Sunday 20 June 2010

World Cup Shock Shocker

What a weird World Cup so far huh?  There's never usually shocks in the opening rounds is there?  Well y'know apart from that time England lost to the USA in the 50's, that time North Korea beat Italy in '66 and Scotland beating Holland in that other World Cup of '78.

Ok I'm being sarcastic.  I'll concede that there have been some odd results but I'm not sure you can't argue that the performances haven't merited them.  The big European nations in particular are doing their best to make a mockery of how 'great' they are by being as mediocre as possible.  England, France, Italy and Germany have all been exceptionally poor so far although all can still progress and we've yet to see Spain's response to their opening match defeat.

The South American sides (Brazil playing as I type) have looked the most comfortable with the new ball with Argentina playing with real authority.  Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay are all playing far better football than all of their European counter parts with the possible exception of the Netherlands.

Maybe the best European players should sod off to South America for four years and relearn how to play the beautiful game.

The African nations have also struggled a bit but Ghana should get through, possibly at the expense of the Germans.

Actually though you can see the majority of the big European sides still making it to the next round but there are going to be at least two big casualties and sadly you can see England being one of them if Capello doesn't start trying to change the system or ditch it altogether.

For me that's been the biggest problem of this World Cup.  Screw the ball thing, it's about 'the system'.  The one side that look like they are out there enjoying and expressing themselves are Argentina because the chances are their manager doesn't give a stuff about a system.  Maradona understands that great players will thrive if you let them off a leash.  So many sides these days are restricted by tactics, Liverpool have been hamstrung by Benitez's for years, but the teams from New Zealand, South Korea and Serbia are relying on something else.  Sure they're organised but the key thing is spirit and belief.  If you have a system and one player doesn't agree with it, or is a dissenting voice over tactics in the dressing room, the doubts are going to surface in others.  It's ok to be organised, to give players a role when you don't have the ball, but when you do, let them go and do their thing.  You play someone like Gerrard on the left and you fuck with your team.  He doesn't believe he can influence a game from there and nor does anyone else in the team.  So he drifts to the centre and the balance of the team is screwed.  No one believes in Heskey.  Having a player who's only ability is to hold the ball up is utterly pointless and easy to nullify.  It's not just England who are suffering from a stubborn manager sticking to a system that isn't working, France and Italy have also failed to have a plan B.

New Zealand played to a system today during their battling draw with Italy but you can guarantee that every single one of them believed in the one they were using.  

Back in the early 80s Brazil took the knock of going out of a World Cup to Italy, losing a game they could afford to draw and blended their football to a European style but kept their flair.  European football at the highest level has got so obsessed with having a system that the best players are looking stifled and frustrated because having a system that's so rigid it denies expression is ruining the game.

Spain may turn things around in the best way.  They and that core of players from Barcelona played well in that opening game defeat to Switzerland and they are Europe's big hope because they are all about expression within a system that allows flexibility.  The problem is that the very best manager at organising his teams within a rigid system is Mourinho.  His teams aren't the best to watch but they are incredibly successful.  But what Mourinho gives a side beyond anything else is belief.  The Inter side that won the European Cup isn't the greatest side from last year, that was Barca.  But he instils such confidence in his sides, casts out the doubt with his personality, so that his players all follow him without question.  That semi final defeat of the beautiful Barca is a signpost that no one seems to want to ignore.  System over expression.  System over expression.  And repeat.  That if it works for Jose then it must work for us.  The trouble is without Jose at the helm, without a character strong enough to take any possible dissenting voice with him you are fucked.  And that's England, Italy, Germany and France right now.  All filled with doubt, all struggling to find unity.  All potentially fucked and heading out of the tournament.

A side like New Zealand are always going to have to play in a disciplined way but because each and every one of that team believe in their coach they've produced one of the great shocks today and it could have been even worse for Italy.  I really wish it had been.

I hope the World Cup, if England do get knocked out, is won by one of the three sides that are capable of cutting lose and just playing with freedom.  Brazil, Argentina or Spain.  Let that be a signpost that the beautiful game can still be won by a team playing the game as it's meant to be played.

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