With expertise in almost every existing sport, especially in football and boxing, Novy has put forward his expert opinion on several facets of the ongoing World Cup.

With so many surprises and talking points already rife in the ongoing World Cup, what do you make out of the grand tournament so far?

The World Cup has been a completely open affair so far. It is actually the ‘World Cup of Upsets’.  There are three major inferences that we can clearly draw out from the World Cup so far. First, the gap between the established football powerhouses and the lesser fancied teams have decreased. No more would you see big thumping wins in the World Cup. Every team has had to put in efforts to earn its win. For instance, in the game between Algeria and Germany – nobody expected Algeria to even bother Germany, which is world’s second best team as per rankings, during their Round of 16 clash. Although, the Arab nation lost 2-1 but only after dragging the game into extra minutes after none of team could break the deadlock. This World Cup in a way ends the European domination over the football world. The South America football has strongly come into view from this tournament with the CONMEBOL (South American Football Confederation) nations giving really tough competition to the traditional European power houses. Secondly, every team with ageing squads has struggled to make a mark for themselves in the World Cup this time. The World Cup has seen farewell games, not officially declared though, for several established stars like Xavi Hernandez and Fernando Torres of Spain, Madjid Bougherra of Algeria and several others. Thirdly, a plethora of young talent has surfaced on the international stage in this World Cup and it is a very welcome sign for the game. Players like James Rodriguez of Colombia and Joel Campbell of Costa Rica have done really well and impressed all.

Not a single team from the world’s biggest continent was able to qualify for the knockout stages of the World Cup. What is the major reason behind Asian teams’ shambolic performances at football’s biggest showpiece?

To be honest, the four Asian teams – Japan, South Korea, Iran and Australia – never had a chance of success in the World Cup.  Asia in fact has been the most disappointing among all the continents. Australia played all right but they were unlucky to be a part of the ‘Group of Death’, which had teams like Germany, Portugal and USA. So, they had no chance to come out of such a strong group. South Korea and Japan were the biggest disappointments as far as Asian football is concerned. Out of all the Asian nations, Iran performed the best. They did really well during their game against Lionel Messi-led Argentina and their draw against African champions Nigeria. The lack of exposure to their players went against them else they performed really well. Actually, the basic problem with the Asian football right now is that the current generation of football in this continent is just not good enough.

With the Latin American teams doing so well in the World Cup, do you envisage an all South American final?

 

Well, it is still too early to predict which teams would reach the finals of the World Cup this time as it has been an open tournament so far. The final quarterfinal pairings would most probably decide which teams would reach the finals, albeit every team would have an equal chance to win the World Cup if they reach the penultimate stage. One thing is for sure that the best four teams in the world currently would make it to the semifinals of the World Cup. The South Americans have done well but the Brazilians have still seemingly struggled against lesser fancied nations. The timings of the semifinals – all late kickoffs – will also benefit the European teams as they would be spared from the extreme heat and humidity of the day time.

With a number of Indians rooting for Brazil and many for Argentina, do you think these two giants can make it to the finals of the World Cup this time around?


See, like I previously said it is still too early to predict whether the final of the World Cup will be played between Brazil and Argentina or not. One thing I would like to clarify is that the belief that a huge majority Indians support the Brazilian football team is not right as times have changed now. There has been a drastic change of support base of several footballing nations in India. Most of the North Indians are rooting for England and Germany nowadays, which is down to the strong presence of these countries’ domestic leagues in the country – the Premier League and the German Bundesliga. The Goans usually support Portugal due to their long historical connections. Only Kolkata, mainly because of the pre-colonial links with Brazil, support the Samba nation in football. Brazil, which is a third-world country like India, also traditionally had big support base in our country because they were also the first nation to play black players in the World Cup. Indians nowadays support different nations depending on their personal likings and the notion that majority of Indians support Brazil is not true anymore.

Colombia has surprised everyone with their performances, especially in the absence of their star striker Radamel Falcao. The impressive trio of James Rodriguez, Jackson Martinez and Juan Cuadrado has caught the fancies of many. They face Brazil in the quarterfinals. Till where do you think this impressive Colombian team can proceed in this World Cup?

If we only take into account the tradition and history between these two South American nations then Colombia should lose to Brazil in their World Cup quarterfinal clash. See, anyone playing against Brazil at their home turf would have a very tricky task at their hands due to the incredible home support of the Samba nation. Colombia have played with lots of creativity and the top scorer of the World Cup – James Rodriquez has scored some really fantastic goals. If they can maintain their composure, especially in the presence of the fanatical Brazil crowd, they do have the potential to surprise the host nation. Anything can happen in this match but one thing is for sure that Colombia have been a great revelation in this World Cup.

There has been a plethora of 'surprises and shocks' so far in the World Cup but according to you which ‘underdog’ team has managed to catch the utmost attention of the football aficionados?

Costa Rica and Colombia are the two teams that have impressed the most in this World Cup. Costa Ricans were the actual ‘underdogs’ before the World Cup even started and they have reached the quarterfinals, which is a massive achievement for them. And not only qualify, they booked their place in the Round of 16 in an emphatic manner by topping a group that boasted of three former World Champions in Italy, England and Uruguay. US have also done well as their German coach Jurgen Klinsmann has turned them into a proper football playing nation. Earlier, they were more of a physical team but now they are playing proper football. Belgium has done well too as they were touted to be the ‘dark horses’ of the World Cup. It is a good side and it mustered three good wins, although with a small margin, in the group stages.  However, considering everything I feel Costa Rica as a footballing nation has surprised the most in this edition of the World Cup.



There have been couple of contentious refereeing decision in the tournament so far. What do you think about the overall refereeing standards so far in this World Cup?

The refereeing standards have been quite a mix bag so far in the World Cup with couple of good and equally bad decisions. The good things done by the referees in the World Cup so far is the right employment of the ‘advantage rule’, which has enhanced the quality of football in the tournament. On the other hand, there have been several poor decisions too in the World Cup. For me, Karim Benzema’s disallowed goal against Switzerland after the final whistle had been blown during their 5-2 win in a group stage game was a very poor decision. There have been good as well as bad decisions and the overall quality of refereeing has been quite mixed.

(Harshdeep Singh/JPN)

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