World Cup 2006 finished its Quarters this morning, as two favorite teams, England and Brazil bid farewell to their World Cup campaign.
Although the teams that are going to the Semis, Germany, Italy, Portugal and France are indeed strong teams, I sort of feel that this World Cup has started to show the imbalance of the worlds football standard. All the teams which made it to the Semis are from Europe, West Europe to be exact. Gone were the shock elements from the Scandinavian reps like Sweden, and Balkan teams like Croatia or Ukraine. Technically speaking, these teams are still from Europe, but their technique and strategy are so different from the conventional teams, it would be interesting to see them again in the last few matches of the tournament.
But the biggest surprise is that we don’t get to see any South American reps this time. Argentina lost to Germany in the penalty shootout and Brazil failed to avenge their humiliation in France 98 with a one-nil defeat to France. So this will be the first World Cup with the definite absence of a South American team since 1982. Quite a disappointment to the continent’s fans. Brazil being the all-time favorite, fail to make it past the Quarters since 1990, their defeat could well be the biggest upset in the whole tournament.
Two Quarters were decided on penalty shoot-out, and like what Pele said, “Penalty shoot-out is a coward’s way to win.” But the two teams which went down in the penalty shoot-out should ask themselves about how they ended up in such dreadful situation in the first place. I think the most important lesson is: defensive play is NOT the way to go. Argentina tried to defend their one nil lead against Germany and sunk in the last minute. Offensive players like Saviola and Messi were sitting on the bench and playmaker Riquelme was substituted after Ayala scored. I wondered what Pekerman was thinking back then. Holding off the German tanks with stronger defense? Probably, but defensive play is never Argentina’s strength. The victory was pretty much handed to the German actually, with all due respect to the German players and fans.
Pekerman went for defensive play after Ayala's goal, and down went Argentina
Eriksson went for defensive play right from the start, and down went England as well
England ironically shared the same mistake as their archrival Argentina. Eriksson’s formation of 4-5-1 tells everyone that he is just looking for the same kind of victory against Ecuador in the last 16. Although Owen is out because of injury, Crouch and Walcott are still available, even Gerrard can play upfront, but Eriksson decided that Rooney can do it all on his own. When Rooney was sent off in the second half, luck is clearly not on their side anymore.
The score lines are becoming alarming thin as we moved closer to the end of the tournament. While the opening game between Germany and Costa Rica gave us so much anticipation, seems like we are getting more disappointment now. A total of 6 goals in all the four Quarters, an average of 1.50 per match is unforgivable. If you take out Italy-Ukraine crash, the score lines of the rest of the matches are just combination of binary numbers. What happens to Soga Bonita? As teams get more and more defensive, there will be more and more miserable moments like what happened to Argentina and England. I most sincerely hope that the trend of over-emphasizing defense will end soon, or we will be can sleep through the first 80 minutes of a match, and start watching after that (which of course is the worst case scenario of a World Cup)