Search This Blog

UNO News Network Video Bar

Loading...

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

THE BIG TRAGEDY IN TORONTO: Sunny spring day turns to unforgettable tragedy as van driver kills 10 and injures 15




Alleged driver of the vehicle identified as Alek Minassian, as police search for motive. Meanwhile, anguished Toronto residents wondered why.
A Toronto police officer arrests a suspect in Monday's van rampage.
If ever there was a moment for an overdose of quintessential Canadian resilience it is now, as our metropolis struggles to make sense of the incomprehensible: a deliberate massacre on Toronto’s most famous street.
A curb-jumping Ryder van turned the first truly gorgeous spring day into a nightmare unlike anything Toronto has ever known Monday, cutting a high-speed swath through pedestrians along Yonge St., ending at least 10 lives and wounding at least 15 others.
Read more:
Opinion | Rosie Dimanno: Toronto van tragedy bonds city in blood. But no one will say the word ‘terrorism’
Van rampage suspect identified as Alek Minassian, 25, of Richmond Hill
Article Continued Below
Farzad Salehi consoles his wife, Mehrsa Marjani, who was in a nearby cafe and witnessed the aftermath when a van struck a number of pedestrians along Yonge St. between and Finch and Sheppard in Toronto on Monday.
Farzad Salehi consoles his wife, Mehrsa Marjani, who was in a nearby cafe and witnessed the aftermath when a van struck a number of pedestrians along Yonge St. between and Finch and Sheppard in Toronto on Monday.   (Aaron Vincent Elkaim / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
 Toronto police have locked down the area. In a Monday afternoon news conference, deputy chief Peter Yuen said that police “will be here for a number of days to shut down a busy stretch of Toronto.”
Toronto police have locked down the area. In a Monday afternoon news conference, deputy chief Peter Yuen said that police “will be here for a number of days to shut down a busy stretch of Toronto.”  (Aaron Vincent Elkaim / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
 Police said both the van and the driver are in custody but don’t know the motive or cause of crash.
Police said both the van and the driver are in custody but don’t know the motive or cause of crash.  (Rene Johnston / Toronto Star)
Toronto police Deputy Chief Peter Yuen and Mayor John Tory at Earl Haig Secondary School in North York, updating reporters on Monday's deadly van incident.
Toronto police Deputy Chief Peter Yuen and Mayor John Tory at Earl Haig Secondary School in North York, updating reporters on Monday's deadly van incident.  (Victoria Gibson / Toronto Star)
The carnage in North York stretched more than a kilometre along Yonge south of Finch Ave., lasting a mere 26 minutes, from the first alarm to the arrest of the suspect.
Even as first responders rushed to the scene of the early afternoon attack, a wave of shock, fear and fury cascaded onto social media. Within minutes the world’s news channels jumped in with live feeds, one after another, placing Toronto in the Klieg lights of grim global breaking news.
Toronto reeled. And anguished. And wondered why.
By nightfall, online rumour, confusion and baseless conjecture gave way to little besides this one firm fact: a single suspect, Alek Minassian, 25, of Richmond Hill, was in custody, police confirmed.
The suspect appeared to be pleading for his own death during a dramatic police takedown captured on video mere minutes after the attack. The suspect was heard to shout,“Shoot me in the head.”
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Minassian’s name did not trigger any red flags relating to terrorism.
Earlier Monday, Goodale described the incident as a “horrific attack” in a tweet offering praise to the Toronto police and condolences to the victims and their families. By nightfall, Goodale tempered his language.
“This incident that happened here on the street behind us was horrendous but it does not appear to be connected in any way to national security,” Goodale told reporters.
Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders on Monday night said the rampage “definitely looked deliberate.” Saunders also said “There is nothing in our files, we’ve looked right across, and there’s nothing that we have on him right now.”
North of the city late Monday night, two York Regional Police vehicles sealed off access to brick home on Elmsley Dr. in Richmond Hill thought to be connected to Minassian. Neighbours congregated outside the police tape, taking pictures and expressing shock at what had happened.
“It’s horrible,” said Wes Mack, one of the neighbours. “I mean, 10 people are dead who are out just doing their normal thing, walking down the street.
“We’ve lost our virginity. This is our first great tragedy of this kind in the Toronto area. Toronto will never be the same.”
With so many questions swirling, the anguish of the moment put the city’s emergency services to the test.
As police secured the scene, chaos slowly gave way to confusion and then, finally, grim order. As subway service was halted on the northern stations of the Yonge line, eyewitnesses began describing scenes reminiscent of a battlefield.
Follow the Toronto Star on social media:
Read more:
Security beefed up across city following van rampage
How to help victims of Toronto’s deadly van crash
Van rampage created 2.2 kilometres of carnage
Henry Yang was driving southbound on Yonge St. when he heard an explosive sound and saw a white van flying down the sidewalk, smashing into a newspaper box, and then a fire hydrant.
It was 1:10 on Monday afternoon.
“I thought, this is insane. This is not normal,” Yang said.
