Tik Tact Tales

World Cup 2014 is still fresh in our memory. So what new did we come across? Which teams impressed us with their discipline or attacking flair? And which managers did impress us with their tactical maneuvering? Debojyoti Chakraborty analyzes all these and more here with GT.

With the FIFA 2014 World Cup finally coming to a close, there has been a great deal of debate going on about whether this World Cup was the greatest ever. There were several indications that it was definitely one of the best in post world war era. If on the one hand we had loads of goals  (at least in the group stages), plenty of drama and endless emotions, captivating us for more than a month, on the other hand we also witnessed some fascinating tactical battles throughout the campaign. Let us take a look at some tactics that left a lasting impression.

Germany

Germany started the competition in 4-3-3 formation with Philipp Lahm, possibly the best right back in the world playing as midfield anchor. Joachim Löw had a fluid front three of Mesut Özil, Mario Götze and Thomas Müller with the licence to roam and interchange at will.

Germany formation in the final - dictating the middle of the pitch
Germany formation in the final – dictating the middle of the pitch

Germany stormed through to the second round but looked slow and susceptible against an attacking opponent. In the round of 16 match against Algeria, the German full backs –Höwedes and Shkodran Mustafi, centre backs in their club teams, started venturing forward but without any substantial impact. It exposed their centre backs and Löw , the mastermind, unleashed Manuel Neuer in an extremely aggressive sweeper keeper role. It was a move which could have backfired but he trusted his keeper who never let him down with 17 perfectly timed clearances outside his penalty box. Germany, however, looked more threatening and settled as Lahm moved to his natural right back role to replace the injured Mustafi, thus paving the way for Sami Khedira in the midfield. The latter added much needed pace in the Die Mannschaft middle third while Bastian Schweinsteiger looked far more comfortable in the deep ball playing role than his captain –  the move ultimately elevated Germany to another level but happened more by chance than planning.

Löw made another decisive switch in the next match against France by introducing an out and out striker in Miroslav Klose upfront. He provided a focal point to the German attack, and allowed Müller to start at his usual right hand channel and drift inside. Although Klose had little impact on the game in the attacking third and more precisely, inside the penalty box, he helped push back the French centre backs, and thus freed up the space for German midfielders to maintain the goal threat.

With Khedira getting ruled out during warm up and his replacement Christoph Kramer having a poor game before leaving the field due to an injury , Germany were set back in the final with the shortage of central midfielders. Özil had to fall back to the midfield trio where he was never at ease. Löw  though had the final say as his super subs André Schürrle and Götze combined to clinch the title.

Germany had a very peculiar team – from an ultra-modern goalkeeper to the old-fashioned goal poacher. But just like the previous two winners Italy and Spain, Germany also had a variety of attacking threats– they seemed to find a goal scorer from virtually every corner of the field during critical moments. Joachim Löw should be credited for not only winning the World Cup, but also nurturing so many young talents en route.

Argentina

Alejandro Sabella made a huge tactical error as he started the campaign with a 3-5-2, but he quickly went for damage control at half-time. With Bosnia and Herzegovina using only a lone striker upfront, Sabella spared an extra man from the back to add more solidity and control in the midfield. Lionel Messi definitely enjoyed the hybrid 4-3-3 formation and his own false 9 role.

Angel di Maria taking on Swiss defenders succesfully – Source: Squawka

Sabella drastically changed things around in his next match and moved to a 4-2-4 system against an Iran side expected to sit back and defend for their lives. Iran showed tremendous discipline and robbed Argentina of any space. Once again Argentina failed to impress.

Finally Sabella addressed the core issue, albeit through an injury to front man Sergio Agüero. Ezequiel Lavezzi was introduced and though he did not produce a tangible end product, he was honest in his wide position and provided a proper 4-2-3-1 balance to the team which gave Messi the licence to roam around. Messi, as expected, was heavily marked throughout the World Cup. However, he constantly managed to drag at least two of the opponent midfielders out of position, which was opening up a vast area between the lines for others to drift into. Unfortunately, more so after the injury to Ángel di María, none of his team mates managed to take advantage. All of Argentina’s movements were distressingly linear playing into opposition hands.

