Archives for posts with tag: World Cup 2010

Prior to the start of the World Cup there was much expected of the competing African nations, the likes of Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Cameroon and Ghana all thought to be capable of reaching the latter stages, if not going on to become the continent’s first world champions.

However, this was an exceptionally poor tournament for the CAF representatives in South Africa, Ghana the only team to progress beyond the group phase, eventually reaching the last eight and coming within a crossbar’s width of being the first African team to ever reach the semi-finals.

But the Black Stars’ relative success must not be allowed to mask the wider failures of the African sides at the World Cup and, now that the dust has settled and the vuvuzelas fallen silent following the conclusion of the tournament, their performances should be judged with a greater objectivity.

In my opinion, if there is one lesson that should be learned from the negative experiences of the majority of the CAF nations at the World Cup, it is that African football associations should not be so hasty in their managerial appointments nor so keen to employ “big-name” European coaches in the short-term at the expense of both general stability and the prospects of suitable candidates from their own countries.

Prior to the tournament both Nigeria and Ivory Coast dismissed the coaches that had overseen the qualification process to replace them with Lars Lagerback and Sven-Goran Eriksson respectively, Scandinavian managers with significant top-level experience. However, in the case of the Super Eagles the outgoing manager, Shaibu Amodu, was himself a Nigerian – something that has been all too rare in African football in recent decades – and had been widely praised for the work he had done in negotiating the qualifying phase during what was his fourth spell in charge of the national team.

Amodu’s dismissal and subsequent demotion to his current position as coach of the Nigerian “B” team following a more than respectable third-place finish at the Africa Cup of Nations in January was both a brutal and cynical action by the Nigerian Football Association. His removal not only exposed the NFA as a deeply hypocritical and base institution, it also revealed the underlying insecurity that blights football in a host of African countries, namely that they feel somehow “lesser” if their national team is not managed by a coach with at least a modicum of success in either Europe or South America.

The hiring of Lagerback and Eriksson were mere trophy appointments by football associations obsessed with the pursuit of image and reputation over the construction of a balanced environment within which a settled and group of players can grow. Their obscene wages on pitifully short contracts represent wasted money which could so easily have been ploughed into national coaching development programmes or grass-roots academies as have been established in Ghana to good effect. This current system is evidently unsustainable, an ugly form of neo-colonialism that is, albeit inadvertently, damaging the African game.

Carlos Alberto Parreira’s time in charge of South Africa had a similar feel to it, the Brazilian replacing Kagiso-born coach Pitso Mosimane in 2007 before departing for Fluminense after a year in charge only to return in 2009 to to guide the Bafana Bafana through this summer’s tournament. Such actions constantly undermine the position and reputation of African coaches in the game and, although the wish for more experienced managers is understandable, are surely stunting the production of talented and informed coaching staff across the continent.

Indeed, Cameroon, traditionally more willing to give home-grown managers a chance with the national team, are also not free from blame this time around. The Federation Camerounaise de Football’s appointment of Paul Le Guen smacked of the same chronic short-termism, although, in the interests of balance, the Frenchman did salvage the Indomitable Lions’ qualifying campaign and begin to introduce more young players into the national set-up before resigning after their exit from World Cup.

As Milovan Rajevac showed with Ghana in South Africa, a foreign coach can work effectively with African teams given the right circumstances, but that coach must be willing to involve themselves in the culture of their adopted country, be thorough in their research and scouting methods and, most importantly, be given time to build a project and fashion an efficient team model from the materials available to them over a number of years.

Perhaps the best example of sensible administration of the game at the top-level in the continent is that of Egypt, a country that has demonstrated how rewards can be reaped if home-grown managers are shown patience and allowed to grow into their role. Hassan Shehata has now been in charge of The Pharaohs since 2004 and has guided the team to three consecutive Africa Cup of Nations titles. Success can be achieved with local coaches and a degree of application, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast take note.

Short-term, quick-fix appointments will only ever hold African nations back and deprive the continent of genuinely competitive teams and fail to produce home-grown coaches with the ability to do such high-profile jobs.

