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Cliff Bertrand: Going South!? If Neymar doesn’t do it in Russia, then Messi will

“Grouped with Costa Rica, Serbia and Switzerland, the Samba Boys will, I expect, put everybody else on the back-foot by the time the group stage is over. And then go on to beat all comers because they have a little matter of a big 2014 7-1 embarrassment to settle.

“… My spoilers are Argentina. I think they have the talent, the flair and the incentive to do what they have not done for 30-plus years. And I know they have Messi, (who) […] leads (them) into these Finals knowing that it’s now or never.”

Dr Cliff Bertrand, former Olympian and soccer coach at Martin Luther King Jr High School, gives his view on the upcoming Russia 2018 World Cup:

Photo: Brazil attacker Neymar (right) tries to elude Ecuador defender Pedro Quinonez during 2018 World Cup qualifying action in Porto Alegre, Brazil on 31 August 2017.
(Copyright Nelson Almeida/AFP 2018/Wired868)

I’m not really as excited by this coming World Cup as I would have been if a Trinidad and Tobago squad were going to fly the Red, White and Black in Russia. But I’ll be watching with interest to see which one of the South American teams walks away with the trophy this time.

Brazil and Argentina have the two best soccer players in the cosmos at the moment, Neymar and Lionel Messi.

I believe the current Brazil team is once again one of the most entertaining teams to watch. I believe too that, at its best, Brazilian football, with its built-in samba rhythms, can be a kind of purification of the spirit. I also believe there is no better place for it to come back to its very best but in Russia, “behind the Iron Curtain.”

It’s what the world—and the World Cup!—needs now.

Tite’s team is loaded with talent, starting up front with Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firminho. I like the way the midfield looks with the emergence of Paulinho, Fernandinho and Casemiro. And although Marcelo lines up at wing-back, is anybody really fooled into believing that he is a defender?

Grouped with Costa Rica, Serbia and Switzerland, the Samba Boys will, I expect, put everybody else on the back-foot by the time the group stage is over. And then go on to beat all comers because they have a little matter of a big 2014 7-1 embarrassment to settle.

Photo: Germany forward André Schürrle (second from right) celebrates after scoring his team’s sixth goal in a 7-1 rout over Brazil.
(Copyright AFP 2014/Gabriel Bouys)

Of course, it was the Germans who whipped the highly favoured home side on the way to capturing their fourth World Cup four years ago. They are a very dangerous team and are likely to be more so when they are defending the title.

No team has won back-to-back titles for more than 50 years and I imagine Joachim Low has been reminding his young team of that for a long time now.

But I don’t think it will make a difference; I don’t think organization and dogged determination will win a World Cup in Russia—it’s the wrong vibes for that part of the world.

So my spoilers are Argentina. I think they have the talent, the flair and the incentive to do what they have not done for 30-plus years. And I know they have Messi.

Is Messi the best player ever? Well, he’s in the conversation. He leads Argentina into these Finals knowing that it’s now or never. At 30, he really doesn’t have a lot more time to make a major statement.

Photo: Argentina captain Lionel Messi (second from right) looks for a way past Germany players Andre Schuerrle (far right), Benedikt Hoewedes (centre), Mesut Özil (second from left) and Toni Kroos during the 2014 World Cup final.
(Copyright AFP 2014/Gabriel Bouys)

To stay in the conversation, he has to help Argentina win World Cup title number three.

The qualifying campaign did something to him. And for him. Four years ago, La albiceleste fell only at the final hurdle. Failure to seal the deal in back-to-back Copa America finals in each of the following two seasons did not help.

So with his team ever so close to missing out on the Finals for the first time since 1970, a Messi hat-trick settled it.

Might Messi make some magic to match Diego Maradona’s in Mexico in 1986? Maybe, maybe not…

Photo: Argentine legend Diego Maradona puts half the Belgium team in a trance in this iconic World Cup photo.

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5 comments

  1. Coutinho could be the key for Brazil where he make use of the pressure on Neymar.