Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Random Thoughts before D-Day (North Africa Version)

  • I love the World Cup again. I reserve my right to change my mind in three hours.

  • I just finished Inverting the Pyramid, which I thoroughly enjoyed. A couple initial thoughts. The description of Greece's Euro '04 win made me think of Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech. Otto Rehagel brought back the sweeper system and man-making, a defensive system that had been out of favor in major football for decades. Opponents had forgotten how to deal with that system, so Greece strung together 1-0 wins over France, the Czech Republic, and Portugal, all of which had far more talent than the Greeks. Does that sound a little like Johnson's success on the Flats? And if this analogy holds, then Greece's lack of success since 2004 - they failed to qualify for Germany '06 and they were knocked out at the group stages in Euro '08 and South Africa '10 - is a worrying sign. An unrelated note from the book: this quote from Arrigo Sacchi is the best counter to the "you never played the game" criticism of coaches and commentators from current or former players: does a jockey first need to be a horse?

  • West African sides are often accused of wasting their formidable talent in major tournaments through bouts of naivete. The archetype of this phenomenon are the two penalties that Cameroon gave away to England in Italia '90 when the Indomitable Lions were poised to make the semifinals. Nigeria's red card when they were on the front foot against Greece is a perfect recent example. With that context in mind, Kaider Keita's Oscar-worthy performance in getting Kaka sent off was sadly hilarious. On the one hand, a West African team had finally figured out how to deploy the sort of gamesmanship that we take for granted from most major futbol powers. On the other hand, Keita's timing was exceedingly bad, as the Ivory Coast was already cooked in the Brazil game, so getting Kaka sent off reduced the chances of Brazil delivering the hiding to Portugal that the Elephants need to progress. Even when an African side deploys the dark art of play-acting, they don't get it right.

  • Barcelona lacked a proper left-sided attacker this year after Thierry Henry showed that his career as a top level footballer was over. With that in mind, David Villa's opener against Honduras - in which Villa cut in from the left, beat two defenders, and then laced a shot into the side netting while maneuvering around a third - was sweet music to my . . . eyes? I liked what I saw from Spain against Honduras, minus Fernando Torres's incredibly wasteful finishing. Jesus Navas and Sergio Ramos made absolute mincemeat of the Honduran left and Villa had his way on the right. Spain 4 Chile 2 seems like a likely result on Friday. In terms of attacking, chances, and drama, that should be the game of the group stage.

  • I don't know what to think about the Nats today. On the one hand, they looked very good in the second half against Slovenia, so you would hope that they can take that momentum into a game against a weaker foe that is going to have to press forward. Algeria are going to be uncomfortable needing to attack, which should create all sorts of chances for the US. On the other hand, nothing ever comes easy for our boys. The memories of Poland in '02 are still fresh. I like the US 2-1 today, but I'm uneasy, although not as uneasy as I would be if I were an England fan.

  • Speaking of which, those of you who are regular readers can probably imagine how much joy I am taking from England's inability to complete a pass from point A to point B. All of the reasons why I don't like England - overrated EPL players who benefit from playing with skilled foreign teammates, passion in the place of skill, running in the place of passing - have been evident in the Three Lions' struggles. Not that he asked me, but if I were Fabio Capello, I would: (1) make Wayne Rooney the striker; (2) give license to Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson to get forward to pump crosses into the box; (3) bench one of Lampard or Gerrard (probably Lampard); (4) play Michael Carrick in the base of a 4-3-3 next to Barry and tell Carrick that his job is to be Andrea Pirlo or Xabi Alonso by spraying passes everywhere; and (5) make Aaron Lennon and Joe Cole the right and left wings of the attacking trident with instructions that they need to stretch the Slovenia backline and pin the Slovenia left and right backs to the wall. Capello is probably too conservative to do so, which raises another criticism of the English FA: they have figured out that there are no good English managers, but why have they tried to solve the problem by hiring two of the most conservative products of Serie A? I like Capello and will never dispute his merits as a manager, but when England's problem has been scoring goals against top competition and then going out on penalties, he doesn't seem like the fix. In retrospect, wouldn't Guus Hiddink have been the better solution?


Anonymous said...

Johnson's spread-option (and Navy's, of course) is not the wishbone and the Wannstedt strategy isn't inherently successful against it. His acolyte Willie Martinez hasn't exactly shut it down when he's had the opportunity.

Aside from that, it's not like everyone stopped wishbone teams. You had to have the defensive talent of late-80s Miami to do it, and only 3 or 4 teams each year had/have anything close to that.

Michael said...

My sole point is that a lot of coaches said when Johnson's offense went through the ACC like wildfire that teams have forgotten how to defend against an old-school option offense. That might change, especially if Johnson remains successful and there are copycats.

Look at the success that LSU and Iowa had in defending the offense when they had a month to prepare.