By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (July 11, 2014) US Soccer Players – The 2014 World Cup is a World Cup of surprises. This is a World Cup of goals, both in quantity and quality. This is a World Cup of defensive failure, but also of offensive brilliance. The two combine to produce a cocktail of entertainment and drama that makes this edition of the World Cup one of the best ever to watch from afar. This is a World Cup of fun.
This World Cup seemed to match the spirit of its host country with a positive approach and speedy attacking verve. The counterattack returned to the spotlight, especially in the group stage, and dominated most of the strategic discussion.
Costa Rica’s shocking triumph over three former champions in Group C happened because of coach Jose Luis Pinto’s five-man back line and pacey thrust up the field. The Netherlands used a similar tactical wrinkle to take apart the defending champion, Spain.
This is also the World Cup of chaos. The accepted norms of the world’s game are gone. The tenets that have either held true for decades or account for current wisdom switched off in Brazil. We don’t even know which positions attack or defend anymore. All of that went out of the window over four weeks in Brazil. Even though the 2014 World Cup delivered a final pitting two of the game’s traditional powers against one another, it’s how Germany and Argentina got here.
Germany took apart Brazil in the semifinal 7-1. That game will undoubtedly be the most remembered contest of the tournament. The host nation simply could not stop the German onslaught, conceding five goals in the first 29 minutes of the match. It was a clinical performance by a tournament favorite.
Against any respectable team in the world, the number of goals might have been shocking. Against Brazil, it was ludicrous. It was as if Brazil forgot how to defend for a game, playing soccer through muscle memory alone. Germany responded by putting on a show.
Just one game before, however, Germany struggled to put even one goal past France in a tense quarterfinal affair. France’s performance was strange because of their posture. Even after giving up an early goal to Germany through a Mats Hummels set piece header, Les Bleus sat deep in their own end, inviting Die Mannschaft to continue to apply pressure. If it was a counterattacking plan, it failed miserably. If it was anything else, it was a disaster.
The counterattack World Cup gives and takes. For some countries, a setup built on the notion of creating a turnover and springing three, four, or five players towards an opponent’s goal was the best way to even up the odds. For others, the tactic represented the best fit for the players in their team.
A top soccer nation like the Netherlands normally doesn’t use the counterattack almost exclusively. Yet, the Oranje pulled out the game plan even in their quarterfinal matchup against Costa Rica. The Netherlands defended in numbers, protected their goal, and worked to free up Arjen Robben and friends. Whether the plan worked or not is irrelevant. At the end of 120 minutes, the Netherlands had produced no goals and need penalties to defeat the lightly regarded Ticos.
Star players found themselves forced to play in unfamiliar or uncomfortable positions, often because that’s where their nation needed them. The international game and injuries being what they are, there is not enough talent across lineups to make for balanced, tactically sound teams. Occasionally that’s even true for the favorite to lift the trophy on Sunday, Germany.
Philipp Lahm is one of the best right backs in the world. He mans the position for one of the best club teams in the world at Bayern Munich. On multiple occasions at the World Cup, Germany coach Joachim Low pushed Lahm into deep central midfield, where his defensive acumen and soccer smarts helped him to anchor a part of the field that needed more bite. Lahm provided that when asked, even though he is more naturally suited to line up as a fullback.
Germany’s roster required Low to swap in a natural center back for Lahm when he moved the Bayern player to midfield. It’s a strange tradeoff of skillsets that nevertheless made Germany stronger depending on tactics and matchups.
“The slightly awkward World Cup” doesn’t have much of a ring to it. It sounds like a negative, as though the World Cup made everyone fidgety caused people to look away from embarrassment.
Perhaps that happened during Brazil ‘s loss to Germany. However, what all of that awkwardness actually did was make for a weird, surprising, risk-happy, counterattack World Cup. It’s a World Cup that not only provided for shocking score lines, but delivered a skewed sense of style. There are worse ways to remember a World Cup.
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