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Posts Tagged ‘World Cup 2010

Dutch ideology watermarked on World Cup 1-2-3

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Passing triangles is football's new 'old' direction

TODAY’S World Cup final between Spain and Netherlands will see an eighth champion enter the pantheon of greats. And in that, either or both of the men, who have masterminded their team’s run to the final, will be hailed as great managers and toasted across their respective countries.

It is all fair and good, since Bert van Marwijk and Vicente del Bosque are both fantastic managers and deserve to be lauded. But both men and the imperious Joachim Loew, whose Germany side made it into the semi-finals, will secretly owe a huge debt of gratitude to a poker-faced man in a leafy suburb in Munich.

And somewhere out there, Louis van Gaal will surely be toasting his ideology with a glass of the finest available champagne.

Louis van Gaal is the real winner of the World Cup

The image of van Gaal and his burning ideology is stamped like a watermark upon these teams. His shadow hangs heavy over all three and all have managed to make it into the final four of the biggest show on earth.

So what is this ideology? What do the Dutch, the Spanish and the Germans have in common, in this World Cup of contrasts?

The answer is that all three teams have an undying devotion to a common philosophy: The need to develop a culture of passing.

Over the course of the last month, much has been made about the spirit, fight and mental bottle of the teams that made it thus far. What has been consistently missed is that all three have an infallible commitment to a passing game that was first developed by Johan Cryuff and more universally applied by Louis van Gaal.

Consider just the players in the final equation. Van Gaal currently coaches Bayern Munich, a club who provided the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Phillip Lahm and Thomas Mueller to the tournament. And that is just from the Germany side. The Netherlands have Arjen Robben and Mark van Bommel, who work with van Gaal at Bayern and both have been irrepressible in this team.

And there is more. The Spanish have Xavi and Iniesta and both men received their big breaks under Louis van Gaal in his tenure at Barcelona.

On face value, these are all different players in different positions. But what they all have in common, is the unique van Gaal trait; the ability to pass the ball. Under van Gaal, nothing is more important than this. You don’t have to be physically domineering, or prodigiously skilled. Lahm, Xavi and Iniesta are all under six foot. Mueller is hardly the most skilled player in the world.

Individual brilliance too is strictly optional; for all of Robben’s selfish forays, his ability to make swift, sharp passes is one his biggest strengths. Under van Gaal, the rule is simple. If you can pass the ball, at speed over distances, you make his team.

The van Gaal catechism is simple to learn, but hard to master. Do not pass into a team-mate’s feet, it stresses, but always ahead of him to keep the ball moving. When the first man passes to the second man, the third man must already be moving into space ready for the second man’s pass.

In short, football is about making swift passing triangles, over and over again.

Which is why kids at Ajax, Barcelona and now Bayern Munich are stuck in eternal games of four on four; two touches allowed.

It is a formula stereotypically identified as Dutch. And it is true that the Dutch pioneered it, but the Spanish perfected it and the Germans have just recently partaken it.

Van Gaal’s (and for that matter Johann Cryuff’s) influence over the biggest clubs in these countries is well documented. He oversaw the great explosion of Dutch talent from Ajax, perfected Johan Cryuff’s university of passing at Barcelona and at Bayern this season revolutionised their structure of play. On the way, he tweaked things here and there, but the basic remained the same.

And Ajax is where half of these Dutch players got their start, and Barcelona and Bayern contribute the largest quota of players to the top four teams.

The metamorphosis between the three is such that German, Dutch and Spanish football has crossbred to become almost indistinguishable. The Germans pass like Holland in disguise. The Dutch defend and counter-attack like Germans used to. Spain play like Holland circa 2000.

Once the tournament ends, most reviews will focus on the biggest stars. Instead they could do to  focus on passing cultures. The Messis, the Ronaldos and the Kakas are all on holiday. And the top three sides all adhere to the ideology of one stony-faced Amsterdammer.

Anyone else doubt that Van Gaal deserves that toast?


