Sneijder: Robben is the Dutch Messi

The Galatasaray playmaker has described the Argentina star as a “crazy champion” but argued that his Oranje team-mate is just as important to Louis van Gaal’s side

Wesley Sneijder has claimed that Arjen Robben is the Dutch Lionel Messi ahead of Netherlands’ World Cup semi-final showdown with Argentina.

The 30-year-old has the utmost respect for Messi, who has been credited with carrying his country to the last four on the back of a succession of game-deciding performances.

However, Sneijder says that Louis van Gaal’s men are just as reliant on Robben, who has been in sensational form in Brazil so far.

“Argentina have Messi, a crazy champion, but we have the Messi of Holland, whose name is Arjen Robben and he’s having a fantastic World Cup,” the 30-year-old playmaker told Gazzetta dello Sport.

“Arjen is as important for us as Messi is for Argentina.”

Sneijder was Netherlands’ star man in South Africa four years ago but this time around the focus has been firmly fixed upon Robben and his fellow forward Robin van Persie.

The Galatasaray man insists, though, that he is not in the least bit upset at having to play a supporting role in Brazil.

“Life is like this,” Sneijder mused. “The years pass and things change. I don’t care if Van Persie and Robben make more headlines in the papers.

“It’s not a game to see who becomes the most famous. It’s a game to see who wins the World Cup. My objective in 2010 was to win the cup, and it’s the same objective now.

“I also hope that Arjen wins the Golden Ball. There’s no jealousy in me. And it’s not only for him as a player either, because Arjen is also my friend.

“And if he wins the Golden Ball, maybe it will mean that it’s because he has won the World Cup. That way, everything’s perfect!”

Sneijder also insisted that he has put his disappointment at being stripped of the captaincy by Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal last year well and truly behind him.

“It was very hard, but I got over it,” the former Inter ace explained. “These things happen and now all of this no longer matters.

“Even without the armband, I’m just trying to be influential and to help the team when I can.”

Lewandowski defends Dortmund departure: Bayern Munich a step up

The prolific Poland international believes that he has a better chance of both improving as a player and winning trophies at the Allianz Arena

Robert Lewandowski has admitted that he views Bayern Munich as a step up from Borussia Dortmund.

The Poland international’s controversial decision to leave Signal Iduna Park for the Allianz Arena on a free transfer was announced in January but the striker was only officially unveiled as an FCB player at a press conference on Wednesday.

Lewandowski made an emotional goodbye to Dortmund at the end of last season but he has now explained that he felt that joining Bayern was the right move for his career.

“It was time to take the next step,” the 25-year-old striker told reporters.

“I knew that Bayern Munich are of the level where I can be an even better player and win even more titles.”

Looking ahead of the 2014-15 campaign, Lewandowski added: “I feel really, really good. My batteries are fully recharged.”

There has been some talk that Lewandowski might not be suited to Pep Guardiola’s style of play, given the coach’s fondness for occasionally playing with a ‘false nine’.

However, Bayern sporting director Matthias Sammer is in no doubt that Lewandowski will fit right in.

“He is incredibly flexible and has all the attributes that a footballer needs,” he argued.

Brazil must follow Guardiola-inspired Germany

COMMENT: Humiliation at the hands of Germany could finally produce the sort of sea-change Brazilian football needs

By Rupert Fryer

“The most shameful moment in history,” read one Brazilian sports daily. “The shame of all shames,” read another. Globo simply had a picture of Oscar laid out on the field, hands covering his face, with one word: “Grieving”.

The post-mortem began long before the final whistle. Four goals in six first-half minutes had the nation’s sports writers writing their obituaries before the referee had even called half-time.

They were dismantled, humbled and embarrassed by a ruthless Germany that tore them to shreds on Tuesday night, exposing every one of the team’s glaring deficiencies.

“It’s the worst day of my life,” lamented coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who had spent his evening sat in the dug-out, arms folded, helpless. He wasn’t alone. Oscar was inconsolable. As was David Luiz.

“I just wanted to give some happiness to my people,” wept a heartbroken Luiz. “I’m so sorry, to all Brazilians.” Two-hundred million are now in mourning. And the time for soul-searching will soon begin. An unexpected, unprecedented humiliation will force Brazilian football into a re-think.

Brazilian anthropologist Roberta daMatta wrote that the Maracanzo of 1950 was “perhaps the greatest tragedy in contemporary Brazilian history” because it “happened collectively… at the beginning of a decade in which Brazil was looking to assert itself as a nation with a great future”. 

There are similarities to modern Brazil, which has been criticised for failing to take advantage of a recent economic boom, that former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso maintains has created consumers but has failed to produce a true middle class.

Tears of a clown | Thiago Silva consoles a distraught David Luiz
But 64 years on (the sociopolitical fall-out of massive overspending as politicians bent over backwards for Fifa at every juncture put to one side) this time the majority of the discussion will largely remain a sporting one. “The Maracanazo was tragic”, said ESPN Brasil, “the Minerazo was our biggest shame.”

And the shame of 2014 could prove exactly what Brazilian football needs. Dunga’s lugubrious losers of 2010 didn’t prove enough for a change in philosophy, with the contemporary, more expansive approach of Mano Menezes cast aside as the CBF panicked and instead went for the more familiar, win-at-all-costs approach of Scolari.

