Josef Pepi Bican – The Lonely Man at the Top

We often get drawn into animated discussions or debates surrounding the greatest footballer of all time. Invariably the list narrows down largely to a handful of goal scorers, since their action culminates in the most important aspect of a football match (supposedly)– goal. But we sometime tend to overlook the bigger picture. What if there was someone who did not have the privilege of playing in a team as good as that of Pele’s? What if someone had to fight oppression just like Maradona but limelight evaded him? Debojyoti Chakraborty at Goalden Times brings to you the story of one such man; a man who conquered Europe but had to live in obscurity.

Outscoring Messis and Ronaldos

Goal scoring seems easy nowadays. That is because we are really privileged to witness two of the greatest footballers of all time play at their peaks. Day in, day out, whenever Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, in no particular order, feature in a match, they are more than likely to score than return empty handed. And such has been their goal scoring prowess over the years that every goal they score now, they reach some new landmarks. But even for these two extraordinary gentlemen, there is a man who is more likely to remain in a league of his own.

Josef Pepi Bican [Source -]
Josef Pepi Bican
[Source –]

Humble Beginning

On 25 September, 1913, in Viena, Josef Bican was born in an Austrian-Czech family. His father František was from Sedlice in Southern Bohemia, Austria and mother Ludmila was a Viennese Czech. Josef was the second of three children in the Bican family. Because of his mixed heritage, Josef inherited traits of both Viennese and Prazak (from Prague). As explained by Romana Horaka, from the Vienna University of Applied Arts, “Although grew up on the outskirts of town and went to school there, but in the summer for grandparents used to go to Sedlec near Prague.” [1]

Soon, the family had to endure days of fear and anxiety when František went to World War I. But to great relief of everyone near and dear to him, he returned unscathed from the war. That relief was short lived though. František used to play football for Hertha Vienna. He sustained an injury in his kidney during a match and then neglected doctor’s advice to get it cured through operation. As a fatal consequence, the man who had conquered the World War I, died of that freakish injury in 1921 at the ripe age of 30. The consequences of the war were looming large over the imperial city; food and basic necessities were short in supply and people were dying out of starvation. Drenched in stark poverty, Ludmila had to work in a restaurant kitchen to raise her family. But this tragedy had a silver lining. František had passed on his love for the game to his second child. And Josef Bican continued to play “all day, from morning to evening” [1] even under abject poverty. Unable to afford a proper ball, children in his neighbourhood used to tie up a bundle of rags known as “hardrak”. Boots were things of luxury for the Bican family, and hence he went barefoot. This eventually would improve Bican’s ball control and sharpen his dribbling skills.

This Boy is Special

Bican’s growth was meteoric. Even before his teens, he started playing for his father’s beloved Hertha Vienna club in their junior team, Hertha Vienna II. His knack for scoring goals caught imagination of everyone around. One of the club’s sponsors was so impressed, he offered to award Bican with a shilling for every goal. Thus, football opened up an avenue for the poor Bican family. Barely at an age of fifteen, he had made his senior debut for Schustek. Bican was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time. Football was really popular in Austria in those days. Everyone was passionate about the beautiful game and people from different strata – politics, academics, media – everyone was involved for the betterment of the game. Football being the centre of attraction of all activities, was gradually becoming a matter of national pride. And Bican had a supportive family, too. One story goes like that his mother once invaded the pitch when an opponent fouled her son and began beating him with her umbrella. Maybe the memories of her husband’s injury on the football field was too much for her to bear with and she abandoned the idea of watching Bican play live after couple of visits.

Bican’s dazzling rise was not going unnoticed and before his eighteenth birthday, he was snapped up by the biggest Austrian club Rapid Vienna. Initial signing amount was a meagre 150 shillings but Bican’s scintillating form forced Rapid to dish out a contract of 600 shillings within couple of years. Put into context, that amount would be worth £12,270 in today’s date. [2] Seems incorrigible, considering the astronomical wages players are getting nowadays. But in those days, a skilled worker would have been very happy if he could get 25 schillings a week. So Bican was earning a pretty decent amount by playing football, still not considered very highly as a career option. During his four-year-stint in the club, Bican averaged almost one goal per match as he netted 52 times in 49 appearances. Still, in 1935, soon after helping Rapid Viena win the Austrian Championship, their beloved “Pepi” – nicknamed after his short stature in his young days – decided to move on. His departure was mourned by the supporters alike and it was rather more controversial as Bican moved to city rivals Admira. However, Bican’s goal-scoring exploits continued as he amassed 18 goals in 26 appearances.

Bican was a powerfully built lad. His shooting ability with both the feet and superb ball control – thanks to his growing up years when he had to master the skill of playing barefoot – made him a complete footballer. To top it all, he was a superb sprinter. It is said that he could time a 100 metres sprint in 10.8 seconds, which was as fast as many sprinters of the time. No wonder he was a nightmare for all the defenders and he scored for fun – be it tap-ins or 30-metre-volleys. Bican had great composure in front of the goal, sometimes averaging nearly two goals a match and it is said that he missed only once out of 20 chances! And that was not by fluke, he used to train really hard to achieve this kind of perfection. Bican used to put ten bottles on top of the cross bar and hit them one by one. Generally, he was spot on with his accuracy, and even on his bad days he would definitely go on to hit nine out of ten bottles.

Bican had great composure in front of the goal, sometimes averaging nearly two goals a match and it is said that he missed only once out of 20 chances! And that was not by fluke, he used to train really hard to achieve this kind of perfection.

The Inevitable: Journey with Wunderteam

By the time Bican was 20, he was inducted in Wunderteam, the famous Austrian team of the 1930s, helmed by the legendary football manager Hugo Meisl. Between April 1931 and June 1934, the Wunderteam lost just three out of 31 games, and scored 101 goals. [3] They were considered one of the favourites for World Cup 1934 going into the tournament. Everything went as per plan till semi-final which saw Austria in a face-off with the hosts Italy. The tournament also showcased the dominance of central Europe, four of the three teams in the last four – Czechoslovakia and Hungary being other two – coming from that region.

the Famous Wunderteam [Source -]
The Famous Wunderteam
[Source –]

But Benito Mussolini, the fascist leader of Italy, had earmarked this tournament to be his propaganda machine. Not a football lover by a mile, Mussolini had pulled all the strings to ensure Italy gets every possible advantage to clinch the title. It was rumoured that the Swedish referee Ivan Eklind, nominated to officiate the semi-final match of Italy vs Austria, was invited for dinner with Mussolini. The next day, when the Austrian goalkeeper had the ball under his control a good three metres out of his goal, he was pushed over the line by the Italian forwards. Eklind whistled for the goal, notwithstanding huge protest from Bican and his teammates. Austria tried hard to come back but their smooth passing game was hampered by a muddy pitch, another home advantage strategically utilized to the fullest. Austria bowed out of the tournament being one of those great teams not to win the World Cup. Eklind was awarded with the responsibility of the final and amidst further refereeing controversy in that match, Mussolini’s Italy were crowned the World Cup champions.

War against Oppression

Bican had a short but stellar career with Austria. He scored 14 goals in 19 matches but 1934 was his only World Cup appearance. May be that is one of the reasons why his name is not so much popular with common football enthusiasts. Bican had attracted European superpowers like Juventus with his astonishing goal scoring feat. Had he accepted the offer, many feel that he might have achieved the legendary status like another fellow talisman from Central Europe, Ferenc Puskas. But he refused to go to Italy, partly due to his bitter experience during the 1934 World Cup and partly due to their communist overtone. As luck would have it, ironically the fascist regime followed Bican. Just before the next World Cup in 1938, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi gang seized control of Austria, an event known as Anschluss in history. By that time, Austria had qualified for the World Cup but Germany forced them to send a united team comprising of both German and Austrian players. Bican, and many others from the famous Wunderteam team refused to represent an oppressing government. The next World Cup would come twelve years later due to the commencement of World War II and by then Bican was past his prime. One war demolished his childhood; the other deprived him of the biggest stage to showcase his talent.

Following Nazi invasion, Bican, a staunch adversary of fascism, left Vienna for his father’s homeland Czechoslovakia. The next episode of Bican’s folklore was to be written in Prague as he joined Slavia Prague. Sešívaní was a colossal team in those days already having won eight of the inaugural thirteen editions of Czechoslovak league – and never ever finishing outside of top two. It was not easy for a new player to come in and establish himself in such a successful team. And boy, did Bican establish himself! Bican created a never-dying legacy for himself there during an eleven-year-stay by scoring 534 goals, [4] including 57 in 24 matches one particular league season. That is even after his playing days were hampered by World War II in this period. All this success, however, was a bitter pill to swallow for some of his team-mates. Bican was continuously harassed, often called by names such as Austrian bastard pointing to his unpretentious roots. But all these, if anything, made Bican more determined as he went on his merry goal scoring spree. Unperturbed as he was, he carried on his goal scoring spree. And his stats were incredible, to say the least! Three times in this period, Bican scored seven goals in a game. [5] First year in the 1939-40 league season, Bican netted seven against Zlín en route a 10–1 win. Next year Bican repeated the same feat. The victim was the poor Zlín once again, as Slavia won by a margin of 12–1. The last of Bican’s seven-star-performance came in the 1947-48 season when Slavia thrashed České Budějovice by a whopping 15–1 score line. Bican helped Slavia Prague clinch the Mitropa Cup – the predecessor of the Champions’ League – in 1938. Domestically, Slavia Prague went neck to neck with their fierce rivals Sparta Prague – both winning the league five times during Bican’s tenure.

Josef Pepi Bican
Josef Bican in action for Slavia Prague.
[Source –]

On the national front, Bican had applied for Czechoslovak citizenship, but the request was not processed in time for him to participate in the 1938 World Cup. However, he started to play for his father’s native country later in 1938, but then World War II hampered his international career. He could only manage fourteen appearances till 1949 and was on the score sheet twelve times. In between, he represented Bohemia and Moravia, the ethnic-Czech protectorate of Nazi Germany once in 1939 and scored a hat-trick.

