By RISHEN PHILIP
As an avid football fan, the World Cup season definitely brings great joy (and sleepless nights) as I support my favourite team Argentina to lift the World Cup in Brazil. That would be a moment to savour forever.
As the competition comes to a close, we look at the top teams touted to excel, but who have failed to live up to expectations. From these teams there are lessons to be learned.
Photo credit: Petter Palander | Flickr
Spain entered the 2014 World Cup with high expectations. Being defending champions from 2010 and back-to-back European champions, many experts deemed the current Spain squad to be among the greatest national teams in history. During the qualifying stage, Spain qualified at the top of their group.
However, Spain’s stellar record then was a far cry from their performance at group stages and they were booted out after losing to Netherlands and Chile.What led to their shocking premature exit from the World Cup?
Technical and tactical disposition
It appears that for the past six years, Spain has played and won using the same formation and tactics with predominantly the same key players. They have not armed themselves with alternatives. Instead, they have become complacent and that allowed other teams to learn their tactics easily.
Vicente del Bosque’s conservative selection policy and blind loyalty to his previous team players also saw him field familiar names like Iker Casillas, Xavi and Fernando Torres, in favour of lesser known players who may have been a better fit to the team.
Even with many talented players, Spain was in dire need of a qualified leader on the pitch. This team was clearly missing the leadership of Carlos Puyol and even Xavi to steer them to victory.
The moment they started losing to the Dutch, it was difficult to get their act together and rally a comeback.
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England entered the World Cup as solid contenders with a strong qualification campaign, being top of their group. However, they failed to dazzle anyone as they exited at the group stage, losing two matches and drawing one while only scoring two goals in total.
Ability to innovate
The problem with the English squad seems similar to Spain, in that they too were unable to innovate and break from the norm. Even when innovative changes were attempted, they were done without proper planning.
For innovation to be successful, right training methods need to be in place. As with all new plans, there is a need for a blueprint and solid groundwork to be completed before execution.
As England tried to implement the 4-3-3 formation, it was without proper planning as chosen players were not familiar with it or were played out of position to suit the formation.
England’s manager Roy Hodgson was hesitant to change, preferring to field players he was used to regardless of their form. This is evident with the selection of strikers Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck and actually playing them out of position, when there were more suitable players.
Even the selection of old-war horse Steven Gerrard was probably not merited (Gerrard ultimately was responsible for England’s exit with his backpass to club teammate Luis Suarez, who also happened to be an opposition player). England did have some young players like Ross Barkley who was only used sparringly.
When managers judge their charge based on past achievements, it is inevitable that the organisation fails to achieve their set targets.
Motivation and inspiration
Another likely reason for failure could be that players played for individual glory with little concern for the team’s achievement. Some young stars have been known to shirk international duty in favour of playing for individual clubs.
This could be for monetary gain and the likelihood of facing strong criticism if they were to fail in the international arena. The lack of passion among team members restricts England in achieving success as a team.
The role of management is to ensure that players are motivated for the right reasons.
With foreign investors flocking to finance major English clubs, the investment in nurturing and growing local young talent is sidelined. Instead, clubs spend more effort on foreign talent due to the need for a quick fix rather than to help develop the club for the long term.
Often organisations prefer spending their money, time and effort to acquire talent from outside rather than to reinvest to develop talent internally, as the latter requires more time and patience.
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Touted as one of Africa’s hopefuls at the World Cup, expectations were set for them to progress till the knockout rounds. The Ghanaians started off badly with a loss to the United States (US) but gave a renewed performance against the Germans. All that was needed then was to defeat the Portuguese.
The stage was set for the Ghanaians to qualify as the Germans went on to beat the US team and all that was needed from Ghana was a draw. They lost, and were knocked out from the World Cup. What went wrong?
The Ghana Footballing Association appeared disorganised which gave rise to an undesirable incident right before their crucial final match. The players protested and refused to train as they had not received their appearance fees for the World Cup. This affected their performance in the final game and eventually sent them packing.
Relationship and understanding
The bond between players and their manager (as well as among players) serves as a pivotal aspect of a team’s success. This is exemplified in the Dutch team where players and their manager share a close relationship.
Because of mutual trust and understanding, it is easier to gain the support of players whenever the manager implements new tactics.
Subsequently, players will also be willing to put the team before themselves and strive to serve as components of a well-oiled machine rather than trying to outshine one another. This compatriotism was clearly lacking in the Ghanaian camp, where two of their main stars were reportedly sent home just before the final match due to internal arguments and unprovoked fights.
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Italy finished first in their group during the qualifiers, unbeaten in all games. With a squad of fresh faces, Italy rested the nation’s hope on young talent; one of the favourites to go far in the World Cup, if not to win it.
With all the world-class players gracing their squad, they were tipped to be an incredibly tough team to beat. Italy was also highly experienced and capable of changing systems from game to game, which is a rare trait in international teams.
Even though Italy had more possession than opponents, they failed to utilise these opportunities and ended up with comparatively fewer shots on goal.
Constant change of tactics and players may be a legitimate reason for Italy’s downfall.
Italy used 23 out of the 25 players brought to the tournament. It may have been good as players struggled with the heat, but it did not help the team get into a familiar rhythm. Teams that are successful always have a fixed formation, with the mobility to change when needed. Constant change may leave players lost and unclear of their roles.
Reliable back up
Faith in scoring was solely on the shoulders of a player like Mario Balotelli, who had an indifferent season for his club AC Milan. He is definitely talented, but whether he will reach his full potential is yet to be seen.
Italy did bring along an array of strikers but none seemed to win over the manager’s heart to start the match ahead of Balotelli. Even the main substitute striker, Antonio Cassano, is not new to indiscipline.
Whether these choices were made by the manager because of blind loyalty or truly there was no one to set up and take over Balotelli’s role, we will only know in the future.
Photo credit: Pedro Antunes | Flickr
Portugal qualified second in their group during the pre-qualifying stage and subsequently went through knockout qualifications against Sweden, finally coming out on top.
During that match, the focus rested entirely on the star players of both teams — Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden).
Over reliance on main star Ronaldo – who was with injury – saw the team disappoint when the supporting cast were unable to shine when needed.
Pepe, Coentrao, Joao Moutinho and Nani who were excellent in Euro 2012, did not perform for various reasons during the group stage. As limelight was given to Ronaldo, team members may have lacked the desire to step up.
It is great to have a world class player on your team, but the team needs to also play their part to ensure team success.
Lack of proper physical preparations were evident during the matches as talent alone was unable to win the matches for Portugal. Players were clearly several steps slower than opponents. Coupled with the number of injuries sustained in the first game, it was evident that the players were not as physically well-conditioned as their opponents.
Each team that prepares well has the advantage of being ready for unforeseen circumstances and also being mentally stronger during difficult situations.
Experience is an important asset but the trust placed heavily on the older players had to be coupled with energy and zest of the youth to bring balance to the team.
For Portugal, youngsters were not given enough opportunity to contribute and be recognised as important members of the team. William Carvalho who just came off an astonishingly successful season at club Sporting in Portugal offered qualities that were lacking in the Portugal midfield. Unfortunately, he was not played until it was too late.
When management refuses to inject new blood into the team, they run the risk of not only working around a predictable and stale routine, but also sending the wrong message to the team.
The “established” starters will assume that however badly they perform, their place is secure; while the young contenders will feel demotivated upon realising no matter how well they perform, they may not get the opportunity to reach their full potential.
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