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Putting myths to bed

with 5 comments

Brazil's defensive shield

YOU have heard it all before. The Brazilians play joga bonito, more samba dance than football; the Italians are defensively solid, cateneccio reigns supreme; the Dutch are cavalier, they play with élan and imagination; the Germans are mechanistic and clinical, they take every chance that comes their way. African teams are tactically naïve, and their goalkeepers are very poor. And Asia? People in this part of the world are small hence they fail to replicate the strength of European and African sides. And I nearly forgot the Americans, but of course, they are not interested in soccer. So why bother?

Every four years the World Cup swings into town and brings with it unwanted hacks who inundate you with clichés and stereotypes. But then again, it is the World Cup and so everyone is interested and wants to sound relevant. Fair enough. Hence, even the most ignorant football follower will spew to you his favourite hyperbolic cliché, and you have to be man enough to take it. Tough, but you can handle it. What you can’t is generally how people; and even intelligent, self-respecting, open-minded individuals, are reluctant to shed their prejudices and re-work their stereotypes. Myths are seemingly imbedded into our psyche, to the extent that no amount of convincing with cold hard facts will set it straight.

Take the case of Argentina. A recent poll at our very own The Daily Star website showcased that the Albiceleste were the most popular team in the country. (Chances are if you are Bangladeshi, you support either of Brazil or Argentina). That is reasonable since, Diego Maradona exploded into the world scene at about the same time that the mass population had access to television in Bangladesh. What is not understandable, however, is the most popular myth doing the rounds which states that Argentina has always been an attacking, attractive side, loaded with creative and talented players. While the current side is full of players in the Lionel Messi mould, history begs to differ about past Argentine teams seemingly loaded with talented stars.

Heinze, certainly not cultured

On the contrary, Argentina have always been a tough-tackling, tactically organised side, boasting more of players like Gabriel Heinze than Lionel Messi. In fact, the Argentina side of Italia 90 was so universally despised for their thuggish style of play, that the popular vote in the final fell to the Germans! They nearly had more men sent-off than goals scored in their run to the final, and their play was particularly so negative that FIFA held it up as an example of being forced into incorporating the back-pass rule! But try telling this to a fan.

And on the topic of Germans, they are supposed to be ruthlessly efficient and clinical, taking the few chances that come their way. Statistics will tell you otherwise. Since 1966, the Germans have created more scoring chances in the World Cup than any other team. Yes any, Argentina included. So consequently, holding stereotypes intact, they should be the highest scorers?

But no, that honour belongs to Brazil, who should then automatically be the side who play the most attractive football, right? Wrong. The truth is Brazil has probably not had a side boasting of creative dribblers since 1982. In their last 11 World Cup games, the Brazilians have kept seven clean sheets. In 1994, the tough tackling duo of Dunga and Thiago Silva precipitated their triumph, and in 2002, Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho succeeded on the basis of a rock-solid defence led by Lucio, Edmilson and Gilberto Silva. The truth is, the last time the Brazilians tried to recreate joga bonito, was in 2006 and we all know how that ended.

And I can go on.

The Dutch are supposed to be cavalier and enterprising but defensively suspect. Yet, they had the best defensive record of all sides qualifying for the World Cup and in 23 of their last 24 World Cup games, they have never scored more than twice. On to African teams who are supposedly tactically naïve, yet Ghana are 1-0 specialists and kept out a Serbia side who had finished above France in qualifying. And for those who believe that African goalkeepers can’t field a ball, I give you Victor Enyeama, who almost single-handedly kept Lionel Messi out.

If you are looking for goalkeeping gaffe’s England is your answer, although they are traditionally known to have safe hands manning the post. The Asian’s are supposedly small and frail, but both Japan and South Korea garnered victory over traditionally supposedly physically stronger teams in Cameroon and Greece, who by the way might be European champions but have never won a game in the World Cup.

Personally, I understand stereotypes. People crave reason, and “stereotyping” something helps them make better sense of the world. It’s always easier if someone or the other is supposed to fulfill a specific function and does exactly that. But in doing that if you tell me that England is stronger at the back since Fabio Capello took over, I will tell you that they kept more clean sheets under Steve Mclaren than they did under the Italian. Strange, but true.

In the end, it is all gloriously uncertain, which is just how it should be. Is that not why we watch sports?

But I know at least one person agrees with me.

After labouring to a somewhat fortuitous 2-0 win over Denmark in their first game, the Netherlands midfielder Rafael van der Vaart, made an interesting comment: “We played like the Germans,” he said, a twinkle in his eye, “and they played like us.”

Times a changing.


Written by quazi zulquarnain

June 23, 2010 at 7:13 am

5 Responses

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  1. Nodded through the entirety of this article. For years, I would get ready to watch matches armed with these ‘stereotypical’ lessons from the pundits and 15 minutes in, I am struggling to make those observations stick. There are of course, underlying strengths to each team but these are not so obvious enough for us to say that all 15 play in the same mode.

    I will make a cricket allegory here: When sub-continental batsmen play spin well, it is because they are sub-continental but if an Antipodean hits a spinner, it is a powerful shot.

    Thanks for a great read on this rainy day.


    June 23, 2010 at 7:49 am

  2. hey cheers quazi you clearly know your football, it is very tough,these days if we say anything that is contrary to the common pathetic cliche’s, we’re most probably going to be disliked by the general public. thats just reality lol its wonderful running into this kind of insightful article. i think its great for people’s general awareness, even outside of football, to be aware and accept and be open to things. that way it is fair on everyone, its totally unfair on taems like germany who’ve played such a good brand of football , (other than probably 96-2004) but dogged with stereotypes these days. thankfully this german taem is brining back some old memories.

    look for yourself, find out about, then accept it if you like it. dont accept anything by blind faith. i think thats a wonderful value for aynone eto have. thanks again =)


    June 23, 2010 at 7:55 am

  3. Excellent article. It’s rare to come across such excellence in football analysis. Looking forward to future instalments.


    June 23, 2010 at 8:07 am

  4. Good post! I’ve also been making a point of noticing how many tired and overused clichés are pulled out of the bag this summer: ‘Greeks bearing gifts’, ‘Japanese kamikaze’, ‘Brazilian samba’ etc etc


    June 23, 2010 at 8:29 am

  5. dosto impressed by the comments u got for this article. In actuality it is a very good piece. People always try to bring stereotypes in football. Worst is when they say Italians are really defensive, when they are not, just that they have been always been defensively solid.


    June 23, 2010 at 1:59 pm

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