars, E.T., Games of Thrones and the inevitable Miley Cyrus were all thrown into the mix.

Henry seemed amused by all the #Henrying. “It’s kind of funny at the end of the day. There is nothing behind the celebration. I needed a rest . I stopped there, saw the post in Houston; saw the post the other day, was basically by it, so I stopped by it.” the New York Red Bulls´ captain said Friday after practice.

The pleasant online folly reflects the upbeat spirit permeating the Red Bulls camp at the moment. Sitting top of the Eastern Conference and on a three game winning streak, the Red Bulls have put the days of a mid-season slump and Mike Petke´s altercation with Henry behind them. Petke, intent on attacking football at the start of the season with a 4-3-3, has switched his formation to a pragmatic `get a result´- 4-4-2 and the Red Bulls have been reaping the benefits in recent weeks.

But a result against FC Dallas long seemed in doubt. At half-time the Red Bulls had not managed a single attempt on target. Carney curled a free kick, earned by Cahill, just wide and a goal-line scramble nearly had FC Dallas´s George John score a comical own goal, only for the woodwork to save John´s face. Henry skewed his shot in front of the goalmouth when teed up by Fabian Espindola.

Those were rare highlights from a half in which the Red Bulls exerted mere sterile pressure on FC Dallas´s rearguard. There was no consorted effort from Petke´s men to impose themselves: with Bradley-Wright Phillips hobbling off injured with a strained right hamstring after twenty-six minutes, the Red Bulls missed any sense of direction and purpose. There was a distinct lack of guile and offensive dynamics in the final third of the field.

It was telling that Jamison Olave stood out – for his defensive interventions in the first half. Petke acknowledged the importance of his number four after the game. “Olave has had a rejuvenation in his career. His defensive play this year has been amazing. If you want to teach a youth player how to defend one on one, you show him Olave.” said Petke.

Petke also had praise for his goalkeeper Luis Robles, who ensured the Red Bulls earned a tenth shutout this season. Robles produced a crucial one-handed save at the stroke of half-time when Fabian Castillo was left in space inside the box. “You expect a goalkeeper to come up with one huge save a game. A game changing save and Robles has done that, if not more than that.” commented Petke.

The second half was a more open -ended affair. Henry came agonizingly close to breaking the deadline, but his header, meeting Espindola´s cross from the right, sailed inches wide. Dax McCarty´s and Tim Cahill´s unwearying labour in the midfield ensured the Red Bulls dominated the better part of the second half as FC Dallas started to tire.

With the clock ticking down, Petke became visibly more nervous on the touchline. He urged his troops to push forward with wild gesticulations. The Red Bulls didn´t have their opponents in a stranglehold, but did tighten their grip on the game. It was Erick from FC Dallas, who provided relief for the hosts when he slid and steered Jonathan Steele´s cross into the back of his own net with fourteen minutes left. Eric Alexander should have put the game to bed two minutes later: face to face with FC Dallas´goalkeeper Raul Fernandez, Alexander opened his hips too soon enabling Fernandez to correctly guess the curve of the ball.

The Red Bulls continue to sit at the top of the Eastern Conference with a three-point lead over Sporting Kansas City. Petke and co travel to CenturyLink Field next week to take on Western Conference leaders Seattle Sounders.

Match details:

New York Red Bulls 1, FC Dallas 0
September 22, 2013 – Red Bull Arena – Harrison, NJ
MLS Regular Season

Scoring Summary:
NY: Erick (own goal) 76’

New York Red Bulls (15-9-6, 51 points) – Luis Robles, Kosuke Kimura, Jamison Olave, Markus Holgersson, David Carney, Eric Alexander (Brandon Barklage 84’), Dax McCarty, Tim Cahill, Jonny Steele, Thierry Henry, Bradley Wright-Phillips (Fabian Espindola 32’)

FC Dallas (10-9-10, 40 points) – Raul Fernandez, Matt Hedges, Kellyn Acosta, Jair Benitez (Michel 88’), George John, Andrew Jacobson, Jackson (Mauro Diaz 65’), Fabian Castillo, David Ferreira, Erick (Kenny Cooper 82’), Blas Perez