Goals, Glamour and Trouble

Bican was one of the most popular footballers of the 1930s and his legacy grew day by day in Prague. He was so much valued at the club that his wife Jarmila vividly recalls, “Chairman Valousek always said we have 14 sections Josef. You have to make money for them all. And there weren’t sponsors in those days. And he said don’t forget we have an equestrian section and you’ve got to make money for hay for the horses. I think today’s footballers wouldn’t be able to support 14 sections – or pay for the hay for the horses!” [6] Basically, Bican had to earn the bread for the entire club!!! Apart from enthralling the crowd with his sublime skills, there were other facets of his eventful life too. Bican had chosen an extravagant, conspicuous lifestyle. It might appear very ironic but while the entire Europe, or even a good part of the world, was at war, Bican was making his presence felt amongst the social elite class of Czechoslovakia. This fact is more lucidly conveyed by the writing of Ian Willoughby on Bican. According to Willoughby, the prolific scorer “… played tennis with the famous actor Vlasta Burian, dined with the actor Jan Werich and knew the film star Adina Mandlova.”[6] This inspiring story of growing up from the wrecks of war-rigged Vienna to becoming one of the most sought after celebrity in Prague had captured the imagination of entire Central Europe. It was a great morale booster for a huge stratum of population who were still very much unsure what the future held for them with a war not very far away. Josef Bican’s larger than life image had established him as one of the biggest name in the country. But his happy days were soon to be over.

Trouble was brewing from the socio-political issues which unfortunately Bican could not overcome. Throughout his life, Bican had tried to be as far away from the communist regime as possible. But however good he was at escaping the tackles from defenders, he was never half decent at avoiding the political infringement in his life. In 1948, communism came to Czechoslovakia. Bican was left frustrated. Things were not turning up according to his plan, he was facing a tremendous moral dilemma. He had turned down a great career opportunity in Italy only to avoid such political environment and now he found himself exactly in the same position.

Bican’s iconic stature lured the communist government and they approached Bican to appear as the public face of KSC party leader, Klement Gottwald. Quite predictably, Bican stuck to his ideologies and declined the offer. He though had to pay the price for going against the government. The Czechoslovak authorities picked up his association with Slavia Prague, a club traditionally popular among the middle-class, and accused him to be a bourgeois Viennese. They simply turned a deaf ear to Bican’s plea that his origins were humble. [7]

Bican feared that he was about to lose everything. To protect himself, his family and all of his hard-earned wealth, Bican left Slavia. At the same time, he was becoming conscious of “resurrecting” his image as a common man and hence in 1949, he joined Železárny Vítkovice. Vítkovice, a club run by the steelworkers and hence it was a perfect move for Bican to play for them and portray himself as a person closer to the working class. Bican carried his goal scoring boots with him to his new club. 58 official matches for his new club saw him racking up 74 goals. [4] But Bican was unsettled, he again packed his bags to Skoda Hradec Králové in 1952. Králové was trying their luck in the second division but Bican’s goal scoring feat continued. Records are incomplete particularly for this period, but still it can be safely said that Bican had scored at least eleven times in eight matches. But it was an off the field incident here which made an everlasting impression in his life.

It was 1 May, 1953. May Day parade was organized with full gusto and Bican was forced to join the parade. Little did the organizers know that this decision to include a star figure in their propaganda event would backfire! While the loudspeakers were screaming “Long Live President Zapotocky, Long Live President Zapotocky”, the crowd on the street shouted “Long Live Bican, Long Live Bican”. It was a tight slap on the face of the Communist Party. Inevitably he had to face the consequences. Even though Bican was not at fault, to cover up for the goof up, Bican was ordered to leave the city immediately with his family. Within an hour, Bican with his family were escorted to the station by two comrades. En route, a group of 50 workers happened to see them and they sensed foul. They were anxious of Bicans’ safety but he assured that everything was fine. That was a narrow escape. Had the workers not been convinced by the reply, they would have gone on strike. And then Bican would have been sentenced to at least 20 years of imprisonment for inciting a strike. The two guards did not take it lightly though and they remained stationary till the train carrying Bicans had left the station. [6]

While the loudspeakers were screaming “Long Live President Zapotocky, Long Live President Zapotocky”, the crowd on the street shouted “Long Live Bican, Long Live Bican”.

The End and Beyond

Next stop for Bican was his beloved city Prague. And as destiny had it, he was re-united with his old love Slavia Prague, now known as Dynamo Prague under the communist influence. Even in the twilight of his career, Bican was scoring for fun. Incredibly Bican scored the most number of goals (57) [7] in a season in 1953-54, which happened to be his penultimate one. He doubled up as coach in the last phase of his footballing career. Soon he hung up his boots in 1956, at the age of 42 being the oldest footballer in the league, as a living legend in Czechoslovakia.

Life went on a topsy-turvy course for the Bican family. He coached quite a few clubs across the country but could not make any significant impact. Bican was a gentleman out and out and hence he found it difficult to cope up with average players and their coarse behaviour. Actually, he was a broken man by then. Pepi valued his life style a lot, having come from a humble background and worked his shocks off to achieve all the glory. Under the Communist regime, much of his properties were seized. Ideological differences always put him at a crossroad with the ruling party. Even his friends and well-wishers too turned their back on him. These things hurt him very badly. Devoid of his wealth, left stranded by their friends, dumped by the Czechoslovak Physical Exercise Union, Bican wondered if his entire past has been wiped out. He had no choice but to work as a roadside labour at Prague’s Holesovice railway station as his life drifted into obscurity and poverty.

During the spring of 1968, Bican impressed the visiting Belgian team Tongeren and got a contract to coach them. This was the first time he had ventured out of Central Europe during his club career. Ironically the legendary Pele was nearing his 1,000th goal and thus Bican’s name popped up. His ex-teammate Franz Bimbo Binder claimed that Bican had netted close to 5,000 goals. Though this figure – an average of 185 goals each season – is highly unlikely, it can be assumed that Bican might have reached very close to the four-figure mark excluding the friendly matches.

Back home, things started to change for good with the Velvet Revolution of 1989. The communists were gone. Bican got some of his property back. More than that, he cherished that his reputation was restored in public.

The Legacy

Bican had an illustrious playing career to say the least. His goal scoring exploits earned him the top-scorer of league twelve times – one more than couple of greats from Brazil namely Pele and Romario – during his resplendent career spanning 27 years. More significantly, from 1939-40 to 1943-44, he was Europe’s top scorer for five consecutive seasons. While some would argue that most of the young and physically fit players were involved in the war in that time frame, no one can take away the goal-scoring panache from Bican.

In those days, little did people care about keeping records of all the matches. So, by the time Bican hang up his boots, God knows how many of his achievements had been lost in the isle of time. This is exactly what happened during an award ceremony organised by International Federation of Football Historians and Statisticians (IFFHS), when they failed to count his wartime goals. Bican, though being invited, opted to spend the evening with his wife in their hotel room having tea from a thermos flask, claiming they had “stolen” his goals. [7] Later IFFHS recognised the 229 goals he scored during the World War II, even though Czechoslovakia was not independent at that time. And subsequently Josef Bican was awarded the “Golden Ball” as the greatest goal scorer of the last century. He played for clubs and nations not considered to be elite in Europe. But still, scoring those many goals are no mean feat even in amateur leagues.

Bican with the Golden Ball
Bican with the Golden Ball

Bican was honoured with the Freedom of Slavia Prague in 2001, in remembrance of his contribution to the club and the city. Finally, Bican was content with his life. However, he was hospitalised in the winter of 2001 and was hoping that he could be back home for the Christmas. Tragically he breathed his last on 12 December, 2001, but after knowing that his achievements have been duly recognised. He was buried in Vyšehrad cemetery, a place reserved for some of the most prolific figures in Czech history. Footballing statistics page Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation (RSSSF) made an effort and finally estimated that Bican scored about 800 goals – 805 at least [4] – across all competitive matches, excluding friendly ones.

Top Goalscorers of all time (+ indicates incomplete data availability, the numbers are on the lower side)
Top Goalscorers of all time (+ indicates incomplete data availability, the numbers are on the lower side)

This statistic places Bican comfortably atop of the scoring charts in football history. A chart that consists of great Brazilians like Pele and Romario, a chart comprising of legends of the game Ferenc Puskás and Gerd Müller, a chart continuously changed by the heroics of Messi and Ronaldo. Bican has been lonely at the top for more than 60 years now. And it does not look like anyone would come close to greet him soon. The wait at the top, rather a lonely wait shrouded with honour and dignity, continues for Pepi.


[7] The Telegraph

Featured Image Source – FOOTY FAIR

Cracking the Ballon d’Or 2013

This year FIFA’s best player award went to Cristiano Ronaldo amidst a lot of speculation. We at Goalden Times look at the voting pattern to understand the dynamics behind the final choice.

So, as expected widely – and deservedly so – Cristiano Ronaldo reclaims the most prestigious individual award in world football after four years. While the debate continues on whether it is justified to award one individual in a team game, no one is questioning why Ronaldo won it. Ballon d’Or winner is decided by coaches, captains and media personnel across the globe. Each can nominate three players who, according to them, have outperformed their counterparts. The first ranked player gets five points, second three and the last player gets one point from each vote.

If we analyse the numbers from last two years’ voting – actually, there is no need for analysis –Lionel Messi won it hands down against Ronaldo.

As is evident from the above tables, captains, coaches and media representatives across the world had unanimously chosen Messi as the best player in 2011 and 2012. Even though there was a slight shift towards the Portuguese star in 2012, that was not enough to cover the mammoth gap between the two.

