Saturday, 14 December 2019

What Does It Take To Win The World Cup?

Updated: June 7, 2014 4:31 pm

It helps if you have a brilliant team but a combination of factors come into play when participating in the world’s biggest sporting event. Home field advantage, the composition of the team, the teams you play or avoid playing, the right coaching and tactics, and the correct mix you need to get a competitive team are all important when determining the ultimate success of a country in the tournament. Of course, there is always a bit of luck

Being the host team seemingly provides an advantage in the World Cup. Out of 19 World Cups, 6 have been won by the hosts (Uruguay 1930, Italy 1938, England 1966, W. Germany 1974, Argentina 1978, and France 1998). Sweden (1958) and Brazil (1950) have been finalists, and several nations have emerged as semi-finalists ranging from traditional football powerhouses like Italy and Germany to the Cinderella South Korea in 2002. Chile also made the semi-finals on home turf while footballing lightweights like the USA in 1994 and Mexico in 1970 made the second round of the tournament.

What accounts for home team advantage? Certainly a large domestic fan base helps although in the case of France in 1998 the French people woke up to the fact that they had a terrific team only mid-way through the tournament. The French football team, in fact, met with racial abuse from the nationalist politician Jean Marie Le Pen who said the team was not French but “African” because of the large number of black players in the team. Similarly, in USA 1994, the Americans did not even have a functioning domestic football league and the sport had to sell itself to a country where American Football, Baseball, and Basketball were the sports with the largest fan base. In Argentina in 1978 home-field advantage played a major role in ensuring an Argentinean victory since the Dutch were certainly intimidated by the crowd and to this day players like Johnny Rep believe that had they won they would not have been allowed to leave the stadium alive.

Home field also gives a side the advantage of knowing local playing conditions be it wet weather, humidity and heat, or in the case of Mexico, high-altitude. European teams particularly had problems with heat and humidity until advances in sports medicine and conditioning reduced the effects of climate. From an Indian perspective, older cricket fans remember when cricket had a season and that people stopped playing the game when summer came along. Yet now India’s most popular sporting competition, the Indian Premier League, is played in summer. Then there is food—Indian sports fans remember that Shane Warne brought along a bag full of canned goods when he toured India while Gordon Banks was unable to play in the crucial quarter-final against West Germany in 1970 due to an upset stomach caused by drinking a local beer.

Refereeing decisions also tend to favor the home side. The Italians to this day complain about how several key decisions went against them in the 2002 quarter-final against the hosts South Korea. Johnny Rep, who played two World Cup finals for the Dutch, gave an interview to David Winner about the 1978 World Cup final in Argentina and said that he believed that even if Robbie Rensenbrink’s shot in the dying minutes had crossed the goal line instead of hitting the post, the referee would have added on enough extra time to let the Argentineans equalize. Rep may be whining, and the Dutch are notoriously big whiners when it comes to football, but there is some truth to these allegations.

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At the same time, one should take the host nation advantage with a pinch of salt. Unlike the Olympics, the football World Cup has traditionally been given to countries that are footballing powerhouses in their own right. So an Italy or Germany reaching the semifinals on home turf is to be expected. This is likely to change as more countries like Qatar, the proposed hosts in 2022, get to host the cup. As the cup moves away from football powerhouses to nations that get the game to expand the global appeal of the sport, and to open a new footballing market, it will be interesting to see whether the host nation advantage gets diluted.

Team composition matters although now, in an age of globalization and the constant transfer of football players, that is increasingly difficult to do. In the past teams that were formed out of the nucleus of a talented domestic side tended to do well in the World Cup since these players had played hundreds of games together and had an intuitive understanding of field positions as well as the strengths and weaknesses of their team mates. Thus the Hungarian team of 1954 came largely from two teams—Honved and Budapesti Voros Lobogo. Honved was made into a powerhouse by the Hungarian football authorities by raiding other teams of their best players. The core of the 1996 World Cup winning English team came from West Ham United, now an unfashionable club in the Premier League. Brazil in 1970 came by and large from two teams—Santos and Botafogo. Gerson, Brazil’s brilliant playmaker who tore apart the Italians in the final, famously transferred to Botafogo because he had been humiliated by Garrincha in a Rio championship game and as he put it, he was not again going to take on the impossible task of marking Brazil’s best right winger.