Referee: Matthew Foerster
Attendance: 18,976


For unclear reasons the New York Red Bulls sported their away outfit of dark blue shirts and yellow shorts at their own arena against Toronto FC last Saturday. On the road the Red Bulls have struggled this season, but last week the New York team hammered Houston FC 1-4 away from home. In their away outfit at home the Red Bulls continued their good sequence with a decent 2-0 victory over Toronto FC.
It was a game the Red Bulls were favoured to win, having picked up 28 points at home this season. A tally surpassing Toronto´s 23 points collected in total so far. Surprisingly the visitors, coached by Ryan Nelsen, had the better of the play in the opening minutes, pressing the home side deep into their own half.
Kimura´s stretching intervention cleared Bloom´s dangerous cross from the right channel after 15 minutes. Dax McCarthy´s attempted a meek volley at the other end. For all Toronto´s domination and probing though, there first clear-cut chance materialized after 25 minutes when Wiedeman´s diving header from Alvaro´s cross nearly kissed the crossbar.
Then Thierry Henry took centre stage. Against the run of play he put the Red Bulls in front after 32 minutes: Bustamante´s pass found Alexander in behind the back of a terribly marking Morgan; Alexander composedly squared it for Henry to simply tuck it in at the far post. Henry´s celebrated his goal by showing off his new trademark celebration in leaning against the post.
Yet it was a clear statement from the Frenchmen, underlining his importance to the Red Bulls. The club captain and coach Petke were involved in a heated bust-up on August 29 during a training session. And while the content of the fiery exchange remains shrouded in mystery, the beleaguered Petke covertly admitted earlier in the week that the argument with Henry had galvanized the Red Bulls.
Henry himself showed a positive attitude on the field. A permanent feature of his game was dropping back to carry out defensive duties. Bradley Wright-Phillips and Henry had been feeding of scraps, playing in total isolation up front. Henry sensed this and duly took up defensive responsibilities. The Red Bulls´ number fourteen showed no sign of discontent in doing so.
Henry´s goal and the preceding interplay with Alexander and Bustamante were the sole highlight in a rather ugly first-half with the Red Bulls and Toronto both battling for midfield supremacy, but after Henry´s goal the Red Bulls took control of the match, which reflected in 61.4 % of ball possession for Petke´s men at the interval.
The only satisfaction Petke could take from the first half was the numerical advantage on the scoreboard. The Red Bulls had put in an underwhelming act against uninspired and weak opposition. But Petke´s half-time talk did not spur particular improvement after the break.
More industry and slow ball movement in the middle of the park permeated the course of the second half. Toronto were clanging on to keep their chances of making the play-offs alive, while the Red Bulls looked to extend their lead. Thierry Henry´s cross found Holgersson deep inside the box after 60 minutes, but from a difficult angle the Swede´s header was an easy catch for Toronto goalkeeper Joseph Bendik.
Bradley Wright-Phillips, indifferent, squandered an opportunity at the edge of the box a few minutes later when his low attempt lacked any sort of power, but he tested Bendik a little later with a strong header. The Toronto goalie did well to prevent a second Red Bulls´ goal. But as Ryan Nelsen threw on Bright Dyke, recently acquired from the Portland Timbers and a Super Eagle on November 14, 2012 against Venezuela, the Red Bulls decided the game with an unlikely goal from Fabian Espindola.
Espindola came on Bradley-Wright Phillips and instantly proved to be a super-sub for Mike Petke. Barely a few seconds on the field, Espindola was first to react to a flick on by Steven Caldwell from David Carney´s deflected cross and Espindola´s header from an improbable, if not impossible, angle deceived Bendik to double the Red Bulls´s advantage. It was a header Espindola couldn´t have nailed better.
It was sluggish from the Red Bulls at times, but Petke indicated that in post-match press conference that he was satisfied with his team´s performance and happy with the three points.The Red Bulls now move to the top of the MLS Eastern Conference, opening up a three point advantage over nearest rivals of Montreal Impact and Kansas City with five games left in the regular season.