He started following the van, staying on the road, driving 50 km/h or more, trying to keep up with vehicle that he figured was going about 70 km/h. That’s when he saw a person fly into the air, on impact.
“He was driving southbound and most of the pedestrians were walking southbound, so they didn’t see him coming,” Yang said in an interview.
“I started honking my horn, making noises, trying to make a commotion, trying to make people aware that something was going on. I rolled down my windows and started yelling at people, I wanted them to get out of the way.”
A van apparently jumped a curb Monday in a busy intersection in Toronto, striking several people. Canadian police said the driver was later taken into custody. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said "our hearts go out to everyone affected." (The Associated Press)
Yang said he and his wife watched, horrified, as at least 10 people were hit. They called police from the car.
“The guy was zigging and zagging,” Yang said, “People started flying into the air.” Yang went on to describe scenes of bodies dismembered by the impact as he and his wife pulled over to assist victims lying on the ground near Mel Lastman Square.
A man “had his brain opened up,” and was sitting, silent. He was “just desperately looking at her and cuddling the body of the woman” who was crushed, Yang said. Yang doesn’t know if they were together, or encountered each other in this moment, on Yonge St.
“I don’t know what the driver’s intentions were but I know it was deliberate,” said Yang. “It’s so hard to see something like this happen right in front of your eyes.”
At least some of the city’s youngest residents were spared such horrific imagery. In the schoolyard of McKee Public School, barely a block from the carnage, a game of baseball continued.
Multiple people have been injured after a van mounted a sidewalk in north Toronto and crashed into pedestrians. One witness says he saw a number of people being resuscitated at the chaotic scene. (The Canadian Press)
Mayor John Tory and Deputy Chief Peter Yuen gathered reporters at Earl Haig Secondary School for an initial press briefing, but took no questions about the incident.
“I want to assure people that the city is in safe hands at the moment,” Tory said. “These are not the kinds of things we expect to happen in this city. We hope they don’t happen anywhere in the world, but we especially don’t expect them to happen in Toronto. But things are as they are.”
Friends and family of the dead and injured met at Sunnybrook health centre on Monday evening, hoping for answers. The hospital was where most of the injured were taken.
Hospital staff escorted teary-eyed friends and family to a basement auditorium where they were briefed on how their loved ones were doing.
In a nearby hallway, others pushed for answers as to the status of their loved ones.
“We’re just looking for answers, that’s all,” said a man whose wife was injured in the attack. He seemed frustrated, and wanted to know if his wife was in surgery.
“I can’t fathom how you’re feeling right now, but that’s where you’re going to get the answers,” said a staff member, directing him back to the auditorium.
An internal staff email obtained by the Star showed Sunnybrook surgeon-in-chief Avery Nathens heaping praise upon hospital staff for showing “grace under pressure” as they responded to the casualty onslaught. “I am very proud to be a member of this team,” he wrote. “Thank you for all you do every day and for what you accomplished today.”
Read more:
Politicians react to the Toronto tragedy: ‘The city is in safe hands at the moment’
Editorial | Toronto can be proud of how it faced the van rampage
Canada’s experts in international terrorism spent much of the day on standby, awaiting confirmation one way or the other on the nature of an attack that bore more than a few of the hallmarks so brutally familiar.
“Yonge St. is our Champs-Élysées — and in terms of target selection, Mel Lastman Square makes a certain kind of sense,” said Amarnath Amarasingam, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, and co-director of a study of Western foreign fighters, based at the University of Waterloo. “There will always be crowds there and you can get a van up to speed there more easily than you could downtown.
“But the fact remains we don’t know the story behind this guy as yet. That isn’t stopping many on social media, who now routinely jump to conclusions one way or another in order to use the attack to score political points. Social media makes attacks worse, in many ways, because the speculation itself is so normalized in a way it wasn’t 10 years ago.
“What we live with now is this bizarre unwillingness to take it slow and learn the facts before making conclusions Let’s just wait. We will know soon enough.
“And in the meantime, let’s heal and be resilient. Let’s see Yonge and Finch bounce right back to normal tomorrow morning.”
In a statement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanked “the first responders at the scene who managed this extremely difficult situation with courage and professionalism. They faced danger without hesitation, and their efforts no doubt saved lives and prevented further injuries.
“We should all feel safe walking in our cities and communities. We are monitoring this situation closely, and will continue working with our law enforcement partners around the country to ensure the safety and security of all Canadians.”
With files from Jesse McLean, Moira Welsh Jenna Moon, Tonda MacCharles, Bruce Campion-Smith, Victoria Gibson, David Rider, Wendy Gillis, Jaren Kerr, Emily Mathieu, Theresa Boyle, Tamar Harris, Michele Henry, Alanna Rizza and Julien Gignac; Metroland’s Andrew Palamarchuk and Aaron D’Andrea; and StarMetro’s May Warren and Gilbert NgaboIf you have any photos or information, please contact the Star at city@thestar.ca
 
