World Cup teams have dropped tactics, opened up game
Argentina's Lionel Messi fights for the ball with Bosnia's Zvjezdan Misimovic during their 2014 World Cup Group F soccer match at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro on June 15, 2014. (REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes)
The first week of the 2014 World Cup has been a masterpiece of soccer excellence.
Keep the faith. The trend will continue.
The World Cup in Brazil is benefiting from the rebirth of soccer, a move from stultifying, don’t-lose-at-all-cost soccer to a much more open, attractive, and salable game.
There was an inkling this might happen long before the tournament opened.
Many national teams changed their approach to the game, going with younger, quicker players and using attacking formations.
Then there was the Latin factor.
The tournament is being played in South America with six South American teams. Fans in this part of the world won’t accept what had become standard fare in many places in Europe -- tight games with little scoring. The focus was tactics and, while successful, tactics didn’t lead to the kind of exciting soccer Latin teams enjoyed watching.
There is a rhythm in the style of play South American teams employ. Players understand the pressure of having to provide not only winning soccer but entertaining soccer.
There was a saying that said Brazil would rather lose 4-3 than win 1-0.
In this day and age, where the attitude of winning at all costs is popular, that probably doesn’t ring as true now. Especially for soccer teams, although you’d get a pretty good argument that it still rings true for the fans.
Sergio Levinsky is a soccer journalist that writes for Jornada de Argentina and Kicker, a German soccer magazine.
He’s watched South American soccer all his life and isn’t surprised about how open exciting the World Cup has been.
“South Americans don’t like tactics,” he said. “They want to see the ball move. They want to see players with skill do good things.
“A lot of teams in the world are changing the style of play. The best is Italy. They used to play ‘catenaccio’ (lock and chain defence) but now they have a coach (Cesare Prandelli) who wants to play more attack.”
Italy began their changes after a dismal performance at South Africa 2010. They had a strong Euro 2012 that featured lively play rather than deadbolts.
If Italy can change, anyone can change.
When you toss in five African teams competing in Brazil -- teams that generally do more attacking than defending -- it’s a tournament that can’t help but see goals scored.
Goals and plenty of them have produced the appropriate response from the fans and the media.
This is football the way it should be played. After nine games, 31 goals have been scored, which is more than three goals a game.
But it’s not just the goals. It’s the style of play even when goals aren’t scored.
No one is reinventing the wheel; it’s simply playing the game the way the game is played best before it was taken over by those who were more knowledgeable in how to spot teams from playing the game rather than learning to play the game themselves.
World Cup teams are passing the ball quickly. They are galloping up and down the field, forcing their opponents to defend up and down the field. Players are using the wide side of the field as fullbacks cover huge distances which then open up acres of space to move the ball.
There are far fewer situations where teams make 10 passes to gain 20 yards then push the ball backwards with one pass and lose 30.
Teams are exerting immediate pressure on each other. It’s how the Netherlands decimated Spain. They didn’t allow the Spanish to sit on the ball and pushed them physically.
There were some games in previous tournaments when teams might produce four changes between them. Now they produce that in 20 minutes.
And the fans?
Well, the fans are soaking up this kind of soccer like a tree soaks up sun and moisture. They grow in voice and involvement. They no longer sit on their hands for half-hour increments waiting for something to happen.
Joyful football is really the lifeblood of the game. There is an exhilarating feeling and freedom watching the ball move brightly without constant faking, clutching and tugging that slows play.
It’s been several World Cups since we’ve seen what we are seeing in Brazil game after game.
Please let it continue so that beautiful soccer will have returned on a global scale in the country where it has most often been played that way.
Germany 3, Portugal 2
This is going to be a brilliant game. Both teams will attack, but Germany is just a little too deep.
Nigeria 2, Iran 0
Iran will play hard but don’t have enough experience or preparation time to trouble Nigeria.
Ghana 2, United States 1
Ghana was close to the semifinals in 2010 and they have gotten better. Watch out for them.