07-06-2014Holland in 1974 came mainly from two teams Ajax and Feyenoord both of whom were acquainted with Total Football. In fact, the one player who was not familiar with tactics was the winger Rensenbrink who played in Belgium. Coach Rinus Michel’s greatest achievement was to get the Ajax and Feyenoord players to actually work as a unit given their hostility towards each other in the domestic league. Six of the winning German side in 1974 came from Bayern Munich.

Getting this type of team cohesiveness became next to impossible in a globalized world where great domestic sides looked like a representation of the United Nations with players from every major continent. With teams able to buy players from around the world, the need to nurture homegrown talent had lessened and this was reflected in the composition of sides that won the European Championships. The last two teams to win the European Champions League with largely home grown sides were Ajax Amsterdam and Red Star Belgrade in the 1990s (that was until Barcelona went to a mainly home grown team a few years ago). Now Ajax has a multinational team and it seemed likely that this trend would continue in global football. Spain in 2008, however, was the one team that broke the curse of globalized football.

La Liga in Spain had always had a truly multinational character as the great Real Madrid teams of the late 1950s and early 1960s had the Argentine di Stefano, the Hungarian Puskas, and the Brazilian Didi. The availability of money has always driven the ability to recruit world class players and the Italian league in the 1960s, and the Spanish La Liga always had this kind of purchasing power. The Spaniards were able to get Cruyff and Neekens in the 1970s, Schuster and Maradona in the 1980s, and since the 1990s some of the best players in the world have graced the Spanish league with Barcelona now having Lionel Messi and Neymar while Real Madrid has Cristiano Ronaldo.

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But the Spanish have always had home grown world class players in their domestic sides ranging from Paco and Gento to Butragueno to Raul. By the mid-2000s, both Barcelona and Real Madrid had groomed a bunch of impressive players in their football academies and these players became the nucleus that won the 2008 European Cup and later the 2010 World Cup. In the 2010 World Cup the Spanish team consisted of seven Barcelona players and three from Real Madrid. Spain is not the exception since the bulk of current German and Italian players play for teams in the Bundesliga and Serie A so perhaps, just perhaps, we may see a return of this factor in winning a World Cup. At World Cup 2014, Italy, Germany, and Spain will bring teams that come largely from a couple of domestic clubs and that may well give these teams the competitive advantage in the competition.

A Balanced Team

Yes, you can win a tournament with just one great player—Maradona proved that in 1996 and Zidane was the dynamo that drove France to the finals in 2006. The French actually won in 1998 without having any great forwards (Henry and Trezeguet were not the forces they later became). But the fact that a Maradona only comes along once in a generation makes the case for a balanced side. Brazil found this out in 1982 where while they had a brilliant mid-field they lacked real forwards and that is why Paolo Rossi was so valuable to the Italian side that won the competition. Similarly, Holland for all their talent, lost in 1974 because they lacked a true center forward while West Germany, in Gerd Muller, probably had the best one in the world at that point of time.

So what does a team need to look like? A strong defense, hopefully a creative midfielder, and a true goal scoring forward. Brazil had all three in 1958 with Nilton and Djalma Santos in defense, the brilliant Didi and the very competent Zito in the midfield and a forward line that consisted of Garrincha, Pele, Vava, and Zagallo. Most sides would have killed for one of the Brazilians forwards to play for them. In 1974, Germany was similarly well-balanced with Beckenbauer, Vogts and Brietner in defense and the goal scoring machine Gerd Muller as the main forward. Italy in 1982, and Spain in 2010 were also able to have the right mix of defense, creativeness, and forwards. Each of these sides was able to snuff out fancy opposition because of their overall capabilities. Italy would not have been able to take out the 1982 Brazilians if their defense had not had Claudio Gentile and Guiseppe Bergomi to withstand the Brazilian onslaught, Giancarlo Antognoni as a playmaker, and had Paolo Rossi not demolished the much weaker Brazilian defense. Similarly, for all the hype of total football and the creativity of the Dutch, it was a man marker, Bertie Vogts, who took the brilliant Johann Cruyff out of the game in the 1974 final—and all the Dutch goals in the tournament, including the 2nd minute penalty that Holland got in the final, came out of a move that Cruyff was involved in.

In fact, only one team with a dodgy defense has ever won the World Cup and that was Brazil in 1970 but their midfield and forward line were incomparable having Gerson, Rivellino, and Clodaldo in the middle and Pele, Tostao, and Jairzinho in the forward line. In the tournament all three Brazilian mid-fielders and the three forwards scored goals. Jairzinho, in fact, scored in all six games. The basics of football don’t change and the 2014 World Cup will, therefore, see a team with a goal scorer and a defense win it all.