Messi dictated much of the tempo for Argentina. His reserved, calculated and sudden burst of speed while attacking meant that Argentina’s tempo changed from the qualifiers, where they preferred breaking quickly. This tactical shift was very critical for La Albiceleste – the more classic eloquent Latin American display with Messi playing  an archetypal Argentine #10 devoid of any strong European influence.

Pegged by injuries to key players, Sabella opted for Lavezzi and Enzo Pérez– a central midfielder –on the wings, semi final onwards. Lavezzi, a forward, was naturally more effective venturing forward. It showcased how two makeshift wide players, given virtually similar roles, carried them out quite differently. Especially against Germany in the final, Sabella missed a trick by not asking Lavezzi to stick to the right side taking on an uncomfortable German left back Benedikt Höwedes, a right central defender.

In the finals against Germany, Sabella made an inexplicable change at half time, a switch which tilted the balance of the game in Germany’s  favour – in came a half fit Agüero for a very lively Lavezzi and Argentina changed to a midfield diamond.  They lost all the width and pace down the flank, and played to the German hands by being extremely narrow in the central areas. Sabella opted for a star player sacrificing the team shape and it cost him the World Cup.

Netherlands

Louis van Gaal deployed three centre backs with a high-risk strategy – high defensive line, ready to keep possession in deep areas in own half and launch direct balls forward bypassing the opponent midfield and defensive lines. There was clear instruction for two outside centre halfs to track down the two most forward players from the opponent team, even if it meant going beyond own midfield line. This paved the way for a high pressing game with an open channel for kick starting quick counter attacks.

This strategy had some loopholes though. Australian midfielders were ready to make runs deep from their own half to exploit the zone vacated by Dutch centre backs high line. But this, in effect, opened up the game more as Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben found themselves one on one against the opponents’ mid fielders. Van Gaal closed down the game by bringing in a pacy winger Memphis Depay to keep the Australian full backs more occupied. A change of formation to 4-3-3 also deprived the Australian front three any open space, resulting in a slower game, where gap in quality eventually won.

Dutch center backs - de Vrij and Martins Indi - tracking quite high up the pitch in both the halves against Spain
Dutch center backs – de Vrij and Martins Indi – tracking quite high up the pitch in both the halves against Spain – Source: Squawka

One masterstroke by van Gaal was using Dirk Kuyt, a forward by position, as an auxiliary wing back. It allowed the Oranje to transit seamlessly from a three centre back to classical 4-4-2 during different phases of the match. This was pretty apparent in the round of 16 match against Mexico. After a stalemate in the first half where both the teams cancelled each other out in a 3-5-2 set up and were producing a slow drab game, Van Gaal switched Kuyt to a conventional full back and introduced an out an out winger. The team played an immensely attacking 4-2-1-3 formation, though at the cost of a weaker midfield , as the Dutch won the game through wide areas by pushing the opponents’ wing backs even further – rather 3-4-1-2 to very attacking 4-2-1-3.

A very courageous move was already made by substituting Van Persie for Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, a natural penalty box poacher, perfect for getting on the end of crosses. But the move of the match came during the water break, after which Kuyt moved upfront from his right-back position, with Georginio Wijnaldum covering the right of the pitch. This tactical switch resulted in the late Dutch dominance and a 2-1 comeback win.

The Dutch were good against teams taking the game to them which meant more space to work in counters. But in the quarter final they faced Costa Rica, a mirror image of themselves,  albeit with less attacking flair and prowess. It could have produced a stalemate but not with Netherlands involved. Van Gaal moved his wing backs further up to push back the opposition wing-backs, stretched his forwards with Wesley Sneijders’ across the pitch and kept the Costa Rican centre backs occupied to basket their build-up play.

Costa Rica were content at keeping their shape at the back, and hence did not have anything to offer going forward. The Dutch were controlling the game but had a redundant defender in a 3 v 1 at the back, with none of the three centre backs stepping up into midfield to dictate the game. The Oranje, surprisingly took second half of the extra-time to address this issue, but rightfully changed from a 3-4-3 to a 4-2-4, with and Huntelaar coming on up front at the expense of Bruno Martins Indi.