X

More from the Toronto Star & Partners

Monday, April 23, 2018

ROYAL BOY: Duchess of Cambridge gives birth to baby boy

The royal palace says Kate and her son are both doing well.
The U.K.'s Duchess of Cambridge gave birth Monday to a healthy baby boy — a third child for Kate and Prince William and fifth in line to the British throne. (The Associated Press)
LONDON—For Kate, the wait is over. The Duchess of Cambridge gave birth Monday to a healthy baby boy — a third child for Kate and Prince William and fifth in line to the British throne.
The couple’s Kensington Palace office announced news of the birth around lunchtime, about five hours after the 36-year-old duchess and her husband travelled by car from their Kensington Palace home to the private Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital in central London.
The palace said the baby prince was born at 11:01 a.m. (1001 GMT; 6:01 a.m. EDT) and weighed in at eight pounds, seven ounces (3.8 kilograms). Prince William was in attendance, and the palace said mother and child were both doing well.
Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, with their newborn baby son as they leave the hospital in London.
Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, with their newborn baby son as they leave the hospital in London.  (John Stillwell)
Read more:
Article Continued Below
What’s the odds-on favourite name for the newborn royal?
Here are 5 things to know as Prince William and Kate welcome their 3rd child
“The queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Harry and members of both families have been informed and are delighted with the news,” the palace said in a statement.
Mixing tradition and modernity, the news was announced by the palace on Twitter and also proclaimed in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace through a framed notice perched on a golden easel.

BREAKING NEWS: Van strikes as many as 10 pedestrians at Yonge and Finch, police don’t know motive or cause of crash



Police said both the van and the driver are in custody but don’t know the motive or cause of crash.

Police say that a white van mounted the curb and struck pedestrians walking along the sidewalk. Television report from the scene from eyewitnesses, say that one woman is dead.
 