The nationality of the coach is an issue, but it is not the main one, the lack of a coherent strategy from the top down in so many of Africa’s major footballing nations being the more pressing concern. If the likes of the Nigerian and Ivorian FAs don’t take this lesson on board and start to lay the foundations required to achieve their long-term ambitions then it is unlikely that their fortunes at the highest level will change any time soon.

It seems to be a sort of tradition for bloggers to put together a “best eleven” at the conclusion of any major tournament or competition, so, for my last piece of World Cup coverage before the re-focusing on club football begins, I thought I’d follow suit.

The Equaliser’s “Best XI” (4-2-3-1)

Manuel Neuer (Germany)

In a tournament short of top class goalkeeping Manuel Neuer came to the fore with a series of calm performances under pressure, displays that belied his relative inexperience at senior international level.

The 21 year-old Schalke ‘keeper looks to have made the German number one shirt his own after a period of disruption in the position and clearly has a long and successful career ahead of him.

Honourable mention: Eduardo (Portugal)

Sergio Ramos (Spain)

Both Sergio Ramos and Philipp Lahm have impressed at right-back for their respective countries in South Africa, but in my opinion the Spaniard has given his team far more of an attacking edge than the German captain.

Often criticised for a lack of awareness in defence, we have seen a more mature Ramos during the World Cup, a player who has combined the fulfilment of his defensive duties with a greater intelligence and dynamism in his forward movement.

Honourable mention: Philipp Lahm (Germany)

Ryan Nelsen (New Zealand)

Of all the teams at the World Cup few performed more impressively than New Zealand, Ricki Herbert’s rank outsiders emerging unbeaten from a group including Italy, Paraguay and Slovakia, only narrowly missing out on a place in the last 16. At the heart of this trio of impressive Kiwi performances was Ryan Nelsen, the proverbial rock at the centre of his team’s defence.

With the All Whites conceding just two goals in their three games, the Blackburn Rovers player impressively marshalled those around him and was exemplary in his distribution and accuracy of passing. An underrated but stand-out performer in South Africa.

Honourable mention: Ricardo Carvalho (Portugal)

Juan (Brazil)

Often overshadowed by the more gung-ho Lucio at the heart of the Brazilian defence, Juan was arguably the better of the pair in South Africa.

Demonstrating an impressive passing ability and a comfort in possession to complement the strong physical side to his game, the Roma centre-half was, in statistical terms, one of the most active and successful defenders in a tournament that was disappointingly bereft of top-class centre-back performances.

Honourable mention: Carles Puyol (Spain)

Carlos Salcido (Mexico)

With marauding full-backs key to Mexico’s adventurous 3-4-3 system, Carlos Salcido, the team’s left wing-back, was a crucial player in both his country’s attacking and defensive strategies.

Showing incredible levels of stamina and great intelligence in his movement, Salcido bombed up and down the left side to good effect in all of El Tri’s games and has established himself as one of the game’s most energetic and dangerous full-backs in the process.

Honourable mention: Fabio Coentrao (Portugal)

Sergio Busquets (Spain)

This was the tournament of the defensive midfielder and few shone more brightly than Spain and Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets. At just 21 years-old there were fears that Busquets would have his inexperienced exposed in South Africa, but the midfield anchorman handled the pressure and expectation admirably, producing an excellent consistency of performance throughout.

Expert in his ability to break up opposition attacks and retain possession for his own team, Busquets is – despite what some may say about his temperament – developing into one of the game’s finest deep-lying midfielders.

Honourable mention: Sami Khedira (Germany)

Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany)

Having transformed himself from a temperamental winger to an intelligent and mature defensive midfielder in recent seasons, Bastian Schweinsteiger proved in South Africa that he can rightfully be considered as one of the world’s best in his adopted position.

The pinnacle of his tournament came in Germany’s quarter-final against Argentina, simultaneously shackling Lionel Messi and acting as the creative hub of Jogi Low’s side, finding the time and space to pick out some wonderfully incisive passes. The Bayern Munich player continues to go from strength to strength.