But the focus shifted to a certain Franck Ribery in 2013 on the back of his treble winning season with Bayern Munich. So, let us see how he fared against these two, along with Andres Iniesta and Xavi – voted the third best player for the last few seasons – and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who will always be the winner in his own opinion.


This is undoubtedly one of the most fiercely contested years — at least among the top three. And that does not include Zlatan. It is apparent that Ribery was the media favourite. But that is not all, let us dig a bit deeper.

Messi and Ribery had to contend with their own teammates who were all in good form throughout the season! This is a paradox, especially considering football is a team game where individual brilliance should auger well only for the team. But not here. Barcelona and Bayern teammates have robbed Messi and Ribery off precious points which might not have changed the outcome but certainly would have resulted in a photo finish between Ronaldo and Messi.





So we find the following:

  • Ribery has been Media favourite in Asia and Europe – he got the First choice vote almost three times more than his closest rival, Ronaldo there.
  • In other regions, he runs close to both Messi and Ronaldo and thus emerges the overall Media favourite.
  • Ronaldo and Messi carry on their usual battle in every other category – barring the African Coaches’ voting, where Messi misses out the 2nd spot to Ribery by a single vote, Ribery does not feature in the top two in any other segment.
  • Asia – the region which generates maximum revenue for the European football through television rights – is equally divided between the top two as far as the national team captains and coaches are concerned.
  • Same is the case for European coaches. However, European captains have been faithful to their continental colours – only six out of 45 thought Messi was the most outstanding player of the year.
  • But they cannot be blamed. In Africa, both the captains’ and coaches’ groups thought that Messi was only second best to Ronaldo.
  • The competition was neck to neck in Other regions.

Messi had an injury , and by his own unbelievably high standards, a pretty moderate season. So Ronaldo was a firm favourite to win this year. But even with Messi’s average year, most of the people thought he was too good not to be their second choice. This is where Ribery lost ground – it was a three-horse race where Ribery ran Ronaldo close for the first choice vote but was nowhere close as the second choice.BDR_8

More numbers

  • There were representatives from 19 countries – and a total of 92 votes – where the top vote did not go to any of the podium finishers. But there was no country where the national team coach, captain and media representative – all three picked up someone besides Ronaldo, Messi and Ribery as their favourite.
  • Only 27 people did not have anyone of the top three feature in their top two picks. Only one team’s – New Zealand – captain and coach did not vote for any of the top-two. They preferred Gareth Bale followed by Neymar. But their last vote went to Messi.
  • There were 11 instances where the entire vote set differed with the final outcome. Understandably this exclusive list comprises Messi and Ronaldo themselves – being captain of their national teams, they could not vote for themselves and hence decided not to vote for their direct competitors also. The list also features coaches from Belgium and Italy. And only one media personnel, Seium Michael from Eritrea, Eastern Africa.

UEFA Champions League and Europa Cup Semi-Final Preview

The biggest club team honour is reaching its finale while the second-tier club competition in Europe is gathering momentum too. Get the showdown of the semi-final encounters with Debojyoti Chakraborty

The quarter-final stage of the Champions League 2011-12 got over without much brouhaha. A Milan faithful may not agree, but Barcelona was a clear favourite for this tie. Real Madrid surged past APOEL FC leaving them looking rather distraught. Their opponents, Bayern Munich also eased their way through to the last four after seeing Marseille off. Chelsea had to endure the toughest of the ties as they shook off a strong fightback from a 10-man Benfica. Teams to feature in the semi-finals have been really consistent throughout the tournament as is evident from the fact that they have topped their respective groups. Spain continued its dominance here as well while Real and Barcelona established themselves as the two top club teams. Italy have lost out on one Champions League spot to Germany from next season and they should not feel hard done by as none of the Serie A teams could make it to the last four whereas German Champions Bayern Munich look to challenge the Spanish Armada. The biggest surprise in the lineup is Chelsea, who have managed to come so far this season. So after a roller coaster ride, it is that time of the season when finally men are separated from the boys. Now let us prepare for the last two-legged encounter of the season.




FC Bayern Munchen (GER) vs Real Madrid FC (ESP)

April 17, 2012

Fußball Arena München, Munich (GER)

Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid (ESP)

April 25, 2012

Top European Cup / Champions League Honours:

Winner – 4, Runners-up – 4

Top European Cup / Champions League Honours:

Winner – 9, Runners-up – 3



Olympique de Marseille (2-0, 2-0)

Apoel FC (3-0, 5-2)

Round of 16

Round of 16

FC Basel 1893 (0-1, 7-0)

PFC CSKA Moskva (1-1, 4-1)

Group Stage | Group A Winner

Group Stage | Group D Winner

Villarreal CF (A) 2-0

SSC Napoli (H) 3-2

GNK Dinamo Zagreb (A) 1-0

Olympique Lyonnais (A) 2-0

Manchester City (H) 2-0

Villarreal CF (H) 3-1

AFC Ajax (H) 3-0

GNZK Dinamo Zagreb (H) 6-2

SSC Napoli (A) 1-1

Manchester City (A) 0-2

Olympique Lyonnais (H) 4-0

AFC Ajax (A) 3-0

Talking Point

Talking Point

There is no bigger incentive for Bayern to win this tie than to feature in their home turf for the final on May 19. They face a mighty Real Madrid, a record nine-time conquerors of the continent. While many are preparing for another El Clasico in the final, it is the German Superpowers who seem to have a realistic chance of preventing that from happening. They had to come through the rigours of play-offs but they have looked sharper and clinical as the tournament approaches its crescendo. The Bavarians then topped the Group of Death before annihilating FC Basel 7-0 at home in the Round of 16 following a shock defeat in the first leg. A typical professional German display saw them ease past Marseille thereafter. Now they find themselves in a proper Big Match, and anyone can win it. Mario Gomez vs Karim Benzema, Franck Ribery vs Kaka, Philipp Lahm vs Sergio Ramos, Manuel Neuer vs Iker Casillas – it is perfect show time. These two superpowers of Europe have locked horns quite a few times resulting in almost even honours. Real has been in superb form from their group stages where they secured a perfect win record – only the fifth club in the history of the tournament to do so. A creditable draw in the freezing Moscow turf set them up nicely for the Round of 16. Los Blancos followed it up with bidding adieu to APOEL FC from little Cyprus – story of the season so far. Cristiano Ronaldo may be leading his counterpart in La Liga in terms of goal scoring but he is still some way behind in Europe. It will be a good stage for him to set the records straight as the competition nears its business end. Real has a star-studded side which is performing like a well-oiled machine – they have top two assist providers in Kaka and Karim Benzema, 3 out of the top 5 scorers are from Bernabéu (Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and José Callejón). Coupled with a compact defence which has conceded the least number of goals so far, this is a mouth-watering tie.





Chelsea FC (ENG) vs FC Barcelona (ESP)


April 18, 2012

Stamford Bridge, London (ENG)

Camp Nou, Barcelona (ESP)

April 24, 2012

Top European Cup / Champions League Honours:

Runners-up – 1

Top European Cup / Champions League Honours:

Winner – 4, Runners-up – 3



SL Benfica (1-0, 2-1)

AC Milan (0-0, 3-1)

Round of 16

Round of 16

Napoli (1-3, 4-1)

Bayer 04 Leverkusen (1-3, 7-1)

Group Stage | Group E Winner

Group Stage | Group H Winner

Bayer 04 Leverkusen (H) 2-0

KRC Genk (A) 1-1

AC Milan (H) 2-2

FC Viktoria Plzen (A) 4-0

Valencia CF (A) 1-1

Bayer 04 Leverkusen (A) 1-2

FC Bate Borisov (A) 5-0

AC Milan (A) 3-2

KRC Genk (H) 5-0

Valencia CF (H) 3-0

FC Viktoria Plzen (H) 2-0

FC Bate Borisov (H) 4-0

Talking Point

Talking Point

Chelsea seem to have over-achieved this season in the Champions League considering their woeful domestic form and unrest in the dressing room. They saw off Valencia in the last match day in a must-win encounter in some style before staging one of the most memorable comebacks in the history of Champions League against Napoli in the Round of 16. Another tough nut waited in the quarter-finals and Chelsea rode their luck a little to knock out a resolute and gritty Benfica side. They would be determined to keep their continental form going as automatic Champions League qualification from the EPL is uncertain and hence winning this year’s Cup would be their only hope. They face the mighty Barcelona in a repeat fixture to 2009 edition. That time, Barcelona advanced on away goals and Chelsea would hope to do it one better this time.   Chelsea seem to be the weakest of the surviving teams – they have hardly been able to hold on to the ball, rarely threatened the goal mouth, scored the least and conceded the most number of goals. Add to that the quality of opposition over the two-legged semi-final tie – possibly the greatest club team ever to have played the game – and Chelsea seem down and out. But matches have never been won on paper and Chelsea would dearly love to prove this once again. Barcelona are through to the semi-finals of this competition fifth time in a row. By doing so, they have equalled the feat set by their archrivals Real Madrid in the late ‘50s – then known as the European Cup. And they would like to match another envious record held by their quarter-final rivals – win consecutive top European Club honours. Records are nothing new to the man named Lionel Messi. He became the youngest man, and fourth overall, to score 50 Champions League goals and also bettered his own Cup record of 12 goals in a season. The little magician has netted only 56 times so far this season and there will be hardly anyone who would bet against him scoring in this tie. People mesmerised by the tiki-taka brand of football often fail to appreciate their tight defence – Barca have not lost at home in Europe since 2009. They have some problem against aerial balls, but they more than make up for it through their defensive organisation. Except for Milan in the group stages, the Catalan side have conceded only 3 goals while scoring a staggering 28 in seven matches. They do keep the ball well – better than any other team in the competition – and make good use of it as they have outscored everyone else. This should be a good test for Barcelona, but not likely to be much more than a good warm-up for the impending final.



