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Final #mytake from FIFA World Cup – The Finals ! France vs Croatia

The FIFA World Cup 2018 came to a glittery wet end in Moscow yesterday, where the rain did not even spare the dignitaries as well as the players. The battle was between organizationally superior team vs a team charged up with emotions. History was beckoning from both sides as France and Croatia locked horns on a Sunday afternoon for the last time in World Cup 2018. We were expecting an exciting game – we did get that with emotions swinging from the first half to the next. However, one team came up superior by a big margin to end the finals with a 4 – 2 score at the end. Now, let’s come to the key points of the match – which kind of matched with my pre-match analysis (click here to read)

  1. As expected, Croatia tried to control the match with lots of possession and tried to force the pace of the game from the very start of the match. With a 66% overall possession, Croatia was dictating the game in the first half with football played at a fast pace. They were utilizing both the wings, though most of the attacks happened through the right flank ably aided by Sime Vrsalijko – who was overlapping at every opportunity. Though at half time the score was 2-1 for France, the entire half belonged to Croatia and the solid French defense were looking quite shaky against the crosses that were coming from both sides.
  2. While I was quite surprised by the pace of the Croatian attacks, I was really wondering whether they can maintain the pace throughout the 90 minutes. And if they would fail to do so, France would surely come back strongly with their “fresh” pacy attacks. Never before my apprehensions became so much true! Their pace dropped and France started to utilize the spaces created by a tiring Croatian midfield and defense
  3. France, as expected, was taking in the pressure and was relying on counterattacks through their right side leveraging Mbappe as much as possible. France played 69 long balls while Croatia played 56 long balls, though Croatia played a total of 563 passes against a French number of mere 297. So as expected, it was clear France wanted Croatia to take the initiative while relying on counterattacks. Also, the line of attack for France was very clear – 44% of their attacks were through the right with Mbappe aided by a drifting Griezman.

    While France was testing Subasic with shots from outside the box (71% were tried outside the box, 29% was within the penalty area), Croatia was playing the classic striker styled attacks with 57% of their shots within the penalty area and additional 7% within the 6 yards box. The style of plays were quite different and hence it became an engrossing match indeed.

  4. Apart from the playing styles and attacking strategies, the main difference was in the conversion of the shots on targets into goals. Croatia had 14 attempts at goal and could convert effectively one (as second goal was a kind of gift from the French goalkeeper). On the other hand, France had just 8 attempts at goal and scored effectively 2 goals (with additional 1 from penalty and 1 as an own goal). That too with a totally out of form striker in the name of Giroud. This showed that France did not rely on one or two players to score goals – anyone like Griezmann, Mbappe, Pogba, Matuidi can score a goal any time. Croatia on the other hand relied mainly on Mandzukic and Perisic to score goals, unless it’s a dead-ball situation where Modric or Rakitic can score as well.
  5. Finally a word on individual battles. Kante had a very silent game and was unable to bottle Modric as the later played freely throughout the match. On the other hand, Strinic and Vida had a tough, tough time to block Mbappe who quite often beat them through sheer pace. Pogba had an excellent match – in his blocking role, he won 10 out of 18 duels while contributing to 30 passes with 85% accuracy. This is apart from scoring a great goal.

As I was expecting, Croatia had too many additional problems to solve, which they could not and so I was not surprised when France won by 4-2. I had actually predicted a 2-0 victory for France before the match :-)

Before I sign-off in this world cup, let me share my FIFA World Cup Dream Team based on a 3-4-3 formation (why this formation, specially when I would any day prefer 4 defenders? Just because I had to accommodate the so many midfielders who performed great in this tournament). This is based on my judgement on performances in this world cup only and not based on any past performances or reputations.

FIFA Dream Team

So till the next world cup in Qatar, let’s now focus on the clubs and intermediate tournaments

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FIFA World Cup 2018 FINALS ! Pre-match analysis

The climax is all set for Sunday as France takes on Croatia for the final war on the field. It will be a fight between the most balanced side of the tournament, France versus the slow, steady but effective performance of a “never-surrender” team of Croatia. However, as the war generals will say that a war is won only after winning a number of battles, let us explore the battle zones that needs to be won on Sunday night before anyone touches the coveted World Cup!

French attack zone on the right

With the strength of Mbappe playing on the right hand side, it is nobody’s surprise that France prefers to attack more from the right. So far, 42% of the attack has come from that side, with Mbappe aided by either the drifting Griezmann or properly fed by Kante and Pogba from the withdrawn halves. The strength of their attack lies with the tremendous burst of acceleration from Mbappe along with the swift dribbles that he can do at that speed.

To counter that, we will see Strinic and Vida play up and try not to give any space to Mbappe. However, to both of them in their 30’s now, speed in their defensive tackles might not be their great strength, specially when coming up to the prospect of facing an opposition who will rely greatly on their speed. While Strinic has been quite strong in the tackles averaging 2 per match, Vida’s strength has been on the interceptions with average 2 per match. So the combination of two will have to not only narrow down the space for Mbappe, but also be capable enough to block the long balls that might be coming in that region.

On the other hand, if Croatia wins the battle in this zone, they can feed to the attacks from their left flanks. Actually, 45% of their attacks has happened through the left utilizing Perisic and Rakitic with a drifting Modric coming to that zone quite often. Therefore the impact of the outcome of this zone will be a big deciding factor for the match.

The midfield battle zone

There is no doubt who will be the midfield general from Croatia’s side. Modric with his outstanding play in this world cup will typically play on the right side aided by Rebic on the flank and perhaps a bit of a floating Rakitic to aid when required. By doing so, it is highly likely that Modric will face up Kante of France and that will be the two best midfielders battling it out in the middle.

While Modric’s exploits are now almost legendary in this world cup, Kante has been highly successful in blocking up key attacking midfielders from the opposition. Kante has averaged 5.5 tackles and interceptions in this world cup, which will be amongst the highest and most effective amongst all. He has been successful in locking up great players like Leo Messi and De Bruyne in the knockout rounds. He will look back on his performances and will no doubt draw inspiration to keep Modric silent and ineffective as far as possible in the finals. This battle will have the most profound effect on the game.

Battle zone in the final third

As is evident in the previous matches, if you have genuine strikers who have physical and aerial impacts, the final third is always the place where you will have the most important battle of scoring goals. Even though Giroud is kind of out of touch with no goals and just one assist, he is a striker who can disturb the defense so much that it can create space for Griezman, Matuidi and Mbappe to exploit. On the other hand, with an in-form Mandzukic lurking in the final third, the French defense of Varane, Umiti will have their hands full. Any slippage or an unforced error might lead to deadly consequences.

Modern football attacks also include the overlapping sidebacks and both teams have quality players to make an impact in the final third. Sime Vrsaljko had been outstanding in the game against England and time and time again, he exploited the right hand side which left Young exposed many a times. Similarly, Pavard has been brilliant for France from the right side as well and his exploits against Argentina was exemplary.

The final battle zone is outside the pitch – fatigue

After playing three consecutive 120 minutes grueling matches and having one day less rest, Croatia will definitely feel the impact of fatigue and tiredness. This was seen in the semifinals when they were slow and sluggish in the first half which could have had more impact if England could capitalize their half chances to put the match beyond Croatia’s reach. Against France, Croatia just cannot afford any moment of lack of concentration or tiredness – because this French team has that quality to punish severely for these mistakes. Therefore it remains to be seen how Croatia wins this battle, even though they will have the big inspiration of creating history!

Let the best team win!