Futuristic Xavi is La Roja’s inspiration

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The story goes that during David Beckham sojourn at Real Madrid, he was surprised to see Zinedine Zidane take time out after every training session to work on his ball control.
Zidane’s method was simple, even somewhat agricultural. The Frenchman apparently shot the ball up in the air as far as he could and then practiced receiving it, as close to his body as possible. Amazingly straightforward.

And the lesson from this small anecdote is just that.

The greatest players in the world are the ones who can do the simple things the best.

So, step forward Xavi Hernandez. The Spanish midfielder has been the

The master of tikki-taka

fulcrum of the La Roja squad who have ambled (there really is no other word for it), their way into the World Cup final.

Spain play a mesmerizing brand of football, idiosyncratic in the maximum, elaborate but at the same time controlling, and believe it or not defensive. One journalist described them as attractively defensive. It is not far off the mark. Spain asphyxiates their opponents. Spain devour their opponents, slowly, steadily, like a boa constrictor eating a rabbit. They don’t attack, but probe, press, and pass. Pass you to figurative death. And Xavi is usually the mastermind of this murder.
Forever plotting behind the scenes, but as imperative and essential as your heartbeat.
Just to give you a measure of Xavi’s anti-hero; when the Barcelona midfielder was included in the top five at the Fifa World Player award ceremony in January 2009, alongside Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Fernando Torres, the British Daily Mail’s headline famously ran: “The best players of the world (and Xavi).

Xavi is a fantastic player, albeit one who lacks the flash of any of his aforementioned glorified compatriots. His genius is not that evident; his innovative moves lack the in-your-face glory of a Messi slalom, or a Ronaldo free-kick, or a Kaka burst at pace.

His genius is in doing the simple things, right, time and time again. Xavi’s genius lies in his passing. “I am basically a passer,” was Xavi’s modest self-assesment. And so he is. He belongs to Barcelona after all. “Receive, pass, offer,” is the simple message, the obsession, a badge of identity that runs right through the club, driven into players from the moment they join. Xavi joined in 1991 and no one represents that obsession better than him.

And it’s not just his passing. It is his vision, his ability to read the game better than his opponents that sets himself apart.

Teammate Dani Alves once famously said, “Xavi plays in the future.” What he meant was that Xavi’s understanding was such that he often knew what the player should do before the other player did himself. His pass then set his teammate up for that exact move.
If Spain are to lift the World Cup on Sunday, much of the credit will go to the likes of Andres Iniesta and David Villa. Many will overlook the contribution of the man they call the metronome.
But the ones who matter will know.
Spanish football expert Sid Lowe wrote an engaging commentary a few months back. He concluded by stating that while Messi may be the best player in the world, without Xavi, he might not be.
Similarly, Spain may be the best team in the world, but without Xavi they would definitely not be.

Written by quazi zulquarnain

July 9, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Best & Worst of South Africa 2010

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So since the quarterfinals have now given us some room to breathe, a dissection of the World Cup is in order. So without further ado, here goes.

Most attractive teams:

Germany & Argentina. The two are set to partake in what, on paper atleast, looks to be a feast of football. Both teams have been inconsistent, but if the Argentineans can play as well as they did against South Korea and Greece and if the Germans can replicate the form of Australia and England, this will be a quarterfinal with enduring memory.

Honorable mention to Chile for regaling us with a brand of fiesty attractive, but if somewhat futile football. Long live Bielsa’s naivety.

Most insipid teams:

Portugal & England. For sides boasting the talents of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, both England and Portugal were poor for the length of the tournament. Both men struggled to impose themselves and while Portugal still covered their goalscoring failings by being rock solid at the back, England managed to flunk that department as well. Cue a ‘root & branch’ analysis.