One more point about studying the form of teams that reach the World Cup: you have to distinguish between great players and merely good players. In the age of multinational teams forwards can bank on world class midfielders from a host of nations to give them the passes to score or on wing-backs to run up the flanks and devastate the opposition’s defense. In a national team the same players look merely mortal. Thus while Zlatan Ibrahimovich of Sweden is among the deadliest strikers in Europe he has not been able to carry his national team to glory since he does not have world class team mates to make the opportunities for him.

The luck of the draw     

One of the charges made against FIFA is that it rigs the group drawings to allow certain teams, like the host team, a path to the second round. These allegations have never been proven but one thing that does matter in the actual competition is who you play in the course of the tournament. Teams have deliberately lost matches early on so as to avoid a tougher group of opponents in the later stages of the tournament. 1954 was a good example of this strategy.

The West Germans played their B team against Hungary in 1954 and went into the easier side of the table. More importantly perhaps they were able to hobble Hungary’s star player and captain, Fernec Puskas. Hungary, on the other hand, ended up playing two very hard games against talented Brazilian and Uruguayan sides in the quarter and semi-finals. Analysts suggest that it was the hard fought nature of these two games that took their toll on the Hungarians and helped contribute to their defeat in the final. West Germany, in 1974, supposedly lost to East Germany in the first group stage to avoid Holland and Brazil in the second. Indeed some of the surprising quarter and semi- finalists over the years have resulted from the ability to come out of an easy first stage. This has become all the more possible because of the expansion of the World Cup from 16 to 32 teams.

The fact of the matter is that there are not 32 good teams in the world that can win the World Cup so to bring so many of them to the tournament means that we are likely to see sides that have little hope of getting past the first round. 2006 exemplified this trend since Trinidad and Tobago, Angola, and Togo were the three no name teams in the tournament. They were unlikely to make the second round and were likely to be cannon fodder for other teams. Of course upsets did happen, like Trinidad and Tobago pulling off a draw against a Sweden that had Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrik Larsson, and Fredric Ljungberg in the team. But if you are in an easy draw, as the Argentines have in 2014, it helps progress into the latter rounds.

The Right Time to Peak

Few teams play brilliantly from start to finish in a World Cup. Brazil in 1970 was one wonderful exception but usually the Cup is won by a team that in the first group stage flew under the radar and was not hyped by the global press.   In 2010, both Germany and Spain were to lose a game in the opening round while in 1982 Italy was to play desultory football in the first three games. In contrast, the Danish Dynamite in 1986 played brilliantly in the first three games only to lose in the round of 16 because of their hubris and lack of experience.

Age Matters

Analysts say that the team with the best chance to win a World Cup has an average age around 25-26. England in 1966, Argentina in 1978 and 1986, and Spain in 2010 all fell into that category. The two oldest teams to win the World Cup were Brazil with an average age of 29 in 1962 and Italy in 2006. Older teams have a hard time surviving in a 7 game competition where fitness levels get exposed very quickly. The aging Brazilian side of 1966 could not match younger and faster Hungarian and Portuguese sides while Italy in 2010 did not bring along a set of youngsters to help balance the side’s experience.

This does not mean, however, that simply having young players in the team will suffice or that they will be able to carry the team on their own. Yes, Pele played in a World Cup at 17 and got two goals in the final. But he had a forward line that consisted of the brilliant Garrincha, and the very able Zagallo and Vava—the latter, in fact, was good enough to score in two World Cup finals. When Pele got injured in 1962 his replacement was the capable Amarildo who got three goals in the tournament including one in the final. But Amarildo, again, had Garrincha, Vava, Zagallo, Didi, and Zito to make the team a comprehensive force.

Young players usually do not do that well in their first World Cup. In his first World Cup Maradona was not half as impressive as in 1986 when he was in his mid-twenties and had reached footballing maturity. Tostao became the forward he was only in his second World Cup at the age of 23 and Paolo Rossi was impressive at the age of 25 but not so much at 21. Having a strong supporting cast helps young players play confidently and contribute effectively to the team. But in an aging team that is being exposed by younger squads, young players are unlikely to pick up the slack.


