Author: Shwetank Bhushan Singh
When Diego Aramando Maradona was asked in 1998 who would win that year’s soccer World Cup being played in France, he said, “Countries organize the World Cup to win it,” thus suggesting that France would be the winner. And it was. The same thing could be said for this year’s World Cup in Brazil. For most people, Brazil is favored to win the competition. History, however, may foreshadow a different outcome.
Despite being the traditional powerhouses of football, except Brazil, no other the South Americans have lifted the trophy since 1986. This 2014 World Cup is going to be the year of traditional football.
Football and Samba. Two passions which dominate the Brazilian soul, are entwined as in a marriage. With the first match Brazil’s footballing artists take the stage. But first, Rio de Janeiro and much of the rest of the country would have swayed the weekend to a samba rhythm as the non-stop beat of Carnival affords the populace a pre-Cup chance to have a ball.
“Football, samba and Malandro (a rascal or scoundrel) made up the cultural basis of Brazil’s popular classes,” says academic Antonio Jorge Soares, co-author of “The Invention of Football Countries.” The English may have invented football and the prototype dribble. Yet legends abound, most emanating from Brazil’s black community, on how the Selecao elevated the skill to a fine art, using all kinds of tricks and feints to glide past the most dogged opponent.
Many football legends and commentators believe that another South-American traditional football giant, Argentina and it’s class of 2014 football team can emerge triumphant. Let us examine their talent strength compared to the obvious contender of the title, the hosts.
The attack in Neymar, Fred and Hulk can be rated the best in the world, but the Argentine attackers, Higuain and Aguero is led by the magician himself, Lionel Messi. Messi on a football ground, can alone be the difference.
While Argentina have fantastic midfielders in Di Maria and Gago, Mascherano can hold the midfield well. I would be looking forward to see if Di Maria and Messi can play in pair this summer that would be difficult for any team to stop them.
Brazil’s midfield is no less. While Luiz Gustavo and Ramires would give tactical balance, that little dynamite called Oscar can change games on his sheer tactical brilliance.
Argentine defense in Zabaleta, Fernandez, Demichelis and Rojo look a bit more vulnerable. In this department, Brazil has some solid world class proven defenders in Danni Alves, Dante, Marcelo, Thiago Silva and not to be forgotten, the old man with gloves, Julio Cesar.
Argentina, Germany and Spain, like Brazil, are wonderful soccer teams. You could perhaps debate which of the four would be favored if the World Cup were played on a hastily constructed soccer pitch somewhere in the middle of the desert. But this World Cup is being played in Brazil.
It may be that the impact of home-field advantage is gradually declining in international soccer. Travel conditions are somewhat better than they were a few decades ago. Of the 23 men, coach Luiz Felipe Scolari selected for Brazilian team, all but five play for club teams in Europe. It’s hard to know for sure, but one imagines that if Pele were playing today, it might be for Real Madrid or Bayern Munich, not Santos. But Brazil’s edge is not based solely on home-field advantage.
Coaches and tactics:
Great players are usually natural talents, who work on an instinctive level. Many never get beyond that. Some, though, dominate the technical part of the game with such ease that they then become curious about the collective side, the obvious example is the Dutch master, Johann Cruyff.
Perhaps Zizinho is a Brazilian equivalent. The idol of the young Pele, he was an extraordinary player, was chosen as the best of the 1950 World Cup. European journalists sent over to cover the tournament could hardly believe what they were seeing. The Gazetta dello Sport said that watching Zizinho was like observing Leonardo da Vinci painting a masterpiece.
Zizinho belies the idiotic myth of Brazilian football being some kind of Carnival in boots, a disorganized ballet with everyone only interested in expressing themselves. He was obsessed with tactics. I visited him in the late 90s, and spent a happy couple of hours chatting and debating the tactical diagrams that he loved to keep of teams from past and present. He was well aware of the importance of such things because he played in a time when Brazilian football made massive strides in tactical terms. The groundwork for Brazil’s domination in the world titles of 1958, 62 and 70, was laid in the 1940s and 50s, the span of his playing career.
“These modifications could only be carried out,” wrote Zizinho in his 1985 autobiography, “because, at the time, there was a great respect for the figure of the coach, who had the security of being able to put into practice his work without the fear of losing his job and being deemed incompetent if the team suffered two defeats”.
These are highly significant words. One of the very finest players Brazilian football has ever produced is giving lie to the myth. The coach is not necessarily the enemy of talent, the killjoy who spoils the spectacle by placing chains on his players. If he does his job well, then the coach is talent’s greatest friend, for he finds the balance between attack and defense and the collective context in which the great player can shine.
Luiz Fellipe Scolari, also known as Big Phil, is a World cup winning Brazilian football manager and former defender. After winning the WC for Brasil in 2002, he also served as the manager of the Portugese National Team from 2003 to 2008. He was the man who identified and groomed Christiano Ronaldo.
If Brazil, is known for its rhythmic Samba football, Argentina’s contribution to soccer philosophy is the alteration of pace. Alejandro Sabella is now the national coach of Argentina for the 2014 world cup. He probably epitomizes the tactical depth of Argentine soccer. One of the greatest contributions to the world of football by Argentina is the ability to control the pace in the midfield. Sabella is known to tactically inculcate slowness as an asset. But actually it was that man called Diego Aramando Maradona who defied all this and brought magic with speed on the soccer field in 80s that gave them their 2nd only World Cup in 1986. Sabella is a tactician but no Carlos Bilardo who’s scheme was based on Zubeldia’s tactics.
Lionel Messi is a magic to watch but is no Maradona. Maradona won World Cup on his sheer genius with an average side. Can
Messi overcome his past inability to perform with his national team at the same level as he does week after week at Barcelona? Talent does as it can, but genius does what it must. The outcome of 2014 World Cup will decide if Messi in future will be regarded as the greatest ever among Pele and Maradona.
What may go wrong?
Neymar will often start games drifting inside from an attacking position on the left, he’s recently looked more effective playing through the middle in and around Fred. His role dictates the rest of the attacking set-up, with Oscar being shifted around to accommodate the number ten. The attacking balance needs to be built around Neymar, but not at the expense of the other talented players around him. If this balance can’t be achieved then Brazil, and Neymar, could struggle.
Brazil have one of the best defenders in the world in the shape of Thiago Silva, but he’s heavily relied upon to organise the back four and cover for others. Dani Alves and Marcelo could be the only players offering true width in the Brazilian attack, but as a result of their forays forward they inevitably abandon their defensive duties sometimes. Luckily David Luiz, and to a lesser extent Dante, have a tendency to switch off at times, and there was an example in the Serbia friendly of Luiz’s volatile tendencies as he was involved in a mix-up with Thiago Silva.
Scolari’s players seem to be taking things in their stride, and the character of the group is one of the reasons he picked the squad he did rather than bring in supposed better players who might not fit in. However, having won the last nine friendlies during World Cup preparation, their mettle has rarely been tested, and should they falter at some point in the tournament it’ll be interesting to see if they can pick themselves up.
It’s also a massive tournament for the Brazilian fans, and they’ll make sure they let the team know if they’re not happy. The fans in São Paulo weren’t afraid to boo the side when they thought the players weren’t up to scratch in the recent friendly in the city, and this criticism could pose another problem for the players.
If I have to put my hard earned money on one team, it is Brazil all the way.
The World Cup gets underway Thursday in Sao Paulo, and it’s really hard to beat Brazil in Brazil. “If Argentina wins the World Cup in Brazil, I advise them to have a helicopter nearby because they may get killed, or at least they would require a hasty exit from the country of their fierce rivals should they achieve the feat.”