Most dangerous team:

Brazil. They are your old school axe-murderers. One blow and it is all over. Unlike Spain who consistently probe and look for gaps, Brazil spend most of the game passing patiently, keeping possession. They are solid and impermeable at the back, but they counter-attack at a hundred miles an hour. Superb from set-pieces and not lacking in individual quality, the Selecao will take some stopping.

Match of the tournament:

For pure unadulterated drama, Slovakia v Italy. Topsy-turvy encounter, end-to-end football, and like every great game, you never knew it was over, till it was over. Fabio Quagliarella’s sublime strike was the icing on the cake.

Worst match of the tournament:

I think this will be unanimous. Portugal v Brazil. Woeful match by both sides content with a draw. More brawn than beauty on show. Magnificent let-down.

Biggest controversies:

Frank Lampard’s ghost goal & Carlos Tevez’s offside header. Germany and Argentina both received huge slices of luck. In Germany’s case a disallowed goal for England showed the necessity for goalline technology. In Argentina’s case a clear offside missed by officials was the beginning of the end for Mexico.

Biggest WAG controversy:

Despite the likes of Abigail Clancy staying away, the WAGs still managed to permeate the World Cup. Sara Carbonero of Spain and Iker Casillas’ significant other risked the ire of the Spanish press by … just doing her job. Most were upset that she was so close to Casillas during the game, alleging that it made him lose his concentration.

Biggest letdown

The refereeing has been abysmal. Kaka’s sending off against Ivory Coast a case in point. Fifa’s reluctance to embrace technology or extra referees, also shocking.

Biggest surprise

Ghana has long been identified as Africa’s best side. But here they showed they can mix it with the best. Tactically perhaps the most accomplished side in the tournament, Ghana is a team full of players who know what they have to do. The match with a similar Uruguay will be exciting.

Story of the World Cup so far

Two words. Diego Maradona. Crass, brilliant and superstition all rolled into one. Is there a bigger superstar in world football than Diego Maradona? (and a worse role model?)

The “omg, this guy is good” player

I won’t say Mesut Oezil, because I have been following him closely for a while now. Nor Thomas Mueller because he just played the Champions League final. My pick is Matias Fernandez. The Chilean playmaker from Sporting, is the straw that stirs the Chilean drink. Cool on the ball, with vision and passing, his importance to the side is illustrated by the fact that Chile lost the only two games he did not play, due to an eerie decision by Marcelo Bielsa.

Best-looking fan

Last World Cup we had Heidi Klum. This time, Larissa Riquelme takes the cake. Who is betting on a Paraguayan triumph?

World Cup XI

Important to note is that this team was selected on the basis of a formation; 4-2-3-1 in the parlance of the time. So please consider this as the best players for the particular positions as regards their performance in the World Cup, rather than just holistically the best players overall.


Eduardo: Portugal conceded a single goal all tournament and much of this was down to the brilliance of this 27 year old. Was solid all tournament and made some exceptional saves in the game against Spain.


Fabio Coentrao: It was a toss-up between Michel Bastos and the Portuguese, but Coentrao gets the nod because of his impeccable performances so far. The Benfica player has been a standout so far and provides the Portuguese with tactical mobility.


Gerard Pique: Calmness personified at the back, almost Kaiser-ish in his forays into midfield and attack.  Very solid in all the games so far despite the blip against Switzerland. The exception who proves the Nike ad ‘epic fail’ rule.

Lucio: Lucio has had some lapses of concentration and he faced stiff competition from Antonin Alcaraz of Paraguay. But Lucio adds much to Brazil’s game with his languid runs from the back.


Maicon: Again, a toss-up between him and Phillip Lahm and the Brazilian is in, by virtue of his quite stunning goal against North Korea. Patrols the right on his own and has done his burgeoning reputation no harm in this World Cup.

Central midfield:

Bastian Schweinsteiger: The German has reinvented himself in a new role, and has become the heartbeat of the side. Steady in possession and his distribution has been impeccable. He has made the most number of passes of any player in the World Cup so far.