SK – Lloyd Sam put the New York Red Bulls ahead after eight minutes. He cheekily lobbed Bill Hamid with a cross-shot. The visiting goalkeeper promptly got a hand to the ball, but referee Juan Guzman correctly observed that the ball had crossed the goal line in its entirety. In the opening exchanges of the game Sam´s pace and liveliness had already unsettled his direct opponent James Riley and the DC rearguard. It would be a feature throughout the first half.
While Sam and Jonny Steele were very industrious on the wings for the New York Red Bulls, DC United threatened seriously for the first time after 27 minute with a beautifully crafted attack on the right channel: Lewis Neal blasted De Rosario´s low cross just wide. The visitors did equalize in the 36th minute: De Rosario´s cross from the left found DeLeon completely unmarked. MLS debutant Carney sprinted to cover ground, but DeLeon cut past Carney with his right foot in a Bergkamp- esque style to slam it in from close range with his other foot.
DC United´s joy was short-lived. Australian international Tim Cahill restored the lead for the hosts two minutes leader with a powerful , downward header from Steele´s nifty cross. It was the Australian´s eight goal of the MLS-campaign, making him New York Red Bulls´ top scorer this MLS-campaign with eight goals. Bradley Wright-Philips nearly extended the New York Red Bulls´ advantage before the break but his glancing header went wide.
The visitors came out of the dressing room refreshed and immediately seized the initiative: Luis Robles spilled De Rosario´s curling attempt, but managed to smother it before further danger could ensue. In the 51rst minute Luis Silva, the midfield spine of DC United, hit the woodwork with a header. With the pressure mounting on the home defence , Tim Cahill signalled he was in need of substitution. The Australian, putting in a formidable performance slightly up field, left the field with a right ankle injury for Thierry Henry.
The Frenchman made an immediate impact injecting pace and firepower into his team. He first curled a shot just past the bottom right corner before the omnipresent Sam got Henry in a good position, but the number 14 was unable to direct his header. In a horrible mix-up between Robles and defender Ibrahim Sekagya, the latter committed a bookable offense on De Rosario. Referee Guzman pointed to the spot and sent Sekagya packing. Robles saved De Rosario´s nonchalantly taken penalty with a save to his right-hand side.
It was Robles´s save that would prove to be the difference between the two teams, as Petke´s men held firm for the rest of the game. The New York Red Bulls, in defeating old rivals D.C United, not only won the Atlantic Cup, but moved up to 42 points. A good tally in the race for a play-off spot. A sigh of relief was tangible at the end of an intense, but victorious evening for the New York Red Bulls.

A question of balance for Big Phil

RIO DE JANEIRO – SK.  It is often said that the main task of Brazil´s coach is to find and strike a right balance between defence and attack – between Brazilian flair and European organization. A Brazil coach should unearth a synergy between flamboyance and order. Instilling a certain discipline into his loose headed players is the key recipe for a Brazil coach to have success. 

Balance is paramount in football. Brazil gained its reputation as samba king of world football when its outfits struck a perfect balance between the defensive and offensive compartment.  Brazil´s 4-3-3 formation in 1970 is the perfect example – sensational attacking force was combined with defensive security spearheaded by Clodoaldo. The marauding rushes of Carlos Alberto Torres, Rivelino´s thunderous shots and Tostao´s neat play off the ball against Italy in the final have since become part of football folklore.

In many ways the 1970 Selecao was a refined version of Brazil 1958, which lined-up in a 4-2-4 formation. Zagalo provided Vicente Feola´s eleven with the right poise, often pulling back to help out in midfield. The industrious outside left made it thus a 4-3-3. Zagalo´s role became evident in the crucial group game against the USSR where Garrincha dazzled his way forward on the right wing. Gabriel Hanot dubbed the first three minutes of the encounter as the best in the history of football.

One wonders what Zagalo must have been thinking as Brazil desperately tried to strike a right balance in testing out a number of formations and personnel in recent friendlies against Italy and Russia. While Brazil do not longer boost players the likes of Djalma Santos, Didi, Clodoaldo, Rivelino, Gerson, etc., Brazil´s Luiz Felipe Scolari was appointed to implant more pedigree and panache into the slumbering Brazil XI of recent seasons. Gone would be the days of Mano Menezes perennially rebuilding the side, instead  Scolari would with aplomb bulldoze his way to another world title.