Then came the most talked about substitution of this World Cup. within the 119th minute, van Gaal substituted sub goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen  with Tim Krul. It was more of a psychological move than anything else : Krul is not a penalty specialist, but the iota sub convinced Costa Rica that he was.

And what an inspired substitution it was! Except for the first kick, Krul came out of his goal every time the striker walked towards the penalty spot to place it, normally walking to one side. Then Krul dived in the opposite direction of his walk. And Krul guessed it right every time, saving two in the process.

Netherlands were brilliant throughout the tournament, with van Gaal relying upon an uncommon, tight man-marking system. He was refreshingly flexible to change his formation each game to match his opposition midfield, with wing backs dropping back to have an overload in defence.

Brazil

Luiz Felipe Scolari changed the way his three attacking men lined up, a tactic that surprised everyone. Oscar, most effective when operated centrally, was drifted to a wider role on the right. Neymar loves to operate from left but he was effectively used as a support striker to centre forward Fred. Hulk, who started right behind the lone striker Fred during, last year’s Confederations Cup win was shifted to the left wing. This change may be due to Neymar’s increased stocks since last year which prompted Big Phil  to offer his star player more time with the ball. But this overhaul complicated things for their most creative player, Oscar, who was visibly not comfortable playing out of position.

There is no denying the fact that nowadays Brazil lacks real skilful, creative, attacking footballers, and Scolari, hence, rightly set up the Seleção as a primarily counter-attacking team. He showed his experience by playing a midfield shuttler in Ramires and sacrificing one of the front men against teams fielding three men at the back.  But sometimes he was let down by the inexperience of Neymar, who played more like a second striker than a number 10, making himself vulnerable to marking.

Brazil front four heat map during first 30 min of match against Germany
Brazil front four heat map during first 30 min of match against Germany. Not tracking back even when the defence surely could do with some help – Source: Squawka

In the annihilation at the hands of Germany, everything that could go wrong for the hosts went wrong. The most perplexing decision was the inclusion of Bernard  in the starting XI. There has been questions on whether it was solely because he is a local Belo Horizonte boy, and Scolari, having lost Neymar already, was desperately trying to cash in on his popularity.  The whole team performance was bizarre. Brazil were atrociously broken into two sections –six defenders, four attackers, and no midfield link between them. The defence could not pass the ball to the attackers, and the front four could not retain possession much longer to ease the pressure on the back six.

In the second half, Scolari made some changes – Paulinho and Ramires replaced Hulk and Fernandinho, switching to more of a 4-3-3, with Luiz Gustavo behind Ramires and Paulinho. In hindsight, this is probably the team and shape Scolari should have started with.

Chile

Chile were one of the most versatile sides in the tournament. Jorge Sampaoli dished out a midfield diamond with plenty of variations. Marcelo Díaz, the holding midfielder would often drop deep making it a three centre back allowing the full backs to operate more like wingbacks. From there, long diagonal switch of play across the width of the field was one of the characteristics of quick Chilean counter attacks. Up front, at top of the diamond, Jorge Valdivia played further up more like a false nine rather than in a number 10 role. Striker duo of Alexis Sánchez and Edurado Vargas regularly drifted wide dragging the opponent centre halves with them and creating space for Valdivia to run into. Sampaoli also proved his worth as a clever tactician by introducing a fast, direct centre forward Jean Beausejour late in matches and switching to more traditional 4-3-3 to exploit tiring defences.

At times, Chile showed they can be reactive and can adapt very quickly. Sampoli fielded 3-4-1-2 against Spain, to replicate the Dutch pressing game against Spain. He was not copying blindly though – Chile were cautious, giving due respect to Spain as often they sat back deep to form a five man defensive line. But they overloaded when attacking and quickly changed play by passing the ball from one flank to another, a highlight of their famous win.