Javier Mascherano: Did not have the best end of the season at Liverpool but the midfield hardman has shone as Argentinean captain and is one of the key reason that Argentina can play their expansive shape. There have been better players than him this World Cup, but hardly anyone better in this destructor role.

Attacking midfield:

Lionel Messi: Despite not having scored a single goal so far, although he has had the most shots on target, Messi is increasingly the straw that stirs the drink for the Albiceleste. Not much more needs to be said about the best player in the world. He also edges out Mesut Oezil in this role, although the German has been a revelation so far


Andres Iniesta: Whenever Iniesta is fit, Spain have played better. He is full of running, intelligent movement and creativity. Even fit well into his shuttled role on the right-wing. Wayne Rooney called him, ‘the best player in the world.’


Thomas Mueller: His coach calls him cheeky, Maradona called him a ball-boy. But with three goals and three assists Mueller has been directly involved in more goals than any other player in the World Cup. Hard to believe, just last year, he was playing the German third division.


David Villa: Has been outshining his more illustrious teammate Fernando Torres in the World Cup and for much of the period before it. Four goals and is a fair bet to finish top scorer.

Written by quazi zulquarnain

July 1, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Technology, Tevez and Thomas Mueller

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The debate over video technology exploded into full bloom on Sunday as both Argentina and Germany advanced in controversial circumstances to set up a mouth-watering quarterfinal clash for next Saturday.

For Argentina, Carlos Tevez headed in a Lionel Messi pass when he was almost three yards offside, while England’s denial of clear goal from a Frank Lampard volley was even more damning. It is quite inexplicable why FIFA continues to insist on living in the Stone Age when technology to make such a decision is readily available to them.  Sepp Blatter’s assurance that, it will slow down the game holds little weight, but even if it does, what is the excuse for not having a referee behind the goal? UEFA’s successful experiment in the Europa League with two extra men behind the goal would have prevented both incidents yesterday. And in games of such magnitude as yesterday, it is impossible to see FIFA’s logic and rationale.

But decisions aside, England will have little to complain about. A team packed full of Premier League stars were dismantled piece by piece by a German side full of youthful vigour and swift interplay.

England’s first mistake was to play a 4-4-2, which meant that Germany playing their usual 4-2-3-1 automatically had a man up in midfield. And crucially for England, that man was often Mesut Oezil. The German playmaker is a captivating youngster, full of intelligent movement and imaginative passing. Given room to exploit, he did not disappoint, consistently proving the thorn in the English side. But he was still not the best German on show.

That honour belonged to Thomas Mueller. The Bayern Munich talent has had a meteoric rise to fame. Just last season he was playing in the lower echelons of the German third division. And on Sunday night his two goals knocked England out of the World Cup. Stratospheric.

Mueller was Germany's spark

Alongside Mueller and Oezil, Bastian Schweinsteiger also turned in an imperious display and Germany completely played England off the park in a vintage performance. The only time England had their foot in the game was for 10 minutes before the end of the first half, and to their credit they might have pulled themselves level at that time, had it not been for the dubious linesman call.

At the end though, despite the could haves, most in England were united in their belief, that they had been thoroughly outplayed.  Inquests for Fabio Capello are forthcoming, after a listless England showing devoid of any cohesion.

Tevez's bomb

In the day’s last game, Carlos Tevez’s illegitimate goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of Mexico who then proceeded to gift the Argetineans a goal with a shocking error by Ricardo Osorio.

To their credit, Mexico kept Lionel Messi well in check, but this Argentina side is packed with talent and when Carlos Tevez bombed in his second, there was little doubt as to the winner despite Manchester United recruit Javi Martinez’s late strike.

Argentina though, did not play as well as they had in their last two games and a last eight clash with Germany now gives them a chance to avenge the defeat at the same phase four years ago.

It will be a fascinating clash as both sides are packed with attacking talent but look somewhat suspect in defence, Germany slightly more so than Argentina. Goals are likely to be on the menu; which probably means it will end an insipid draw.