As a football lover and as a “neutral”, we hope to see an entertaining battle in the finals on Sunday. France probably will rely more on fast counterattacks against a tiring opponent, since they have their strength of great speed and stamina. Croatia will try and control the pace of the game with the hope that their deep probing crosses might find Mandzukic or Perisic at the right place. If the scores are equal and the game progresses along, with more time France will have more edge of scoring with Croatia feeling the impact of long matches.

At the eve of the match, it looks like Croatia will have more problems to solve and so it looks more like advantage France!

FIFA World Cup Semifinals – England vs Croatia #mytake

The remaining finalists have been decided convincingly yesterday – France will meet Croatia on Sunday. And the loser’s finals will be played between England and Belgium on Saturday. Within the semifinals line up, the deserving two goes into the finals. Now coming back to the second semifinal match – it was the grounding of an over-hyped frenzy that surrounded the islanders.

– While the first half belonged to England, they could not capitalize on the bright start they had. On the other hand, Croatia was sluggish, slow and looked kind of out of sorts in the entire first half. England got the lucky goal in 5 minutes and then tried to play speedy counter attacking football, which created for them some half-chances. However, they failed to score and put a stamp on the match

– After the half time whistle went off, it was Croatia, Croatia and Croatia for the rest of the match. England not only were only defending, but also lost composure, their formation and organization. They were lucky that the match went into the extra time, given some of the open chances Croatia had and how the woodwork denied Mandzukic his second goal in the second half. Pickford was exceptional in the English goal and that was probably the only positive England can find.

– England forgot passing football and was back to their long balls and kick-and-run kind of football for majority of the time. In the entire match, their defense had 36 long balls passed hoping their fast forwards can pick them up and run to break the opponents defense. On the other hand, Croatian defense played only 17 long balls and was much more constructive on the field by probing the English defense through the middle as well as through the two flanks

– Tiredness was something that crept into the Croatian team. This was evident by the so many unforced errors and mispasses that was happening in the middle of the patch. But as they say, a goal can create wonders – and that was exactly the thing when Croatia got the equalizer. They were a transformed team from then onwards. On the other hand, England was panicking and failed to make an impression for most of the matches

– Finally the hype of the English team again was exposed this time. Till the semifinals, they were not “tested”, but the media failed to see that – instead they were all ga-ga on England creating a hype, which went crashing out. Even in the knockouts, they were stretched by Colombia without James Rodrigues. Further, Sweden was not that quality to play in the quarterfinals. However, they have a good nucleus of good young players who can only turn better as they go along.

– On the other hand, Croatia’s golden run with some world class players continues and will give a good fight in the finals. Only worry is their tiredness – will they be able to play “fresh” against France? Time will tell …

FIFA World Cup Semifinals: France Vs Belgium #mytake

The match that was labelled as “the finals before the finals” is now over. And undoubtedly, the better French team won against Belgium convincingly, even though the score card might read 1-0 only. They were much better in all aspects of the games – compact in defense, blocking and possessive in the midfield, quick and creative in their attacks. Belgians tried their best and played well, but at the end of the day, they will also realise that they won against a stronger team. Now coming to #mytake of the match:

– Belgium started well and was dominating in the initial 20 minutes of the match. Anyone who believes that morning shows the day would have been surprised yesterday. That is because France was probably tentative initially, but once they did settle down, they closed down all the spaces the Belgians were enjoying.

– Was surprised by the Belgian strategy of playing with 3 defenders following a 3-5-2 formation against such a strong team like France. I thought they would have continued the same strategy that they followed against Brazil with a 4-2-3-1 formation. On the other hand, France continued with their normal 4-2-3-1 and excelled in that. Pogba and Kante in their role as defensive blockers played excellently and closed down all possible spaces for Hazard, De Bruyne, Lukaku to exploit. This was evident by the fact that even having 64% possession and playing 594 passes (against 345 passes for the French), Belgium just managed a total of 9 shots with 3 on target.

– After blocking all spaces, France was as usual quick in their counterattacks with Mbappe showing intense speed on their right. In spite of having just 36% possession and much less passes, France had 19 shots at goal – which was a much higher number that Belgians enjoyed. Some of the one-touch football they played in the final third was mesmerising. With a 3 man effective defense and with a somewhat “old” Kompany at guard in central defense, the Belgians was stretched very often whenever the French was on the counter attacks. If they had Chadli dedicated in defense and less in his overlaps, probably there could have been a balance

– I was also little surprised by how deep Hazard was playing with De Bruyne ahead of him. To me, Hazard is much more menacing if he plays just on top of the opponents penalty box; and De Bruyne can play deep and move to attack with his probing long balls as well as quick one-two’s he plays with others. I thought the sting of the Belgian attack just vanished when this happened and frankly speaking, they could not open up the French defense any more

– Finally something on Giroud. He seems totally out of touch and lacking confidence. I think France does not have any other option but to play him in the finals as well, as he has a strong physical presence – both on the ground as well as on air. However, so far, France has been able to make up for a lack of a striker just because of its sheer quality in attacking midfielders. It remains to be seen whether they can have the same success for one more match – but definitely, they are now the favourites to lift the cup once more after Zinedin Zidane’s 1998 world cup!

FIFA World Cup Quarterfinals: Brazil vs Belgium #mytake

With the exit of Brazil and Uruguay on the same day, the World Cup has now turned into an Euro Cup with all teams left in the fray are from Europe only. This is not any more a surprise because, irrespective of what the football managers and coaches say, all the Latin American countries have adopted European style of football – whether it’s Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay – it doesn’t matter. Otherwise, why you will see Brazil playing not only in 4-3-3 system, but also with blocking midfielders like Fernandinho? Yet, the blind supporters can’t see this and still shouts “samba football” all the time! If this is samba football, then it’s an insult to the football played by Zico, Socrates, etc last time in 1986 world cup!

Now, let me share my take of the quarterfinals match between Brazil vs Belgium:

  1. While the formations of Belgium and Brazil was in 4-3-3 mode, the strategy were drastically different between the two teams. Brazil was in it’s normal operating mode with more attacks, while Belgium relied only on counter attacks. This basically meant that Belgium mentally was aligned that Brazil was a superior team and hence it is better for them to play on a counter attack. To me, this was surprising as this Belgium team looks to be at par in terms of quality with Brazil. Further, to bolster their aerial attacks, Belgium went for their tall players like Fellini in their first eleven.
  2. The first half counter attacks of Belgium was at fast pace which resulted in a brilliant second goal of Belgium. Lukaku was always a big threat to Brazil just through his physical presence. Then playing De Bruyne way up besides Hazard was a great strategy, instead of a slightly withdrawn midfielder. It was a bit sad that Belgium did not try for more attacks in the second half as I think they could have scored more goals.
  3. Brazil on the other hand played its fluid style attacks, but in that process again committed too many players upfront which created big gaps for Belgium to exploit in their counter attacks. Also, there was no presence of big striker which will always cause opponent defense to be a bit shaky. Jesus was quite ordinary throughout the world cup and if he was the main striker with that height, the advantages of having free kicks and other dead ball situations goes out of the window.
  4. The second half was a story of missed chances by Brazil. You cannot expect a team to win a world cup quarterfinals if you cannot convert those chances. While we can be critical of Brazilian scoring ability in this match, I think we all should stand up and applaud the heroics of Courtois under the bar for Belgium. He ensured Belgium is in the game with many great saves throughout the match.
  5. Finally my personal view on Neymar. He is no doubt a great player of modern football, though he is too fragile in strong physical play. However, he really needs to introspect on his performance in this world cup through his playacting. Never has a great player been ridiculed so much through jokes, meme’s, videos highlighting his comical and irritating antics on the field. He has become the biggest “thief” in this world cup and has been a big shame to football. He is losing respect as a player across the world just because of his simulations and acting. It’s a sad story for him – very often, he looks like a spoilt brat on the field. On top of it, Brazilian team management and coaches have been encouraging this behavior! This is a big shame in this world cup and unless he does something drastically on this aspect, he will be treated badly and will be soon the biggest comedian in modern days football. And the surprising thing is that he does not need to do all this, given the quality he has as a pure footballer. Hope there is sensible counselling for him in the near future!