Colombia

Jose Pékerman, the veteran Argentine coach, was widely expected to field a narrow 4-2-2-2 in the World Cup but was handicapped by last minute injury to star forward Radamel Falcao and shifted to a 4-2-3-1 formation. Star of the campaign was James Rodríguez – not only he dazzled forward but always came deep to collect the ball and play some glorious through balls. Rodríguez was thought to be uncomfortable in a converted winger position but he showed tremendous adaptability and his longitudinal awareness was absolutely brilliant. It also helped that they had two skilful full backs in Juan Camilo Zúñiga and Pablo Armero who besides providing width and making overlapping runs, were comfortable with the ball deep in opponent territory, holding and dribbling past defenders. Colombia displayed tremendous discipline with the back four and the two holding midfielders, and lit the stage with Rodríguez and another trickster in Juan Cuadrado. But they suffered up front as both Jackson Martínez and Teófilo Gutiérrez failed to impress. Had they got a decent striker in the final third to support Rodríguez, Colombia might just have gone all the way.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica shocked everyone the most with their honest and disciplined display of tactical football. Jorge Luis Pinto, in his second stint as the national team coach, deployed a back three in a counter attack based system. This was in stark contrast to all other teams in the tournament having a three centre half system – Netherlands, Mexico et al were comfortable with the ball, pressed higher and had a possession based approach. On the other hand, Pinto’s team defended deep and relied on direct counter attacks – not through long balls but refreshingly eye catching speedy passing to wide areas. Sometimes they did press high up but generally they allowed the opponent teams to come at them, get exposed at the back and then break free.

 

Costa Rica were brilliant at setting up off side traps – their tally of 41 successful traps till the quarter final stages was more than double of the second ranked team (Germany) in this category. It shows how cohesive their defensive unit was. But the same unit struggled to switch to a conventional flat four after going down to ten men against the round of 16 match against Greece. Pinto’s tactical shift to 4-4-1 took a while to get going as the wing backs continued to play very wide instead of playing close to the centre backs. They eventually rectified themselves by playing narrow, helping out the stoppers and leaving the flanks to be taken over by the wingers. They eventually won the match on penalties, but did not have enough tricks up their sleeves to progress further in the competition.

France

Didier Deschamps succeeded in bringing France out of the 2010 World Cup debacle and spearheaded a well-knit unit. France’s star performer was Mathieu Valbuena who occupied the right-sided position in a three men attack but often drifted inside into pockets of spaces in more central positions. He carried out the double role of a right winger as well as a perfect #10 – on top of a midfield diamond – with aplomb.

Benzema did not track back and his passing also was lacklustre when played wide - again Nigeria in Round of 16
Benzema did not track back and his passing also was lacklustre when played wide – against Nigeria in Round of 16 – Source: EPLINDEX

But Deschamps struggled to fit in his striker duo of Karim Benzema and Olivier Giroud in the starting XI efficiently. First of all, Valbuena had to be shifted in the left wing where his utility was compromised. Then, Giroud could not hold up the ball up front effectively enough, and often he mistimed his runs to create space for others. Benzema also became less effective whenever asked to operate from the left in a 4-3-3 system, did not offer any width at all, and could not go behind the last defender into goal scoring positions. In effect, his narrowness resulted in Valbuena’s diminished return.

But Benzema playing as a wide man was even more problematic due to his minimal defensive contribution. Against less disciplined teams such as Switzerland (at the group stage) this approach was still workable, since Swiss right-back Stephane Lichtsteiner was regularly getting caught in the French half and Benzema could exploit the space in counter-attack. But against more tactically sound sides like Nigeria in the round of 16 match, Efe Ambrose had a more balanced role to carry out. He attacked the French left wing with no one tracking him and combined well with Peter Odemwingie to create problems for Patrice Evra.

Les Blues were playing a lop-sided 4-4-2 and were going nowhere. Deschamps addressed the issue by taking off Giroud, introducing Antoine Griezmann, and shifting Benzema upfront in a classic 4-3-3. This move changed the game – Griezmann’s directness and verticality in possession proved decisive as he linked well with both Benzema and Valbuena. France won courtesy a Paul Pogba header from a corner but ran out of ideas in the quarter final against eventual winner Germany.

Belgium

Marc Wilmots biggest tactical genius was perhaps the use of his substitutes. In the opener against Algeria he struggled in the first half with a 4-4-1-1 and an inept toothless attack. At the half time, Kevin de Bryune was shifted to a central position, and Belgium now had a potent target man with super sub Marouane Fellaini playing as the second striker. Fellaini did not disappoint and pulled Belgium level with a brilliant header.

