I must admit I am far from being David Luiz’s biggest fan. For some reason, the tousle-haired player does not seem to strike me as a conventional defender. He seems too clumsy and uncultured in the fine arts of defending, despite being Brazilian.
He seems more suited to being a central midfielder or, at worst, a defensive midfielder. But he has survived as an oft-maligned defender for club and country.
Unconvincing at club level
When Manchester United clinched the Premier League in 2010/11 with a penultimate game victory over Chelsea, Javier Hernandez latched onto a Ji-Sung Park through ball after only 37 seconds, springing the Blues offside trap and exposing the Brazilian’s defensive frailties and giving United the sort of start that Chelsea never recovered from.
But the goal itself was not the most notable thing, no. It was the sight of Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti warming up Alex as a substitute with barely ten minutes on the clock as United threatened to double the scoreline in those early minutes. Needless to say they did after 24 through a header by then skipper Nemanja Vidic.
Excellent displays versus Colombia
But I digress. The point I am driving at is that, as a defender, David Luiz has often been viewed as suspect. Yet in the warm, humid conditions of Fortaleza on late Friday afternoon, he ticked off all the important aspects of being an excellent central defender as Brazil subdued a below-par, but still plucky Colombia side to lead the Selecao’ to the semi-final of a World Cup that you suspect even the Brazilian government prays they win to go a long way in masking the visible civil unrest that has been simmering in a country of over 200 million people.
With last-ditch tackles, important blocks and driving runs, David Luiz performed very well as a dominant Brazil ended the match rather uncomfortably. He runs with the gait of a reckless 13-year old on the local park, yet he is so determined and difficult to stop on those rampaging runs that he puts the team into such a good position to get more goals.
Stunning free-kick technique
On Friday, the world’s most expensive defender showed that he was worth every penny of the £50 million PSG will pay for his services and topped it off (for good measure) with a sublime free-kick - the technique of which has mystified even motion-physics enthusiasts.
For anyone who has played the game, the instep is not the most notable point for generating power with a football as it is mostly acknowledged to be the laces and the outer part of the boot. However, there is a growing number of footballers in recent times who have perfected the art of delivering a powerful shot from a dead ball with this technique.
Didier Drogba of Ivory Coast and Portuguese maestro Cristiano Ronaldo quickly come to mind but the latter’s free-kicks do not show him to open up the instep in the same way as the former and his ex-Chelsea team mate do.
The power, speed and movement of the ball almost always leave the goalkeeper with very little time to react, much less prevent the ball from hitting the net. It is safe to say that Drogba and David Luiz must have practiced this art form so much at Cobham, while it is now well-known that Ronaldo is and was a stickler for practicing dead balls.
But while Ronaldo often varies his technique somewhat (the 90th minute free-kick against Bayern Munich in the 2013/14 Champions League semi-final second leg quickly comes to mind), the ex-Chelsea duo are consistent in their style.
It was with a hint of irony that it was the Colombian star James Rodriguez who was culpable for the free-kick that Luiz struck with venom and whose trajectory simple gave the outstanding David Ospina no chance from all of 35 metres.
Despite not having been placed too wide of the goalkeeper, it was the velocity from a difficult-to-execute technique that gave Ospina no chance.
David Luiz and his partner - skipper Thiago Silva - led from the back in a mostly-dominant display that will be important for this football-mad nation.
There will be added responsibility on David Luiz moving forward too, with Silva suspended for the semi-final against Germany. The nation’s worst fears were also confirmed with the absence of talisman Neymar through a back injury.
How David Luiz and his teammates cope in the absence of their leader and leading scorer is a litmus test against the ice-cool Germans but if the rest of the Selecao can produce three-quarters of David Luiz’s quarter-final performance, then expect the biggest party to unfold in the Maracana on July 13. As for the man himself, expect nothing less than 100% from David Luiz Moreira Marinho in Tuesday’s semi-final.
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