FIFA World Cup Quarterfinals: France vs Uruguay #mytake

Before the match, I had written a pre-match analysis of today’s match in sportskeeda site, the link of which I am sharing below.

Pre-match review article

With reference to that analysis, let me share my take of this quarterfinals match:

  1. As expected, Uruguay badly missed Cavani in the match. Without him, not only Uruguay lacked potency in its attack, but it made the job of the French team much easier. They just needed to ensure Suarez is blocked and not given any space, which they did successfully
  2. As expected, France did control the match with quality passing in the midfield, which Uruguay failed to stop for most of the game. This was clear with the French team’s 62% ball possession. Further they played 516 passes with 81% accuracy, whereas Uruguay managed almost 50% of the French numbers (311 passes to be precise)  with 64% accuracy
  3. France played with their now-comfortable 4-2-3-1 formation and Uruguay with their 4-3-1-2 formation. This was quite predictable from both sides. But the quality difference was quite big and that is why Uruguay could not contain France’s midfield
  4. The pace of the French attack was not at its best, not even close to what they showed against Argentina. However, that was not even required as because of France controlling the game, it was a matter of time when they would have scored.
  5. Hugo Lloris made a fantastic save, which could have been a goal for Uruguay. That was in high contrast to the mistake of Muslera in Uruguan goal which resulted in France’s second goal. Both of these incidents had a huge impact on the overall outcome of the match. I would rate Lloris’s save as a turning point of the game as whatever little chance Uruguay had today just evaporated with the great save.

Overall, France is looking a balanced side with the potential of going till the end. Time will tell whether they can lift the cup this time or not!

FIFA World Cup: knockouts – Brazil Vs Mexico #mytake

Brazil Vs Mexico always promises an entertaining football with less focus on defenses and more on scoring goals. Definitely got the money’s worth in today’s match, though had expected an uniform number of attacks from both sides.

  1. It was expected that Mexico will display some pacy football with Javier Hernandez and Lozano spearheading the attacks. They started very promising in first 15-20 minutes, but after that slowly faded away from the game.
  2. The entire team of Brazil played to its high reputation. However, if I have to pick up one single player, it will be Willian. His solo runs down the flank as well as him cutting across often split the Mexican defense to a point of zero return.
  3. Neymar was very good as well. But I felt that at many occasions, he was quite selfish and had he released the ball to his other teammates on those instances, Brazil could have scored more goals. This is a point that Brazil needs to have in mind as they progress further in the tournament.
  4. With 20 shots on goal, 10 on target, Brazil was tormenting the Mexicans even though Brazil had 48% ball possession. What was more impressive for Brazil was that out of the 20 shots on goal, 14 were taken inside the box. In comparison, inspite of having higher ball possession, Mexico managed just 14 shots with 7 inside the box. Brazil’s defense played exceptionally well and kept their organisation and formation throughout. This was reflected in Brazil winning 72 duels against a number of 54 for the Mexican defense.
  5. What surprised me was that even at the last stages of the match (after 70 minutes), Mexico never gave the desperate sting and could not show some of their pace when they were trailing by 0-1. It was a now or never situation for them – but that desperation was not seen. Maybe they also realised the quality of this Brazilian team and was mentally resigned to the eventuality.

FIFA World Cup – knockouts: Croatia Vs Denmark #mytake

Two European nations playing similar style of football locked horns for a place in the quarter finals of a world cup. Quality wise Croatia was better if you do a player by player analysis. However, as they say, football is played on the field and not on paper. So the night turned out to be a night of gritty football with little space allowed for anyone to display some magic.

  1. The first half started with brisk space and two lucky goals within the first 5 minutes of the match! Stung by the early Denmark goal, Croatia went on displaying some quality attacking football played at a brisk pace. And as expected, Denmark was relying on the counter attack with movements through the wings.
  2. However, surprisingly, the pace of the match suddenly dropped in the second half. Not sure what Croatia was thinking that time, but they literally fell into the Danish hands. As the pace dropped, the quality difference was neutralised and that was to the advantage of Denmark. Both had solid defense play and very little penetration beyond the final third. It was evident by the 80th minute that this is likely to go to the penalties, unless a dead ball situation can break either one of the teams.
  3. The through that Modric sent for Rebic almost at the end of extra time was divine. I thought that once Rebic had dodged the goalkeeper out of the scene, he could have pushed immediately for the winner. Instead he still tried to go forward and the defender got the opportunity to foul him for a penalty. The 100% chance suddenly became 50-50 as Modric stepped up to take the penalty.
  4. The other thing I felt was that the Danish keeper Schmeichel was always leaving the line in all the penalties he faced (during the normal time as well as during the tie breaker). Again I am not sure where VAR was in these cases or why the two referees failed to spot every time Schmeichel was doing that!!
  5. Finally, luck favoured the Croatians as they made history to move to the quarter finals. But, given the quality of players that have, why Croatia let the game slip away in the 2nd half and why they did not try to pick up the pace at least for 15-20 minutes remains a big mystery to me!

FIFA World Cup – Knockouts: Russia vs Spain #mytake

Another fancied nation bit the dust in this world cup while playing a much lesser footballing nation. While the match was tactically brilliant, it probably was not good to see as a football viewer. Quality wise, player to player, Spain is much ahead of Russia, but still they could not score the winning goal due to a wrong strategy?

However, we had all the nuances of the “first-timers” in this match in this world cup – the first match that went to extra time in the knockout round, the first match that saw the 4th substitution in the extra time based on a new rule of FIFA, the first match that went to tiebreakers as well.

I am also sharing some statistics posted at the end of this article, from where you can make your own judgement. Now, coming to my take of this match:

  1. As I have been pointing out in many matches in this world cup, possession of the ball is good but not good enough. It is good PROVIDED you have genuine attacking elements to drive home some goals. You are having 74% possession for entire first half and yet you just have 3 shots at goal? You play 438 passes with 90% accuracy and yet you have a minimal shots at goal? This means all your passes are effectively not breaking the defense of your opponents. Now, if your opponent is patient and strong in defense, your strengths of controlling the game just goes out of the window. This is exactly what happened to Spain in this match.

    Even as the match progressed, their possession, passes played just increased in numbers with a not so increase in the effective number of shots at goal. On the other hand, if you see Russia’s statistics, you will see them relatively more effective. With just 1/5th of the possession, you are managing 1/3rd of the number of shots at goal as compared to Spain.

  2. Russia’s defense was organized with 5 in the last line with an additional screen of 3 or sometimes 4 in their own midfield. So, all the predictable passing was being thwarted by the Russians easily. They also showed enough patience and maintained the defensive formation throughout the match. Showed lots of maturity by the Russians and this meant the Russian strategy was working quite fine.
  3. The speed and pace of the Spanish attack was again quite slow and pathetic in most of the times. While France showed pace in their attacks against Argentina, Spain failed to do so. Having young players like Asensio, Isco failed to increase the pace of the play, which was quite surprising to me. Maybe, the players are so used to this style of slow passing, they are unable to switch gears easily.
  4. Playing with one striker, Diego Costa was totally ineffective when there were not enough wing play for him to engage in physical battles and headers. He just had 2 shots on target in the 80 minutes he played in the match. It’s not his fault, but the fault of not playing enough through the wings and giving those crosses for him to show his strength as a classical striker.
  5. All big teams playing this kind of possession football without much pace (like Argentina, Germany, Spain, etc) have got big shocks in this world cup. Maybe all weaker opponents have read the strategy well and have effectively built alternate strategies to counter this one. Net-net, this strategy is no longer effective and it’s time the big coaches and teams think of alternate ones.

