Posts Tagged ‘World Cup’

World Cup Redux

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

So, another World Cup ends and the succeeding weeks bring a nagging sense of withdrawal  but also a chance to revisit the narratives that were played out.  The pathos of the World Cup tournament came largely from Holland’s defeat – its third in a World Cup final.  This country which has produced some of the greatest players of all time – Cruyff, Neeskens, Gullit and Bergkamp-is the greatest soccer power never to win.  Holland’s loss was especially difficult because they toppled #1 ranked Brazil to get to the finals, taking control of the game in the second half of their game with fine goals by Schneijder and Robben against Brazil’s celebrated defense.The World Cup tournament came largely from Holland’s defeat – its third in a World Cup final.

What makes Holland’s continual failure at this level mystifying is that they are the originators of one of the most imitated styles of play in the history of the game.  Total football was fashioned by former Dutch coach, the legendary Rinus Michels when he  helmed   the team in the early 1970’s.  It called for players to be flexible-equally adept at attacking and defending.  During a match, when the team is being pinned down by the opposition, the team members adopt a defensive stance with all 10 outfield players behind the ball; alternately, if the team is attacking the opposition half of the field, then the players adopt an attacking stance where all ten outfield players support  each other in the opponent’s half of the field.  In order for this strategy to work, a team needs players who are comfortable with the ball and able to switch from attack to defense very quickly.  The irony is that Spain largely adopted total football: their strategy was mainly based on the successful tactics of the Barcelona club team which had been formed over decades by Dutch coaches, including  Michels, Cruyff and Louis van Gaal.

So the final between Spain and Holland should have been a classic struggle of prophet and acolyte.  But it wasn’t.  It seemed like the only team interested in playing  football was Spain.  The Holland team players resorted to roughhouse tactics hoping to unsettle the Spanish team, denying them the space and rhythm to play their close passing game.  Trips, crunching tackles and elbows were the order of the day.  The Holland player, De Jong, launched a scandalous kick to the chest of Spanish player, Alonso, earning only a yellow card from the British referee, Webb.  He should have been sent  off.  Johann Cruyff,  the legendary Holland player from  Holland’s  “Total Football” era of the 1970’s described the team’s performance as “antifootball”.

And what was the other low?  Who would have thought that Italy and France, the teams that played in the last final,  would crash and burn in the first round?  For France, it signaled the end of a 30-year run of glittering, balletic football. From Platini to Zidane, France were a European side that rivaled the South Americans in flair and grace.  Many will remember the epic game they played against Brazil in 1986, an impossible display of intelligence, rhythm and athleticism that ended in a penalty shootout.  Sadly, the 2010 French will be remembered for the fact that their team went on strike when the nation needed their services the most.  This comes 4 years after France’s hero, Zidane head butted Italian player, Materrazzi in the 2006 World Cup final.   Swan song indeed.

Compare the dissolution of Holland’s brilliant gestalt football and France’s aesthetic game to the singular delight of the 2010 tournament which was undoubtedly the re-emergence of Uruguay as a soccer power. Remember that Uruguay was the first nation to win a World Cup, defeating Argentina 4-2 in 1930.  The new  Uruguay team played a crackling game against Ghana to enter the semi finals and came very close to equalizing with Holland which would have taken them to the finals.  Diego Forlan and his teammates gave hope to all the has-beens and minnows in football around the world.  Perhaps their success will wake the soccer greats of yesterday — like Hungary and England — back to form and serve as inspiration to the powers to come.

Rodrigo Silva is AlterNow’s soccer correspondent.  Based in Malaysia, he teaches business and marketing at the MBA level at Segi College in Kuala Lumpur.

Spain Wins the World Cup

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Global success starts at homeSpain’s extraordinary win in the 2010 World Cup means the country now joins a rarefied group of soccer royalty – Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Italy and France – as one of the handful of countries to win the game’s highest honor.  The defining features of the Spanish team were their midfield dominance — Iniesta, Xavi, Fabregas  and Alonso– and their close passing game (that and the emergence of David Villa as a Paoli Rossi-like figure scoring goals against some of the most impenetrable defenses in recent history). Some of us older fans were even reminded of the French teams of the 1980’s that comprised Tigana, Fernandez, Girresse and the incomparable Michel Platini.  What’s curious is they actually lost their first group match to Switzerland 1-0. The Spanish coach, Vincente Del Bosque, to his credit, didn’t panic and refused to go back on his strategy of attractive, attacking football. Once the Spanish midfield took control of the midfield in a game, it was difficult for their opponents to have a look-in. The mighty Germans, for example, who easily dispatched England and Argentina with their counterattacks, came unstuck against Spain as the Spanish team denied them space and used their short passing game to press their offense.

Spain’s euphoria over its World Cup win is a signal of the profound impact that soccer (and by extension sports) can have on a national psyche.  Hundreds of thousands jammed Madrid’s avenues as an open air bus conveyed the national team past a sea of red and yellow, the colors of the Spanish flag. The celebration in Madrid, where national unity is at its strongest, was expected. But there was support from other places: The Catalonia region, which has long sought greater autonomy, and the separatist Basque region, where anything pro-Spain is often anathema. For a country that emerged from 40 years of brutal fascist rule under Franco and that now struggles with 20% unemployment, the victory couldn’t have come at a better time.  Spanish Finance and Economy Minister Elena Salgado told reporters Monday that winning the World Cup “generates confidence in our country, here and abroad, and that will also be good for GDP,” she added. An ABN Amro Bank study into the macro-economic effects of the tournament suggested a World Cup provided a GDP gain of 0.7 percentage points, a figure that some economists dispute. There is no question: Spain deserves the World Cup.  Let us hope it helps to boost the country’s fortunes, from its  anemic growth of 0.1 percent of GDP over the first quarter of this year and its projected 0.3 percent contraction over 2010.

Rodrigo Silva is AlterNow’s soccer correspondent.  Based in Malaysia, he teaches business and marketing at the MBA level at Segi College in Kuala Lumpur.