The Europa Cup Previews

Some call it the poor cousin of the Champions League, but the teams vying for the Europa League would strongly object to that. After much blood, sweat and rigour of the horrific schedule, four teams survive to fight it out. The all-conquering Spanish dominance is even more evident here as we have Sporting Clube de Portugal sandwiched between three clubs from Spain. Some may argue that the competition is dampened by the reluctance of top clubs to compete in this demanding tournament and they have preferred to focus on their respective domestic leagues. But this, in no way, can undermine the achievements of the semi-finalists. Let us build up to these matches.

Club Atletico de Madrid vs Valencia CF

In their last meeting in Europe, Atletico Madrid edged past Valencia on the basis of away goals in the quarter-finals of Europa League in 2009-10 and went all the way to lift the trophy. This time they will host Valencia on April 19 with the away match a week later. The club from Madrid has failed to score against their La Liga counterpart in the domestic season and they would surely love to break the shackles this time. Thibaut Courtois, on loan from Chelsea, has been in superb form under the bars for them – taking over from the now Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea – conceding the least number of goals in the competition. Up front, Falcao Garcia, the leading goal scorer in the tournament, has impressed some cash rich clubs in Europe and he would surely like to prove his worth. Not only him – Adrian Lopez, Eduardo Salvio – Atletico have quite a few options going forward and they are clear favourites to clinch it.  They have shown the desire by eliminating Manchester United from the tournament. On the other hand, Valencia are the only team to have come from the Champions League, having been eliminated on the last match day of the group stages in the hands of Chelsea. They boast of a strong defence consisting of Victor Ruiz and Adil Rami. They have a free-flowing approach to the game, reminiscent of any modern top Spanish side. They have netted 4 goals in two consecutive home matches and they would look to hone their goal scoring skills once again against their Spanish compatriots.



Sporting Clube de Portugal vs Athletic Club

Only non-Spanish team left in the competition, Sporting Club will entertain Athletic Club on April 19 in an Iberian derby. They are enjoying their best season in Europe since 2005. History favours the Portuguese side in this tie as they have beaten – that too after trailing in the first leg – Athletic Club in their only meeting so far, way back in 1985-86 season. But they will have to go past a fantastic Gorka Iraizoz who has made the most number of saves (37) in the competition. Sporting is inspired by the ex-Liverpool left-back Emiliano Insua who is having a tremendous season. Ricky van Wolfswinkel up front also has performed beyond expectation. They are up against an Athletic team, which is the only team to compete with Atletico de Madrid in terms of goal scoring. Diego da Cunha is leading the pack in the midfield as he leads the assists chart with four of them while chipping in a few on his own. They have come back from behind twice against FC Schalke 04 to clinch the tie which shows their hunger for success. In fact, they have had the most number of attempts – 67, close to six per match on an average – in goal amongst the teams surviving in the competition. Markel Susaeta has orchestrated the midfield quite well and he will have a major part to play in this tie as well. But they have leaked quite generously in the back and this is one area where they would like to improve. They will be further handicapped as star defender Javi Martinez has been suspended. This should be a fierce battle as both the teams rank right up there in terms of fouls committed throughout the tournament. Nonetheless, this promises to be an enthralling contest – plenty of goals, some shrewd tactics being employed and a nail-biting finish.

First Whistle – March 2012

The onset of Spring brings with it rebirth, renewal and regrowth. And so is Goalden Times reinventing itself while keeping pace with the winds of change. Well, the Armani’s, Dior’s and Saint Laurent’s may not be around to drape us with a new look, but we can redesign our outfit, alright. Hope you like our brand new attire! And don’t mind us being fashionably late…

In other news, the Ides of March brought evil tidings for clubs from England. Widely acknowledged as the most competitive league in Europe, the Premier League suffered one reverse after another, the worst being Athletic Bilbao sweeping aside the English champions Manchester United through some exceptional football. It would have lost its entire stock of clubs in Europe, but for a miraculous comeback by Chelsea in a pulsating thriller with Napoli. Having fired their manager, the old hands of Chelsea turned the clock back to produce vital performances. Elsewhere, it was a celebration of Michel Platini’s efforts to empower the clubs from outside the traditional powerhouse leagues. Apoel FC from Nicosia is a poster boy for this, reaching the Champions League quarter-finals where they will be up against the might of Real Madrid. Traditional giants AC Milan and Bayern Munich also made their presence felt. Mario Gomez was no match for Lionel Messi who slammed, slalomed, crashed, walloped and blazed five past Bayer Leverkusen. Milan against Barcelona would be the tie of the quarter-finals but having faced each other in group stages, many would have argued that UEFA needs to relook at the system.

Domestically, most leagues threw up two-horse races. Milan leads Juventus in Serie A, the Manchester clubs are separated by one point in Premier League, Borussia Dortmund have advantage over Bayern Munich in Bundesliga, Paris Saint-Germain have a slender lead over Montpellier and Porto lead over Benfica in Primeira Liga. In La Liga though, Real Madrid’s eight point lead over Barcelona seems to have already ensured another league win for Jose Mourinho.

Juventus remained the only club among the big leagues to remain unbeaten across all competitions, though having drawn more than they have won, their title hopes are dependent on Milan suffering reverses. One such ‘reverse’ for Milan was when this happened in the title clash with Juventus, leading to increasing calls for goal-line technology.

Liverpool managed to grab their first trophy in six years, winning the League Cup beating Cardiff City in tiebreaker, thus ensuring their participation in European competitions after a year’s absence.

On the other side of the globe, in India, the fourth oldest cup competition in the world (started in 1893), the IFA Shield was won by local giants East Bengal. The win is memorable for it came in the centenary year of the first ever win of the Shield by an Indian team – ironically, East Bengal’s archrivals, Mohun Bagan.

With the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, and various domestic tussles in Europe, the next four weeks look promising. We shall be around to bring you all the riveting updates.

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What’s with Argentina?

The 1986 World Cup was a memorable event in more ways than one. The tournament was pulled off beautifully, albeit the skepticism surrounding Mexico hosting the tournament following the devastating earthquake. The kind of football on display that year was matchless. Nations like West Germany, Brazil, France, Spain, Denmark, Belgium, England and Uruguay along with the champions, produced superlative football that year. Several players like Zico, Platini, Littbarski, Butragueño, Laudrup (Michael), Scifo, Linekar and Francescoli left a lasting impression ; however one man rose above the rest to attain a ‘God’-ly status.
The following World Cup, four years hence, was a different ball game altogether for Argentina. Although they managed to make it to the final, after much struggle, Andreas Brehme’s penalty made West Germany taste its sweet revenge of 1986. The final game was appropriately described by George Vecsey of The New York Times as, ‘Winning Ugly, Losing Ugly, Just Plain Ugly’. The 1994 World Cup witnessed an unfortunate exit of a great football playing nation. The team had been a tad disoriented post the suspension of their talismanic leader and Gheorghe Hagi’s Romania probably had played their game of the tournament to eliminate Argentina.
The last time Argentina senior team won a title was the 1993 Copa America. It’s been eighteen long years now. Is the team falling back owing to a dearth of talent? Winning 5 FIFA World Youth Championships (now FIFA U-20 World Cup) between 1995 and 2007 and 2 successive Olympic gold medals in 2004 and 2008 might suggest otherwise. Argentines are dominating
the international club football scene for some years now; however, there seems to be some issues within the national team, right from the selection process to the manner of play on the pitch. Fans back home in Argentina blame it on the Argentine Football Association (AFA) president Julio Grondona. Grondona had taken