Key statistics:

Possession
Spain Russia
At half time 74% 26%
After end of the 90 minutes 78% 22%
At the end of extra time 79% 21%
Passes Played / Pass accuracy
Spain Russia
At half time 438 / 90% 144 / 70%
After end of the 90 minutes 770 / 90% 162 / 70%
At the end of extra time 1114 / 90% 290 / 66%
Total shots / Shots on target
Spain Russia
At half time 3 / 2 5 / 1
After end of the 90 minutes 12 / 5 6 / 1
At the end of extra time 24 / 9 7 / 1

 

FIFA world cup: Knockouts: Portugal Vs Uruguay #mytake

This was a match between equals. Both teams normally play direct and physical football, both normally follow the classic 4-4-2 formation, both have decent compact defense, good midfield and excellent striking power. However, on paper, I will keep Uruguay slightly in the front because they have two classic strikers in Cavani and Suarez. However, Portugal always has the potential to surprise through one Cristiano Ronaldo!

The match started with a brisk pace in line with the expectations. One of the difference between the teams is the speed of the counter attacks. While Uruguay prefers to play long balls, Portugal plays a lot of short passes to move from defense to attack. However, Portugal’s passing happens at a slower pace and so, by when the ball reaches the opponents penalty box, it gives ample time and opportunity for the Uruguan defense to organise themselves. Then they try to play the crosses with the hope that one of those balls reaches Ronaldo, who can convert that into a goal through a powerful header. But the potency of a promising attack reduces drastically because of the speed of the attack.

The Uruguan first goal came through a speedy counterattack. The long accuracy cross from Cavani from one side to reach Suarez on the other side was brilliant. That was followed by a perfect follow through center from Suarez to Cavani who followed up brilliantly and headed that home powerfully. A wonderful classic goal that comes from a well orchestrated counter attack. And you can feel the importance of having top class strikers in the team, who can turn around a half chance into a goal. I am sure teams like Germany, Argentina are looking at these strikers and thinking why the didn’t have them in their teams!

The other thing to talk about will be the compact Uruguan defense led by Godin. In a world cup where there has been a high number of goals scored, Uruguay is one team which have not conceded one goal yet in this tournament! Commendable indeed! One of the reason behind this achievement is that while defending, they do a high press near about the center half. That way, they don’t give much space to the opponents to design a move. With a 4 member defense, they create an additional 3 member layer for the high press to happen. However, the same defense was sleeping when Pepe made the header completely unmarked from a corner kick. This was a big mistake from a defense line that has done impeccable business so far.

While the finish of Cavani for Uruguay’s second goal was world class, it generated from a horrible mistake by Pepe at a point when Portugal was controlling the match. The header landed to Uruguay’s Rodrigo who played an apparently innocent square ball to Cavani on top of the box. Nobody anticipated what Cavani did next – a perfect inswinger with his right foot for a world class goal! Again, the importance of having a genuine striker in the first eleven is beyond any doubt.

Just to conclude, the following parameters made the difference:

  • Effective counter attacking football can make the difference. Uruguay with just 33% ball possession wins the match 2-1
  • Genuine strikers are very much needed in each team. Uruguay just had 5 shots, 3 on target and scored 2 goals. On the other hand, Portugal had 20 shots with 5 on target, but could score only one goal
  • Dogged defending always pays, if you are supported by good counter attacking capabilities with genuine strikers.

FIFA world cup – Knockouts: France Vs Argentina #mytake

What a match. While the much better team won the thrilling match 4-3, it’s a sad farewell to one of the great players of the beautiful game, Leo Messi. Unfortunately, he could not live up to the level of the greatest ever footballer, Diego Maradona. Now my 5 point take of the match:

  1. From the start, did not like Argentina’s strategy of 4-3-3. I felt that they need to acknowledge that France was a much better team and hence have a strategy that countered their strength of the midfield with 4 midfielders trying to block in the middle of the pitch itself. Also, playing without a genuine striker is a big mistake and they did not have any potency in the attack, both on the ground and aerially. Higuain could have put some pressure up in the final third. Then during the match, I cannot imagine the 3 defenders trying to defend, all in the same line! That’s exactly how France’s first goal came. Of course, credit goes to Mbappe for that pacy run, which just dissected the defense.
  2. The quality of Mbappe and the control by Pogba, Griezman created the difference. Absolutely impressed with the 19 year old of Mbappe – the control, anticipation, pace, skills – everything is brilliant.
  3. Leo Messi failed to play the false 9 nor did he play great in the final third. At times, he was nowhere near the action and in the second half looked disinterested as well. Probably he was mentally resigned to the difference in quality between the two teams. His dream will remain unfulfilled and the allegations that he does not perform great for the country will still be discussed after today.
  4. Two world class goals were seen today. One from Di Maria, which brought back Argentina back into the match. And the other one from Pavard which ensured that France wins this match and control the match from that instance.
  5. Finally, no Argentine fan can complain that they did not have any luck today. They had plenty of that today with their second goal, Griezman’s freekick hitting Argentina’s cross piece before moving out, etc. Today all needs to acknowledge that Argentina lost to a much better team and it was a good performance by Argentina given the fact that they lost by 3-4 at the end of the day

FIFA world cup 2018: France Vs Argentina – pre match assessment

The knockout rounds are just hours away as the race towards champions of the world restarts after a day of rest. And what a match to start with – one of the tournament favourites France Vs an all time favourite Argentina. It’s the promise of a young, vibrant French Vs the class of an underperforming diminutive height player donning the number 10 jersey for the blue and white.

Cutting down the emotions away, I think Argentina is going to win this match because of the reasons mentioned below. I might be proven wrong badly, but that’s the life of football, that too in a world cup ! So, let’s roll out my thoughts and take a risk of being trolled by my friends after the match!!!

  • For the first time in this world cup, Argentina will play not as a favourite but as an underdog. This will no doubt ease the pressure on the team which will be a much awaited temporary break from the boiler situation they were in a few weeks ago. This will help them play naturally without worrying too much on the final outcome
  • On the other hand, France will be under big time pressure. Not just the pressure of being tagged as the favourites, they also know that in the group matches, they were not “tested” that much with Peru, Australia and Denmark. Even though they topped the group comfortably, which is a big contrast of how Argentina qualified for the knockouts, they will surely realise that the benefits of playing against strong teams is much more important than just galloping to the top of a much weaker group
  • France’s strength has been their midfield play with quality players like Pogba, Kante, Lemar and others. However, if their performances in the group stages is of any indication, their passing play and going to attack is lacking pace by a big margin. This should allow the Argentina defense to regain positions quickly and counter their attacks effectively. Further it is Pogba who is the midfield general for France, he is the person who is pivotal to the passing. There has to be a defensive blocker from Argentina who should not give much space to him and frustrate him to make mistakes. Also, so far we haven’t seen much wing play by the French as well – they more rely on breaking the defense from the middle. Effectively what this means is Argentina should play in 4-4-2 formation with clear instructions that the defense should try and narrow the field of play so that it becomes crowded on top of their box during French attack
  • The striking force of France is quite erratic. Giroud is a player who tends to miss 4 to 5 chances before converting one. Griezman is all class, but is looking quite below par in this tournament. Mbappe is talented, but again yet to make that mark. So with proper zonal marking followed by man marking Griezman, the Argentina defense should be potent and strong
  • Now coming to Argentina. They should play 4-4-2 strategy with high press game so that the pressure is built in their midfield and not just in their penalty box. Banega playing is a must as he will be the key player with the long searching balls. Higuain probably should play first so that he can put physical pressure both in terms of strength and height. If after a half he is unable to make any impact, then Aguero should be brought in. I would personally prefer to have Pavon in their first eleven because of his speed on the right wing. Di Maria should go all out today and make his mark. It’s a do or die for him as throughout the tournament he was in the periphery. He should torment the French defense from the left.
  • And finally, that man Messi should not think of any pressure and just enjoy his game. He surely will not get any space to move – so he should hold the ball that much which is required to draw out 3 or 4 defenders to encircle him. Once that is achieved, he should no longer hold but release the ball quickly for the others to capitalise on the space created. Who knows if another Banega’s defense splitting through lands to Messi and he can recreate the magic once again !!

