“You make your own luck.” A saying that is sometimes true, sometimes designed to push you to do your best and sometimes…it’s nonsense.
But I’m intrigued by the role luck plays in life, in football, in World Cups.
As football has become a business, so coaching has become increasingly like a game of chess. Coaches posing as grandmasters, players often pawns, the straightforward approach of inviting a player to go out and PLAY looking increasingly over-simplistic, almost redundant.
This is the age of the nutritionist, the psychologist, the media training and the supposed “mind games”, laughably overhyped during this tournament. Never more so than when I heard someone talking about the effect Van Gaal’s penalty goalkeeper switch had on Costa Rica as they would surely have studied Cillessen! If they’d been studying Cillessen rather than concentrating on their own penalty placement my name is Dick van Dyke.
Never has there been more pressure, more intensity, more opinion, tidal waves of it on social media. Never more forensic focus on the tiniest detail using technology. Anything to give a team that extra per cent, that edge, that might take them to the trophy. It’s as if it’s become a science. It’s not it’s a game.
But when the first whistle goes there are two factors that cannot be controlled from off the pitch. Firstly you are relying on players performing. Yes, make a substitution or a tactical switch but ultimately it is down to them. And secondly what I am raising here. Lady Luck. A fairy godmother or a cruel mistress.
In this World Cup most teams have indeed got what they deserved regardless of luck. It’s one of the things that have made it the greatest tournament ever. Costa Rica dared to believe, the USA refused to give up, the Netherlands went for the Spanish jugular, Rodriguez and Colombia enjoyed themselves, Germany or winners blank. Making your own luck. Brazil, England, Spain, Italy…the big-time failures pretty much got what they deserved in the end – nothing.
Furthermore Al Jazeera colleague Paul Rhys has an interesting opinion about luck saying no-one should mention it in football. The game is to score a goal, he maintains. If you hit the crossbar, “that’s not bad luck, that’s not scoring in the game.”
But allow me to indulge in the theory that luck does influence the outcome of football matches and tournaments. If I shoot from 30 metres and hit the underside of the bar, I have to say…I feel unlucky.
So imagine if the ‘rub of the green’, that old expression for ‘who gets a bit of good luck’, had gone the other way. The World Cup could have ended up significantly different.
IF Pinella’s shot had gone under the bar.
It was a great effort and deserved a goal. Chile would have got the win they deserved and would have set up an intriguing match with Colombia.
And IF Pinella’s shot had gone under the bar…there could have been trouble.
I feel it was a tinderbox in Brazil that day, far more than the Germany semi-final where heavy rain helped douse the anger. A single incident (a Chile winning goal) could have ignited problems far more than the German seven that stunned the hosts. And there would have been an English ref blamed, Howard Webb, for disallowing Hulk’s goal. I shudder to think of the fallout.
IF Kuniga hadn’t clattered into Neymar.
It became crystal clear during the last week that without Neymar this was a really poor Brazil team, arguably the worst they’ve ever fielded for a World Cup. But with Neymar there was hope. He papered over cracks as Brazil made their way through then group stages.
Brazil would still not have beaten Germany unless he filled the roles of six players (four defenders and two defensive midfielders.) But would it have finished in that 7-1 humiliation. I don’t think so. There was space for Brazil to exploit, they just didn’t have the right man to capitalise on it.
IF Van Persie didn’t have a stomach bug, and had been fit to stay on the field v Argentina.
Then Van Gaal would have been able to use Krul in the shootout and maybe he’d have stopped some Argentina penalties. Personally I think Van Gaal got the whole process wrong and let his ego run away with him, but others declare him a genius – so maybe he was unlucky.
IF Switzerland substitute Desmaili had been luckier in the last minute v Argentina
after his poor initial header cannoned back into his legs from a post. Could Switzerland have gone on to defeat them on penalties?
IF Algeria had got the goal they richly deserved against Germany.
Poor finishing? Maybe. Poor options up front? Probably. Unlucky? I think so – there was one particular deflection that you felt, maybe unfairly, might have gone in against a team other than Germany. That classic cliche of German luck, based largely on envy of their success, for once having a ring of truth.
Many of the nations will have their hard luck stories.
Some, like Uruguay claiming Suarez shouldn’t have been banned, don’t acquire much sympathy. My own nation England, bless them, had a few ‘what ifs.’ What IF Sterling, rightly and boldly picked by the much-maligned Hodgson, had scored in the first minute v Italy. Now that would have been an interesting one.
And what if Lionel Messi had put away his great opportunity against Germany in the final?
Once he was free there was NOTHING Germany could do about it. And had he scored, and with their defence, I think Argentina would have gone on to win. Argentina would have triumphed on the soil of their major rivals, and Messi may finally have reached the same level as Maradona in the hearts of his people. Messi’s crucial miss wasn’t poor luck it was poor execution. But if I was a German defender and had helpless watched him miss that would I feel lucky?…absolutely.
Germany…they make their own luck. Good luck to them.
Lee Wellings is the Sports Correspondent for Al Jazeera English based in London. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow Lee on twitter @LeeW_Sport