Written by quazi zulquarnain

June 28, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Germany player ratings vs Australia

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Manuel Neuer (7): An accomplished showing by the Schalke man. Had little to do in the entire game but when called upon was solid in his handling and distributed well.

Holger Badstuber (7): The picture of calm. Good passer of the ball and retained possession well. Defended stolidly, although had little really to contend with.

Arne Friedrich (7.5): Mixed it with Garcia and Kewell on a number of occassions. One of the busier German center-backs. Looked solid mostly.

Per Mertesacker (7): Quiet, unassuming game considering Australia hardly posed a threat. Lost a few headers and had to make a few risky tackles, but overall never unduly worried.

Phillip Lahm (8.5): Captain’s performance. Combined brilliantly down the right. Set up Klose’s goal with a great cross and rarely beaten to the ball by an Australian man.

Lukas Podolski (8): Willing runner, came short to get the ball. Whipped in dangerous crosses and played some super pases. Overall, this was the Podolski of old. And what a shot for the goal.

Bastian Schweinsteiger (8): Stepped admirably into Ballack’s shoes. Retained possession with aplomb. The heartbeat of the entire team and not afraid to get stuck in there when needed.

Sami Khedira (7): Looked a little lost at the start of the game. Needed to step up to get a good grip on the game and did so in the second half, although the task was made easier by the sending off.

Thomas Mueller (8.5): Loew called him cheeky. Super game from Mueller. Ran the line, cut intelligently inside and combined superbly with Oezil and Lahm. And took his goal superbly. My man-of-the-match.

Mesut Oezil (8): Classy in everything that he did. The complete playmaker. Germany have not had a player like him in ages. Insightful, intelligent and with superb vision and balance. The complete playmaker. Now just has to improve his finishing; and cut ot the diving.

Miroslav Klose (7): Got his goal, but missed glaringly. Made some good runs that troubled the Australians and as always an unceasing worker. 11 goals in the World Cup now, 7 with headers. Super record.


Cacau (7.5): A goal within one minute and 52 seconds of coming on. Took his first chance and generally combined well. Booked for diving and deservedly so.

Gomez (6): Did little of note, but in truth the service was lacking as Germany took it easy by that time. Had one chance from a Marin cross, did not make much of it.

Marin (–):

Written by quazi zulquarnain

June 14, 2010 at 8:54 am

New dawn for Germany

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Admittedly, the first question many would ask is what would have happened, had Phillip Lahm not cleared off the line from a Ricardo Garcia shot so early on in the game. For the moment though, the answer will be moot, after the German’s heralded in a new dawn, with a breathtaking display of attacking football that tore the Socceroos asunder in their opening match at the World Cup.

To put Germany’s win into perspective, consider this. They made more passes in one half than South Africa, Uruguay, USA and Nigeria completed in their entire matches. They tactically out-thought the Australians and displayed a maturity in attack and defence that belied their status as the third youngest team in the tournament.

At times, Germany were irresistible. Classy, one and two touch football, moving the ball from side to side and most importantly, intelligent running between the lines. The performance was revolutionary in a German context.

And the face of this revolution was Mesut Oezil. The Werder Bremen playmaker was orchestrator in chief, with clever movement, intelligent running and cerebral play altogether. In midfield Sami Khedira battened down the hatches with Bastian Schweinsteiger, as the duo, picked, received, passed; dictating play in a way as to make Michael Ballack’s injury negligible.

But what shone through was that this is a new Germany. Multi-cultural, brash, brave, daring, pretty and sometimes even spectacular. None are adjectives usually associated with the national stereotype but adjectives that held stead after a performance that will have made the world sit up and take notice.

As for Joachim Loew, he will feel vindicated in his decision to field both Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose in the side. Both of the much maligned strikers scored and in the former’s case, he also put in a stellar display full of pace power and initiative. This was the Podolski of the 2006 World Cup, one who was at that time (hard as it is to believe now) better than both Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney.  Klose scored, but he will be cursing himself for not having got atleast one goal more. Even a hattrick was not beyond him just as three or four more goals were not beyond Germany.