over as the president of AFA following the World Cup triumph in 1978, and the 1986 World Cup win had cemented his position at AFA. Recent allegations against him suggest he is running it as a personal business for the last 15 years or so. He’s got the media and the general people to back him by having the manager include several popular players into the team, without much care for the team strategy. Grondona has plans to re-contest in the forthcoming AFA elections due in October. There was a protest demonstration held on August 2, in front of the AFA offices in Buenos Aires demanding Grondona’s resignation.
One may wonder how far the allegation surrounding Grondona is true. Let’s consider this year’s Copa America. Carlos Tevez was initially not a part of manager Sergio Batista’s plan. In the friendly matches held prior to the Copa, Tevez was left out. Could be because he once refused to play for the national team or could be Batista, having already worked with
many of the players in the current squad in Olympic 2008, didn’t find a specific role for Tevez in the team. However, for the Copa, Tevez was named in the starting line-up in the first 2 games. There is no denying that Tevez is supremely talented and had a great season at Manchester City, albeit the tactical chemistry not being fluid between him and the rest of the players. The allegation here is Tevez being the most popular national team player back in Argentina, Grondona had instructed Batista to include him in the team and in honoring the In the 1998 World Cup, Argentina’s (and arguably Real Madrid’s as well) then best player was left at home because of his long hair! Everybody demanded Ariel Ortega; he made a mistake, and got all the blame while
the president, the manager sacrificed his original plan and we found a lacklustre team in the first 2 games.
After a few brilliant matches in each tournament, the players pretty much resembled the NBA players from the movie Space Jam, who, devoid of skills after the aliens take away their power, moved about like zombies, lifeless; without any chemistry, cohesion or tactic, they stepped over each other’s feet, out of position, and with no leader in the middle.
One concern, however, has been common since the 1998 World Cup – that of inappropriate selection of players and / or playing them in unsuitable positions. Surprisingly, not only the coaches, but Grondona, the media and the fans, have always demanded certain players to play and more often than not these players have been brought in at the middle of a crisis when the chances of failure have been high. And once that happens, then the media starts blasting the players and as a consequence, they get so emotionally drained that they find it tough to recover.
manager, Daniel Pasarella still had every chance to destroy River Plate by hiring Juan José “J. J.” López.
River Plate’s relegation this year is ample testimony to where Argentine football has reached. AFA has a plan to merge first and second divisions the next 6 months. This apparently is Grondona’s plan to get the votes of the second division clubs. The project is on hold for now and a topic for a separate discussion.
In the 2002 World Cup, manager Marcelo Bielsa left Juan Román Riquelme, Javier Saviola and Santiago Solari, and got 35 year old Claudio Caniggia in the team. Fernando Redondo was ignored once again although he was the player of the match against Brazil at Buenos Aires in 1999 where Argentina won 2-0 under Bielsa. There was Pablo Aimar, who was flourishing at Valencia, having made it to two consecutive UEFA Champions League finals in 2000 and 2001 and at the time, acknowledged as one of the most creative players around. Aimar needed the World Cup to cement his status as an Argentine great, but he was benched. Bielsa
got him in when it was too late, in the must win last group stage game against Sweden and put him in the central midfield alongside Ortega, a situation where he was more likely to fail, and he did. In the earlier games against Nigeria and England, he was used merely as a substitute. The same people who had demanded his inclusion later felt that he may not be that good. Aimar was never the same again; in fact he didn’t get a decent opportunity to redeem himself. A player who could have been one of the greatest in his generation was set up for failure by external circumstances, and then hung out to dry. However, Bielsa who had an equal, if not greater responsibility came out with his reputation intact, in spite of not managing to survive the group stages of the tournament.
2006 was complicated. Manager José Pekerman, the man behind the success in the World Youth Championship, looked all set to carry it to the senior level. For some reason, he left Javier Zanetti and Walter Samuel at home. Hernán Crespo and Saviola played with great chemistry. Many wanted Tevez and Lionel Messi to start although they were better off as super-subs against tiring oppositions. In the quarter-final against Germany, Tevez started instead of Saviola, as Pekerman gave in to the popular demand. The chemistry between Saviola and Crespo could not be recreated by Tevez. Notwithstanding the issues, Argentina scored early in the second half and looked all set to progress beyond the Quarter Final stage for the first time since 1990. However, the good deed was undone by a momentary lapse of reason by Pekerman. He took off Crespo and Riquelme to bring in Julio Cruz and Esteban
Cambiasso. One may have felt that Argentina is leading and needs to consolidate their defense and justify Cambiasso’s introduction, but with Riquelme’s departure, the team lost its key player, who was holding the team together and channelising the play from midfield. To this date, Argentine fans fail to comprehend Pekerman’s rationale behind Julio Cruz’s introduction, while the likes of Messi and Saviola were made to cool their heels on the bench. Cruz was not even a regular at Inter Milan.
2010 was more like seeing the nation go on a suicide mission; one couldn’t possibly do much to prevent it with someone like Diego Maradona at the helm. Maradona, the magician with the ball, was never quite known for his tactical ability. Zanetti was once again ignored, when he could have been the ideal leader at the pitch, and this was perhaps also the time to have Cambiasso in the team, especially due to what they had achieved at Inter Milan that season. Argentina won all the group games and the 2nd round against Mexico, but the portents were visible with the team being too much dependant on Messi. Predictably, Argentina were badly found wanting against the tactically sound Germans and went out with a whimper.
Messi’s goal scoring statistics for the club and the national team is so in contrast that critics find it easy to put the sole blame on him. Thankfully he is still quite young and a powerhouse of talent. But if the ‘blame it on Leo’ game continues, the young man may find the burden beyond his scope to tackle, and consequently Argentina may lose arguably one of the best players to have touched the ball. The manager needs to ease the pressure and
provide him with more space to play. Apparently, a convenient solution might be to have Messi take over as the leader. There, however, lies a fundamental flaw in such a thought process. Messi to me is not a born leader. Javier Mascherano, the only footballer with 2 Olympic gold medals, is clearly not an ideal leader either. Neither is his performance awe-inspiring nor does he maintain a stable head on his shoulder.
Well, it’s indeed been a difficult couple of decades for Argentina fans. I have spent many a painful night seeing Argentina choking at critical moments – be it in the World Cup, the Copa America or the Confederations Cup since 1993. There were times when my wife could gauge the outcome of an Argentina game from my sleeping posture. It was not until I read Orhan Pamuk that I learnt how severe pain has its way of being manifested. It’s like acid-filled grenades exploding in my veins as I sort through my bundle of fond memories with the way the team may have played in the past; distracting myself, briefly and intermittently, until the same memories would propel me deeper into the void.
I am greatly concerned about this national team’s future. Most people are looking forward to Javier Pastore. The question is, do we really want him to play in such dire conditions? I see 2002 all over again, Pastore is the new Aimar now. If he fails to live up to the expectations of his followers, fans may look out for another target like Erik Lamela.
Alejandro Sabella has been confirmed as the Argentina coach until after the 2014 World Cup finals, contingent on Argentina qualifying for
the tournament. Is he the right man? We would like to hope so. His managerial stint with Estudiantes de La Plata, where he won the 2009 Copa Libertadores, earned him a lot of respect. But he needs to be given time and space which may not be a real possibility with

Grondona and his men running the show.
I am not too sure what might ensue as a consequence to the protest against Grondona. Argentine football needs to revive drastically; else one of the best generations of footballers would be overshadowed by other football playing nations. I’d rather let Grondona, the media and fans take the blame for the current state of affairs. A revamp of the domestic league could perhaps keep more Argentines at home, and help improve the coordination among them and compassion for the country. Argentina national team needs a capable coach who can make the right decisions. With more able leaders, this nation is bound to recover from this abysmal state and relive the golden times.
Indranath Mukherjee follows South American and European football. Apart from Football, Film and Music keep him going. You can follow him on twitter @indranath

A Chaos Theory Experiment on Copa America 2011

Butterfly Effect?

Followed by controversies and heartbreaks, the Copa America 2011, looked like an Elephant’s Graveyard with early exits of many a favourable team along with the host nation, and also marked by one of the lowest scoring football events of recent times. We saw one of the best players of this generation being booed by his home fans and arguably the greatest football playing nation of all time making a mockery of their pride with a horrendous penalty shoot out show.

The quarter finals were a recipe for utter chaos. Few could have imagined the kind of semi final line-up we would end up with. One false step in tactical play and you are knocked out. Early exits of big guns put an even bigger question on the team fluidity, formation and cohesion. Squad and tactical choices by the master planners played a pivotal role in shaping the outcome of the matches. Most of the predictions were not meted out. One may comfortably say that the latest edition of Copa America has been no exception to the Chaos Theory.

It has been observed that the presence or absence of a butterfly flapping its wings could lead to creation or absence of a hurricane. In Chaos Theory, this phenomenon is referred to as the Butterfly Effect. In the world of football, I’d say managers and their predispositions to certain tactical choices induce this butterfly effect! This tournament can be considered a fine instance of such an occurrence. Let’s delve into some of the tactical strategies employed by the 8 quarter-finalists, or should we say,

map the butterfly effects behind this Chaos Theory.

Brazil: Poor Finishing Finishes Job

The reigning champions came with their new coach, Mano Menezes following a quarterfinal shock exit at the World Cup. Dunga preferred Brazil to play in a counter attacking style with a solid defensive line and Kaká at the centre of the park for creative excellence. He made the more defensive minded Felipe Melo a game breaker and posed Luís Fabiano as the target man. His defense-oriented strategy garnered a lot of criticism.


Menezes got rid of his predecessor’s strategy and came with a dynamic 4-2-1-3 formation. Brazil’s 4-2-1-3 initially had Dani Alves as the right wing back dropping Maicon, as a result of his flying performance with Barcelona last season. The two central defenders Lúcio and

Thiago Silva played well but André Santos was a surprise selection for left back.The team’s performance was expected to rely mostly on the two midfield pivots – Lucas and Ramires. The Santos sensation, Ganso had a similar role to play like Kaká. He employed Neymar, Pato and Robinho as the three. roaming forwards. It was a striker-less formation, which can be converted to 4-2-3-1 (with Pato upfront) or 4-2-2-2 (putting Robinho a little down) whenever required.

Tactical Analysis: Dani vs. Maicon

Coach Mano Menezes received strong criticism from the pundits during a friendly match against France when he had substituted a forward with a midfielder while trailing 0-1. Menezes’ team had a poor start followed by a goal-less draw against Venezuela and a not-so-impressive 2-2 draw against Paraguay. In these games, Dani Alves started as the first choice right back. But the strategy did not work as per expectations. Alves is the kind of player who can exploit free space off-the-ball. He does the same in Barcelona colours when Lionel Messi cuts inside with a defender. Robinho being more of a wide player, effectively created much traffic on Dani’s path. Menezes’ next match line- up was more sensible when he picked Jádson over Robinho, who plays in a narrower role. Maicon, however, was given a chance in place of the Barcelona full back. Maicon is definitely more comfortable with the ball and more secure defensively than Alves. His inclusion in the team accommodated Robinho in the top half. Maicon did pretty decently when given the chance and made the wing-play better. While Alves, the former Sevilla man attempted 6 crosses from the right with 16%

accuracy, Maicon delivered 17 crosses with nearly 30% accuracy.