Police said both the van and the driver are in custody but don’t know the motive or cause of crash
 
Toronto police say that eight to 10 pedestrians have been struck by a white van on Yonge St., near Finch Ave.
The scene is from Finch to Sheppard Ave., a two-kilometre stretch of Yonge. Several witnesses suggested that the van deliberately mounted the curb and hit pedestrians on the sidewalk.
At least eight ambulances have gone to Sunnybrook hospital.
The incident occurred around 1:30 p.m. Monday, police said.
Article Continued Below

Police said that a white van mounted the curb south of Finch, and struck pedestrians walking along the sidewalk on Yonge.
One body was covered by an orange tarp at Tolman Ave., a block south of Finch, while a half a block away, another body was covered by a tarp.
One person on scene tweeted a photo of a white van on the sidewalk on Yonge, near Poyntz Ave., south of Sheppard Ave.
Police said both the van and the driver are in custody but don’t know the motive or cause of crash. On a video of the arrest that was posted on social media, the person arrested could be heard saying, “kill me.”

He was on the street attending to an errand.
“This is not a car accident,” Ham said.
One witness told the Star that there were three victims near Mel Lastman Square.
Shayne Klayman was sitting in his car the square when he heard people screaming.
“I looked out my window and everyone is just running in front of the vehicle trying to flag down cops and direct cops to where the assailant was,” he said.
“I never heard screams like that before ever in my entire life. People were running all around trying to flag cops down, like running in front of moving cars trying to flag an officer down.”
He added police cars were speeding up and down Yonge to try and find the suspect vehicle.
“Our hearts go out to anyone affected,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa.
“Obviously we’ll have more to say in the coming hours.”
People were tweeting photos of people with blood, lying on the sidewalk. One witness suggested the vehicle was a rental moving van.
“My thoughts are with those affected by this incident and the frontline responders who are working to help those injured,” Mayor John Tory said.
“I have spoken to Chief Mark Saunders and my office is being updated by Toronto Fire, EMS, TTC and the acting City manager. I am on my way to Mel Lastman Square right now for an update on the situation.
“I have offered any and all assistance that the City can provide to police to help this investigation.”
A waiter at a nearby cafe says he saw several people injured, including a girl who he said appeared to be in serious condition.
Photos from the scene show paramedics treating several people on the sidewalk, where blood stains can be seen.
Police are advising the public to stay away from the area.
Paramedics attend to people after multiple pedestrians were hit by a van in north Toronto in this handout photo from Instagram on Monday.
Paramedics attend to people after multiple pedestrians were hit by a van in north Toronto in this handout photo from Instagram on Monday.  (Phil Zullo)
The TTC immediately shut down subway service on Line 1, between Sheppard and Finch Stations, due to the police investigation.
By 2:30 p.m., some buses were entering Finch Station.
“Passengers will be taken south on the subway, but trains will not stop at North York Centre,” TTC spokesperson Brad Ross tweeted. “All northbound trains continue to offload all passengers at Sheppard Station before travelling empty up to Finch Station.”

THE ROAD TO RUSSIA 2018: 50 days to the World Cup: can Messi's Argentina or Neymar's Brazil win the World Cup



50 days to the World Cup: can Messi's Argentina or Neymar's Brazil win the World Cup?

