Soccer: Brain fade confounds

By Anendra Singh

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Ben Sigmund.
Ben Sigmund.

What on earth was Ben Sigmund thinking when he did a rain dance on the knees of prone United Arab Emirates soccer player Ali Mabkhout?

The answer, I'm afraid, is that the All White wasn't employing any of the six horizontal layers of his cerebral cortex when he executed his reckless two-footed stomp on the goal scorer in the 89th minute of the 2-0 loss to the UAE during the OSN Cup final in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Tuesday.

Memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought, language and consciousness - all those qualities that constitute grey matter badly deserted the Wellington Phoenix player.

This was, after all, a "friendly" match. I hate to think what the Kiwi defender would have done in a game that had more riding on it.

New Zealand Football high performance manager Fred de Jong describing the act of thuggery "reckless", felt "it was very silly" and could affect his selection chances for the World Cup qualifiers later this year.

Excuse me?

How about a few more pertinent superlatives and adjectives?

Like thoroughly embarrassing, a total disgrace, lunacy, most despicable and asinine.

Hey, without doubt, players of this ilk are invariably pretty decent blokes.

You see, what makes it even more damning for a petulant Sigmund was his lack of remorse when referee Abdulameer Abdulshaheed admonished him before flashing a straight red card in the 35-degree heat.

In fact, the whistle blower came to his rescue, shielding him as two irate UAE players homed in. If it were a qualifier against a South American side, for example, the 20th-ranked Mexico, there would be chaos with some of the 100,000 fans invading the pitch.

No doubt, Sigmund would have made efforts to apologise to the UAE winger and coaching stable when common sense would have kicked in during a refreshing shower in the changing sheds of a majestic King Fahd International Stadium.

Okay, so his brain explosion will make him an easy target for scribes to the boot into him and, for what it's worth, he deserves to be banished to the naughty boy's corner to repent, complete with the dunce hat.

The ramifications, unfortunately, for a country that has a relatively easy passage to the Fifa World Cup playoffs will far outweigh Sigmund's infantile behaviour and whether or not he will receive a rap on the knuckles to enable him to play in any World Cup qualifiers.

Frankly, if that's the best Sigmund can do on the field then he shouldn't be in the equation at all.

Only minutes earlier the substitute had taken a UAE player out from behind.

Call it spooky, if you may, but Sigmund isn't the only Kiwi soccer international to court such controversy.

Fellow All Whites defender Winston Reid, of the EPL fame and now wearing the New Zealand captain's armband, got a straight red card from Kiwi referee Jamie Cross for his mindless tackle - wait for it - in the 89th minute against Paraguay in Wellington.

In October 2010, Reid left Federico Santander with a shattered knee although a segment of the crowd facetiously clapped him off.

The All Whites' display on Tuesday was amateurish. The youthful UAE team exhibited a level of dexterity that makes a mockery of the Fifa world ranking which lists the New Zealanders at 57th and the Middle Eastern outfit in 84th position.

Despite dominating in the first and a fair whack of the second spell, it seemed the UAE coach was the one wearing out the pristine patch of grass in the boxed technical area.

New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert and his assistant, Neil Emblen, opted for the dug out. The former occasionally dropping or clutching his head in despair while the latter often barked orders to the players when not jotting down notes on his clipboard.

One line of defence from Herbert and company could be that it was a friendly so the All Whites weren't really trying to prove anything.

Besides pivotal players, such as Marcos Rojas, also were not in the mix.

Regrettably that doesn't cut it because the Kiwi defence, something Herbert took pride in with countless stalemates, was in a state of disarray.

Andrew Durante didn't have a clue and Reid, for a captain, was letting his frustrations get the best of him.

It was appalling to see the All Whites reduced to grabbing opposition players' shirts and hands or simply taking them out from behind.

"Keep the ball, keep the ball," someone yelled out in desperation. All the Kiwis could do was lose possession after a pass or, if lucky, two.

If anything, UAE weren't sublime but their reluctance to put the ball out wide rather than trying to thread it through the spine of the field with dazzling skills kept the scoreline respectable.

The All Whites did have two credible chances to score but butchered them.

The gulf between New Zealand and other countries will get wider until something is done smartly to change the way we play rather than relying on veterans employing tactics of a bygone era.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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