What Went Wrong – Poor Finishing et al: Butterfly Effect

The two deep midfielders Lucas and Ramires both sat a little too deep in the park. Though Ramires pushed up more than Lucas, it was not enough to emphasize the attacking potential. As an obvious outcome, the creative midfielder, Ganso lacked support. With an unimpressive record of 154 successful passes and 32 missed, he failed to live up to Brazil’s expectations. As Ganso was barely effective, it was up to Lucas and Ramires to feed the ball forward. As they were sitting deep, playing long balls was the key although not much effective, since the average height of their forward trio was less than 5’10”. Pato had a great first touch, but his second touch spoiled it. His poor conversion of goals to shot ratio let him down, though he managed to score 2 goals. Being a lone target man fed with the long passes, he was not that effective as he ended with making 62 successful passes only. Neymar came in with much expectation after his fantastic season with Santos, decorated with 42 goals. Though he managed to complete 27 dribbles (second highest at the tournament after Lionel Messi) and drew 13 fouls around the box, overall it was a big disappointment. Once again poor accuracy (5 on target out of 13 shots) by him and failure to provide successful crosses from the wing (13 unsuccessful crosses and only 1 successful) kept the left flank barren. Along with these, Andre Santos primarily concentrated on distributing balls (a whopping statistics of 276 passes by a left wing back) rather than using the free spaces created by Neymar on the left, and ended up with only 1 successful cross per match on average. As such, Brazil appeared pretty ordinary before the

opponent goal area. Menezesneeded to boost up their shooting skills as they kept only 46.77% shots on target and alarmingly only 6 shots out of their 22, during the quarter final against Paraguay. The failure to convert chances put massive pressure during the horror penalty shootout show where they managed to miss all of their 4 penalties.

Potential for Future

Brazil might need a few tactical switches to revamp their glory. Perhaps a 4-1-2-3 formation would help improving Ganso’s performance where Ramires should be pushed into a more attacking role. Deploying a dedicated target man might be a key as none of Neymar, Pato or Robinho is a natural target men. It is really hard to attain success with a striker-less formation for National side, but to find a replacement of Ronaldo is even harder. A European exposure for both Neymar and Ganso could do the trick.

Chile: Sensational, but no Cookie

Claudio Borghi had prepared his team from where Marcelo Bielsa had left off. The pool of talent he inherited, supposedly the golden generation of the La Roja, helped in Borghi’s tactical choices.


Bielsa’s Chile was quite brilliant throughout the World Cup qualifier matches, and was a tactical sensation at the South Africa World Cup. He mostly stuck to a super attacking 3-3-1-3 formation where he put one defensive minded midfielder to support the 3 man defensive and one ‘number 10′ behind 3 forwards. Two of his three forwards played far wide to stretch the defensive and also gave freedom to the wide

midfielders to play narrowly. This eventually gave the midfield a diamond shape. Borghi – another Argentinian who managed Colo Colo previously, didn’t tinker much with the formation after taking charge. He relied on the three men defensive line and modified the system to a more midfield heavy 3-5-2. The wide midfielders were given the responsibility to stretch the opponent’s wingbacks while one forward would drop down to strengthen the midfield. Borghi used his two wide midfielders, Jean Beausejour and Mauricio Isla in more wide roles and former Cesena man Luis Jiminez – as the attacking midfielder. Isla provided enough width to make the midfield spacious

which was exploited by the tricky Alexis Sanchez. Sanchez, though a front man, eventually dropped back into the midfield and always provided a numerical edge to his team in the midfield battle. This is an advantage in Borghi’s tactics that he didn’t restrict his team within a single formation. His 3-5-2 often switched to 3-2-3-2

or 3-3-3-1 while defending and 3-1-4-2 or 3-2-4-1(3-6-1) while attacking.

Tactical Analysis: Bielsa vs Borghi

One behavioural difference between the two systems was, Bielsa believing more on direct pressing game with electric pace while Borghi’s team preferred gradual build-up,

more possession and allowed the midfielders to come forward from the deep. The pace of the game was relatively slower. As Borghi tended more towards possession game, he used a double pivot as Artuto Vidal and Gary Medel. Dropping down Sanchez helped them to put an extra man in midfield and hold on to the possession. This transfer market sensation, though not in his best form, was tricky enough to complete 11 dribbles and extracting 20 fouls. Commensurate with his phenomenal success at Udinese as a more central threat from being a winger, Borghi also changed his position in the

national team, from being a wide player during Bielsa days.

Butterfly Effect: Vidal Underutilized?

After an awesome season with the German club, Vidal was pretty much used to play with the double pivot system with a four man defensive line. Though his team-mate, Alexis Sanchez hogged the limelight, Vidal silently lay claim to be one of the most complete midfielders of the past season. During the last season, he had the second best defensive record in Bundesliga (with 4.7 tackles per game and 2.8 interceptions per game). This skilful midfielder also exhibits effective dribbling skills and a vision for long passes. His attacking prowess makes him a complete footballer as he ended the season with 11 assists, second best in the Bundesliga and 1.9 key passes per game. He also rattled up 10 goals. While playing for Chile as a protection of a 3 man defensive, though, he was not given the license to attack and his talents were heavily under-utilized in Borghi’s formation. While he maintained an excellent average of 57.2 passes per game last season, in a more defensive role he only had 45.67 passes per game statistics in the Copa America. Other than this, though the defensive trio of Gonjalo Jara, Waldo Ponce and Pablo Contreras were pretty good in the open play, the tendency to commit a foul around the box proved costly ultimately.

Suicidal Substitution: Borghi, The Criminal

Opponents often exploited the three man defensive play by shooting long balls and turning it into a 3vs3 battle. Committing fouls seemed the only way to gain time for the out-of-position midfielders to fall back. The shock

came from Venezuela as they capitalised on the dead-ball situations perfectly. The decision of replacing Carmona for Valdivia instead of Medel proved to be fatal against Venezuela. As Medel was already on a yellow card and being the single defensive screen before a 3 man defensive, his misdemeanour eventually cost him a marching order.


With this golden generation, Chile will definitely be among the favourites for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers. Playing Vidal as a free player with license to attack would provide a new dimension to their attack.

Colombia: Group Leaders Derailed

Colombia did not arrive with much of an expectation, but they were the first team to qualify from the group stage after claiming the top spot above the favourites Argentina, but their limp performance against Peru in the quarter finals put forth a lot of questions.


Manager Hernan Dario Gomez used a very popular 4-1-4-1 formation spear-headed by Porto’s talismanic striker Radamel Falcao. After a slow start against Costa Rica, Colombia was excellent against Argentina and Bolivia. Gomez had a very dependable back line led by experienced Milan man Mario Yepes. At the age of 35, he had an excellent tournament and was instrumental for the three consecutive clean sheets in the group matches. It was not that easy for a player like Cristián Zapata on the bench, but the Yepes-Luis Perea pair appeared to be pretty formidable. They did not concede a single goal in the group league matches. Also, the two wing-backs, Juan Zúñiga and Pablo

Armero helped relentlessly in attacking. Gomez employed Gustavo Bolívar as the dedicated defensive minded midfielder.He used a rather flat four man midfield formation against Costa Rica – pressing the young U-23 opposition. This style left gaps between them and Gustavo Bolívar, which could have been exploited extensively by any good attacking side. In order to tackle this issue, from the next match onwards, Gomez tucked his two central midfielders, Fredy Guarín and Abel Aguilar a little deep, to establish the link between defense and attack.

Tactical Analysis: Carlos Sanchez at the heart

Though Gomez started with Bolívar against Costa Rica, despite showcasing a decent performance, he was replaced by Carlos Sanchez for the Argentina game. This strategy was immensely successful as Sanchez was

excellent throughout the crunch game and the rest of the tournament. Guarín was Colombia’s key player in the midfield and essentially the driving force behind their attacks. The Porto man scored 5 goals from 8 games in the UEFA Europa Cup and was keen to score for his national side too. He mostly attempted long rangers with high success rate to keep the opposition goalkeeper busy. Alongside him, Aguilar was also decent in his distribution. The midfielder duo shared an impressive 71.5 average passes per game in aggregate. Yet Sanchez was the most vital man for them in the midfield. He was superb against the undisputed best player of the world, Lionel Messi, and only committed 1 foul on him using all his experiences of French Ligue1. Throughout the tournament he made 16 successful tackles (5.33 per game) which quite reflected his character.

Keeping the Wingers High

Colombia’s main threat came from their flanks, where Dayro Moreno and Adrián Ramos were very active. By constantly running, shooting at the goal, and swapping flanks – they created havoc in the opposition defense. Gomez instructed them to stay up in the field and their strong appearance kept the opposition wingbacks quiet. Against Argentina, Gomez countered Pablo Zabaleta’s running on the right flank by keeping Ramos high up the pitch and forced Argentina to switch play to the left where Zanetti was playing, who is not very comfortable with his wrong foot. Since the wide forwards were not coming down, Aguilar and Guarin were instructed to tuck in centrally while defending to support Sanchez. Falcao’s duty was to move back a little to fill up the void left by their two central midfielders. Essentially Colombia converted to a defensive minded 4-3-3 while defending, and this two-layered defending worked out extremely well to stop the brilliance of Messi.

Seeking Creativity and Keeping Ills

However, in the quarterfinals they lost the game, despite being a better team than Peru. Though they had created more chances than Peru, tactically they were subjugated. In this game, both their central midfielders were man-marked, which made them ineffective in the context of their natural game. Aguilar was never that tricky to break through the marking. Peru allowed Sanchez enough time, but his lack of attacking vision let Gomez down. It’s only when Guarin who, when tried to dribble past his marker, did Colombia look threatening. As a result, the constant pressing was absent from Colombia’s game. With limited creativity in the midfield and in the reserve bench, Gomez failed to extract the best from his team. Incidentally, a penalty miss by Falcao, one of Europe’s finest strikers of the last season, and two deciding errors by their goalkeeper, ended their journey in this edition of Copa.

Future: Central Creativity

Colombia seriously needs a playmaker behind Falcao to improve the situation. The lack of creativity at the centre-of-the-park cost them a lot. While they have a sound defense and a great finisher upfront, a certain amount of creativity in the midfield can lift their game and may find a place at the world cup finals.

