It was interesting to hear Gareth Southgate once again putting the boot in on his old coach Sven Goran Eriksson before, during and after the Ivory Coast’s game against Portugal. The old ”what we needed was Winston Churchill, what we got was Iain Duncan Smith” quote even came out. It was a pity his criticism had nothing to do with what was going on out on the field.
When Sven took over the Ivorians two and a half months ago, everyone was aware they had big European names and could be dark horses at the World Cup despite a tough group. This theory did seem to ignore their efforts at the African Cup of Nations earlier this year however. The Ivorians were disorganised and appeared extremely vulnerable. They were defeated by Algeria in the quarter finals 3-2 a.e.t. and at times it was woeful…
The picture above is from that Algeria game. A regulation cross from deep sees the Ivorian defenders facing four Algerian attackers. It may seem simplistic but contrast that with the way they got players back against Portugal.
The Ivory Coast have nine outfield players on the edge of their own area, denying Cristiano Ronaldo space to work in. After a bit of magic early on, Ronaldo found it tough to find a way through the wall of Ivorians and, above, it is easy to see why.
Sven also had numbers back for setplays – the picture below shows all 11 of the Ivorian team back for a free-kick in the 73rd minute:
In the later stages of the game, with Drogba on the field, the Ivorians finished much the stronger and were able to get men in the box to support him in creating several openings. However, things were far from reckless. In the 88th minute, again all 11 of the Ivorians were back behind the ball, this time in open play:
Here we see the line of four, followed by a line of five with even the forward working hard to close down the ball.
Svens’ team, therefore, has shown their discipline and organisation in the opening game and this was probably the key element against Portugal. Giving Ronaldo space would have been disastrous and defeat would most likely have meant elimination. Similar efforts will be required against Brazil next up and with Drogba likely to start, Eriksson has at least given his charges every chance of success in South Africa.
Ghostgoal recently highlighted the advantages Ghana enjoyed over Serbia by employing a 4-2-3-1 against a 4-4-2. The Serbs never gained control of the midfield and were unable to get support up to the strikers. Italy’s game against Paraguay last night then was probably a timely reminder that, if it suits your players, 4-4-2 can be still be the way to go. Especially when 4-2-3-1 clearly does not suit your players…
Italy lined up at kick-off as follows:
The problem they had was Claudio Marchisio playing in a more advanced role than he was used to for his club,Juventus. Lippi had planned to use Andrea Pirlo, another player now used to playing a deeper role, but with Pirlo injured chose to ask Marchisio to operate in an advanced playmaker role. Unfortunately, Marchisio found himseld playing unambitious passes and generally duplicating the work of Montolivo - a far cry from the hard-running and creative display we had seen from Mesut Ozil in the role the previous evening.
In the above picture you can see Marchisio marked by the Paraguayan midfielder with De Rossi and Montolivo not even in the picture and this was indicative of the lack of support the Italians were able to get to Gilardino. On the hour mark Lippi brought the young Bianconeri midfielder off and replaced him with the experienced winger Mauro Camoranesi who operated on the right-flank, with Pepe switching to the left and Iaquinta moved up front where he is more comfortable. The new shape favoured Italy as they understandably stepped up a gear in search of the equaliser and subsequently the win:
This picture also highlights the high defensive line Italy were playing as they pressed the ball and tried to make the pitch small when out of possession. Montolivo and De Rossi are pressing onto the Paraguay midfield in a manner they clearly were not doing in the earlier image and this attempt to institute a high tempo game resulted in an improved performance.
With Ghana and Germany recently earning praise for their performances in a 4-2-3-1 it was fast becoming the formation of the World Cup, at least partly responsible for the low-scoring thus far. Italy’s performance though, served as a reminder that playing players out of position in order to fit the formation can be counter-productive. It will be fascinating to see how Lippi lines his side up for the remainder of the tournament.
So that’s their first games underway – Raymond and Diego are up and running.
