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It is finally here: FIFA 11 October 1, 2010

Posted by Cesar in gaming me.
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The most important game of the year was released this Tuesday: FIFA 11.

Most people I tell this look at me with an offended face (remember I’m in Canada, not Brazil!). But I do not intend to preach, I’m just expressing what the game is to me. And mind you, it is not the best game of the year. But it is definitely the one I will play the most. So, to me, it is also the most important one. FIFA 11 will shape hundreds of hours of gameplay until around September 2011 FIFA 12 comes out.

I’ve been playing the new installment of the EA Football series since its release and I read quite a few reviews. Most of them talk about the same things and I’ll summarize. In FIFA 11:

  • You can play as the goalkeeper;
  • Now there’s an 11 vs. 11 multiplayer option;
  • A new passing system was implemented;
  • An innovative animation system makes players moves more realistic;
  • The player can now record crowd chants and have them played during matches.

However, if you, like me, are a die-hard football game aficionado, who plays since the first Winning Eleven and FIFA 94 (I actually remember playing considerably older football games, but that’s going too far), you know there are only two things that truly matter: gameplay and multiplayer quality. We can ignore most other flaws as long as these two are top notch. And since the multiplayer in FIFA is notoriously great, let’s talk about gameplay.

Even though reviews are unanimous to say FIFA 11 is just a tweaked version of last years innovative game, the game plays quite differently. First of all, the pace went down a notch, mostly due to the new passing system. And this is a very positive change: before, with reasonably good players, all passes were perfect, no matter how difficult they seemed. This is not the case anymore. Now, even playing with the likes of Chelsea, Internazionale or Barcelona, if the body orientation of the footballer is not adequate and his pass skill is not high enough, the pass will not only go in a poor trajectory but it will also be slow and, as a consequence, way easier to intercept. This gives a greater edge to players with really high pass skills (like Frank Lampard or Xavi) and stops some crazy plays from working the way they did before. Gone are the eternal first touch pass chains, with the defending team unable to ever see the color of the ball.

At this point, fans of the PES series will look at this post with an ironic grin and say: “Big deal, that’s how it’s been in Winning Eleven for the past 15 years.” And they will be right! But the fact that EA finally made the change means the game got an important improvement and, considering the fact that for the past few years Seabass Takatsuka’s team has been underdelivering, it is now clear in this blogger’s mind that FIFA is better than its Konami competitor by a considerable margin.

However, not everything is perfect. The AI of the players gets confused with the new system. Passes that are obviously too weak to reach the target player are sometimes ignored by your other teammates, which means even if the ball goes slowly right next to one of them, they don’t do anything to catch it, no matter how desperately you try to make it happen pressing all possible buttons on the controller.

Another down side, this one way harder to fix, is that most of the time it is not possible for the game to distinguish an attempt at a fast pass from an attempt at a pass to a farther away player. So during the past few days I tried many fast passes (remember they are considerably slower now) by holding the button longer and ended up with a pass to the wrong guy (usually being intercepted by the way). Knowing a fast pass would have made the play work and not being able to pull it off is frustrating.

However, there’s an interesting way to make it better: pressing the lobbed pass button with the right bumper also pressed makes what the game calls a bouncing lobbed pass. This is a mid height pass, which can be used to avoid ground interceptions but is also faster than a simple press of the ground pass button. I’ve been learning to use it when I really need the speed and have seen some results already. And of course it is always possible to try the manual controls, but I digress.

Another noticeable change is in the physical interactions between the players. This is a less obvious update, but the impact is significant and I would say it is vastly superior to the old system. Reviewers gave a lot of emphasis to how physical contact looks more realistic, but it plays better as well. While heavy players can defend and dribble using their balance and strength (think Ibrahimovic or Drogba), small and agile players can still go around defenders and resist the occasional bump (think Messi or Robben).

