The footballing extravaganza in Brazil that has yielded 167 goals (excluding goals from yesterday’s third placement match) makes its final stop at the iconic Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro today with Germany and Argentina vying for bragging rights.
It’s been a heart-stopping football showpiece in which things have panned out at full tilt. We saw the soon-to-be deposed champions, Spain, go out with such a whimper. Their tiki-taka brand of football that brought with it sweeping feats at the Euros in 2008 and 2012 and this very tournament four years ago morphed from having a venerability about it to struggling with a vulnerability.
As Spain lost its aura, if invincibility, fresh faces threw their hats in the ring. None made as formidable an impact as Colombia’s No.10, James Rodriguez, who not only thrived in his role as an orchestral conductor but also a clinical finisher (he left Brazil 2014 with half a dozen goals to his name). Neymar went into Brazil 2014 carrying piggyback the hopes of millions of his countrymen. The 22-year-old made a fist of it until Juan Zuniga’s knee fractured the Barcelona forward’s vertebrae. Brazil could no longer piggyback on its poster boy. A gloomy prognosis meant that Neymar had to hand the button to someone else. We all know what happened after…
This turned out to be a watershed because as your columnist proffered seven days back Brazil 2014 has gravitated more toward the individual than the team (with Germany the odd exception). Brazil 2014 has also damned wing forwards with such faint praise. After their resounding failures, wing forwards could well become persona non grata in footballing set-ups. Their epic travails are largely the reason why Brazil and Portugal, two countries with such a rich history of purposeful — certainly aesthetically pleasing — football failed to win over the purists.
Both Brazil and Portugal were hoping to use their wing forwards to unleash football with a textured finish and compelling tone. They didn’t. Most of their performances were flat. Part of the reason for this is that they had lame-duck spearheads (Fred, infamously for Brazil) who failed to read their coaches’ scripts. A spearhead is supposed to play brilliantly well with their back facing the goal to ensure that wing forwards come into their element. Hulk and Cristiano Ronaldo ran into brick walls because they didn’t have spearheads who were worth one’s weight in gold.
Another reason (telling in your columnist’s book) why wing forwards fell flat on their faces is because playing with a back three didn’t look as out of date as Fred or Gustavo’s moustaches. Mexico and Chile used a three-man back line to lethal effect at Brazil 2014. Chile, coached by Marcelo Bielsa’s disciple, Jorge Sampaoli, used it to take the sting out of Brazil in their last 16 match. The Chileans were only undone by the poor application of their wing backs on the day — and of course the woodwork that denied Mauricio Pinilla a winner. The best performance of wing backs, in my assessment, came during Italy’s 2-1 win over England at the group stage.
Elsewhere, for the teams fielding a back four, there was a timely reminder about the importance of having proper fullbacks. Germany and Belgium, who played with a back four full of central defenders, were often exposed by sides with speedy wide-men (Germany versus Ghana and Belgium versus USA). An out-and-out roving fullback helps push back a wide-man. This means more respite for a team. Joachim Low was smart enough to realise this and he tweaked his set-up by fielding Philipp Lahm at right back during the knockout stages.
In the main, Brazil 2014 has been a brilliant aert for the game. We’ve had loads of goals, loads of fantastic tactical and individual battles, as well as cameos from fringe players. The annals will doubtless welcome this World Cup with open arms.
What we now know….
We know that the World Cup ends with the final at Maracana Stadium today. We know that twice there have been breaches in the stadium. Argentine fans forced their way into the stadium’s media centre after their national team beat Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-1. Chilean fans dittoed this after seeing their team beat Spain 2-0. We know that no such breaches will be countenanced after today’s final.
The defences of Argentina and Germany will also be hoping not to be breached. We know that Argentina’s defence will have to be on guard as the German Machine showed that it’s capable of producing lots of mayhem during a 7-1 semi-final win over hosts Brazil. Brazil, we know, opened its account with an own goal scored by left-back Marcelo. The Real Madrid player was all over the place as his side capitulated at the hands of Germany. Thomas Muller and Philipp Lahm emphatically broke into Brazil’s vacant left-back zone on Tuesday. Marcos Rojo will have taken note, we reckon.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor