Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Socrates and one of the best world cup soccer quater-finals

Mexico, 1986 is in my memory one of the best world cups ever. I started writing this post when "The Hindu" recently published a list of football greats including the Brazilian, Socrates. While I respect Brazil for their football I couldn't forget Socrates that year because of the undue adulation he was receiving. On the contrary I despised the player so much for his penalty scoring style. Before striking the ball Socrates would charge at the ball and pretend that he was going to kick the ball. By then, in a split second the goalkeeper would make a judgement and dive towards the side of the goal where he would assume the ball would be struck. In the meantime Socrates who charged at the ball, wouldn't actually hit the ball with his foot. Just after the goalkeeper would make his diving mistake Socrates would gently kick the ball on the opposite side where the goalkeeper had dived. Check out the video below from 1986 though it doesn't resemble the description I just gave, 100%.

At least in the video above Socrates fakes the action cleverly. In most cases he would raise his leg after reaching the ball very close, literally coming to a standstill. During the 1986 World Cup there were many who argued that Socrates should have been penalized for his penalty taking style.

But his tactic would soon find his nemesis in Joel Bats, the French goalkeeper. His trick failed him when Brazil needed it most. It was also one of the most exciting matches of the 1986 World Cup. During the quaterfinal clash with France the match had to go into extra time and later into the penalty shootout. Socrates was the first to take the penalty for Brazil and when he tried his familiar trick, French goalkeeper Joel Bats (who would later become the star of the match for the many saves he made) just stayed put. By then Socrates had lost all speed and momentum in his kick and when he kicked the ball it was easy for Joe Valt to position himself and make the save.

The match itself was one of the most memorable quarter-finals in World Cup history. France was facing three-time world champion, Brazil. Brazil were well on top in the early stages when Careca put them one up after 18 minutes. But then, five minutes before half-time, France drew level when the legendary Michel Platini scored. Brazil had a great chance to regain the lead in the second half when Branco was fouled by French keeper Joël Bats in the penalty area. The fouled player does such a poor play-acting that he is confused where to pretend his pain is. He tries to hold his knee, then moves on to his shin and then finally pretends his ankle is in pain. A few seconds later you can watch him and his team mates rejoicing when the penalty is awarded to them. Zico got up to take the kick, but Bats made up for his foul by saving Zico's penalty, his first of the many saves he would make during that match.

The match went to extra time, and France had the better of the extra half-hour. Joel also made a great save during extra time and France was not allowed a penalty after one of their players was brought down by the Brazilian goalkeeper. The next six penalties were all converted, and then Platini fired over the bar, a blunder considering how many goals he had scored off free-kicks. Brazil were back on level terms but unfortunately Julio Cesar struck the post with his penalty, and Luis Fernández then scored to put France through 4–3 on penalties.

Socrates never stepped into the world cup arena after 1986.

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