His quest to win the world cup seems, however, to have hit a bumpy road already. After capitulating a two goal advantage against Italy in Geneva, Brazil nearly succumbed to defeat against Russia in London four days later.  Scolari must have been agonized but what he saw from his team in the course of this European trip: blatant incompetence reigned both at the back and at the front of  the team. The defensive frailties, so often the Achilles ´heel during Mano Menzes´ tenure,  were exposed again in a barren manner while the front men showed a distinct lack of mutual understanding.

Against Italy, Brazil were on the back foot straightaway. The Squadra Azzuri pilled on the pressure, creating plenty of chances as the Selecao failed to pick up Italy´s linkman Giacherini. It enabled Italy to carefully spread the play and often get in behind the back of the Brazilian defense, often to the torment of Dante and Filipe Luis. The Italians cut at will through the benevolent Brazilian defense and only outstanding saves from Julio Cesar from Balotelli and Maggio prevented Pirlo and co taking the lead.

Against the run of play Fred, Fluminense´s outstanding striker during the 2012 Brasileirao, put Brazil in front connecting with Neymar´s cross in the 32nd minute. Oscar doubled the lead, graciously carving it past Buffon off the outside of his right-foot. It was much more a testimony to the level of efficiency  – that Brazil has shown ever since Carlos Alberto Parreira truly ´Europeanized´ the Selecao during the 1994 World Cup adhering to a rigid 4-4-2 formation –  than to the pure class and incisiveness that is still so often linked to the Brazilian game.

But after the break Italy deservedly managed to turn the tables. The introduction of El Shaarawy and Cerci brought more mobility and agility to Italy´s game and Prandelli´s substitutions paid dividends before the hour mark: De Rossi gently turning in a corner-kick before Mario Balotelli unleashed a ferocious drive that caught Julio Cesar badly off his line.  Italy should have won the game from thereon, but failed to convert its chances.

Balotelli´s meak attempt inside the box was again saved by the admirably playing Julio Cesar; Bonucci´s header flashed past the far post. Scolari, often dubbed pragmatic, refused to alter his 4-3-3 formation, while the circumstances of the game thoroughly warranted it. He opted to give Kaka a run out, substituting Oscar. The Real Madrid star though failed to impose himself in the remainder of the game.

Rightly praising Hernanes and Julio Cesar after the game, Big Phil insisted 4-3-3 might be his preferred formation come the Confederations Cup early summer. He benched Dante, Filipe Luis and Hulk for Thiago Silva, Marcelo and Kaka for the friendly against Russia at Stamford Bridge. In 2006 Brazil last met the Russians, beating them in the freezing cold in Moscow thanks to a lone strike from Ronaldo.

Brazil  began at Scolari´s fomer home ground where it had left off against Italy – with a festival of defensive errors inviting pressure from the opponents. Russia, ranked 10th on the FIFA ranking and therefore 8 places higher than Brazil, duly obliged with an encouraging tempo: Iganeshevich from a free-kick and Glushakov at the far post threatened.  Russia controlled the game, pressing high and limiting the space for Brazil to express itself.  Kerzhakov and Shirokov pulled the strings in a well-orchestrated Russian show.

Brazil, wandering somewhere between a 4-3-3 and a 4-4-2, gradually restored the equilibrium, but mustered little in the final third. There was more Brazilian huffing and puffing after the break with Neymar and Oscar briefly switching flanks and Kaka, non-existent in the first half, playing closer to the box. Russia remained very compact and a lack of coordinated interaction among Brazil´s frontplayers had Capello´s outfit never troubled. Neymar´s selfishness personified Brazil´s lacklustre perfomance up front, devoid from any inspiration and collective aspirations.

A never-ending goal mouth scramble, including last ditch blocks from Hernanes and Fernando, lead to Vazuylin finding the ball unmarked in the area and from a few yards out he left Julio Cesar with no chance. Vazuylin enforced a fair verdict on Brazil, which never fully recovered from a very jittery start. Panicky and woken form its internal struggles,  Brazil did get out of jail a few minutes before the end: Fred, a true goal poacher,  tapping in a Marcelo cross, after the latter´s excellent exchange with substitute Hulk. Marcelo´s fine use of space and Hulk´s cameo were a refreshing sight, but could not undo the fact that Brazil had again turned to individual guile to salvage a draw.