These are the two coaches that are supposed to provide the entertainment this tournament – wild maniacs who are liable to emotional breakdowns and erratic decisions – and admittedly Diego certainly caught the eye on the touchline. However, 180 minutes in and their sides have conceded only a handful of chances let alone a goal. Proof perhaps that their team selections are not the work of a pair of unhinged individuals?
Well of course they’re not. Raymond Domenech took France all the way to the World Cup Final last time around and after spending much of the warm-up games flirting with an ambitious 4-3-3 with Malouda and Gourcuff in midfield he reverted to a more conservative 4-2-3-1 for the game against Uruguay. This was most likely the formation he had in his mind for much of the build-up – Diarra would have played in Diaby’s place but for injury – and it certainly made sense to go with it up against Uruguay. 3-5-2 vs 4-2-3-1. Not that you would have known it by the reaction of the BBC pundits and, if the rumours of dissention in the ranks are true, his own players. In truth, getting Govou and Ribery at the wing-backs meant Uruguay were forced into virtually playing with five at the back, restricted to relying on Forland and Suarez to conjure something from nothing. The back four looked comfortable and Toulalan & Diaby gave the front four a decent platform to play from. Sadly for Domenech, Gourcuff, Govou, Anelka and even Ribery were just very poor on the night.
Maradona’s sprang a slight surprise with his team selection opting for Jonas Gutierrez at right-back and asking Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain to share duties covering back on the right-wing. It was an attacking line-up and was only a qualified success – Gutierrez was caught out a couple of times early on – but Argentina eventually came through by an unflattering 1-0 margin. Messi and Veron controlling the game with ease for long spells.
Perhaps the key difference between the two at this early stage appears to be the way they have or, in Domenech’s case at least, have not been able to foster a team spirit. For all the talk of Maradona’s crazy behaviour he appears to have the full support of his squad, who seem to adore him. He is quoted as saying he would die for the players and has fostered strong bonds with them. Perhaps it was this that the experienced Zanetti and Cambiasso were unable to buy into? Domenech on the other hand appears more than ever to be at the mercy of his players with disharmony reigning supreme. In summary, there is a case for saying Domenech got his formation tactically right and Maradona’s selection left his side vulnerable… but spirit is every bit as important as tactics and it is this that means the French are the ones to worry about at this stage.
Ghostgoal expressed doubts recently whether Serbia ‘s 4-4-2 would be able to deal with a Group D where each of the other three sides play a robust 4-2-3-1. As it turns out, they have slipped up at the first hurdle with a deserved defeat at the hands of Ghana.
Milijas and Stankovic found themselves up against the far more mobile Boateng and Asamoah in midfield and the Ghanaian pair were willing and able to push on in support of Gyan given that they had the insurance of Annan covering in front of the back four. With Tagoe, in particular, also comfortable cutting infield and exploiting the gaps behind the deathly slow Milijas it was a tough lesson for the Serbs.
What was a little surprising was the lack of impact Krasic was able to have on the Serbian right-flank. Jovanovic had his moments on the left but Krasic struggled to get into the game. Perhaps he was caught between two roles*: conscious of the problems in the Serbian midfield he was unable to push on with freedom and instead frequently found himself receiving the ball infield and running into bodies. Indeed, this was a big part of Serbia’s difficulties. It quickly became apparent that they lacked the mobility and shape to have any hope of passing their way through the Ghanaians with Annan in particular blocking routes forward and easy passes into Zigic’s feet. Instead, Stankovic resorted to hitting regular long diagonal passes that brought little joy.
Going forward it is difficult to be optimistic about their chances of improvement unless Antic reviews their entire shape for the next match against Germany. As discussed previously, Mesut Ozil and Tim Cahill will both operate between the Serbian lines of four and it would makes sense to bring in Kacar as a holding player and get Stankovic and Milijas involved further up field. One thing is for sure, it’s make or break time now if they are to avoid a tournament characterised by under-achievement.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat and day one of the World Cup showed that there is also more than one way to play a back three.