Not since the 1980’s have Brazil really played anything close to Jogo Bonito – an anachronistic myth peddled by sports manufacturers and perpetuated every few years with the arrival of a Ronaldo, Ronaldinho or Neymar. For almost three decades Brazilian football has been about size, strength, athleticism, set pieces and counter-attacks. And after dismantling Spain in the Confederations Cup final last year, there was little reason to doubt it. It had also brought A Selecao a couple of World Cups.

Shortly before his untimely death, I sat in a room to listen to 1982 midfielder Socrates lecture on Brazilian football. Among his many insightful, intelligent musings on politics and societal issues, one comment he made regarding football resonated like few others: “It’s not what you achieve that counts,” he assured us, “but the way in which you achieve it.”

Unfortunately for the game’s romantics, it’s a view held by the minority. Certainly in Brazilian football. Make no mistake, winning ugly is more than enough for most Brazilian football fans. Losing ugly is a different story. But being humiliated ugly is downright unforgivable.

So now there must surely be a sea-change. A 7-1 defeat on home soil is too much to stomach. With every German goal the cracks in the Brazilian game became all-devouring chasms. Though there will be no return to the outright flamboyance and elegance class of ’82, pragmatism is way too ingrained in Brazilian football for that.

Instead what they must surely now be asking themselves is how to find something closer to that which led to their destruction. To something a little nearer to Joachim Low’s Brazilian conquerors. Watching the likes of Toni Kroos, Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger play keep-ball, it’s clear that Germany have already felt the benefits of Pep Guardiola’s arrival in the Bundesliga.

Yet they have also remained true to themselves, retaining the physical, structured principles reintroduced by Jurgen Klinsmann and moulded by Low. They have proved there is a happy medium to be found between two contrasting philosophies.

Brazil don’t need absolute tiki-taka, but must find something much closer to it than they are currently. Passing midfielders must return to the centre of the pitch in place of the six foot-plus bruisers that have bulldozed Brazilian fields for too long. Controlled, creative talent must be nurtured ahead of athletic runners.

The margins between winning and losing are way too fine a place to hang all your hopes. Thirty-one teams will leave Brazil as losers this year. For all the impertinence with which Dunga labelled Socrates and his colleagues ‘beautiful losers’, the class of 2014 would give anything to be ‘insulted’ like that.

So here’s to the class of 2018. Let’s hope they do more than just win or lose.

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BREAKING NEWS: Bayern reveal Mandzukic will join Atletico

The striker had been linked with a move away from the Allianz Arena following Robert Lewandowski’s arrival and Matthias Sammer has confirmed the wheels are in motion

Bayern Munich sporting director Matthias Sammer has revealed that the club have verbally agreed a deal for Mario Mandzukic to join Atletico Madrid this summer for an undisclosed fee.

The Spanish champions were in the market for a new striker following the departure of Diego Costa to Chelsea and they have now found their man in the Croatia international.

The 28-year-old had joined Bayern from Wolfsburg in the summer of 2012 and was part of the team that won the treble in 2012-13, while also winning the domestic double last season.

Nevertheless, he was deemed surplus to requirements by head coach Pep Guardiola following the arrival of Robert Lewandowski from Borussia Dortmund and will now continue his career at Atletico once all formalities are completed.

“There is a verbal agreement between Bayern, Atletico Madrid and Mario Mandzukic,” Sammer said at a press conference.

“We want to thank Mario Mandzukic for his performances at FC Bayern and wish him all the best for the future.”

Mandzukic netted 33 goals in 54 Bundesliga appearances during his two seasons at the Allianz Arena.

Netherlands have their own Messi in Robben – Sabella

The Argentina coach is wary of the threat posed by the Bayern Munich winger, who he says is as key for Oranje is as the 27-year-old is for the South Americans

Arjen Robben is as important to Netherlands as Lionel Messi is to Argentina, according to Alejandro Sabella.

The two stars will come head to head in Sao Paulo in the World Cup semi-finals on Wednesday night as their respective nations battle it out to meet Germany in Sunday’s final.

And Sabella insists that Messi remains the better player, but says the Dutch could be just as buoyed by the form of Robben as his own side will be by the four-time Ballon d’Or winner.

“He is a very dangerous player when one against one, so we have to pay special attention to him. When he gets a bit of speed up, it is more difficult to take away the ball from him,” Sabella told a press conference on Tuesday.

“I think he is a great player, very important for Netherlands, like Neymar is to Brazil or Messi for Argentina. But Messi is the best of them all.”

Wednesday’s fixture will represent Argentina’s first World Cup semi-final appearance in 24 years, but Sabella claims there will be no greater pressure on his side than usual.

“The pressure is always there. [Getting to the semi-finals] was an extra pressure, I have no doubt. Now it’s a different kind of pressure.

“We enjoyed the quarter-final win over Belgium for a short moment, but we have to save energy, the celebrations have to be modest and we have to think about recovering strength because this goes on and it becomes more difficult.”

Some have painted the match as an opportunity for Argentina to gain revenge for their quarter-final loss to Netherlands in 1998, but the coach insists there will be no such talk from him.

“Those are ugly words, revenge and vengeance, especially vengeance. This is football and those words are not in my dictionary.”

The clash at the Arena Corinthians kicks off at 22:00CET on Wednesday.