Honourable mention: Raul Meireles (Portugal)

Thomas Muller (Germany)

Considering that he is just 20 years-old and had only represented his country twice before travelling to South Africa, Thomas Muller’s form during the World Cup was simply astonishing.

Claiming both the Golden Boot and the Young Player of the Tournament awards is no more than the Bayern Munich man deserved, his skill and quickness of both thought and movement – particularly on the break – one of the key features of what was an excellent German side.

Honourable mention: Arjen Robben (Netherlands)

Andres Iniesta (Spain)

Andres Iniesta has been one of the European game’s most sublime players for several years now and in South Africa he translated his excellent form onto the highest level of the all.

In a team filled with superstars it was Iniesta (and David Villa) who shone the brightest, epitomising the pass-and-move ethos around which Vicente Del Bosque’s team are built. To score the winning goal in the final was a wonderful moment for a player that has thrilled audiences around the world for so many seasons.

Honourable mention: Mesut Ozil (Germany)

David Villa (Spain)

For several years now David Villa has been arguably the world’s best striker and he further cemented his excellent reputation this summer by firing Spain to the final with five goals that showcased his almost unrivalled pace and finishing ability.

Playing the majority of the games on the left side, the new Barcelona signing enjoyed the space and freedom afforded to him on the flank, cutting inside to good effect and acting as Spain’s major attacking spark and goalscoring threat. Seeing him link up with Pedro, Messi, Xavi and Iniesta on a regular basis at the Camp Nou next season promises to be spectacular.

Honourable mention: Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Diego Forlan (Uruguay)

The deserved recipient of the FIFA Golden Ball, Diego Forlan was simply electric during his team’s run to the semi-finals.

Spearheading Uruguay’s attack from roles as both a centre-forward and, at times, a deep-lying playmaker, the Atletico Madrid forward provided five goals and an assist for La Celeste as Oscar Tabarez’s side exceeded all expectations to reach the last four. For his prowess in front of goal and for lifting the level of the players around him, Forlan is more than deserving of a place in any team of the World Cup.

Honourable mention: Luis Suarez (Uruguay)

The XI in full

Spain 1 Netherlands 0

Spain: Casillas; Ramos, Pique, Puyol, Capdevila; Busquets, Alonso (Fabregas 87); Iniesta, Xavi, Pedro (Navas 60); Villa (Torres 105)

Netherlands: Stekelenberg; Van Der Wiel, Heitinga, Mathijsen, Van Bronckhorst (Braafheid 105); De Jong (Van der Vaart 99), Van Bommel; Robben, Sneijder, Kuyt (Elia 70); Van Persie

So, the curtain has fallen on the 2010 World Cup and Spain, almost certainly the best footballing side in the competition, have claimed the first world title in their long and rich history. They did it with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over the Netherlands in Johannesburg, overcoming some robust, occasionally brutal, Dutch defending which threatened to disrupt the smooth pass-and-move game that Del Bosque’s side played throughout the tournament.

Combined with their European Championships title in 2008, tonight’s historic victory must surely add further weight to the argument that this group of players should be considered as one of the greatest international teams of all time. This was a triumph four years in the making.

Teams as anticipated

Both teams were set up in nominal 4-2-3-1 systems, the Netherlands in their “broken” formation with the clear distinction between those players designated to attack and those to defend, whilst the Spanish again adopted their fluid but narrow shape, relying on the overlapping runs of Sergio Ramos and, to a lesser extent, Joan Capdevila for width from full-back.

Vicente Del Bosque, as was widely anticipated, again omitted Fernando Torres from an otherwise very predictable starting eleven, preferring Pedro on the left flank where he switched wings with Andres Iniesta regularly as we saw in the semi-final against Germany. Bert van Marwijk was also able to select his team from a full complement of players, choosing what has come to be seen as his best side with Gregory van der Wiel and Nigel de Jong returning from suspension to slot back into the line-up.