Argentina: Of Tactical Blunders, Human Errors

After the World Cup 2010 embarrassment, Sergio Batista took over from Diego Maradona and a fresh start was expected. Argentina was possibly the most interesting team from a

manager’s perspective. A traditional top heavy team decorated with perhaps the world’s current best player – compromised by a weak back four and an inexperienced goalkeeper. The whole world was looking forward to seeing how Batista managed the team, but yet again a shock defeat against Uruguay and an underwhelming performance throughout, forced AFA to sack him.


The main challenge for Batista was to extract the best out of Lionel Messi. With no disrespect, he was a complete failure in the first two matches. He started the tournament with a 4-3-3 formation, keeping Messi at the heart of the forward line. Nicolás Burdisso and Gabriel Milito were the two centre backs. New talent, Marcos Rojo started in the left back position and the ageless Inter Milan figure, Javier Zanetti started on the right. Batista employed 3 defensive midfielders to protect his weak defense at the

cost of a creative midfielder in the midfield. Batista was trying to emulate the Barcelona formation around the brilliance of Messi. But eventually this tactic failed.Batista had to change the formation after two poor performances by his team. He brought Zabaleta back as right full back and switched Zanetti to the left to replace the inept Rojo. This change of tactics gave Argentina a little more of width. And then he re-jigged his formation completely for the do-or-die Costa Rica match. He moved to an attack minded 4-2-3-1 from the previously defensive minded 4-3-3. It must be said that 4-2-3-1 is not the likely name to call that shape. It was actually an extremely fluid top half, to make it 4-2-2-2 or 4-2-1-3, whichever was required.

Tactical Analysis: Messi Drops Deep, Deeper…

Batista’s 4-3-3 with three defensive minded midfielders actually put an immense task for the 3 forwards to beat a 5 man opposition defense (back four + one defensive midfield at least). For the first two games against Bolivia and Colombia respectively, his midfield trio, Barcelona’s Javier Mascherano, Inter’s Esteban Cambiasso and Valencia’s Éver Banega were instructed to sit deep in their half. Mascherano and Banega rarely made forward runs, although Cambiasso was given a little license to attack. Surprisingly among these three, Cambiasso was far less creative than Banega, who though the most creative player was restricted within his own half. As a result, Messi had to move deep into his midfield to get the ball and sometimes even deeper. Though Batista claimed to try to emulate the Barcelona model, in reality it was not happening. In Barcelona, other players play their game to support Messi to the fullest. Whenever Messi receives a ball, he dribbles

past a couple of defenders and either passes the ball to his closest player and expects a return, or switches the ball to the wide forwards like David Villa or Pedro. But for this Argentine side, he was left alone in the midfield (as there were no attacking intents from the 3 defensive midfielders) and the only mode of passing the ball was towards the flank.

Butterfly Effect – A Misplaced Carlos Tevez

Unfortunately, the inability of wing play by the full backs did not leave much option for Messi either, and Tevez not being a natural wide player, his poor off-the-ball positioning made defending easy for opposition teams. In a three man forward line with Messi playing deep, Tevez should be on the far left to stretch the defense, so that Messi can run through or send through passes for midfield runners. Instead, Tevez’s tendency to move into

the centre directly towards the defender, made the formation narrow and easy for opposition to crowd out Messi.

New Formation Worked Well

Batista’s 4-2-3-1 did work pretty well against Costa Rica. Batista brought in three Real Madrid men – Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria and Fernando Gago, and Atletico Madrid front man Sergei Aguero. As usual, Mascherano sat deep and was given a dedicated game breaker role. Gago played further up and his distribution skills meant that Messi need not always drop deep back for the ball. Di Maria started from a deeper position on left and Aguero started as wide left. The tactical switch was to get rid of the striker-less formation to a formation with an out-an-out striker played by Higuain. Di Maria’s runs helped as he exploited the space left by Aguero who cut inside. And Lionel Messi was playing in the hole as the roaming enganche. His dribbling and passing was suddenly most effective and he had 32 successful dribbles, 3 assists and numerous key passes. This formation was mostly left-centric allowing Zabaleta to run forward from the right, with frequent helps from Messi and Higuain.

What Went Wrong: Batista Was Beaten by Tabarez

Batista started with the same system against Uruguay. The much effective fluid system forced Óscar Tabárez to play rash football and Uruguay ended the day committing 28 fouls. Even after the early sending off of Diego Perez, Batista failed to take advantage of the extra man. Mostly missed chances from Argentine forwards and a goalkeeping clinic by Muslera, were enough to put Argentina out. Batista made another major mistake by substituting

both Di Maria and Aguero with Tevez and Pastore. As a result, Tevez, Pastore and Messi were all trying to play from the middle, with no width left on the far left. One couldn’t possibly expect 120 minutes of overlapping service from the 36 year old Zanetti, that too on the left side.

Future: Messi Is Not Maradona Yet

With the best player of the world leading their attacks, Argentina will always be a great force, however, it’s time they employ a tactically sound manager who can motivate the team in the key clashes. Leo Messi was good with his new role of playmaker but not quite in his Barcelona form, and a zero goal tally says it all. However, excessive dependency on Messi might lead them nowhere.

Venezuela: Tactically Vehement

Venezuela confounded expectations by reaching the semi-final, beating one of the tournament favourites, Chile and subsequently losing out to Paraguay in the tie-breaker and Peru in the 3rd/4th deciding match.


César Farías played his team with a 4-4-2 formation which was often recognizable as 4-2-2-2 form with 2 defensive midfielders sitting deep and 2 wide midfielders playing up. Farías played four-man defense line led by Oswaldo Vizcarrondo. He had an impressive tournament, committing only 4 fouls throughout, and made 9 absolutely vital tackles at the deep defense. Along with this, he proved to be an aerial threat in the opponent’s box in the dead ball situations. Left Back Gabriel Cichero also put a notable performance and for a defender, his distribution

skills were impressive. César had two defensive midfielders, Tomas Rincon and Franklin Lucena, to protect his back four. Both made numerous interceptions and tackles and broke up opposition attacks.Venezuela faced significant issues in breaking the defense as they were always a man short in attack. Juan Arango tried hard to complement this with his long distance shooting – a tally of 16 long shots and 2 goals though isn’t very productive. Other than these, his free kicks were a source of danger, especially against Chile. César kept rotating his front duo, and his creative forward, Giancarlo Maldonado was effective as a traditional number 9.

Tactical Analysis: Don’t Chase the Game

César initially instructed his two central midfielders to chase the game by constant off-

the-ball pressing and closing down opponent midfielders. This didn’t appear to be a safe policy as they were leaving huge spaces behind them in front of the back four. So as the tournament progressed, they were asked to sit deep and wait for the attackers, providing more steel in the defense. This tactic proved successful as heavyweight teams like Brazil and Chile were kept quiet for a significant amount of time.

What Went Wrong: Missing a Classic #10

Venezuela always lacked a creative ‘number 10’ in the hole. César, with his limited resources, tried to switch the game to the right. In the semi-final against Paraguay, he missed his pivots – Rincon, for suspension and Maldonado, for slight injury. Later, deep in the second half, he employed Maldonado and asked him to play from right to make diagonal runs to the centre. His presence brought about a significant change in the momentum of the game, and they looked a far better team during the extra time. Having two defensive midfielders seated deep, reduced the attacking threat. As both of their midfielders were playing wide, there was no creativity from the central position to seek out Maldonado’s runs.


There is hope for La Vinotintos. Their counter attacking football has been praised by many, and although playing with only 10 men, they enjoyed better possession in the semi finals. Had they pursued consistently, they could have ended up playing at the Copa America finals for the first time.

Peru: Counter Attacking At Its Best

Peru was the biggest surprise package of Copa America 2011 as they played way better than usual and secured the third spot. Sergio Markarian took the flag from Jose Del Solar, under whom Peru had in the past, gone through one of their most disastrous pre-world cup campaign when they finished last. Markarian had stated his aim was to lead Peru to the 2014 World Cup after six consecutive failed campaigns. He himself has a World Cup experience, having led the Paraguay national team to the 2002 World Cup finals in Japan-Korea. The performance of the Peruvians in this Copa America definitely shows that this is a team we should keep an eye on; one can expect them to qualify in the tough South American qualifying round.


Starting as underdogs, Markarian mostly concentrated on a defense oriented formation for which he employed 3 midfielders with major defensive duties in front of 4 men back line. His 4-3-3 starting formation eventually turned to a 4-3-2-1 pyramid. Not a traditional pyramid; rather a skewed one as Markarian had a left balanced formation where the single striker was mostly paired with the left wide midfielder. The naturally aggressive Vargas shone in that role.

Tactical Analysis: Defense First, Defense Second, Attack Third

The Peruvian defense was led by Braga’s central defender Alberto Junior Rodríguez. Even after suffering an injury stricken season, he contributed a lot to Braga’s second spot in the Portuguese League and the UEFA Europa League respectively. The 27 year old centre back committed only 4 fouls in the tournament. With numerous interceptions, he managed to make up for the mistakes by inexperienced fellow defenders, Christian Ramos and Walter Vílchez. The 3 defensive midfielders, whom Markarian employed, were pretty comfortable playing long balls to break through quick counter attacks. He relied mostly on Adan Balbín and Rinaldo Cruzado for this, and a little aggressive license offered to Luis Advincula. Balbín, a natural defender, was given the duty of playing the holding role and his success in that role was instrumental in Peru’s rise.

Peru’s primary threat was their three attacking players. William Chiroque and Juan Vargas were given the license of an all-out-attack, and their presence high up the pitch pinned the opposition fullbacks. Chiroque, an experienced player from their domestic league, provided much fluidity to

their counter attacking system with his fast-paced runs and dribbling skills. This 31 year old finished with 17 successful dribbles and most of them were inside the opponent’s half. On the other side, Markarian fitted Fiorentina star Juan Vargas. Last season he was one of the few bright spots for them and he topped the assist chart for the club. His wing-play and link up play with Paolo Guerrero was responsible for the best attacking plays of Peru.

