When you try to tackle a bloke and end up nearly decapitating them…
There is a saying in South America particularly used in Peru: “We played like never before and lost like always.”
It relates to games where a toothless Peru dominate possession, look great with their passing and hustle but lose 1-0. Peru’s loss to Denmark was the most stereotypical Peruvian game possible.
Peru are a team of mostly young players, who likewise playing in a ‘young’ way. They run fast, pass quickly and well and are dynamic.
Brian Phillips, when beginning his off-the-wall career as a football writer, listed four reasons why we humans follow sports: we’re belligerent, we like stories, we want to see someone win…
The fourth – the main one for me personally, and for those who go on about ‘The Beautiful Game’ ad nauseam, is this: “We have a natural fascination with movement, rhythm, and the interaction of objects – especially the human body – with gravity (…) When we see a ball flying through the air or bouncing along the ground, it naturally draws our eye. Add this to our inherent susceptibility to colour and it becomes one of the bases of our primary sense of beauty.”
This is Peru. Their white and red shirts are sharp, their movement draws the eye and excites us.
I will not go the Xavi route and say that there is one way to play football. There is short-passing the ball around like Barcelona, but there is defending in depth like Atletico Madrid, energetic pressing with Jurgen Klopp teams, long passing and centres like the old British ones, counter-attacking, and so on.
But when we see a team playing well, playing with a buzz, we know it. There is a rhythm to their play, a tempo of passing and running that excites us. I would even go so far as to say the very best teams in midfield sort of imperceptibly glide on the ball smoothly, there is no clunkiness.
The problem is that this takes a team up to the opponent’s penalty box and no more. The skills then required to get through that box are different entirely. These include: dribbling, very sharp passing – or in the absence of these very difficult ones – pure strength. That’s shooting strength, or the physical strength to muscle defenders of the way to take your position as a forward, like what Diego Costa did against Portugal.
This is not Peru’s thing, has seldom ever been.
Peru is back at the World Cup after a 36-year absence. Morocco is back after 20. The three World Cup matches each country has played are something of a beacon to people from places without so much success and possibility, whose people people can have difficult lives compared to ours in Australia.
As my friend says, every single World Cup match is a grand final to someone, somewhere. When I was in Bolivia in 2006, they were still talking about their opening World Cup match against Germany from 1994.
Morocco has already lost two of these grand finals 1-0 and been eliminated form Russia 2018 despite playing a beautiful match against Portugal.
Morocco had the buzz. Without the ball they pressed Portugal hard and with speed, which drew our eye and increased our heart-rate. Bald right-winger Nordin Amrabat repeatedly skinned Portugal left-back Raphael Guerreiro.
Yet they conceded the very early header to Cristiano Ronaldo, a freeze frame so obvious that when he escaped his marker I could see the goal in my mind a half-second before it happened.
I’m ambivalent about CR7 but do want to see him score goal after goal at this World Cup. Individual goalscoring is hard at modern World Cups. The extraordinary is, by definition, extraordinary.
But, for excitement, Morocco deserved to win more than Portugal. Michael Cox tweeted only a half-hour into the match: “Morocco are going to be the best-ever team to get 0 points aren’t they?”
They’re gone, and at the time I wrote this (pre-France versus Peru) Peru had probably already lost their key match on the World Cup’s fourth day.
Here’s to two teams who did their countries proud but brought them nothing, who had it but didn’t have it, if you know what I mean.