The Neymar Tournament recommenced last night for the first round of the final group stage. First, the obvious: Brazil is winning this tournament (probably). Neymar is getting the Golden Shoe, the Golden Boot, and whatever other non-goalkeeper individual awards CONMEBOL gives out. This is Neymar’s show, and everyone else is supporting cast.
Last night Chile put up a fight against the vastly superior Brazilians in the first half (1-1 at the interval). Then in the second half, Brazil turned it on, and demolished the Chileans. The final score was an embarrassing 5-1. It was sort of like what Brazil did to Chile at the 2010 World Cup and in World Cup qualification. Unfortunately, the Chilean game just seems to play to Brazil’s strengths. Neymar scored the first two goals, and now leads the charts with seven goals.
The other two matches were not nearly as prolific score-wise, but definitely noteworthy. In both, the favorites lost by a 1-0 score. Colombia to Uruguay was not exactly a big upset, but Argentina to Ecuador? Wow. There are four matches left, so it is too early to draw any conclusions, but I imagine that there is a small feeling of dread in the Argentinian camp. Argentina barely made the Olympics last time, and the the youth team has started to slip in the post-Aguero era–Argentina did not make the last U-20 World Cup. Worse, it is now 18 years since Argentina last won a major tournament (Olympics don’t count.) Argentina is too good a football nation for such a dramatic decline, especially when the best player in the world plays for the Albicelestes. Admittedly, the purpose of youth tournaments is not so much to win as to create a pipeline for the senior national team, but if the youth team doesn’t play enough then the purpose behind the pipeline falls apart.
I cannot see Argentina failing to make the Youth World Cup in 2011. There are just too many available spots, and Chile is already in trouble. The Olympics are a different story though.
Rumors have circulated that Barcelona want to sign Gareth Bale. I don’t get it. Yes he is a very good left-winger, possibly the best midfielder (player?) currently in the EPL. But Barcelona? I mean, he’s not that good. At least not yet. He’ll just be another high-priced bench warmer that La Masia graduates bypass en route to the first team. For the life of me, I will never understand the club’s transfer policy which seems to be “throw good money after bad on players who do not fit into the system, and then complain that there is no money.”
The Barcelona front line is very, very good. Unquestionably the best in the world. If the Blaugrana want to improve something, perhaps they should look at the defense (an unsexy prospect, I know.) Dani Alves is arguably the best right-back in the world, but who knows if he will be there next year, Puyol is not getting any younger, and the left-back issues are well known.
Fernando Torres has finally moved, as he had been threatening to do for some time. Chelsea bought him for a ridiculous amount of money. Meanwhile, the Scousers have acted with all the class and good grace that we have come to expect from them: burning his replica jerseys in effigy and tearing his photos. I imagine that the normal Liverpool fans are embarrassed by the actions of the few who grab the headlines–usually for burning things, but the normal fans (and everyone else at the club) seem to have ceded control to the crazies.
Which is not to say Torres has been blameless in this affair. His parting shot was actually rather nasty and degrading toward the club and the fans who loved and supported him. It is clear however, that Torres wanted out. He sees Liverpool (Liverpool!) as too mediocre a club, and he was really, really unhappy. But Torres is not been the player he once was, and I’m not sure why Chelsea wanted to buy him, especially for that high a price tag.
Torres’s exit shows the challenges John Henry and NESV face in restoring Liverpool to its former glory. Once the club was one of the world’s biggest. Now it no longer attracts or keeps elite players. Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano, and now Fernando Torres are all gone. Now the Reds have Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez–the former is talented but not world class, and the latter potentially world class but also a powder keg waiting to explode (and no Luis Suarez shirt sales in Africa.)
It is probably fitting that the Reds bought Andy Carroll. Liverpool becomes Newcastle United a little more every day.