The odds are against Argentina, the quality of the teams is against Argentina, the current form is against Argentina. But, as they say, matches are played on the day and it’s not always the best team wins!

2018 FIFA World Cup – Group Stage matches #mytake

28th June: Brazil Vs Serbia #mytake #FIFA #WorldCup

Watched partial match and #mytake is based on the first 60 minutes

1. As the tournament is progressing, Brazil improving as a team. While defending, having 5 men minimum and another defensive screen of 2 on top of their last line of defense. While attacking, they are having 3 men around opponents back line while chasing with 4-3-3. Attacks are now quite compact with swift passing amongst themselves. Variety of attacks also seen – passing through the middle, quick movements on top of the box, probing centers – we are getting everything.

2. Also Brazil is not a single person dependent team. To me, Coutinho’s performance is much better than that of Neymar. He is the key game maker and was instrumental in giving that defense breaking pass for Paulinho to just tap in for the goal. This makes the Brazilian team stronger than the others.

3. For Serbia, 4-4-2 formation while defending and going for 4-2-3-1 during attack. But struggling against the pace and swift attacking of the Brazilians. And Serbian attack does not have that amount of pace to disturb Brazilian defense . Difference in quality quite apparent. Only chance for them to score is through long balls or dead ball situations like corners or free kicks.

4. The main difference between Brazil and the other big nations is the pace and swift attacks. It’s not the predictable slow possession and slow rotation of the ball. Even with other good performing teams in this world cup like Belgium, France, Spain, etc – all of these teams do not have the pace that this Brazilian team has. The only thing that is not tested is how the Brazilian defense will react against long balls and dead ball situations.

Against stronger teams in the knockouts, I would always prefer to have a defensive midfielder like Fernandinho in the first eleven – just to strengthen the defense. This will also enable Brazil to do a high press near the center half and not just on top of its own box.

However, Brazil is now really becoming a true favourite to win this world cup.


27th June: Germany Vs South Korea #mytake #FIFA #WorldCup

1. Well, well, well – the writing was on the wall. Again lack of pace, too many square passes without any penetration, looked totally over confident. Never looked they wanted to win this match. They did not have any hunger
2. Koreans are not that tall compared to Germany. And you had Hummels, Mueller, Gomez in the penalty box. If passing was leading to no penetration, why did they not bombard with crosses and try the aerial route that much ??????? God knows !!!!
3. Germany started with 4-2-3-1, that too resting 3 players who played against Sweden. This showed their overconfidence at the very beginning. It was a kind of a must win match for them and I was expecting the same team with at least a 4-4-2 which can be switched to 3-5-2 during attack. Further, against Sweden, they faced taller players and hence aerial balls were not effective. Against Koreans, the situation was the opposite and hence should have played the taller players of Mueller, Gomez, etc from the beginning. And probably the strategy should have been playing the passing game and try break the defense from middle. However, should not have predictability in the game – so parallels bombard opponents defense with fast crosses from both sides.
4. I had hoped that Germany will be doubly aggressive and go all out today to win comfortably against the Koreans. But absolutely no hunger, same mistakes over and over again ….
5. Kudos to the Koreans for their resolute defending, specially their goalkeeper. He had made a couple of astounding saves which could have been goals in any other day.

What a shame !!! Germany was a real shame this world cup … Did not think that such a great tradition footballing nation will keep on repeating the same stuff again and again .. they deserved to be kicked out

27th June: Argentina Vs Nigeria #mytake #FIFA #WorldCup

1. It was such a contrasting performance by Argentina in two halves. Started with a 4-4-2 formation which was moving to 4-3-3 while attacking. This brilliantly countered Nigeria’s 3-5-2 formation. Fantastic movements in the first half and it looked like Argentina has found its mojo. Then I don’t know what happened, entire formation and touch disappeared in second half till they conceded the penalty. Leo Messi was holding the ball little long than desired ? Maybe because of drawing 3 – 4 defenders so that others can have more space to capitalise upon ?
2. Brilliant pass by Banega and a more brilliant finish by Messi. World class indeed. Further, Messi was unlucky when his freekick did not go in after hitting the post. And Rojo must have surpassed his own expectations with the quality finish for the winning goal
3. Nigeria should have continued its strategy of 3-5-2. Instead they went into a shell after they got the penalty. That time they were almost playing with 5 defenders, 3 additional screen on top of the defense and 2 strikers also trying to play high press like defensive midfielders. That way, it was again a question of time when some defense splitting cross or pass would turn into a goal for Argentina
4. VAR is good, but FIFA and the referees should be more consistent in making similar decisions. It cannot be that in one match a incident will have one decision and in another match an exactly similar decision will have a different decision. FIFA should wake up quickly to save VAR !!!!
5. While Argentina lives for another day, they really need to show consistency in their formation, passing, crossing if they have to move further in the tournament.

PS: I think Sampaoli s say has reduced on strategy and team, as was evident by the tunnel talk of Argentina team, when Sampaoli was sitting on the bench. That’s good for Argentina

24th June: Japan Vs Senegal #mytake #FIFA #WorldCup

Disclaimer: I saw the match only from 75th minute

The Japanese second goal is an outcome of a big goalkeeping error from Senegal. I don’t know whether there was a communication error between the stopper and the goal keeper, but a goalkeeper should come out of charge only when he is confident of reaching the ball. This time the ball was near the inside box – so quite near to the goalkeeper. Even with that distance, the goalkeeper failed to reach the ball which was a big mistake. Japan needed to just had to calm themselves and pass it to Honda, who slotted in confidently.


24th June: Germany Vs Sweden #mytake #FIFA #WorldCup

1. Though Germany pulled this match through a last minute beauty, the performance of Germany was much below par. Their game has become predictable – lot of high pressing, lots of slow passing, then passing through the extreme wings, sharp inside throughs hoping someone can flick one home. All corners are taken quickly with short passes and then same mode. Really becoming predictable
2. Again surprised by the amount of high press football Germany is putting in their strategy. How can you have two stoppers always in opponents half ? And then hope opponents won’t be successful through fast counters ? Unable to digest this strategy ! At one time, I saw Boatang on the penalty box of their opponents!! That too, not in a dead ball situation
3. Trying extravagant flicks in such a crucial match should be penalised by team management. Werner trying extravagant stuff when a simple tap should have resulted in a goal. You should play for the teams cause and not for individual glory!!
4. Germany was lucky not to concede a penalty in the start of the match. Does makes me wonder what is the VAR kept for ? FIFA should answer on these issues surrounded usage of VAR
5. I am also looking for answer to the question of why Sweden withdrew in the 2nd half and lost the plot quickly. They were so effective in the first half and yet they went into a defensive shell so much that it was clear Germany will definitely score at least one goal, a matter of time
6. Finally, the class of Tony Kroos goal was absolutely brilliant. Changing the angle with a short free kick and then aiming the inswinger to the side of the net. That too under so much pressure … Simply brilliant !!