Another interesting effect of the new physical play are the tackles: even though tackling is just as easy, it is now a bit harder for a defender to recover the ball if the other player thinks fast. It is possible for the attacking player to recover from weaker tackling efforts and fight to get the ball back, even if in a worse position. This was a rare event in FIFA 10 and it feels like a very positive change;. Tackles are not so binary anymore: there are bad tackles that let the attacker advance freely, good tackles that steal the ball precisely and not so good tackles in which both attacker and defender need to jostle for the ball.

All in all, I would say this is the best FIFA game so far. I’m still not sure the gameplay is as exciting as it was in the best versions of the Winning Eleven series (or Pro Evolution Soccer if you want to use the new name), the new changes still need some adaptation on my part, but if you take all other factors into consideration (multiplayer options, lack of lag, Be A Pro modes, etc), FIFA 11 is the best football simulation ever.

See you space cowboys…

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Sad but proud July 3, 2010

Posted by Cesar in sporting me.
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No, the picture is not from yesterday’s game. It is from Brazil vs. Chile, the game that made me truly believe Brazil could have won this World Cup. Specially after the second goal: long lobbed pass to Robinho, who passes the ball to Kaká, who in turn puts it straight for Luis Fabiano to dribble the goalie and score. Such a great play.

That’s what I want to remember, not yesterday’s defeat. We could have won, the match yesterday could easily have gone either way. But the strong Brazilian defense “chose” the wrong time to mess it up and we are out.

Everyone is complaining back in Brazil, the witch hunt has begun. But I don’t see it that way. This team didn’t have flare, it lacked creativity, that I cannot deny. But it had heart. In 2006, when Brazil lost to France, I was ashamed, angry. The team lost with amazing players on the pitch and a complete lack of interest. Now I’m just sad,  proud of knowing every player fought till the end.

You guys just wait. Wait and mark my words: in 2014 we’ll be back on our horses and the cup will be ours.

See you space cowboys…

Brazil 2 x 1 Korea DPR June 16, 2010

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Brazilians celebrating the first goal

Of course, after all I’m Brazilian, in our office pool I bet Brazil 5 x 0 Korea DPR. But that’s the heart talking. The truth is the game was exactly how I expected it to be.

Brazil has a very strong counter attack, which Korea didn’t offer. And when the other team goes to the pitch with the sole goal of defending, with zero offensive pretensions, it is always hard to score. Very hard. In Brazil we are used to seeing this kind of team during the first stage of the Libertadores. Small teams, from countries with little to no football tradition, often go to Brazil with at most one attacker, who waits near the midfield, and 10 players try to make the time pass as uneventfully as possible.

I’ve been following the World Cup and yesterday’s game was the most obvious example of this attitude so far. In these situations, what usually defines the number of goals is how fast the first goal (if any) happens. The goal forces a posture change and spaces start to appear. Yesterday, the goal came too late, hence the small number of goals.

Once again it is funny to see the difference between the press in Canada and in Brazil. Here, the commentators were impressed with the Brazilian strategy, the strength of our side backs and the tactical discipline of the players. And they praised the Korean defense like there was no tomorrow. After the first half, they were very impressed that Korea DPR resisted the Brazilian pressure.

Then I check the Brazilian commentators online: everyone is pissed, complaining about the trouble the team had to pierce the Korean DPR fragile defensive system.

I think the truth is in the middle (as usual). At the end of the game, Brazil had 65% of the ball possession and had shot 26 times, as opposed to 10 shots by Korea. These are impressive numbers which show Brazil dominated the game from beginning to finish. What we need is to be a bit more efficient.

In time: Maicon had an amazing match. Supported by Gilberto Silva, who protected the right side when he was acting as a true winger, Maicon made all the difference and his goal was beautiful. On the other hand, Kaká continues to disappoint. I hope he has time to catch up, it would make all the difference.