Mexico and Uruguay both wake up this morning unbeaten in their opening games and both can count themselves a little fortunate. Mexico dominated possession against the hosts South Africa but were only spared defeat by the woodwork in the final minute. Uruguay, down to ten men for the last ten minutes of the ninety, were forced to survive the only thing that passed for an onslaught in their tepid encounter with France. Both Mexico and Uruguay operated with what was nominally a back three. And yet, what was noticable was just how differently the two sides interpreted this system.
Mexico’s system is hard to pin down to a single notation and ITV were happy to describe it as a back four, although this seems to betray the evidence of our own eyes. The tactics guru Zonal Marking has described it as a 3-4-3 and this seems to me a more accurate notation for how the Mexicans lined up. The so called right full-back Aguilar was often one of their most advanced players on the pitch while Rafael Marquez could regularly be found sitting in between his two centre-backs when his side had possession as they spread wider to receive the ball. This was key to the fluidity of the Mexico system and allowed them to control the majority of the game with so many options for team-mates to pick a pass.
Uruguay also showcased their interpretation of three at the back against France later in the evening, although it was to prove an altogether more staid affair. The rigid Uruguayan 3-5-2 ran into, tactically at least, the very formation that has seen it diminish as a viable option in much of Europe. Namely, the 4-5-1. With Anelka operating on his own up front and Ribery & Govou keen to support from wide, the 3-5-2 is presented with a challenge: asking the right and left centre-backs to pick them up leaves you dangerously short at the back 3 vs 3 and vulnerable to midfield runners, but asking the wing-backs to pick them up makes your system worryingly close to a flat back five. After some early Ribery forays down the left, the Pereiras were pinned back and Uruguay were largely nullified as an attacking threat, restricted to hoping their strike-force of Forlan and Suarez could nick something on the break. It was a situation Tabarez appeared comfortable with and this is clear from the substitutions he made. All three changes, even after the sending off of Lodeiro, were like-for-like changes – suggesting there was no need to alter the system as his side, whether it be 3-5-2 or 3-4-2, were set-up to defend their point even with ten men.
Mexico, on the other hand, were asking all the right questions going the other way. A major reason for this is that central question posed above – is the winger in a 4-2-3-1 to be picked up by the wing-back or the wide centre-back. Such was Mexico’s confidence in possession, they were comfortable to push the wing-backs on when they had the ball. This was where the difference in what was going on in front of them became key. Whilst the Pereiras for Uruguay would be faced by the French full-backs if they advanced, Salcido and Aguilar of Mexico were met by open space because the South African full-backs were already occupied by Giovani and Vela – the advantage of 3-4-3 over 3-5-2. Tshabalala in particular seemed all at sea defensively as he was unsure whether to close down Aguilar or pass him on to his full-back, Thwala. More often than not he let him roam and Aguilar proved the Mexican outlet of the first forty-five.
Mexico’s problem, and a problem Uruguay rarely had, was getting caught out with those wing-backs high up the field. The reasons for this were manifold and both the speed of the South African counter-attacks and the lack of pace in the Mexican defence were certainly factors. It was also significant though that Marquez was keen to get in and around Pienaar and when this was coupled with Aguilar pushing on, the first goal of the World Cup provides a clearcut example of the dangers this brings. With Marquez sweeping in front rather than behind, and Aguilar leaving spaces out wide, Tshabalala was able to take advantage of the gap down the channels to score. It was a gap that Uruguay’s more defensive-minded back three never looked likely to allow.
The use of the back three always had the potential to be a major tactical talking point in this World Cup. However, few could have expected two sides to showcase it’s strengths and weaknesses, both defensively and offensively, all in the first few hours of the tournament.
Technically 2010 is Serbia’s first time at the World Cup. New country, new beginnings? Well sort of. We can still use the past to help understand what may happen in the future, as Jonathan Wilson so brilliantly alludes to in Behind The Curtain:
”[Serbia:] self-doubt suppressing imagination and bringing to the surface the cynicism that has always underlain the technical excellence. Self-doubt, in fact, is the defining characteristic of Serbian football: they are Europe’s most consistent chokers.”