Neymar #10 of Brazil and Messi #10 of Argentina battle for the ball during a match between Brazil and Argentina as part 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Qualifier at Mineirao stadium on November 10, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
With just 50 days left until the big kick-off in Russia, AIPS' Martin Mazur, from Argentina, and Samindra Kunti, a longtime Brazil observer, assess the chances of South America's two traditional powerhouses at this summer's World Cup. For both countries, the last World Cup was devastating, in different ways. Have Brazil and Argentina recovered and can they muster a challenge? Martin and Sam, who have both written for The Blizzard and FourFourTwo among others, explain.
How did Argentina and Brazil fare in the World Cup qualifiers?
Martin: It was one of the most traumatic experiences of this century, even worse than the troubled road to South Africa, with Maradona as coach. Argentina lost the plot, the lead and ended up on the verge of not even qualifying for the play-off. They lost points at home against Ecuador (first-ever home defeat), Paraguay, Venezuela and Peru. Taking into account the home and away matches, they could not beat Brazil, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela, something that had never happened before. With the pressure at its peak, they ended up changing the Estadio Monumental for La Bombonera, trying to get a more intense atmosphere to win games. “The fear of not qualifying made us block”, admitted Messi after Argentina sealed qualification in the last game, against an Ecuador B side.
It was also a tale of three coaches, Martino, Bauza and Sampaoli. In these qualifiers, Argentina had as many managers as the period between 1974 and 1994. Worse, the styles of Gerardo Martino, Edgardo Bauza and Jorge Sampaoli could not be more dissimilar. From control and possession to sitting back and counter-attacking, to a vertiginous over-attacking, confusion was part of Argentina’s plot. Tactical systems were constantly changed, so did players. Sampaoli alone called up 43 footballers and deployed six tactical systems in his seven months at the helm.
Sam: The sequel to the 7-1 was irrational. The Brazilian FA re-appointed Dunga, reverting to type and outdated coaching when circumstances demanded radical change and fresh ideas. The decision was also telling of Brazil’s football culture: the 7-1 was an anomaly, it wouldn’t happen again and no lessons could be learned. There simply was no project of renovation. Under Dunga, things went from bad to worse. Brazil’s reached their lowest ebb in living memory, and that's including the 7-1. At the 2015 Copa America, Dunga played six defenders at one point against Venezuela to protect the result. He was averse to the notion that you can play expansive, passing football. His sustained need for conflict with the press and the fans didn’t help him either. At the 2016 Copa America Brazil crashed out in the first round. His time was up.
In came, Tite, Brazilian football’s most progressive coach. He moved the defensive line higher up the pitch, introduced Casemiro in the midfielder, used Paulinho as his shuttler and relied on the pace and daring of Gabriel Jesus up front. Brazil were flying. What’s more, they played modern, compact football. Tite was King Midas and Brazil cruised through the qualifiers with notably impressive wins against Argentina 3-0 at home and Uruguay away 1-4.
Are Argentina and Brazil too dependent on their star player?
Martin: If there’s something new about Messi is that Argentina have never been more dependent on him than now. In the previous three World Cups, the questions raised were mainly a comparison between Argentina’s Messi and Barcelona’s Messi. But this last period showed that Argentina is barely a decent side without their captain. The stats show it clearly: with Messi, Argentina won 70% of the points in the qualifiers; without Messi, only 29%.
Sam: 'Neymar dependencia?' Yes, it is still there, but a little less so. He is undoubtedly Brazil’s marquee player and Tite will count on him in Russia, to deliver that bit of extra for Brazil. In the last two friendlies against Russia and Germany, the team played without their injured star and they availed themselves well, with 0-3 and 0-1 wins respectively. The Germany win was symbolic, but showed that Brazil can go toe-to-toe with the best without their talisman. In the past, in particular against England and Japan last November, Neymar has proven to be petulant, ill-disciplined and selfish at times. That is a worry for Tite: can he keep his player in line when the pressure will mount?
What is the Achilles heel of the team?
Martin: There’s not just one. But considering Sampaoli’s brief era, Argentina have shown a tendency for losing order, players going forward for the sake of high-pressing, but not being able to cover spaces in counter-attacks. “The unlimited desire to win”, as the manager has put it, sometimes is better described as a naive approach without defending. There are no longer superheroes like Mascherano in Brazil 2014. Having lost speed and continuity, playing as central defender at club level, the anchorman is no longer the defensive compass of the team. Argentina have not managed to come up with a replacement.
Sam: Brazil’s weakness are the full-backs Marcelo and Daniel Alves. They have a strong propensity to go forward and leave acres of space in behind. Opponents will definitely try and exploit that space. Tite has acknowledged the problem, in particular against stronger teams. Against Germany, he reinforced his midfield with Fernandinho to provide extra cover. The Manchester City player wasn’t a starter during the World Cup qualifiers, but he may well be in Russia when it matters. That’s ironic of course, given his disastrous performance in Belo Horizonte four years ago. There is another danger lurking around the corner - Brazil are among the favourites to win. It’s all gone so well under Tite that one wonders if it would not have been better for Brazil to have lost their last game against Germany?

Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany hugs Lionel Messi of Argentina after Germany's 1-0 victory in extra time during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina at Maracana on July 13, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

How have Argentina and Brazil dealt with the trauma of the last World Cup, 7-1 and losing a final?
Martin: Losing the World Cup final could have been a blow for any national team, but Argentina have lost two more finals since that night at Maracaná, and that is the real, unsolved trauma: Copa America 2015 and Copa América Centenario 2016 slipped away, both against Chile, both on penalties, both without scoring a goal. Therefore, the pressure to perform in finals has increased. Argentina’s last won final was in 1993. Since then, they’ve lost a World Cup, four Copa Americas and two Confederations Cup finals. Pressure? A complete generation of players is now on the brink: Messi is the first one that admitted that, if Argentina don’t win in Russia, he will have no choice but to quit international football. It will hardly happen to him, but the future will be considerably darker for Romero, Mascherano, Di Maria, Banega, Biglia, Aguero or Higuain.
Sam: Can you ever recover from a 7-1 defeat, on home soil during a World Cup semi-final? That was the most astounding result ever in World Cup history. The capitulation was so graphic, and so damning for Brazilian football. The game will never be erased, but, as Carlos Alberto Parreira told me, only Brazil, only a country as strong as Brazil, could have recovered from such a result in such a short time. There is truth in that, but perhaps also some arrogance. What matters most is that Tite is a coach who thinks about the game. That’s a very rare quality in Brazil football, which is often very conservative for a number of reasons.
With 50 days left, can Argentina or Brazil win the World Cup?
Martin: Of course they can. With Messi, everything is possible. But if a handbook of “how to win a World Cup” would be written, Argentina’s road to Russia would have been the exact opposite of what needs to be done. The challenge is to switch four years of institutional chaos into one month of football brilliance. And having the best player in the world can certainly help.
Sam: Brazil are among the favourites. They should breeze through to the quarter-finals. Tite has restored Brazil in its former glory. The problem is that Brazil haven’t faced real challenges. You can’t draw too many conclusions from a friendly win against Germany. In Montevideo, during the World Cup qualifiers, they fell behind for the first time, the test of any team. Brazil responded wonderfully well, running out 1-4 winners. The truth is that the South American qualifiers weren’t of a very high level this time, as shown by Argentina’s many problems. It’s almost a contradiction, but for Brazil things have gone almost too well.
News from the same category

Chile broke through for their first-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup qualification in spectacular fashion with a 4-0 win over Argentina in the final round of the Copa America Femenina on Sunday.
Needing a victory to leapfrog Argentina and shore up South America’s second and final automatic ticket to France 2019, Chile opened the decisive match in purposeful fashion.
Camila Saez and Maryorie Hernandez scored by the midway point of the first half to put Chile firmly in control.
The contest was effectively over as Agustina Barroso contributed an own goal on the stroke of half-time, before Francisca Lara iced the cake in second-half injury time.
Colombia, who featured in the past two Women’s World Cups, saw their outside hopes extinguished with a 3-0 defeat against Brazil who retained their title for the third successive time.
Argentina will now feature in the play-off against CONCACAF’s fourth-placed side later this year.
2015 Women’s World Cup debutants Ecuador bowed out in the group stage at the ten-nation Copa America Fememina without a win.
Brazil’s victory means they will feature at the 2020 Women’s Olympic Football Tournament in Tokyo, while Chile will play-off against an African opponent.FOOTBALL

In Coverciano, we experience Collina and VAR's big World Cup push

By Samindra Kunti

THE ROAD TO RUSSIA 2018: 50 days to the World Cup: can Messi's Argentina or Neymar's Brazil win the World Cup



50 days to the World Cup: can Messi's Argentina or Neymar's Brazil win the World Cup?