23rd June: Belgium Vs Tunisia #mytake #FIFA #WorldCup

1. One of the most oiled engine in display in this world cup is no doubt Belgium. There is a great fluency, flair and quality across goal, defense, mid field and attacking line.
2. There was a big mismatch of quality between the two teams, but that does not negate the great victory today. Probably Belgium could have scored a couple more as well
3. Playing with a 3-4-2-1 formation, again the midfield controlled by De Bruyne with quality attack through Hazard and Lukaku. Great conversion rate for Lukaku so far – the trademark for an in-form striker. But I was impressed with Toby Alderweireld, the Totenhum defender playing in the left back position. He has more than 70% successful tackles in defense while also overlapping successfully and helping in the attacks. Perhaps one of the unsung heroes so far.
4. Belgium has the capability to move to the last four. But remains to be seen how this team reacts against a strong time in the knockouts


22nd June: Brazil Vs Costa Rica #mytake #FIFA #WorldCup

1. My prediction was a comfortable victory for Brazil, but the fact that it took to injury time for the first goal to happen speaks of dogged defending by Costa Rica
2. Big gaps in Brazilian defense exist – with Marcelo and Fagner (side backs) spending most of their time in opponents half, very often they were with 2 stoppers in the back. Costa Rica did not have that horsepower to trouble on counter attacks. I would prefer Fernandinho to play against strong nations as you need him to play the role of a defensive midfielder to block attacks midway, the role that Dunga had played during the world cup winning team
3. I personally believe that if you have to defend big time, you should start blocking around your midfield line and not just on top of the box. Because if you do the later, it becomes very difficult to absorb so much and if there is one mistake in the defense, you don’t have another line to take care of that. Costa Rica unfortunately tried to defend on top of your box and it was clear that keeping the pressure throughout the match will not happen
4. Navas was outstanding today under the goal for Costa Rica. He denied probably 2 or 3 sure goals. He certainly enjoys big stages like the world cup.
5. Final point for today is that play acting to get penalties are likely to get caught with VAR. Neymar was lucky not to get a yellow card for that play acting


22nd June: Croatia Vs Argentina #mytake #FIFA #WorldCup

1. Given this was a kind of do or die for Argentina, was expecting something different. In their previous match, with 4 men defense, Argentina was struggling in defending. And today what did we see ? Argentine starts with 3-4-3 system !! They cannot defend with 4 players and today they decided to defend with 3 players ?????
Now even with the 3 men defense, they are playing square passes on top of their own penalty box along with their goalkeeper with Croatian players sniffing their backs. Is this a joke ???????? This joke of a strategy caused the goal as the Argentinian keeper made a mess of a situation !!!!
And again no planning in attack, no off the ball runs – same kind of play without any plan B s in place !!

2. Even though I am personally a big fan of Messi, I don’t think he was at all interested to play at all !!!!! Rubbing his forehead when national anthem is being played, strolling on the pitch, not attempting to run or take positions – what’s this Messi ???? Totally disappointed with Messi … You cannot be the greatest any more !! The least we could have expected is to at least give your best !!!

3. Croatia was the better team today. And Modric goal was a beauty. They deserved the win because of their hunger to win. They were pressing Argentina from the beginning – not giving space from the very first minute, chasing even the Argentine defenders so that they also don’t get any space. Total domination by them in this match.

4. The quality of football was scrappy and often was going physical. The referee today was struggling to control and also made bad decisions as well.

5. Finally Croatia has the potential to go to the semi finals. A very balanced team, excellent defense, good midfield and a decent striking power.


21st June: France Vs Peru #mytake #FIFA #WorldCup

1. Finally got to see an entertaining free flowing football, played at a good pace.
2. Though it was a must win match for Peru or at least a draw, I would have preferred a defensive strategy for them till about 60 minutes. The gamble was that if Peru can frustrate France by that time and then quick counter attacking football could have surprised them. But instead France scored early and hence was not under pressure any more.
3. Pogba distributed well for France in the midfield. But still I would say that he is quite slow in this world cup. The slowness might negate his passing advantage
4. Overall, France improved considerably and as they move towards the next round, they are likely to pick up momentum more. Probably one area where they are lacking is genuine striker with a physical presence. Giroud can do that role, but he is the sole player. Would have preferred Benzema in this side as well, knowing very well he could have missed a lot of chances. But he being strong physically can disturb opponents defense
5. Peru deserved at least a point in this match. Again genuine strikers was missing from their side. In spite of that, they created chances and if luck was with them, they could have scored at least once.


20th June: Uruguay Vs Saudi Arabia #mytake #FIFA #WorldCup

1. Disappointed with Uruguay. Was expecting more openings against a team like Saudia Arabia, but very few quality openings. Did not see quality mid field play at all – so strikers like Suarez and Cavani were often cut off with any supply. Now Uruguay need to lift their game in the knockouts
2. Uruguay defense was ever solid. Even the ageing Godin was like a rock, but occasionally being beaten by pace.
3. Fundamental mistake by Saudi goalkeeper. If you are leaving the charge, you have to get contact with the ball, come what may. If in doubt, stay on the line as probability of a save increases. Basic elementary stuff – isn’t it ? But the keeper failed on this and the goal became a very easy one for Suarez
4. Otherwise a decent performance by Saudi Arabia, specially after the drubbing in their previous match against Russia. I think if they had one quality striker, they could have easily drawn today’s match
5. Finally, when VAR will be called in and when it will be not is still confusing to me. Also, even if VAR is doing a review and communicating with the referee, how does the spectators know ? I am big time confused
😀


20th June: Egypt Vs Russia #mytake #FIFA #WorldCup

1. The defense of Egypt that stood tall in the previous match against Uruguay fell apart today. Too many space allowed by the back line inside their penalty box allowed the 2nd goal, a messed up basic final tackle allowed the 3rd goal.
2. The Russians leveraged their physical presence – both body strength and height advantage. Shows why that is so important in modern days football. Impressed with this Russian team, specially when they were termed as “potential embarrassment” as the host team before the start of the tournament so much so that the Russian players were not reading any news at all !!
3. Lack of control of the midfield by the Egyptians. There is lack of quality in their midfield line up. Probably that’s one of the reason why Salah was not getting good balls which he could have tried to convert
4. Overall I liked the match as that was played at a good pace and it was quite a open football with both teams trying to score goals. A pleasant change from the 8-10 men defending their own goals as seen in many earlier matches
5. As the commentator mentioned, we had 5 own goals in this world cup (with just the start of the 2nd round of group league) whereas the entire 2014 world cup had 5 own goals. Does this number speak of an untold story of the defenders unable to handle such pressure any more in world cups ?