It is a tag that has been well earned. Admittedly, as part of the former Yugoslavia, there was the 1960 Olympic triumph followed in 1991 by Red Star Belgrade lifting the European Cup. However, these achievements come amidst three Olympic silver medals, two European Championship final defeats and two World Cup semi-final defeats. Throw in a European final defeat each for both Partizan and Red Star and, yes, Serbia arrive in South Africa with a long history of unfulfilled promise.
Three of the current squad remain from last time around in 2006 where the Serbs formed the dominant part of the Serbia & Montenegro side. Qualification had gone remarkably well as they remained unbeaten, topping a group that included Spain. That outfit bowed out of the World Cup at the group stage losing all three games, most famously being on the receiving end of the biggest beating, and the best goal, of the tournament. Amid claims of squad disharmony, a World Cup which they had every right to go into with confidence and belief (some even called them dark horses) had ended in abject failure.
So what about this time around? Well, just like four years ago, the Serbians enter the tournament on the back of an impressive qualifying campaign. On this occasion, France were beaten into second place. A 5-0 home victory over Romania was perhaps the highlight as Raddy Antic’s side showcased the variety of different threats they can offer.
The final two goals that night came courtesy of Milan Jovanovic operating from the left-wing. Still in the Belgian Jupiter League at the age of 29, Jovanovic could be considered something of a late developer. However, with a move to Liverpool now sealed, there is every reason to think big things lie ahead for him and this summer could be the moment he announces himself on the world stage. On the opposite flank, Milos Krasic is many people’s tip to be the breakthrough star of the tournament. The £15m rated talent is attracting interest from Europe’s finest and it is not just his appearance that sees him compared to the former Czech midfielder Pavel Nedved – he has good work-rate, is comfortable with both feet and is capable of playing anywhere across the midfield.
In the centre of midfield, Serbia are blessed with an interesting blend. The skipper Dejan Stankovic, fresh from the treble with Inter, will provide a sound platform for Serbia to play from, working in tandem with the more mercurial talents of the left-footed Nenad Milijas. Milijas has enjoyed contrasting fortunes following an underwhelming first season in English football with Wolves. However, their neat and tidy partnership at the heart of midfield was a key element of a successful campaign.
Up front, newly signed 6′ 8” Birmingham forward Nikola Zigic will, as ever, partner Marko Pantelic in the Serbian forward line. Once again, Antic has complementary styles at his disposal with Zigic’s hold up play and aerial threat combining with Pantelic’s runs in behind the defence. The pair managed only 4 goals in qualifying though, so despite packing a goal threat from midfield, there will be concerns about a lack of firepower.
In defence, Serbia can count upon two men who need no introduction as Nemanja Vidic and Branko Ivanovic have both featured in recent Premiership Team of the Season XI’s. They will join Lukovic and the highly-rated young Lazio left-back Kolarov in playing in front of Stojkovic, meaning Serbia will most likely line up as follows:
As you can see, it is a fairly balanced 4-4-2 that has seen them through qualifying. There was a shift to 4-5-1 for the home draw against France but if Zigic & Pantelic are both fit then they are likely to stick to this shape through the group games at least. This could be their biggest weakness as well as their great strength as they face, in order, Ghana, Germany and Australia. All three opponents could line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation that would threaten to dominate Serbia in the middle of the park. Stankovic is clearly an astute and vastly experienced footballer but alongside him Milijas is no Esteban Cambiasso so protection for the back four will be a concern.
Injuries to Michaels Ballack & Essien mean their major group rivals will both enter the tournament without their inspirational leaders, while Australia appear unimpressive. It is all there for Serbia to deliver on the big stage. And yet, predictably, the cracks have started to show – a 1-0 defeat to New Zealand in the warm-up games is bound to set alarm bells ringing. Time will tell whether this is to be a beautiful new dawn for Serbian football… or just another tale of woe from ‘Europe’s most consistent chokers’.