At the risk of getting carried away, it should be remembered that Australia were quite poor and their tactics played totally into Germany’s hands. Pressing high up the pitch meant that they left enough room behind the defence for the Germans to exploit, and for once, true to stereotype, the Germans ruthlessly did; time and again.

Germany will face tougher opponents and they will not win this World Cup. It is too soon for this bunch of talented players. But they will win fans, hopefully overturn stereotypes and herald in a new dawn.

Highlight: First goal Made in Turkey, scored in Poland, to put Germany 1-0 up. The multi-cultural make-up of the World Cup is showcased here. Mesut Oezil, of Turkish origin, strives for space on the right, manufactures an inch of room and slides in a superb pass for the Bavarian Thomas Mueller, who cuts the ball behind for the Polish-born Podolski to hammer home via the hands of the German-born Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer. Brilliant start.

Written by quazi zulquarnain

June 14, 2010 at 8:32 am

No Madiba and karma is a bitch (Day 1)

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The man they call Madiba was missing in grievous circumstances, but the Bafana Bafana used that as in inspiration to play out a high-octane tournament opener against Mexico. Elsewhere, karma (or the ghost of Rep. Ireland past) came back to bite Thierry Henry as the French, for the third tournament running, managed only a draw from their first match.

Mexico have played more tournament openers than any team in history, and it showed as they came out all guns blazing terrorizing the South African’s with some intricate movement. Chief architect was Giovani dos Santos and he and Carlos Vela combined superbly to run the host’s ragged. The occasion


seemed to overawe the South African’s and they were lucky to go into the break all square. All that changed in the second half as South Africa came out all guns blazing and a swift counterattack soon ended with Siphiwe Thsabalala blasting home a beauty from just inside the box. As far as opening goals go, this will take some betterment and 80,000 vuvuzelas trumpeted their approval in the deafening din of the stadium. South Africa have never lost when Tshabalala have scored, and that record remained intact even as Mexico grabbed an equaliser through captain Rafael Marquez. The match the developed into an end-to-end affair devoid of tactical discipline and both sides could have grabbed a winner, although none did. At the end, both sides will rue not getting three points from the game but the hosts will be satisfied to have kept the World Cup tradition of host’s not losing openers intact.

In the day’s second match, the French also kept up traditions. Les Blues had not won opening games in 2002 and 2006 and they did not this time either.

It was a dull, insipid showing from the French whose tactical make-up left a lot to be desired. Thierry Henry was on the bench along with Florent Malouda but both entered the fray for the relatively anonymous Yoann Gourcuff and Nicolas Anelka. That changed little in the grand scheme of

Sparks flew, but no goals

things even as Uruguay’s Nicolas Lodeiro managed to be sent off in less than twenty minutes of on-pitch action. The French had missed a glorious chance in the first half after Franck Ribery had shrugged off his marker and put in Sidney Govou, but the Uruguayans could count themselves as unlucky after Diego Forlan hurried his volley wide of the post. It was evens to the end, when Thierry Henry drew a blatant handball inside the box from an Uruguay player. Believers the world over, had a field day, as the referee waved play on. Henry could only smile ruefully.

The Good:

  • After a stunned start, the Bafana Bafana made a game of it against a technically superior Mexico side, with some attractive and energetic play
  • Giovani dos Santos was cerebral; his passing and movement always a threat
  • Diego Forlan missed a glorious chance, but aside from that, he showed all the skills required of a top class forward. His turn at the half-way line to leave Abou Diaby on his back, was world-class

The Bad:

  • Raymond Domenech. It takes a certain level of genius to get so many high-quality players to play this poorly (circa Raphael Hoingstein)
  • Vuvuzela’s. They should be banned, period.

Written by quazi zulquarnain

June 12, 2010 at 7:34 am