African challenge at the World Cup


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Though the African challenge at the upcoming 20th edition of globe’s greatest football carnival, kicks off in Brazil on June 12, the draw is rather tough for them and in this context the two teams which could possibly make it to the second round could be Cote de Ivoire who are ranked 23rd in the world and Nigeria who are 37th. The five African sides who are among the 32 qualifiers have among them 156 players who play in top European competitions ranging from the English Premier League to the Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A, Bundesliga in Germany and Li ligue of France.

For Ghana, who had made to the quarterfinal at the last World Cup staged in South Africa in 2010 losing to South American side Uruguay, who attained the third place, this time the draw appears rather heavily stacked against them. But, it is to the credit of Ghana that they were the first African nation to win an Olympic medal in football having taken the bronze in 1992 Barcelona Olympics when they beat Australia 1-0 at the famous Nou Camp of leading Spanish side Barcelona F.C. They are in Group C with two of the top sides second-ranked Germany and fourth-ranked Portugal and 13th-ranked USA and with only two teams making it to the second round, the odds are against the Black Stars of Ghana though they have a talented sides with players like Michael Esien, who plays for AC Milan and his team mate Sulley Muntair for cross town rivals Internationale. Besides these two, the others in the side include Kevin-Prince Baoteng, who plays for Bundesliga side FC Schalke 04 and Kwadao Asamaoh, who plays for Italian side Juventus in Serie A.

Another African team that could spring a surprise is Cote d Iviore known as Elephants having talent galore who have made a name for themselves in international football and have thrice reached the World Cup three times in a row – 2006, 2010 and now 2014. Ivory Coast as they are known are the only nation to name a 23-man squad composed entirely of players who play club football outside their country. They have in their ranks players like Didier Drogba who currently plays for Turkish side Galatasaray and having earlier played in China and the leading English side Chelsea.

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Besides Drogba, there is Yaya Toure who plays for English side Manchester City, which are the strong contender for the Enlgish Premier League title and he has been in top form in the league scoring some of the finest goals. Then there is Yaya’s brother 32-year-old Kalo Toure who moved from Manchester City to Liverpool in July last year. Besides these, there are players like 26-year-old Gervinho who plays for A.S. Roma in Italian Serie A and 28-year-old Solomon Kalou who plays for French side Lille.

The month-long tournament would indeed see many mouth-watering clashes such as the clash of Mexico with the indomitable lions from Africa, Cameroon who with the wealth of talent that they now have in their ranks like Samuel Eto’o of Chelsea as captain and talented stars like Nicolas N’Koulou, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Aurelien Chedjou of Turkish club Galatasaray and forwards like Alex Song, Jean Mkoun and Stephanie Mbia could well spring surprise.

Grouped with top favourite Brazil along with Croatia and Mexico, the African side ranked 46th in the world are capable of pulling off upsets as in the 2000 World Cup in Italy they beat holders Argentina in the opening match 1-0 and became the first African side to reach the quarterfinals in the World Cup. But, it must be to the credit of Cameroon that it was they who really gave the wake-up call to the world in football for though they exited Spain 1982 at the group stage, they ended their maiden excursion undefeated, having drawn 0-0 with both Peru and Poland and 1-1 with eventual winners Italy.

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Eight years later, they wrote themselves into the annals of the game by beating Argentina in the opening match and becoming the first African side to reach the quarter-final, powered by the goals of evergreen striker Roger Milla. That breakthrough performance remains their finest showing, group-stage exits having followed in 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2010. However, for the Indomitable Lions from Africa, it would indeed be tough going against teams like Brazil, Croatia and Mexico in its group.

The Green Eagles of Nigeria became the first African nation to win an Olympic gold at the 1996 Atlanta Games defeating Argentina 3-2 and are in Group F with Argentina who are now ranked third along with Bosnia-Herzegovina, who are 17th and Iran, who are 38. But, with talented stars in their ranks like 26-year-old Obi Mikel of Chelsea and 31-year-old goalkeeper Vincent Enyema, who plays for French side Lille and 21-year-old Ahmed Musa of CSKA Moscow, the Eagles do have talent and it remains to be seen how coach Stephen Keshi who has a reputation of being a no-nonsense individual is able to mould this side into a combination that can challenge the other teams in the group.

Though ranked 26th in the world , the North African nation of Algeria are in a group with Belgium, Russia and South Korea so the team is going to have it tough with the two European sides and may face an early exit.

