José Mourinho’s Champions League victory has cast a defensive shadow over this World Cup with most teams opting for organization and tactics over all-out attacking.
Chile’s game against Honduras was one of the great exceptions to that trend with Chile dominating far more than the 1-0 score suggests. From the first blow of the ref’s whistle, Chile put pressure on Honduras’ defense by sending their wingers as high and wide on the pitch as they could go. This spread out Honduras’ defenders and created space for Chile to work. Chile often had as many as six players in the final third of the field, giving Honduras opportunities to use their quickness to punish Chile with a counter-strike. Nothing came from them, however, because Chile pushed their defenders up so high it kept Honduras’ midfielders busy keeping track of them and on those few occasions Honduras did break free, Chile committed fouls to stop the game.
North Korea showed that it is a mentally tough, highly organized defensive team that plays the counterattack. Brazil struggled to break down the North Korean defense and at times they seemed to run out of ideas before their abilities and patience finally paid off. As anyone who’s played the game will say, playing without the ball, playing defense, is more mentally tiring than playing with the ball, and the North Koreans played with five in the back at all times, sometimes six, with three in the midfield. This meant that Brazil’s striker, Fabiano, found himself surrounded by three defenders, while Brazil’s fullbacks had acres of space. It wasn’t surprising when Maicon, Brazil’s right fullback, used that space to score the first goal.
Argentina took South Korea apart, or more to the point, Lionel Messi took them apart. Messi dictated the game from the very beginning. S. Korea played what was roughly a 4-4-1-1, which, as La Liga teams have repeatedly seen, allows Messi space to get the ball deep and then to turn and run at the defense. Once Messi was allowed space, he ran past the defenders, forcing others to come close him down. That left his teammates open who happily took advantage on their way to the blowout.
Other talking points:
The superpowers are in disarray.
• While Germany wants to blame the ref for its loss, they only have themselves to blame. Klose had two reckless tackles before the first yellow card was pulled. And they missed a penalty kick.
• Spain played without energy or verve and lost to an always well-organized Switzerland. David Silva had what was probably the worst game of his career and is likely to be replaced by Navas who played well as a sub. Torres was rusty but the real issue was Spain’s lack of width. Watch a replay of the game and pause at random times. Over and over again you’ll see Spanish players standing, in each others space, and funneling straight down the middle.
With as much talent as Spain has, it’s unlikely to happen again.
• England’s lack of confidence is obvious and understandable. The team – the nation – has insecurities when it comes to winning the ultimate trophy in the game they invented. These insecurities can be played out of a team as they move on in the tournament – which England should still do – but it was the team’s lack of energy that is the most concerning. They didn’t hustle and they didn’t give it their all and for that their fans let them know.
• To move on, the U.S. must get out of its habit of going behind before deciding to wake up. A better team than Slovenia will not allow the opposition back into a 2-0 game.
• France is a mess, much to the delight of the Irish who recently became supporters of Mexico. World class striker Anelka has been sent home for yelling at his coach and the team has played without energy and without a sense of identity. Not to take away from Mexico’s solid performance – they showed intelligence and determination – but France’s enthusiasm was non-existent.