The first round of matches is over. Its time to take stock of what has passed and what is to come.
Here is my take on the 2010 World Cup till now.
Two kinds of team come to play at the world cup: one set comes to win the cup, the other comes to show how good they are.
If Netherlands, Portugal, England, and Argentina are to win the cup, this mentality needs to change in their locker rooms. They need to get into a mode which permeates confidence internally, that they are good enough to beat anyone, and that they will beat them. This means shutting up and playing the game, and leaving all other press related stuff to the side. Play the game like you intend to win it, strategy-wise and skill-wise, give it your all, and stop worrying about everything else.
Defense wins championships
This world cup has been a lot more defensive than previous years. I think that this a testament to the winning strategy employed by Italy last time around. It may not be great football, but with the calibre of explosive stars at the tournament, it is a safe and prudent approach for all teams. Even teams like Argentina who can boast a great offense will have to step up their defense in front of teams like South Korea who can explode at any time and change the game with one well-executed play. In American football, hockey and basketball, the adage has long stayed true- defense wins championships. This year, I think we will see it in the World Cup too.
The two standout African teams have been Ghana and Ivory Coast. Both played excellent football, rolled with the punches and came out unscathed. A lot is riding on their advance in the tournament and I for one could not be more excited. This is not because this is Africa’s world cup and all that hogwash, its just because they have been good for a while and its about time they made themselves world powers to be reckoned with. After this world cup, a leading team should not automatically be favorites to win against these two teams. Ghana won the U21 World Cup last year, so you know they are already building a winning pedigree.
Germany looked awesome. Other teams looked like they were sparking (Argentina and England, especially), but Germany caught fire straight up. Simply fantastic football from the stalwarts. They proved at the last world cup too that writing them off is a big mistake- and here, once again, they have stamped their arrival in fine style. I think they are outright contenders to win the tourney. The three basic elements to football are possession, position, precision. Germany showed they have all three in abundance.
The infamous ball
Adidas' Jabulani ball will perhaps go down as the most debated aspect of this tournament. The truth is though that everyone is dealing with the same issues, so you have to shut up and deal with it. There’s no reason crying over spilt milk.
In truth, this is the ball of the future. It is aerodynamic, it is well-balanced in terms of weight and it is tested in every way possible to give the most balanced performance. The mistake that was made was that it wasn’t introduced in leagues last year. It should have been, to give everyone a sense of what it was made of. This will be done from next time onwards. With players performing at such a high calibre, introducing a vital element at the last minute is no longer feasible. Marketing teams cannot worry about secrecy anymore, the players are the key and their performances should not be affected. But again, they have to deal with it this time.
However, dealing with it does lead to some issues. The first is that the ball is hard to keep down, meaning that when someone belts it, it tends to fly over the net rather than towards it. This is clear to see throughout the matches. So, the key now becomes, your ground play, how good is your team at running the ball in and making good plays on the ground, the give and go plays, the long passes etc. Good teams will be able to adjust (case and point, Germany), but teams with singular attacking methods will fall by the weyside. Then, there is the fact that players themselves need to learn to control the ball. If Messi and Rooney’s play is anything to go by, the ball is controllable, it just takes a well-placed, well-balanced kick.
If the ball has been one debateable topic then the refereeing has been another. But this is something that can be brought under control and should be immediately. You cannot let flagarant fouls go by without any repurcussions. It negates everything that FIFA has worked to avoid and it will blow up once a player like Ronaldo or Messi gets injured. FIFA needs to standardize its game-calling immediately. I can’t even believe that one of the Dutch players got away without even a warning after he went into a Danish player with both his cleats facing upwards, basically lunging at the other’s feet. It was a straight red card, but play went on uninterrupted. If FIFA does not bring this under control, coaches will just start telling their players to start getting rough. That would be unacceptable. The only one that can change the situation is FIFA.
Lest we forget the unsung heroes
What we see on the pitch is the game. But there is a much larger game afoot off the pitch. From trainers who are dealing with major altitude changes to coaches who are constantly tweaking their plans, from defensive strategies to targeted set plays. A standout team is like a well-oiled machine. It is as much about the players on the pitch as it is about the staff off the pitch. You may not know their names, you may not hear them being hailed, but they are there, and they are orchestrating what you see on the pitch. In a tournament of this calibre, let us not forget that a winning team is backed up by an equally impressive and hard-working team. Their stories go untold, but their impact is telling. Germany, Korea DPR, Ghana, Switzerland, and Ivory Coast are perfect examples- for their strategic play, for their impeccable planning, and for their mental preparation.
This is the birthplace of legends.
Vincent Enyeama, Nigeria’s goalkeeper, put on a majestic performance against Argentina. The score line should have been 4-0 in the end, instead, it was a paltry 1-0 for Argentina. When Lionel Messi uses you as an excuse for the lowly scoreline, you know you have done a great job. Vincent Enyeama secured himself a spot in the European leagues with that singular performance. Simply astounding.
Mesut Oezil, the Turkish born, 21 year old playmaker for Germany dazzled during Germany’s first game. He walked off in the 75th minute without a goal, but his imprints were all over the game. Rarely will you see a young player with such poise, such finesse, such an eye for the game, such simply beautiful playmaking abilities. There once was a man named Zinedine Zidane, and now perhaps, we have found his equivalent in Oezil. I wanted to keep watching him play, I wanted him to score, I sat up every time he had the ball– in short, he is one to watch for, for many years to come. Rarely does a player make you say that, but then again, true legends are always rare.
And then, there are teams. Teams which standout simply because of their team play. Korea DPR (ie. North Korea) wins in this category hands down. They may have lost to Brazil with a 2-1 scoreline, but that is a perfect example of how scorelines often lie. For 56 minutes, Korea DPR put on a defensive masterclass– every shot the Brazilians threw at them was blocked, every pass near the 18 yard box was interrupted and every challenge was fair and well-placed. They worked as a team and forgive me for saying this, for it is far too cliche’, but seriously, the communist wall looked impenetrable. The two teams were separated by a 104 point difference in their rankings; but Korea DPR made it look like rankings don’t matter much either. In my opinion, they showed everyone at the tournament how to beat Brazil.
Labels: FIFA, South Africa 2010, World Cup Roundup