See you space cowboys…

Last minute update: Spain vs. Switzerland just finished with a victory for the Swiss. It goes to prove my point: true, Switzerland is way better than Korea DPR, but it is very hard to play against a team whose only purpose is to defend. Switzerland has a strong defense and will cause trouble in the knockout stage.

Brazilians are not used to it June 15, 2010

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Brasil celebrating the Confederations Cup in 2009

Is it just me or is the World Cup the best competition in the world? I simply love it. I don’t know if it is because I’m away from Brazil, but the World Cup is driving me crazy (in a good way). Every game is interesting. Yes, even Japan vs. Cameroon.

Anyway, with the first Brazil match a few hours away, I thought it was time to write about it. I’m sure I’ll write again, but talking about the Brazilian team and the World Cup in general seems like the appropriate way to go for a first post on the subject.

One of the most interesting things about being away from Brazil during a World Cup is to learn how the rest of the world sees the Brazilian football team. I look at our midfield, with… erm… weird players like Felipe Melo, Elano and Gilberto Silva and it makes me very uneasy. Kaká aside, this is not a top notch midfield at all. I look at our attack and it bothers me too. Luis Fabiano and Robinho are not on par with other strikers from previous generations (Romário and Ronaldo just to name the most recent ones).

That’s in part Dunga’s fault. After the last World Cup’s fiasco, the captain of the 1994 campaign was called to give Brazil in 2010 what they lacked in 2006: heart. And he succeeded! But unfortunately, somewhere along the long 4 years towards South Africa, heart and defensive football got mixed together, and we ended up with a team that excels at protecting the goal but lacks creativity. The example I give to everyone when I talk about the subject is Ronaldinho. I don’t like him, in my opinion he never reached superstar level simply because he could never play well in the national team (ok, ok, there’s that one single game against England in 2002, but that’s all). But Dunga’s team is so defensive and unimaginative that I wish he was there. Even if it was to be an option coming from the bench.

However, despite all that, the rest of the world thinks Brasil has an amazing team. Everyone is afraid of Brazil, they think at any moment our team can decide a game and score goals with astonishing ease. And while I do envy Argentina’s attack and Spain’s midfield, I also believe we can win the World Cup.

But if it happens, it won’t be Brazil style, it will be Italy style. Strong defense and good counters go a long way on the second stage, as Italy proved in 2006. The truth is that we Brazilians are not used to having a good attack and a decent midfield. We are used to deadly strikers and amazing midfielders. That’s all. This year our football is different, but it is also very effective.

Oh man! You gotta love the World Cup! Writing made me super anxious! Today at 4:00 pm I’ll be in front of the TV, standing with my right hand on my chest, singing the national anthem. Júlio Cesar, Lúcio, Maicon, Kaká, everyone: make us proud! And good luck Brazil!!!!!

See you space cowboys…

Football: I had to come to Canada… October 22, 2009

Posted by Cesar in sporting me.
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football-fight

I love football, I really do. And I am a huge fan of São Paulo Futebol Clube. Last Sunday was my birthday and my parents sent me a cap and a jersey from the team. I then realized that, even with all my passion, I did not have a jersey. I stopped to think about it and noticed the reason.

You would need to have lived in Brazil to know: there, football involves more emotion than it should. People fight and kill in the name of their teams. I know it sounds insane and it IS insane. But that’s how it is. If the rivalry is too big, a surprisingly big minority of the supporters of one team will try and kick the asses of the supporters of the rival team. It is no joke, sometimes people die simply because they support the rival team.

So when I was born, I lived in a city that was not the home town of Tricolor (it is the nickname for São Paulo Futebol Clube) so the rivalry was very small and I used my uniform very often, to go to school, to visit friends… whenever. I then moved to São Paulo, the home town of Tricolor. There are 2 other major teams in the city and the supporters fight. A lot. And I stopped using the jersey, fearing the violence on the streets.

Now that I’m in Canada I can use the uniform freely again. And I do, even though no one has the slightest idea of what it is. Isn’t that insane?

See you space cowboys…

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