Wilmots then put up an example for everyone – he did not hesitate to start with Divock Origi upfront, ahead of his number 1 striker, an underperforming Romelu Lukaku in the knock out stages. But he was not stubborn to prove himself right as he changed things whenever required. The round of 16 match against USA was turning out to be a frustrating one for the Belgian faithful. USA kept on losing the ball frequently and Belgium kept on squandering chances against an impregnable Tim Howard. Wilmots could do nothing much but still he shook things up by introducing a bit of pace by introducing Kevin Mirallas in place of Dries Mertens. In extra-time Lukaku was called off the bench to inject even more pace upfront at the expense of Origi. And Belgium finally got the crucial breakthrough as Lukaku teed up De Bruyne on the break. Ten minutes later the reverse sequence happened and Lukaku’s cameo helped Belgium overcome a stubborn USA side. Belgium created a lot in the match, but a clinical striker made all the difference late in the match.

Wilmots was handicapped with the lack of natural full backs – everyone in his back four was a centre half.  So there was no consistent overlapping runs, no overload in the wide area and one cannot succeed at the World Cup without such a basic weapon.

Notable mentions:

    • England coach Roy Hodgson excited all of us with four attackers in a 4-2-4 system. But obvious downside of this formation was lack of defensive responsibilities and less protection for full backs which cost them a lot. Also Wayne Rooney’s positioning was an issue – he was shifted constantly during and in between matches from either flanks to the behind the striker position. World Cup was no place to decide the best position for the team’s most influential player.
    • Paulo Bento used Cristiano Ronaldo more as a second striker and shifted Raul Merieles towards the left to cover for his vacated space. This was effectively a 4-4-2 but with neither forwards tracking back, it was always a lost battle in the central midfield where the opponent always created a 3 on 2 overload.
    • Greece are one of the most defensive sides the World has ever seen. But they showed their attacking flair too against a 10-man Costa Rica while trailing by a goal. Like any other side, they introduced strikers, moved up the # 10 to play more like a 4-2-4. But they did not simply hit the long balls – instead they pushed the ball wide, stretched the play, forced Costa Rica to work hard, tired them out, and lashed some brilliant crosses into the box. They were patient throughout and finally were able to equalize.
Greece chasing the game in last 30 min against Costa Rica in Round of 16 - Long balls to stretch the play
Greece chasing the game in last 30 min against Costa Rica in Round of 16 – Long balls to stretch the play – Source: Squawka
    • This World Cup saw a return of three centre back formation. But at the end, many of the teams shifted from 3-5-2 to 5-3-2 as the wing backs were instructed to be more responsible defensively. At the end of the day, it was evident that the same system could look very different by the roles carried out by individual players.
    • Another notable aspect was that how cagy an affair it can become when two sides fielding the same 3-5-2 formation lock horns (Uruguay vs Italy in the group stage, Netherlands vs Costa Rica in the last eight). Strikers become well marked by the insurance of an extra sweeper; there is no free width to be exploited as the wide areas are well guarded by the wing backs creating 1 v 1 all the time. Midfield area becomes too predictable and three CMs cancel each other out.
    • As we advanced in the tournament, teams got more cautious. Full backs / wing backs were instructed to track their opposite numbers more closely rather than being used as an outlet for attack. This reduced the possibility of having a 2 v 1 overload in the opposition wide areas and the game got more predictable.  Same was the scenario in the middle of the pitch – the midfield triangles were formed much lower; sometimes entirely well within own half by the central midfielders and very few ambitious balls were played forward.  As a result goal scoring opportunities diminished and so did the goals.

At the end of the day it really comes down to the individual players. The coach can always come up with the best of plans to tackle the opponent. But it depends on the players’ adaptability and discipline if they can execute that plan. And how well individuals can execute the tactics differentiates the winner from the rest of the bunch.