It is one of the most iconic football photographs of all time, an image that sums up the power Maradona held over mere mortals during his career, photographic evidence that one man is capable of single-handedly lifting an entire nation to World Cup glory. But in this age of football pragmatism, where we bestow the title of ‘Special One’ to the most negative coach in a generation, it seems as good a time as any to ask, what in God’s name were the Belgian defenders doing?
From a tactical point of view I think we can see that number six, Franky Vercauteren, is looking to track back and support his full back. From his position he’s trying to steer Maradona down the line and prevent him from coming aside and hurting them (as he did to the Belgians 4 years later). It is also possible to justify the position of the the follicly supreme number 10 Ludo Coeck, who is cutting off a route inside for Maradona. After that it is quite clear that tactics, formation and indeed common sense have gone out the window, they’ve all been replaced with the blind fear that only the great players can inspire in an opposition team.
This photo demonstrates perfectly a secondary effect that having a player like Maradona or Zidane has on a team. At the point this photo was taken fifty percent of the Argentinian side were umarked in vast tracts of the Nou Camp, ready to take full advantage of the situation created by the simpe presence of Maradona. There are few players at the upcoming World Cup who can have a similar effect, it is perhaps fitting then that Maradona will seek to use Lionel Messi to have a similar effect on the opposition in South Africa this summer.
One of the World Cup’s most memorable matches, for all the wrong reasons, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. The first foul was 12 seconds in, the first sending off was after 8 minutes. Remarkably, there were only 2 sendings off in total, both for Italy. David Coleman had particularly strong words:
“The most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football, possibly in the history of the game”.
This was the first time the two nations had played each other, but tension had been brewing between the coutries leading up to the game. In 1960, the Valdivia earthquake, the most powerful earthquake ever recored, killed over 6,000 and caused untold damage in Chile, heavily disrupting their preparations for the World Cup. On visiting Chile in the weeks leading up to the World Cup, two Italian journalists reportedly sent home less than favourable stories about Santiago, describing it as a poverty-stricken hell hole full of loose women. The reports were heavily exaggerated by the Chilean press and the two journalists were forced to flee the country in fear of their lives. An Argentinian journalist, mistaken as an Italian was brutally beaten up in a Santiago bar, illustrating the anger of the Santiagans.
The game itself views like a compilation of horrible tackles. The police had to enter the pitch, firstly to escort a red carded player off the pitch and regularly in the second half to break up the players. The sly punch at 1:10 is probably my favourite, or possibly the drop kick at 2:10….
Undoubtedly one of Ghostgoals favourite World Cup moments. Hilarity aside, it did cast a shadow over African football for many years, coming to represent their supposed naivety and lack of discipline.
Zaire were the first black African team to qualify for a World Cup, and 1974 was to prove their only apperance at the finals. The fateful Brazil game was preceeded by a 2-0 loss to Scotland and a 9-0 defeat to Yugoslavia. But for a case of mistaken identity Ilunga actually wouldn’t have been playing in the Brazil game at all. Against Yugoslavia, star striker Mulamba Ndaye was sent off for supposedly kicking the referee, the offence was, according to the Yugoslav coach, actually comitted by Ilunga.
Numerous explanations exist for Ilunga’s behaviour. The most amusing and surely completely untrue, being that it was a common misconception in Africa at the time that 3 seconds after the whistle was blown, free kicks became a ‘free ball’ and anything goes. Ilunga himself put his moment of madness down to the extreme pressure the team were under from their government back home.
“Before the Yugoslavia match, we learnt that we were not going to be paid, so initially we refused to play. After the match, President Mobutu sent his presidential guards to threaten us. They closed the hotel to all journalists and said that if we lost by more than three goals to Brazil, none of us would be able to return home.”
President Mobuto went on to claim that Ilunga’s actions had put back African football 20 years. Having been made promises of big bonuses and coaching roles, the players in actuality ended up with nothing. Final poignant words to Ilunga himself, “Look at me now, I’m living like a tramp. If I had my time again, I’d have worked harder at becoming a farmer”.