Neymar #10 of Brazil and Messi #10 of Argentina battle for the ball during a match between Brazil and Argentina as part 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Qualifier at Mineirao stadium on November 10, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
With just 50 days left until the big kick-off in Russia, AIPS' Martin Mazur, from Argentina, and Samindra Kunti, a longtime Brazil observer, assess the chances of South America's two traditional powerhouses at this summer's World Cup. For both countries, the last World Cup was devastating, in different ways. Have Brazil and Argentina recovered and can they muster a challenge? Martin and Sam, who have both written for The Blizzard and FourFourTwo among others, explain.
How did Argentina and Brazil fare in the World Cup qualifiers?
Martin: It was one of the most traumatic experiences of this century, even worse than the troubled road to South Africa, with Maradona as coach. Argentina lost the plot, the lead and ended up on the verge of not even qualifying for the play-off. They lost points at home against Ecuador (first-ever home defeat), Paraguay, Venezuela and Peru. Taking into account the home and away matches, they could not beat Brazil, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela, something that had never happened before. With the pressure at its peak, they ended up changing the Estadio Monumental for La Bombonera, trying to get a more intense atmosphere to win games. “The fear of not qualifying made us block”, admitted Messi after Argentina sealed qualification in the last game, against an Ecuador B side.
It was also a tale of three coaches, Martino, Bauza and Sampaoli. In these qualifiers, Argentina had as many managers as the period between 1974 and 1994. Worse, the styles of Gerardo Martino, Edgardo Bauza and Jorge Sampaoli could not be more dissimilar. From control and possession to sitting back and counter-attacking, to a vertiginous over-attacking, confusion was part of Argentina’s plot. Tactical systems were constantly changed, so did players. Sampaoli alone called up 43 footballers and deployed six tactical systems in his seven months at the helm.
Sam: The sequel to the 7-1 was irrational. The Brazilian FA re-appointed Dunga, reverting to type and outdated coaching when circumstances demanded radical change and fresh ideas. The decision was also telling of Brazil’s football culture: the 7-1 was an anomaly, it wouldn’t happen again and no lessons could be learned. There simply was no project of renovation. Under Dunga, things went from bad to worse. Brazil’s reached their lowest ebb in living memory, and that's including the 7-1. At the 2015 Copa America, Dunga played six defenders at one point against Venezuela to protect the result. He was averse to the notion that you can play expansive, passing football. His sustained need for conflict with the press and the fans didn’t help him either. At the 2016 Copa America Brazil crashed out in the first round. His time was up.
In came, Tite, Brazilian football’s most progressive coach. He moved the defensive line higher up the pitch, introduced Casemiro in the midfielder, used Paulinho as his shuttler and relied on the pace and daring of Gabriel Jesus up front. Brazil were flying. What’s more, they played modern, compact football. Tite was King Midas and Brazil cruised through the qualifiers with notably impressive wins against Argentina 3-0 at home and Uruguay away 1-4.
Are Argentina and Brazil too dependent on their star player?
Martin: If there’s something new about Messi is that Argentina have never been more dependent on him than now. In the previous three World Cups, the questions raised were mainly a comparison between Argentina’s Messi and Barcelona’s Messi. But this last period showed that Argentina is barely a decent side without their captain. The stats show it clearly: with Messi, Argentina won 70% of the points in the qualifiers; without Messi, only 29%.
Sam: 'Neymar dependencia?' Yes, it is still there, but a little less so. He is undoubtedly Brazil’s marquee player and Tite will count on him in Russia, to deliver that bit of extra for Brazil. In the last two friendlies against Russia and Germany, the team played without their injured star and they availed themselves well, with 0-3 and 0-1 wins respectively. The Germany win was symbolic, but showed that Brazil can go toe-to-toe with the best without their talisman. In the past, in particular against England and Japan last November, Neymar has proven to be petulant, ill-disciplined and selfish at times. That is a worry for Tite: can he keep his player in line when the pressure will mount?
What is the Achilles heel of the team?
Martin: There’s not just one. But considering Sampaoli’s brief era, Argentina have shown a tendency for losing order, players going forward for the sake of high-pressing, but not being able to cover spaces in counter-attacks. “The unlimited desire to win”, as the manager has put it, sometimes is better described as a naive approach without defending. There are no longer superheroes like Mascherano in Brazil 2014. Having lost speed and continuity, playing as central defender at club level, the anchorman is no longer the defensive compass of the team. Argentina have not managed to come up with a replacement.
Sam: Brazil’s weakness are the full-backs Marcelo and Daniel Alves. They have a strong propensity to go forward and leave acres of space in behind. Opponents will definitely try and exploit that space. Tite has acknowledged the problem, in particular against stronger teams. Against Germany, he reinforced his midfield with Fernandinho to provide extra cover. The Manchester City player wasn’t a starter during the World Cup qualifiers, but he may well be in Russia when it matters. That’s ironic of course, given his disastrous performance in Belo Horizonte four years ago. There is another danger lurking around the corner - Brazil are among the favourites to win. It’s all gone so well under Tite that one wonders if it would not have been better for Brazil to have lost their last game against Germany?

Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany hugs Lionel Messi of Argentina after Germany's 1-0 victory in extra time during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina at Maracana on July 13, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

How have Argentina and Brazil dealt with the trauma of the last World Cup, 7-1 and losing a final?
Martin: Losing the World Cup final could have been a blow for any national team, but Argentina have lost two more finals since that night at Maracaná, and that is the real, unsolved trauma: Copa America 2015 and Copa América Centenario 2016 slipped away, both against Chile, both on penalties, both without scoring a goal. Therefore, the pressure to perform in finals has increased. Argentina’s last won final was in 1993. Since then, they’ve lost a World Cup, four Copa Americas and two Confederations Cup finals. Pressure? A complete generation of players is now on the brink: Messi is the first one that admitted that, if Argentina don’t win in Russia, he will have no choice but to quit international football. It will hardly happen to him, but the future will be considerably darker for Romero, Mascherano, Di Maria, Banega, Biglia, Aguero or Higuain.
Sam: Can you ever recover from a 7-1 defeat, on home soil during a World Cup semi-final? That was the most astounding result ever in World Cup history. The capitulation was so graphic, and so damning for Brazilian football. The game will never be erased, but, as Carlos Alberto Parreira told me, only Brazil, only a country as strong as Brazil, could have recovered from such a result in such a short time. There is truth in that, but perhaps also some arrogance. What matters most is that Tite is a coach who thinks about the game. That’s a very rare quality in Brazil football, which is often very conservative for a number of reasons.
With 50 days left, can Argentina or Brazil win the World Cup?
Martin: Of course they can. With Messi, everything is possible. But if a handbook of “how to win a World Cup” would be written, Argentina’s road to Russia would have been the exact opposite of what needs to be done. The challenge is to switch four years of institutional chaos into one month of football brilliance. And having the best player in the world can certainly help.
Sam: Brazil are among the favourites. They should breeze through to the quarter-finals. Tite has restored Brazil in its former glory. The problem is that Brazil haven’t faced real challenges. You can’t draw too many conclusions from a friendly win against Germany. In Montevideo, during the World Cup qualifiers, they fell behind for the first time, the test of any team. Brazil responded wonderfully well, running out 1-4 winners. The truth is that the South American qualifiers weren’t of a very high level this time, as shown by Argentina’s many problems. It’s almost a contradiction, but for Brazil things have gone almost too well.
News from the same category