By Sri Krishna


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Coaches

By themselves coaches do not win matches but with a promising side the right coach can make the difference between success and failure. In modern times several coaches were able to mould their teams into something that was greater than the sum of their parts. Coaches vary in style from strict disciplinarians like Rinus Michels of Holland and England’s 1966 coach Alf Ramsey to the more avuncular Brazilians like Vincente Feola in 1958 and Big Phil Scolari in 2002. But one thing they all have in common is the ability to pick the right team for the ensuing contest.

In 1958, Vincente Feola changed his squad for every match of the tournament but the most important change he made came from a visit by a delegation of senior players who suggested that he put Pele and Garrincha in the team. In 1970, Brazil got even luckier as it picked the right coach, twice. The first time round it was the Marxist Joao Saldanha who forged the team that went on to win the World Cup. Saldanha, however, was a volatile and controversial figure who was known as an outstanding football journalist. He had so frequently criticized the Brazilian football establishment and the tactics of the team that the authorities, finally fed up, gave him the job. He excelled at it winning his qualifying games handsomely but then things started to go wrong as his volatility kicked in. He waved a gun at a journalist who questioned his tactics and challenged another critic to a martial arts duel (Saldanha was a martial arts expert). But the final straw was broken when he did two things in quick succession. First he lost to Argentina which never goes down well in Brazil and then he publicly talked of benching Pele. At that stage the authorities put their foot down and replaced him with the infinitely calmer Mario Zagallo. The new coach made Pele the center piece of his attack and was genuinely respected by the senior players who were exhausted by Saldanha’s histrionics.   Brazil handily won the World Cup.

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In 2002, Brazil went through a qualifying nightmare as well as a succession of coaches until the federation finally gave the team to Big Phil Scolari. Big Phil set about getting rid of the trouble makers and, instead, put together a group of players who would play as a team. Thus he kept Romario and Edmundo out of the squad because they were disruptive influences (even though Romario promised to behave) and instead chose players who were far less egotistical. Scolari also knew when to gamble with young players for when he saw that Juninho and Denilson were not delivering in the midfield he brought in the 22-year-old Kleberson who dominated the midfield for Brazil in the later stages of the tournament. Scolari also played a 5-3-2 formation in the Cup because he knew that while his backs Cafu and Roberto Carlos were threatening while going forward on the wings, they were not capable of coming back quickly to fill empty spaces that left the Brazilians vulnerable to a counter attack.

Sir Alf Ramsey was a different kind of coach in that he was a distant figure who never warmed to his players in the way the great Brazilian coaches did. But he could adapt his tactics to suit the situation and he was good at making selections that suited the best interests of the team. Recognizing that he did not have good enough wingers he got rid of them and adopted a 4-4-2 formation that allowed his midfielders to attack as well. In the final, he took the risky choice of keeping Roger Hunt and Geoff Hurst in the team even though his star striker, Jimmy Greaves, had returned from injuries. Hunt and Hurst ran the German defense ragged that day.

Guus Hiddink was another successful coach in that he learnt from his mistakes and brought together one of the best Dutch teams of recent times. At the 1996 European Nations Cup Hiddink saw a revolt by the black players on the Dutch team (it all began when Edgar Davids gave an interview saying the coach had his head up the asses of the white players) that led to a dispirited Dutch performance marked by an early exit. By 1998, Hiddink had brought about team cohesion and the squad played some of the best football of the tournament and was unlucky to lose to Brazil in the semi-finals.

But coaches can also become the victims of their own success or even give in to player power with disastrous consequences. In 1954, the Hungarian coach lacked the authoritativeness to impose his will on the team and, consequently, an injured Fernec Puskas took the field in the final essentially bringing his team down to ten men. In 1966, Vincente Feola, once again in charge of the Brazilians, brought a team that was described as a homage to gerontocracy with at least one player being 37 at the time of the tournament. Feola was loyal to his old players and thus brought an aging and barely fit Garrincha to the tournament as well as a couple of the back line from the 1958 squad. Brazil was mauled by Hungary and Portugal and did not make it out of the qualifying group. In 2010, Raymond Domenanch, who had so improbably taken his squad to the finals of 2006, lost control over his squad and suffered a players revolt. The French side was once again eliminated from the tournament in the group stage with players openly abusing the coach. Similarly, in 2010, the Italian coach brought the bulk of the team that had won the 2006 cup to the tournament and they were exposed in the group stage very narrowly avoiding defeat to the plucky mainly amateur New Zealanders and ultimately did not even qualify for the round of 16.