Brazil´s lamentable showing scarcely deserved a draw, but more importantly  Russia, and Italy, were not unfazed by Brazil, comfortably holding, and for the better part outplaying the Selecao. Italy and Russia reduced Brazil to an overhyped globetrotting samba band, no longer playing with an intimidating batucada rhythm, but merely representing Brazil´s most famous export product. The days of genuine football fans nursing a soft spot for Brazil seem truly to be over.

A debate about Brazilian football identity is of remote interest to Scolari, but he will have realized that Brazil no longer command great respect on the international stage. His three games in charge underline this: since November 2009 Brazil has been unable to beat a former World Champion. It´s grim reading for Big Phil and the recent friendlies have been far from encouraging.

Taking a mere quantative approach, Mano Menezes got it right from midfield to attack towards the end of his reign. It begs the question whether in hindsight it has been a mistake by the CBF to appoint Scolari? The host nation of the 2014 World Cup can only reassure itself with the idea that a deplorable outing such as against Russia is barely possible to repeat, but it is counting on Luiz Felipe Scolari to get his balance in personnel and formation right very soon with the Confederations Cup looming around the corner.



RIO DE JANEIRO, COPACABANA – SK. Wherever Usain Bolt goes, he is the talk of the town. It was no different on Sunday at Rio de Janeiro´s iconic Copacabana beach. The fastest man in the world drew big crowds as he attempted to improve his own world record at the 150 metres. Bolt fell 0.07 seconds short of the record, but it did not spoil the fun as he danced his way through four days of Rio de Janeiro, once more turning an athletics event into an entertainment show.

The organization Mano a Mano invited Bolt to run at Rio´s famed beach in a bid to democratize athletics in Brazil.  Duda Magalhaes from the Dream Factory explains: " Athletics is  very democratic, like the beach. Therefore the idea to take athletics away from the stadium and bring it to the beach of Copacabana, where everyone will have the chance of attending an athletics event at a very high level."  Copacabana turned out to be a beach loaded with local admirers of Jamaica´s most recognizable export product.

Bolt  arrived on Thursday in the party capital of the world and  apart from the obligatory formalities, the multiple Olympic champion proved he is a fine match for the city indulging in the festive atmosphere that Rio´s relaxed setting undisputedly brings along. Mixing a social project, a game of futvolei and his customary dj-ing, Bolt is increasingly taking a liking to Rio de Janeiro, already indicating that he intends to compete at the Olympic Games in 2016. While the beach and Brazilians girls might be a bit complicated, Bolt, a football aficionado, expressed his desire to meet Neymar.

For all his frolics and superstardom ,  Bolt had embarked to Rio on a serious mission: bettering his previous world record at the unusual distance of 150 metres, which he had previously set at 14:35 seconds in 2009. Bolt yet again challenged the limits of the human body trying to add another world record to his name in a race dubbed "Bolt against time".  Alex Quinonez, Daniel Bailey and home favourite Bruno Lins assisted Bolt in his battle with time on a special four-lane track constructed at Leme beach, an outer stretch of Copacabana.

Sun-bathed under blue skies, Bolt took to the track in a relaxed mood. From the start, getting fast out of the blocks,  he comfortably sped away from his rivals, pushing on, but lacking a  dash in the final third to knock off his world record. Bolt cruised to victory with Bruno Lins finishing second in 14:91. His first performance of the season did not disappoint and a satisfied Bolt can now happily move on to focus on bigger targets this season.  But not before hitting town tonight and soaking up the atmosphere and dances moves of the nightlife in Rio de Janeiro.

Usain Bolt came and conquered Rio again on his second visit. In his uncompromising style Bolt appeals to the Brazilian public and may well give the Brazilian athletics a boost with his performance at Copacabana beach.  Yet as was visible at the event, problems remain – a vast majority of the crowd were unable to get up close to the track, which cost a staggering 269000 EUR and won´t be used again.  These pitfalls imply not all is well in the host city for 2016 Olympic Games , but those problems are not the responsibility of Usain Bolt. He came to do what had been asked of him:  for the umpteenth time  push his body to the limit .