Sunday, 18 July 2010

World Cup 2010: Winners & Losers

Anyone who followed the last Westminster Election will know that alongside the election itself, there were dominant trends that emerged and winners and losers outwith the eye of the storm. This is even more true at this World Cup where there are victors outside the sporting paddock, and trends appearing…

Winner: The Broken Midfield: This World Cup was the tournament where 4-2-3-1 became the formation of choice for many of the leading teams, indeed the author of “Inverting the Pyramid”, Jonathan Wilson, claimed in his article for the Sunday Herald at the weekend that the World Cup saw the “death of 4-4-2 as the universal default”. Perhaps of more significance is that this has had the effect of breaking up the midfield into attacking and defensive components, the defensive component has been as importaint to Spain’s win as has the attacking component’s ability to hold onto the ball until the opportunity arises. As a result, we may have seen the genesis of the next tactical shift. Germany were officially credited with playing the 4-2-3-1, but on the attack it looked more like a 4-2-1-3 with the attacking midfielder Ozil playing more like a withdrawn striker of old, playing behind Muller, Klose & Podolski.

Looser: 4-4-2: Solid, dependable with little room for flair, the “two banks of 4” had a tournament to forget as all of the main contenders operated with broken midfields and players operating between the lines. The one high profile team to operate 4-4-2 (lest we forget, England) flopped dismally.

Winner: Chris Waddle: The most interesting and thought provoking of the analysts on the broadcast media. It’s no coincidence that Waddle was the only one of the English born pundits who has actually played overseas (and for Falkirk – Boom Boom). His experience of how football is played on the continent shone through, especially during the commentary for the Germany V England game. Honourable mention should go to Clarence Seedorf for asking Alan Hansen & Lee Dixon how they defended at set pieces.

Looser: ITV Sport: It’s an obvious target, but even this World Cup, they surpassed themselves for jingoistic stupid o’clock coverage. Both Left Back & Two Hundred Percent have posted blogs lamenting ITV’s tabloid (and quite frankly, tabloid doesn’t quite describe how lowest common denominator ITV’s coverage was) coverage. Rumours that they had signed Alan Partridge were sadly unfounded.

Winner: Radio 5 Live: Despite being burdened by the British Media’s version of Statler & Waldorf, and a crop of steady but not stellar commentators (no Champion, Hawthorne or Drury yet, and they should have drafted in Radio Scotland’s David Begge, how come Pat Nevin gets to be the “token Scot”?) 5 Live made the World Cup a much more interesting experience than it could have turned out. Having to listen to games during my lunch hour at work probably helped.

Looser: BBC Sport (Television): Despite trouncing ITV in the ratings, and there being a couple of features which worked very well, the BBC’s coverage has not been exactly the quality informed broadsheet to ITV’s tabloid coverage as has been the case in previous tournaments, this time it was more Daily Sexpress. Partly down to an element of resting on their laurels, partly down to some weird choices as pundits (Mick McCarthy?), and partly down to the BBC’s inability to identify a worthy (and lets be honest, a one nation) candidate to replace John Motson. But lets be honest here, the BBC are still to get round to replacing Barry Davies in their football coverage so maybe we shouldn’t hold our breath.

Winner: Possession Football: When I was growing up, the difference between football played on the continent and football played here was that the teams that tended to come and play here on European and International duty were more adept and more comfortable with keeping the ball. This seemed to have died out in the mid 1990’s as the pressing game took hold of European football. Since 2008 though we have seen the evolution of the first post-pressing teams schooled in the art of keeping possession of the ball. Barcelona’s European Cup triumph was a throwback to old school European football, but Spain’s twin triumph’s in the European Championship’s and here in the World Cup has seen a revival in possession football.

Loser: Seire A and the English Premiership: Twenty years ago Serie A was at the zenith of it’s powers, its stadiums were hosting the 16th World Cup finals, while all three European trophies were held by Italian clubs. Crucially all of Italy’s squad which reached the semi final were playing in Italy, and for the big teams. “Foreign” players were there, but were not the roadblock to the progress of young Italian players – of course at that time there was the 4 Foreigner rule. Now, there are hardly any indigenous players playing for the top Italian clubs.

At least Italy has experience of recent International success. The English Premier League was set up with the aim of assisting the England national team. In nearly 18 years of its existence, it has had the opposite effect, acting as a roadblock to the evolution of the English national team, this became evident at this World Cup. Most of the England players looked lethargic, and tactically looked lost. Yes, Manchester United, Chelsea & Liverpool play 4-2-3-1, but the default formation for EPL sides is still 4-4-2, where the pace is frenetic, the play is very direct and no emphasis is placed on possession of the ball. Not conducive to World Cup winning football. The EPL didn’t do any favours for the foreigners plying their trade in England either, Van Persie was a virtual passenger for most of the Netherland’s games, Torres was injured and Fabregas only got on from the bench a couple of times (even though one of those times was to provide the assist for the goal that won the World Cup). The rest, forget it. The English failure is a subject we will come back to.

The biggest winner though was South Africa, who put on their smiley face and were excellent hosts for this tournament. You certainly can’t blame South Africa for the failings of this tournament. FIFA on the other hand certainly come out as one of the biggest losers. The first World Cup not to properly sell out since 1978 (attributable to the commercial deals FIFA did with travel agents, which led to extortionate prices for travel & lodgings), the failure to take seriously & clamp down on cheating footballers, their handling of the twin refereeing blunders in the Germany v England and Argentina v Mexico second round ties and their luke warm support for the World Cup final referee(who lost control of the game very early on and failed to take control as a result – Super nanny would have been better suited). Overall, the best phrase I can think of is must do better for Brazil 2014.

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