Tactics

Every few years new tactics emerge in the World Cup and for a while seem to be the rage of the game. In the 1950s the Hungarians and the Brazilians played a 4-2-4 formation to achieve considerable success. The Hungarians were able to do so because they had Josef Bozsik and the brilliant Nandor Hidegkuti who played as a recessed center forward. The Brazilians of 1958 had Didi as their playmaker alongside the capable Zito. In 1966, Sir Alf Ramsey played an English side in a 4-4-2 formation with no wingers and won the World Cup. Today, while 4-4-2 is still used by teams, it is viewed as an unimaginative and defensive formation. In the last World Cup, a 4-5-1 formation was the rage with wing-halves being instrumental for attacks. All these formations were only as successful, however, as the players who implemented them. Thus while the Brazilians had the players to play 4-2-4 in 1958, by 1962 they had made it a 4-3-3 formation with Mario Zagallo dropping from left-wing to left-half in order to provide more cover in defense.

In 1974, Total Football also depended on highly intelligent players who could read a field and move into attacking and defending positions with smoothness. Once Cruyff and company retired Total Football became a past glory for the Dutch since they did not have a playmaker and goal-scorer who could match the intelligence and skills of the divine Johann. Of course, as in any other sport, players and managers also learn how to adapt to once revolutionary tactics and to eventually neutralize them.

We may have seen that happen in the last couple of years with the dethroning of Barcelona’s tiki-taka style football by the more direct approach of the Germans or the more stylish football of Brazil. In the Confederations Cup in Brazil in 2013, Italy seemed to have finally got Spain’s number even without the dynamic Balotelli and in the final Brazil was able to beat the once unstoppable Spain.


BIG CARNIVAL BIGGER CONTENDERS BIGGEST CUP


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As the carnival edges closer and teams begin to take shape, the competition gets more unpredictable. Teams are becoming more mature and developing their skills—working towards their goals, and working out the kinks in formations, tactics and line-ups for the mega event

The beautiful thing about soccer is there’s almost always more soccer. Just when the curtain finally closes on what has been a headlong European club season, the world will turn to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. That the World Cup has returned to Brazil after 64 years makes it even more exciting. As the carnival edges closer and teams begin to take shape, the competition gets more unpredictable. Teams are becoming more mature and developing their skills—working towards their goals, and working out the kinks in formations, tactics and line-ups for the mega event. Of all the 32 teams we have selected the top five most likely contenders to win the coveted trophy.

Argentina (1986 Champion)

07-06-2014They have been on the verge of glory for the past 20 years. With quality players and coaches the Argentineans have always been a favourite to win this, however they have been living under the shadows of their Brazilian neighbours who have dominated the World Cup competition for several decades now. Argentina have disappointed at the big stage a number of times now, but they have always been a tough side to beat. The days of Maradona are long gone and now the throne has been passed on to one of the greatest soccer players of all time: Lionel Messi.

However, there is a saying in soccer: “One player cannot make you a champion” and this is because soccer is a team effort. The sooner they realise that they cannot be always relying on Messi the better their chances are. With quality players like Messi, Mascherano, Aguero, di Maria, Higuain and bunch of other world-class players they are looking to cause trouble in Brazil.

07-06-2014Spain (Defending Champion)

How can we not include Spain?

Spain has won the last three international competitions—two European championships and one World Cup. But, can they win four straight major tournaments? Spain has been dominating team for the past six-seven years. The Spanish team includes some of the best players of our generation including Ramos, Casillas, Torres, Mata, Xavi, Iniesta and many more.

However, critics say that many teams already have decoded the Spanish style and it won’t be hard for teams like Germany or Brazil to overcome the otherwise powerful Spanish defence. Can the Spanish win back-to-back World Cups? Very doubtful! Main reason is because the team is old, Xavi and Iniesta can still bring magic to the field, but can they last for full 90 minutes? A semifinal would be a great accomplishment for the Spanish team, but winning it all might be a little challenging.

07-06-2014Brazil (Five-Time Champion)

Obviously, this doesn’t come as a surprise. The Samba boys have not won the World Cup since 2002 and it’s time for them to finally win it back. They are the most dangerous team, as they’ve won more World Cups. The right combination is in place for Brazil to make a run at the cup, as they will be playing in front of their fans (probably the most fanatic fans of soccer).