A stylistic clash

Much of the talk before the match had centred around how this final was a clash of two very different styles, a pragmatic Dutch side facing the “Tiki-Taka” of the Spanish with the Dutch “Total Football” legacy of the 1970s being echoed in the approach of Del Bosque’s players. Indeed, this stylistic clash did come to pass, but not necessarily in the form it had been anticipated.

From the very start the Netherlands looked to get to Spain using physicality and aggression that spilled over into recklessness all too often. Of course, Van Marwijk cannot be blamed for trying to disrupt the Spanish passing game, something that his side did very effectively for sustained periods of the game, but their methods were at times very dubious. Cynical challenges from the likes of Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong seemingly targeted the creative players in the Spain midfield and disjointed what little flow the game had managed to gather in the early stages.

Change of personnel, change of tempo

With the game a largely scrappy affair, it was to the coaches’ credit that they tried to open the game up by introducing extra width and pace to their attacks. Del Bosque was the first to make a change, bringing Jesus Navas on for Pedro on the hour before van Marwijk followed suit by replacing Dirk Kuyt with Hamburg winger Eljero Elia in an attempt to get in behind Sergio Ramos and force the Real Madrid defender into a much deeper position to negate his significant attacking threat.

The changes served to increase the general tempo of the match and saw chances created with a greater regularity as the Dutch threatened to snatch victory, going remarkably close to taking the lead on a number of occasions as they broke with greater efficiency as the game progressed.

However, Spain had unquestionably been the better side throughout from a technical perspective and pressed even harder for the win during extra-time. When John Heitinga was dismissed with just ten minutes to go the game had a feeling of inevitability about it, Andres Iniesta’s excellent strike four minutes from time earning his team a well-deserved victory in the face of what had been a hostile performance from the Dutch.

World football’s new superpower

Make no mistake about it, this was far from being one of the classic World Cup finals, but it is significant in that it gives resounding vindication to the Spanish style of play and now places this team amongst the greatest the game has seen. It may not be fashionable to classify contemporary teams alongside past greats but, when you consider their performances over the last three or four years, this group of players deserve all the plaudits they will undoubtedly receive from around the globe.

World football has a new superpower, a confident, technically brilliant Spanish team that will look to retain its European crown in two years time and could still be together when the World Cup heads to Brazil in 2014. There could be much more to come from La Furia Roja yet.

Not only will the 2010 World Cup be contested between two countries that have never before won football’s most prestigious title, it is also a match involving two footballing cultures that have historically heavily influenced the sport and impressed with quick passing, intelligent movement and a willful adherence to an aesthetic, possession-based form of the game.

From the ‘Total Football’ of the 1970s through to the intricate ‘Tiki-Taka’ of the current Spanish side, Sunday’s showdown in Soccer City truly is a clash of two of football’s most tactically important nations.

Oranje – The class of 2010

Probable Dutch XI

Away from the history and back into the present, Bert van Marwijk’s relatively pragmatic Dutch team cannot be defined in terms of their illustrious predecessors but have impressed in South Africa with sound defensive organisation and a cohesive team ethic.

This ethos around which the current Oranje are built integrates the individual excellence of players such as Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder into an effective team framework, resulting in a well-balanced team comprising of players whose abilities complement each other to good effect.

Having been set up in a 4-2-3-1 by van Marwijk throughout the tournament, the Dutch system is, as Jonathan Wilson has pointed out, a “broken” one in the sense that there is a clear divide between those players designated to attack and those to defend.

In the Dutch team there is a clear 6/4 division amongst the outfield players, a system that, although perhaps not conducive to the most flowing football, is relatively simple to implement and gives players clear and compartmentalised roles to perform without having to spend too much time ingraining them on the training ground in the fast-moving environment of tournament football.

The Netherlands’ coaching staff should have a full complement of players to choose from ahead of tomorrow’s showpiece, with Nigel de Jong and Gregory van der Wiel back from the suspensions that kept them out of the semi-final.

The only doubt is over the fitness of Demy de Zeeuw who reportedly damaged his teeth after being accidentally kicked in the face against Uruguay, although the Ajax midfielder is unlikely to start in any case.