#mytake #FIFA #WorldCup

19th June: After the end of the first round of all group matches, I thought the following trends are appearing in this edition of world cup:

1. The so-called big footballing nations are starting quite slow with lack of creativity against weaker teams. Of course, it is natural that weaker teams will play defensive football against them, but it is expected that the bigger teams can overcome the crowding near the penalty box. Unfortunately, in spite of controlling the matches with mid field play, bigger teams are choking up once they reach the opponents penalty box
2. The importance of speed and doing counter attacks in lightning speed is more than ever. However, did not see much of that from the bigger footballing nations. That is kind of surprising – are they having “older” and / or “tired” players who can’t do that or they were kind of over confident in the first round ? Time will tell …
3. In earlier editions, the big defenders sometimes got away from fouls on the penalty box (specially against dead ball situations) as the referees were unable to spot them. This time they should be careful because of the VAR system in the place. One mistake, one penalty can change the outcome of the match !
4. Having ball possession of around 70%, controlling the pace of the match by square passing, rotating the field through effective passing is all good, PROVIDED you can finish the game with quality through passes, individual dribbling brilliance, effective crosses, etc. Otherwise, you might control the match, but that might not mean winning the match
5. Finally, yet to see individual brilliance in most of the matches. Yes, there was those occasional free kicks, but it’s high time that the superstar footballers live up to their names, prestige and stardom they enjoy


18th June: Belgium Vs Panama #mytake #FIFA #WorldCup

1. The difference in quality between the two sides was evident. And that was reflected in the final result
2. De Bruyne was the main player who was making the play with maximum number of passes while playing as a withdrawn half. It will be interesting to see how Belgium will respond if he is bottled up and not given any space to move against strong opponents
3. First half pace of Belgium did not look good to me with attacks happening quite slowly. Start of the second half was with good pace which resulted in the first goal.
4. Overall I believe Belgium is truly rated as the dark horse of the tournament as they have the talent, the fluidity of play, good striker to score and an excellent goalkeeper. Remains to be seen how far this Belgium team can go in this world cup


18th June: Brazil Vs Switzerland #mytake #FIFA #WorldCup

1. Brazil’s nightmare on defence continues. While they performed well throughout the match, what were they thinking in that moment. One corner, two stoppers standing like statues, opponent get a free header (with a small push) inside the little box !!
2. Neymar should release the ball much faster. He is trying to hold the ball too long only to attract big tackles from the opponent team. That way his strength is getting neutralised.
3. Switzerland defended well and really came back strong in the second half. No wonder they are at FIFA world number 6
4. Firminho probably should be coming in 1st eleven. He is quite fast and might make Brazilian attack more menacing
5. Wake up calls to footballing giants – Brazil, Argentina, Germany all stumbling in their first match. High time they pull up their socks now or never


17th June: Germany Vs Mexico #mytake #FIFA #WorldCup

1. I think the first difference between the two teams was speed. Germany was too slow in the attack while holding the ball too much. Last time, one of the success factor for Germany was reduce the average holding time of the ball from 3.4 seconds to 1.1 second. In this match, I think it should be up to the 4 second mark, if not more. The midfield of Germany (which was their strength last time) of Ozil, Kroos, Khedira, etc was very slow. I think if they don’t pick up their pace, Germany will struggle big time. Probably time to give more chances to their younger generation
2. Second difference was Germany trying to put the press play near the midfield. If their stoppers are almost in opponents half to do the pressing, then you are likely to keep big gaps to be exploited. Plus both Boatang and Hummels are quite slow. And that was exploited best by the speedy Mexicans
3. Too many square passes on top of the penalty box by Germans. Neither did we see fast throughs nor did we see speedy crosses to disturb the Mexican defense. Again, very slow attacking
4. Mexicans excelled in counter attacks, with speedy forwards picking up big holes in German defense. In fact, if they had more maturity in passing the final pass accurately, Mexico could have won by at least 2 – 0, if not 3-0
5. It’s one way good that footballing giants like Germany, Argentina getting wake up calls at the start of the tournament. They can still go to the last 4, if they make effective changes and show some more speed, better strategy and more intent.


16th June: Argentina vs Iceland #mytake #FIFA #WorldCup

1. Argentina looks like to be an unbalanced team with very weak, disorganised defence and lack of alternate strategies when it comes to attack.
2. Messi was way below his own par. I felt he has lost some of his pace as well. Missing the critical penalty probably affected him as after that I thought I saw signs of him giving up through his body language
3. Argentina enjoyed 78% ball possession. Yet, what they tried was always going down the middle and break open the defence, which Iceland managed brilliantly. What I felt was when this strategy was not working, they did not have any plan B, like go through the wings more, bring in tall striker like Higuain from 70th minute and test through probing centers.
4. Iceland played brilliantly well within their ultra defensive strategy. They were not afraid to push in numbers when they attacked through counters.
5. Unless Argentina lift them up considerably, I feel that they might get eliminated in the group stage itself as this is the toughest group with Croatia and Nigeria the other two teams.


16th June: France vs Australia #mytake #FIFA #WorldCup

1. Disappointed with the French team. With so many talented players in their midfield, I was expecting much more pace when they were attacking. However, the pace was so slow that it allowed the Aussies to regroup everytime the French attacked. If France has to reach the semi s or beyond, they need to pick up their pace definitely
2. I would have thought that Australia would push for more attack when they got their goal as France was slightly in disarray during that time.
3. Australia s defence was really composed and played great soccer in their 4-4-2 formation
4. Finally we saw both VAR and goal line technology in use today.


16th June: Portugal vs Spain #mytake #FIFA #WorldCup

1. What a match !!! Unbelievable Iberian classic !!!
2. Spain’s defense looked slow, specially the two stoppers. Would be interesting to see the age of the Spanish defense and compare with rest of the teams
3. Again, seen a blunder by one of the best goalkeepers in today’s world
4. Ronaldo in dead ball situation is brilliant – proven again
5. Spanish substitutions of Iniesta, Silva was little surprising to me, as both of them along with Isco was pretty much controlling the game. Don’t know what was the logic of replacing them when they were leading just by a slender margin of one goal


15th June: Iran vs Morocco #mytake #FIFA #WorldCup

1. First half was very entertaining with Morocco dominating with fluent football, Iran with quick counter attacks
2. Was really wondering whether both teams can maintain the same pace in the second half. My worry became true as the pace dropped considerably in the 2nd half
3. Iran was out of play in entire 2nd half. At one stage they had 6 players in last line of defence, 3 players just in front of them and the lone striker in their own midfield. Dogged defending.
4. Morocco’s young forwards lacked experience and that was showing clearly when they tried shots from angles which just could not yield a goal. Also, lack of quality final pass was very evident
5. Match probably was moving towards a draw when the disastrous own goal happened. I felt that header was having wrong technique. Why on hell would you even try a side flick header to clear the ball when you could just head back straight to get the same result of a corner ???? Iran could not believe their luck to get 3 points from this match. Before that goal, Iran could not do a shot on target in entire second half !!!

I would suggest to reduce Asian teams in world cup as it’s a sin to not have quality teams like Netherlands not in world cup and yet teams like Saudi Arabia qualifying !!!

15th June: Egypt vs Uruguay #mytake #FIFA #WorldCup

1. Disappointed with absence of Salah. That probably made a big difference
2. Most of play from both sides limited to midfield. Lack of penetration or imagination when it comes to the final third
3. Egypt effectively defending with 8 players and compacting on top of their own penalty box. Uruguay unable to break that compactness. Did not see any fast counter attacks to create space in Egyptian defense. The young midfield of Uruguay failed today – finally it was the old timers who started to make the impact for Uruguay
4. Out of 3 goal scoring chances, Suarez should have scored at least once
5. Finally it was a dead ball situation that made the 3 points for Uruguay. And what a perfect header !!! Anyways, they were a better team today and deserved to win.


14th June: Russia vs S. Arabia #mytake #worldcup #fifa
1. Ordinary match
2. Difficult to believe how Saudi Arabia had beaten Japan and topped over Australia in the qualifiers
3. Worst defending by Saudi Arabia – too many unforced errors, basic covering in dead ball situations completely missing
4. I strongly believe that if a weak team wants to score goals, you need 2 strikers. You can play with 1 striker if you have quality players who can overlap up and down fast. If they want to play for a draw, play with a strategy of 5-3-2-1. Did not understand Saudi Arabia s strategy of 4-1-4-1 when they did not have any quality player to make this formation effective
5. Russia’s 4th goal was a beauty.