So, who would be the leader of the Brazilian team? It’s time for Neymar to finally take the role of the long awaited leader that he can be, and lead Brazil to the “promised land”. There are key players to Brazil`s success such as Damiao, Pato, Andre Santon, Robinho,David Luiz, Thiago Silva and others.

Germany (Three-Time Champion as West-Germany)

When it comes down to soccer, we can’t miss the well-oiled German machine. Germany have been and will always be considered a favourite on large soccer forums. The power of the German team does not lie in single individuals, it lies in the team work. The Germans have always had a great team, and with players in the past like Klinsmann, Beckenbauer, Muller and so many more talented players the Germans have cemented themselves at the top of the world.

No doubt the Germans will be in contention for the title. There are a few teams that have the German spirit, and willingness to never give up in any situation. Players like Marco Reus and Mario Goetze have matured and they have added a whole lot of quality and belief to German chances.

Italy (Four-Time Champion)

Italy is the second most probable team to win the World Cup according to many experts. There are many reasons why the Italian team is considered one of the favourites to win the tournament. Italy, just like the previously mentioned teams, have been a soccer powerhouse with players like Del Piero, Buffon, Baggio, Zoff and lots more players with legendary status in the soccer hall of fame. Just like Spain and Germany, the Italians are getting a bit old, however, with talents like Balotelli, Di Natale, Giovinco, Pirlo, Diamanti and Marchisio the Italian team has got the perfect combination of talent, age and experience. This Italian team will be dangerous in the upcoming World Cup. However, with the right mixture of talent and luck they might be able to lift the most desired trophy of soccer: the World Cup!

By Sorabh Aggarwal


Luck

A bad refereeing decision or a talented side imploding are the stuff that World Cup luck is made of. In the last qualifying game for the 1974 World Cup Holland had to beat off a challenge by Belgium. In the dying moments of the game the Belgians scored and the referee disallowed a perfectly good goal thus letting the Dutch squeak through to the finals. As Johann Cruyff later said, had the goal stood Total Football would have never hit the world stage and he and his team would have been consigned to global anonymity. For in those days Champions League football was not broadcast globally and the heroics of Ajax would have been ignored by a global audience.

Teams imploding have the wonderful effect of opening up the competition and letting less well known but equally spirited teams through. In 2002, Turkey and South Korea were able to get to the semi-finals again because some of the contenders got taken out in shock losses—once again notably France which imploded due to hubris in the group stage. In 2010 both Italy and France imploded in the group stages and thus threw the latter part of the competition wide open.

Winning the World Cup, therefore, is not an exact science but, instead, a combination of a set of factors that are complex and difficult for any time to systematically pursue. But the best teams in any tournament try to cover as many of the bases discussed above as possible.

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An Addendum: The Cinde-rella Sides

But the World Cup has another type of winner in the Cinderella side that ends up winning the hearts of audiences around the world. In modern times the most famous Cinderella team was North Korea. They had no great football tradition and were complete unknowns on the international stage. When they reached England they played all their games in unfashionable Middlesborough and the locals treated them as if they were their own. Louise Taylor describes the love affair:

“No matter; noting the North Koreans’ average height was just 5ft 5in and that they played in red – the same colour as Middlesbrough – locals swiftly warmed to them. Cordial relations were further cemented when Jack Boothby, the town’s mayor, accepted the squad’s gift of an embroidered picture of a crane (the bird) which is now on display in the town’s Dorman Museum.

Forty-four years ago 30,000 people were employed at the ICI chemical works where North Korea trained during July 1966 – it was seemingly an improvement on the Ryongang cigarette factory, their base back home – and many turned out to watch them practise. Spectators were swiftly impressed by the technical ability, breathless all-out attacking style, impeccable manners and evident modesty of their guests. The team’s gameplans were dreamt up in the spirt of Chollima, a mythical winged horse which can leap 150 miles in the air and serves as a symbol of North Korea’s revolutionary spirit.”

The North Koreans went on to beat Italy and then, for a short while, they were up 3-0 against Portugal. Once they lost, they disappeared from the international scene and it took an international documentary maker to find out what happened to the team. But the rest of the world remembered them fondly.

As we enter the new competition it will be interesting to see if any team can match the aura that the North Koreans were able to create around themselves. Other teams since have had Cinderella status—notably Denmark and South Korea—but they had both been on the international scene and were not as attractive in terms of making a footballing myth out of. For better or for worse, there can only be one North Korea.

 By Amit Gupta

 

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