Del Bosque, Spain and ‘Tiki-Taka’

To move on to the Spanish, Vicente Del Bosque’s side also deployed a 4-2-3-1 for the majority of their games, with Fernando Torres as the lone striker and David Villa on the left flank up until the semi-final when Torres was dropped and replaced by Barcelona’s Pedro, Villa being shifted to the centre-forward role.

Football Fans Know Better

Probable Spain XI

In the advanced areas of the pitch this 4-2-3-1 essentially becomes a 4-2-1-3, the wide players advancing beyond Xavi – the team’s creative hub – to quickly construct a more numerous and potent attacking unit.

As Spain have shown on countless occasions over the last four years, ‘Tiki-Taka’ is not rigidly bound by nominal formations, instead the forward players drift into the most threatening areas, positioning themselves where they can pick the opposition apart with the least resistance.

They may not score huge amounts of goals, but Del Bosque’s team wear their opponents down through sheer weight of possession, defending as much by keeping the ball as through more “traditional” methods.

This dominance of the ball is something which strongly echoes the practice and philosophy of Dutch “Total Football” (as well as Pep Guardiola’s current Barcelona side), an outclassing of opponents through the sheer technical superiority of a team that only comes along once a generation and something which gives tomorrow’s final an added level of intrigue.

Del Bosque has few injury problems to deal with ahead of tomorrow’s final – Cesc Fabregas seemingly having overcome the leg injury that forced him out of the tie with Germany – but must decide whether to continue to play Pedro ahead of Torres or draft the Liverpool striker back into the starting eleven, something which could well prove to be a pivotal decision.

A chance to make history

Whichever combinations of personnel are selected by van Marwijk and Del Bosque tomorrow night, the big game in Soccer City looks set to be an engaging encounter.

Two teams that have consistently impressed and yet serially underachieved in World Cups over the years, one of Spain or the Netherlands will finally overcome their misfortune at this level to permanently write their names into footballing history. This will be a battle of two different interpretations of 4-2-3-1, the system that has defined this World Cup, as well as a direct confrontation between the new Dutch pragmatism and the Spanish possession game, with a victory for the latter having the potential to put their style of play on the same much-vaunted pedestal as Total Football.

Del Bosque’s team rightly go into the game as favourites but, as Jose Mourinho showed with Inter last season, organisation and discipline is more than capable of overcoming systems reliant of territory and possession. This promises to be a fascinating final.

Bougherra - a surprise leader?

Another rest day, another list. With the merits of defenders not always reflected in statistics, it can be difficult to come to a conclusion as to just who have been the “best” defenders during this World Cup.

With a little help from Castrol and FIFA I’ve looked at the figures for tackling, clearances and balls recovered in an attempt to draw up a list of the ten “best” defenders that we’ve seen over the last month. By adding the stats together and dividing the number of minutes each player played by that total, a figure was produced which reflects the amount of successful defensive activity each defender was involved in.

This is how it turned out:

Player / Tackles / Clearances / Balls Recovered / Minutes Played / Score

(The lower the score the better)

1. Madjid Bougherra (Algeria) 8 / 9 / 10 / 270 / 10

= Stephane Grichting (Switzerland) 8 / 11 / 8 / 270 / 10

3. Juan (Brazil) 11 / 9 / 8 / 450 / 16.07

4. Fabio Coentrao (Portugal) 7 / 9 / 5 / 360 / 17.14

5. Joris Mathijsen (Netherlands) 7 / 11 / 8 / 450 / 17.30

6. Jorge Fucile (Uruguay) 9 / 5 / 6 / 371 / 18.55

7. Jay DeMerit (USA) 6 / 11 / 4 / 390 / 18.57

8. Lee Young Pyo (South Korea) 2 / 11 / 6 / 360 / 18.94

9. Alvaro Pereira (Uruguay) 8 / 5 / 7 / 409 / 20.45

10. Lucio (Brazil) 7 / 9 / 5 / 450 / 21.42

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