The Guerrero Effect

Paolo Guerrero, the Hamburg striker, was the main spearhead of Markarian’s counter attacking tactics. His admirable physical presence and holding capability provided enough time for Vargas and Chiroque to time their runs and stretch the defense for him. His dribbling ability forced the opposition to man mark him. Thus his movements – down the centre or to the left – always created a hole in the defense – which was suitably exploited by Vargas, who adroitly changed his position. Playing as the lone forward, Guerrero completed 16 successful dribbles and drew 22 fouls on him.

Both Vargas and Guerrero kept shooting from long range and in a combination averaged more than 6 attempts on goal per game with around 50% accuracy. Guerrero marked the performance by being the tournament’s top scorer with 5 goals and the sole hat-trick.


Peru played better than many had expected, and their counter attacking tactics bore fruit. The attack could be deadly, though with a couple of attacking fullbacks. They could also do with a substitute for Guerrero who can fill in ably for him.

Paraguay: Ugly yet Admirable

Since the time of José Luis Chilavert, Paraguay has been a tough nut to crack, and the latest Copa loudly proclaimed the same when they ‘crawled forward’ to the grand finale against Uruguay. That Paraguay played the final after not having won a single game in open play said a lot about their spirit and tactical setup.


Manager Gerardo Martino who guided Paraguay to their first ever World Cup quarter final, achieved success yet again when he took his team to the Copa final. His ‘safety first’ approach may not look great but was the most effective. Paraguay played mostly with a defensive minded 4-4-2 formation. Like most of the Latin American teams, this is a hybrid formation and can be quickly converted to

4-3-3. Off-the-ball, one forward would track back to make it an effective 4-5-1.They had Justo Villar, who was the outstanding player of both the quarters and semis, a back four of Darío Verón on the right, Paulo da Silva and Antolín Alcaraz in the centre and Aureliano Torres on the left. Enrique Vera played in the defensive midfield zone with Marcos Riveros to his left, slightly ahead of him, and Néstor Ortigoza to his right. Marcelo Estigarribia and Nelson Valdez played wide of the main striker Lucas Barrios. Estigarribia was employed in a deeper midfield position on the left. Valdez played in a more forward role making the system turn into a 4-4-2, when Paraguay had the ball. Martino had changed the front three frequently, by switching the position of Barrios and sometimes using former Manchester City man, Roque Santa Cruz as the withdrawn forward.

Tactical Analysis: Narrow Defending

Martino let his team play with a philosophy of narrow defending. His two full backs were playing narrower to have the crowd out the central spaces in front of the goal. They allowed much space in the flanks to draw opponents in the open area, and Paraguay’s wide midfielders did not miss a single opportunity to exploit that open space. Dani Alves was made to crawl in the first match with Brazil, by the tricky Estigarribia.

Though Martino formed his team with prior defensive decorations, Paraguay was never too eager to press. They allowed opponents to play in the midfield and on the flanks.

Often Vera came down to make the back 5, and kept deep-lying Nestor Ortigoza at the middle

of the pitch. Ortigoza had a superb tournament as the playmaker. His ability to dictate the pace of the game had been used magnificently in the narrow formation. He finished with 202 successful passes and 17 successful through passes. Due to his excellent vision and passing ability, he drew at least one opposition midfielder at the middle to close him down, eventually creating free space for others.

What Went Wrong? Direct Defending Cost Them Dear

Though Martino employed a defense-minded strategy, the execution was not at its best. Jamming the goalmouth is a good option when you have a two layered defense with minimal gap. Practically, when Vera came down deep in the defense, Ortigoza and Riveros were not pressing the game. As a result, Brazil and Uruguay both had sufficient space between their midfield and defensive lines, which was heavily exploited to penetrate the defense. Brazil was dreadful in front of the goal and an almost superhuman performance from the goalkeeper, Villar kept Paraguay moving ahead in the race. However, a razor-sharp finishing from Luis Suarez and Diego Forlán showed us the defensive flaws in the Paraguayan model. Beside this, Paraguay tried to employ a heavy traffic in front of the goal which actually made no room for a second cover behind a defender. This was frequently exploited by Suarez in the final, as he dribbled past the defender to get into the open.

Future: Pragmatic in True Sense

It was a sorry state of affairs, but with limited resources, injuries and red cards, this was the most pragmatic form of game Paraguayans could produce. The passion of their fans was also instrumental in keeping their spirit up (Larissa

Riquelme had already declared her desire to “present herself” if the team won). Strange as it is, they still needed to work on their defense. Playing a defensive strategy yet feeling uncomfortable while defending is a poor banner for their model. It appeared that Villar was protecting the defense instead of the other way round.

Uruguay: Tactical Superiority

Following their strong World Cup run, Uruguay led by the evergreen Forlan and guided by ‘The Professor’ Óscar Tabárez, snatched the crown of Copa America 2011 proving that their World Cup success had not been a fluke. After a dull low scoring affair, Uruguay proved themselves stronger than other teams. Success doesn’t usually come by easily and smoothly and it is to Tabarez’ credit that after a poor start and many a hard time, Uruguay managed to place their nation on the path to success.


Uruguay didn’t play with a steady formation throughout. Tabárez kept altering the formation depending on match situations and the opponent’s shape. Mostly he started with a variant of the classic 4-4-2 but didn’t hesitate to switch to 3-3-2-2 with 3 centre backs. Not just the shape, Tabárez kept changing personnel too, depending on the opposition. Other than Diego Godin, who was ill, and their reserve goalkeepers, Tabárez utilised all other squad members. When he played with the 4 man defense, he employed skipper Diego Lugano and Sebastián Coates as the stoppers and Alvero Pereira and Maxi Pereira as the overlapping side-backs. When he moved to the 3 man defense line, he employed 3 centre-backs and achieved the numerical advantage

deep in the defense. He fully utilised the versatility of former Barcelona defender Martin Cáceres, who can play at different positions as a defender. To tackle the strong Argentine attacking threat, he employed Arevalo Rios and Diego Perez as two defensive pivots to protect their back line. His decision of going with 3 forwards was heavily dependent on the availability of in-form Napoli man Edinson Cavani; else he kept faith on his superstar forward pair of Suarez and Forlan as the front duo, where Forlan operated from a little deeper.

Tactical Analysis: Direct Football

Uruguay did not play fancy football like passing in the midfield or building up from the deep. They rather believed in directly placing the ball in the opposition’s half, and then press hard. Suarez was particularly instrumental behind this tactic. His ability to hold the ball and draw attention from the defenders made free space for

Forlan to exploit. He suffered 27 fouls and completed 12 successful dribbles. Diego Forlan on the other hand, was playing behind him more as a playmaker. His excellent vision was instrumental behind a lot of attacks and his pin-point passing also set up many counter attacks. Their defenders sat deep and were drawing opposition midfielders up in the pitch to make free spaces for quick counters and put their forwards in a dangerous 3vs3 situation. The tactic of pressing high up the field worked excellently in the final when they unsettled Paraguay’s key play-maker Nestor Ortigoza, and didn’t allow him to dictate the pace of the game.

Tackling the Perez Red Card

Uruguay mostly consisted of tireless players like Diego Perez, Arevalo Rios or Maxi Pereira. Perez was the heart of these three. After he got sent off during the Argentina match, Tabárez tackled

the numerical disadvantage by installing a narrow diamond shape in the midfield with Forlan at the tip and Rios at the bottom, allowing spaces at the flank. The full-backs didn’t press at the flanks, rather waited deep, allowing their midfielders to fall back and helped in defending.

What Went Wrong: Thin Defending

Uruguay suffered a lot. Inspired by Messi, Argentina exposed a lot of flaws in the system of the Uruguay team. Their high pressing game up on the field left a thin defense on the other side. Quick switch of game play easily exploits the flaw. Apart from that, closing down in the midfield left a huge gap between the midfield and defense lines. A slightly higher line of defense could possibly be a solution, a strategy that Tabárez was not prepared to risk, given that his defenders weren’t pacy enough.

Future: Brighter

The way Uruguay has been playing under Óscar Tabárez is inspirational. After reaching the semi-final in 2007 Copa America and 2010 World Cup, they are now the emperors of South American football. With the current statistics and form, they may achieve another World Cup glory. The primary concern for Tabárez, however, would be to find an appropriate replacement for Diego Forlan, who will be 35 in 2014. Diego Perez, who had an excellent Copa, will be 34 and the centre-back Lugano will be 33. Tabárez has a versatile pool of talent and the qualifiers will be the stage for experiments.

Is this a trend?

The chaotic imbalance of the recently held Copa raises some issues worthy of discussion. This tournament was not for those who came to watch free flowing football. It was a tournament of tactical formations, of pragmatic formations and approach over Jogo Bonito. Although in the last two editions of the tournament, we witnessed a goal flurry (an average of more than 3 goals per game),

Copa 2011 had barely 2 goals per match (2.07 goals per game).Most of the managers used double pivot system to protect their defense and installed a ‘safety first’ attitude. Other than this, one more topic that begs asking is – what is the preferred model for a national team: possession football or direct approach. In recent times, Barcelona has established their superiority by their possession oriented football game. How effective is that for a national side? The answer is doubtful. The following graph shows the possession %age of the teams in the Copa 2011, where the 4 teams who were eliminated in the Quarter Final, top the list.

Even in the final, Uruguay’s more direct approach with 37% ball possession, overpowered possession game of Paraguay. To draw another comparison with Barcelona, it is not how long you keep the ball but what you do with that. The smarter teams can do without less possession but discipline, organization and spirit must remain top notch.

The Copa America 2011 may have been a dull event in the perspective of goals scored and dearth of free flowing attacking football, it was a tactical lesson on how to combat effectively with limited resources.


Srinwantu Dey is a football student and loves to analyse the game tactically. He can be reached @srinwantudey.