Why German’s rule the FIFA world cup in last few years ?

There is no doubt that Germany simply dominates world football in recent times when it comes to their national team competing in major tournaments. And when I am referring the term of “recent times”, I am referring to a period of around 10-12 years. The records speak of themselves when it comes to German national team performance from say 2000 onwards:

  • FIFA world cup: Runners up in 2002, Third place in 2006 and 2010, Champions in 2014
  • European Championship: Group stage in 2000 and 2004, Runners up in 2008, Third in 2012 and 2016
  • FIFA Confederations cup: Did not qualify in 2001, did not play in 2003, Third in 2005, did not qualify in 2009 and 2013, Champions in 2017

That made me think on the main reasons behind the phenomenal success of the German national team, when comparing with the other great footballing nations of Italy, France, Spain, England, etc in Europe. I have deliberately kept the Latin American countries out here, because I believe there the supremacy is kind of polarised with Brazil, Argentina when it comes in national team level competitions.

  • If we look at the club level team compositions across the big leagues in Europe, German leagues take the least number of foreign players. Going by 2017 UEFA report, foreign players in Bundesliga accounts for 49.2%, whereas the number is 55.5% in Serie A in Italy and a staggering 69.2% in English Premier League. So, chances of junior players coming up and playing a top league is much high in Germany than say in England or Italy

Now, let’s look at two foundation level parameters specially for junior football – youth football focus and competent coaching staff availability:

  • The focus of German football has been their youth and development at the youth level. Only in that way, you will have a steady supply of quality players who can dominate football at an young age. The Bundesliga clubs spend around £85m (2014 data) annually on their youth academies, which is one of the highest in the world. This focus started sometime in 2000, when they felt that the German team in Euro 2000 was too “old” and hence could not compete
    And the results of the investment was evident before the last world cup of 2014, when they became champions. At that point of time, gifted young players coming out of this system was too plenty. All the now famous players are a result of that focus – just look at the names and their age (as on 2013) – Julian Draxler (19), Andre Schürrle (22), Thomas Müller (23), Holger Badstuber (24), Mats Hummels (24), Mesut Ozil (24), Mario Götze (20), Toni Kroos (23) and the list goes on. No wonder, these players played such a vital role in their 2014 world cup win
  • Coming to qualified and competent coaching staff in Germany. There are 34,000+ qualified coaches in Germany now as compared to around 3,000 in England. Hence, the ability to groom, develop and produce quality youth footballers is much high in Germany

Finally comes German precision, logical thinking and having the nationalism feeling rather than individualism traits that are seen in other leagues.

  • During 2010 world cup, the Germans had an average ball possession time of 3.4 seconds. The leadership believed that if they can cut down on this parameter drastically, not only they can put the opposition totally off-guard but will enable a fluent, fast paced football which can prove to be the big differentiation factor. They teamed up with SAP and aided by a product made by SAP for German football, they cut down the possession time from 3.4 seconds to 1.1 seconds. The precision thinking along with technology makes Germans a leader by a big margin when compared to any other team in the world. If you want to read more details on this unique thing they did in 2014 world cup, click on the below link:

SAP helps Germany lift the World Cup

  • The other focus has been on their techniques and no longer great physiques. If you see German team of 2014 world cup, just look at their matches and find out how many times the ball is lost due to a first poor touch or how many unforced errors comes up during passing or how possession is given away cheaply. The numbers will be much lower than what you will see in other big teams in that world cup including Argentina, Brazil, Holland, etc
  • Finally it comes to developing an inclusive culture based on open communications and individual responsibilities. This is possible because German’s do not have big “stars” in their teams like Messi, Neymar, Ronaldo, etc. I think even the biggest of the stars of German soccer today like Tony Kroos or Ozil do not claim individual showmanship on or off the field. They would rather play as a team and not have big ego’s on individual supremacy within their own teams. In recent times, the German teams have players coming from different origins – Polish, Turkish, Moroccan, etc. However, the emphasis on inclusion within the team and emphasis on community never replaced individual accountability.
    This was best seen in Neuer’s interview after the quarterfinal win against France in 2014 world cup. When he was congratulated by a reporter on an excellent save in stoppage time against a Benzema shot, Neuer first credited his defense mentioning that they narrowed him to the extent that Benzema had no other option but to take a shot on the near post and then he mentioned “and if it goes in there it’s a goalkeeper error”.

No wonder the success stories of Germany is huge in recent years. I would say if growing footballing nations like India would like to work out an overall success model in football that will allow them to taste success in world football in next 10-15 years, they should emulate the German model.

Now we wait to see whether the same Germans can win the 2018 world cup again or at least reach the finals. Well, time will tell ….

FIFA World Cup : who’s the greatest amongst all ?

To millions of people across the world, the FIFA World Cup is perhaps rated as one of the greatest shows on earth. It has its own quota of romanticism, it has its own ups and downs and yet, the one month-long festival of the “joga bonito” seems to be eagerly awaited by the football crazy fans. Much before the world cup actually starts, the debates often gets heated on the question of “who’s the greatest amongst all countries” ? And coming from a city who is engulfed in either Brazil or Argentina, to have a sane and logical discussion turns out to be next to impossible. When emotions and passion reign high and strong over the logical mind, who cares to evaluate the facts !!

So, let’s evaluate the world cup finals for last 12 world cups – starting from 1970 till date (which will be 2014 world cup). Maybe a period of last ~50 years should indicate a fair bit of time to get evaluated upon. The other good reason being 12 is one of my favourite numbers – so better stick to that. The style of football has changed dramatically in these 48 years and so has the world cup. From a 16 team world cup back in 1970, now the 32 team world cup running from 1998 has been a long journey which probably has increased the toughness of the competition.

The methodology that I have followed to arrive at the conclusion of the best country ever is to first note the first four of each world cup (as I believe that getting into the semi-finals in a world cup is a great achievement that needs to be applauded) and assign scoring points between 4 to 1 – the champions gets 4 points, runners-up gets 3 points, 3rd place gets 2 points and the 4th placed team gets 1 point. Add the points up and voila ! you get a clear indication who gets the crown !!

Some startling facts comes up which shows very few countries have dominated world football actually when it comes to representing country (and not club):

Only 17 unique countries have actually gone into the semi-finals in the last 12 world cups. This is in-spite of football being pursued passionately by so many countries. Probably an introspection is needed why only 17 countries reach that stage and maybe 200+ countries fail to reach there ?

Again more astonishing is that out of these 17 countries, only 6 unique countries have been champions. So, effectively we are saying that 6 countries rule the world in FIFA world cups !!

Capture

Now hold your breath ! Here comes the top 4:

  • In the 4th place is Argentina with a score of 14 – the land of many greats like Kempes, Maradona, Messi, etc. It’s to be seen whether they can pursue their dream this year. However, if they win this year’s world cup, they can potentially climb upto the 3rd place
  • Coming 3rd is Italy with a score of 17. Their tradition and contribution to football has been immense, but in recent times, they are in a downhill mode. It’s quite surprising to see that they could not even qualify to the 2018 world cup
  • Not very far from Italy is Brazil in the 2nd place with a score of 19. They are always one of the favourites in all world cups – but have disappointed in many years. This year again, the hype of Brazil is growing and it remains to be seen whether Neymar and his team can lift the cup
  • The clear winner and the champions in this scoring mechanism is Germany and they lead by quite a margin with the score of 27 points. It’s a team which rarely has big super-stars but plays like a team without depending upon individual brilliance. Add to that the professionalism, the fierce strategy work and calmness.
    The German team has been the best team in modern day football – 3 times champions, 3 times runners-up, 3 times in third place – all out of the last 12 world cups !! Salute !!
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