Go with a smile!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Great teams are champions of World Cups

There are people who are always wondering why Lionel Messi, Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney seem to perform below par for the World Cup. My theory is that most of the time, World Cups are won by teams which have several stars, rather than just one big star. If you surround a great player with mediocre players, you’re not going to win the World Cup, unless you are Maradona playing in Argentina 1986.

Here is a list of world cups won and the players that inspired it:
England 1966: Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Alan Ball, Gordon Banks.
Brazil 1970: Pele, Tostao, Jairzinho, Gerson, Clodoaldo, Rivelino, Carlos Alberto.
Germany 1974: Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller, Paul Breitner, Sepp Meier
Argentina 1978: Actually I don’t know this team very well.
Italy 1982: Paolo Rossi, Claudio Gentile and Dino Zoff
Germany 1990: Lothar Matthaus, Juergen Klinsmann, Rudi Voller
Brazil 1994: Romario, Cafu, Bebeto, Dunga
France 1998: Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira, Lilian Thuram, Didier Deschamps, Thierry Henry, Emmanuel Petit, Christophe Dugarry, Fabien Barthez
Brazil 2002: Ronaldo, Romario, Ronaldinho, Gilberto Silva, Roberto Carlos
Italy 2006: Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Genaro Gattuso, Luca Toni, Alessandro Del Piero
Spain 2010: Iker Casillas, Xavi, Andreas Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Carles Puyol, David Villa, Xabi Alonso.

So World Cups are usually not won by teams with one star and other journeymen. There usually is an axis of great players in the team, or an absence of weak links in the system.

This is also a World Cup where it is not a coronation. In 1994, the Brazillians and the Italians were known to be strong. Romario said that it was a competition against himself and Roberto Baggio for the greatest striker in the world and he was right. In 1998, France were a bit of a dark horse, because they didn’t even qualify for 1994. Ronaldo was the greatest player in the world, but Zidane was also great and France were one of the favourites. In 2002, Brazil were favourites again but Argentina and France were favoured – until they got knocked out at the group stages. After that, especially after Brazil dumped out England, there was only really going to be one outcome. England – if they managed to get past Brazil would have had as good a chance as any other time to win the World Cup there and then. In 2006, there were no clear favourites. Any of the top four could have won it. Portugal, Germany, France and Italy. In 2010, Spain were the clear favourites. After that, Germany was regarded as strong, and Argentina could have done better if not for their coach Maradona. That Holland and Uruguay got as far as they did were surprises. It is very hard to predict the winner of the 2014 world cup, so in a way it is like 2006. The thing is that with only one exception (Brazil winning in 1958), the European world cups were won by European countries, while the Latin American world cups were won by South Americans. Korea and Japan in 2002 should be regarded as a Latin American world cup because of the heat and the humidity of those countries in summer. Likewise, South Africa in 2010 was a winter world cup, and should be regarded as an European world cup.

It was predicted that any one among Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Holland and France could win it. At this moment, Holland and France look really strong but the real business is at the knockout stages. There have been world champions who do just enough to get to the knockout, and then turn on the style after that. Like Italy 1982, Germany 1990, France 1998 and Spain 2010. So it’s hard to make predictions based on who would win the World Cup. If there was a team operating on the same level that Spain had operated from 2008 to 2012 you’d safely bet on them. But they’re out now. Brazil seemed to be favourites just because they thrashed Spain 3-0 in a competitive match earlier. But no disrespect to Chile and Holland - now these two countries have shown without a shadow of a doubt - Barcelona not getting a trophy and not reaching the UCL semi-finals for the first time in years, Bayern Munich not reaching the UCL final - that Tiki Taka is on the way down.

There have been some teams in the past which were of semi-final caliber. Think of France and Belgium in the 80s, Sweden, Bulgaria and Romania in 1994. (Romania got knocked out by Sweden in the quarters but it was a very fine balance between one of them to get to the semis). England in 1990. Uruguay or Holland in 2010. Senegal or Turkey in 2002. (I don’t consider South Korea semi-final material for obvious reasons). Portugal in 2006. Germany from 2006 onwards. Croatia got to the semi-finals in 1998. Yugoslavia were always going to be a threat before that country broke up, and there has always been a country from the former Yugoslavia in the World Cup - so far there has been Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia and Bosnia at different times. One wonders what it would have been like if there had been a united Yugoslav team. Similarly one wonders what it would have been like if Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland had been able to put aside their differences.

These are teams which are from lesser powers but they have golden generations. Possibly England in 2002, if they were playing Senegal or Turkey or even South Korea in 2002 in the quarters instead of Brazil, would have reached the semis. But right now, I think the favourites are France, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Holland and Italy, the traditional powers. But outside the traditional powers, there is Croatia, Colombia, Belgium, Chile, the USA, Ghana, Uruguay and surprise surprise – Costa Rica. Any of these teams in the second list could do really well and reach a semi-final. The World Cup is full of examples of dark horses reaching the finals – Germany in 2002, France in 2006, Netherlands in 2010, Argentina in 1990, Sweden in 1958. Netherlands in 1978. But the team that wins isn’t really a shocker. This is not like the Euros where Czechoslovakia, Denmark and Greece actually wins the damn thing. There were finals where Uruguay upset the heavy favourites Brazil in 1950, Germany upset the favourites Hungary in 1954, and again in 1974. Italy upset the favourites Germany in 1982. France upset the favourites Brazil in 1998. But the teams that won were second or third favourites. Then again, I would say that if anybody outside of Brazil, Argentina and Germany wins this thing, it will be regarded as a surprise.

Also want to say - in terms of excitement and entertainment, this has been a good World Cup so far. Long may it continue. South Africa could have been a good World Cup but for the ball. I think one part of this is that we are in an era where people who play football for some reason are not very good at defending anymore - either tactics have evolved to be more attacking-oriented, or the defending standard has dropped. Also - it seems that World Cups that are held on the American continent tend to be good ones. 1970, 1986 and 1994 were considered to be good World Cups. Maybe the hot weather favour the Latin flair, maybe the heat makes everybody more tired and this favours the attackers.


Post a Comment