FIFA World Cup With Bollywood Curry

With World Cup just around the corner we re-imagined few of the cult Bollywood movie posters and gave them a football twist in a a humorous, cryptic and minimalist way to wish luck few of the popular nations. This is nothing official but to spice up the month long journey coming ahead. Enjoy – Football in Filmy Attire (in short we call it FIFA).

Argentina – Will He or won’t He be a witness this time?

argentina

Brazil – The zeal for beauty

brazil

England – For the Lion hearted

england

France- Head vs heart. Can they overcome the battle within?

France

Germany – Can they steel a win?

germany

Italy – What’s cooking, Pastafarians?

italy

Netherlands – Thirsting for a win

netherland

Spain – Will the bull run continue for the reigning champions?

spain

B for Bestest

After covering Group A in our last post, here comes the Group B preview. Analysis by Debojyoti Chakraborty.

Group B features the last World Cup finalists and a very good Chilean side. So, eventually one of thesetop two teams willhave to cut a sorry face. Apart from the tag of Group of Death, there are other complicated issues in Group B. There is a small incentive for the winner of this group – in all likelihood they would avoid the Seleçãoin the first knock-out stage. So, it seems that the winner of the first match of this group – Spain vs Netherlands, will most likely not only survive the group but also get an easier opponent in the Round of 16.

 

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Spain remained unbeaten throughout their qualification campaign, never had to come back in any of those matches. They dropped occasional points, but nothing to really worry about their qualification.

Spain has been ruling the charts for quite sometime now. They have won virtually everything – 2010 World Cup, 2012 Euro – only to stumble at the final hurdle at Confederations Cup last year. They have to defend their world crown in the same nation. Last time, kinks in the seemingly invincible Spanish armada were found with an ageing squad having to play under the scorching heat of the midday sun. Their task is not any easier this time round.

La Rojawill be playing a familiar high pressing, short passing game with a side boasting stars from Real Madrid and Barcelona. Their full-backs Daniel Carvajal and Jordi Alba will play like virtual wingers while they have possession. Centre-back pairing of Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos will also be joining the play near or beyond the halfway line. A midfield line-up featuring Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Andreas Iniesta, David Silva and CescFabregas would give nightmares to any opponent. Players of the calibre of Koke, Isco and AsierIllarramendi have not been – or eventually will not be – able to make the squad; such is the plethora of talent in the Spanish midfield. On top of that, Diego Costa will slot in as the centre forward and for years, Vicente Del Bosque just might be relieved of his central striker problem.

Spain lost their opener against Switzerland last time and then went on to win their maiden glory – the first team to lift the cup after starting with a loss. This edition, they can ill afford that kind of warm up time. Spain has been drawn in a difficult group but still should make the next round. Only question is whether they can top the group and get a potentially easier opponent in the round of 16. In all probability, they should.

 
 

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After losing to Spain in the final of the 2010 World Cup, Netherlands went through a torrid time. They failed to secure a single point at the 2012 EURO – after being drawn in a tough group featuring Germany, Portugal and Demark. But to their credit, Netherlands did perform quite well in the qualifying campaign. They dropped only two points in the 10 matches they played, scored aplenty (34) and achieved the best goal difference in the European qualifiers (+29).

Their opponents during the qualification – none of them featured in the top 30 FIFA ranking – did not put up any fight. But the Dutch are facing an uphill task right from the group stages of this World Cup. Progress to the next round is not guaranteed and there is a surprisingly negative feeling amidst the supporters.

As always, Netherlands has a star-studded squad. Rafael van der Vaart (Hamburg) Wesley Sneijder (Galatasaray), ArjenRobben (Bayern Munich) and Robin van Persie (Manchester United) are stars in their own rightand form an awesome foursome upfront. Van Persiehas even scored 11 goals in the qualifying campaign to go past Patrick Kluivert as the all-time highest goal scorer for the Dutch. The main man, however, will be Robben – swapping positions in a free flowing midfield and suddenly bursting up through either flanks.

But the Oranje have time and again failed to gel as a cohesive unit. This time the pressure will be even more on manager Louis van Gaal as they will have to deal with an inexperienced back line and midfield. Many believe this tournament has come in too soon for many of them. Don’t be surprised if they fail to make the cut.

 
 

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Making this group even tougher is Chile – another La Roja. Chile’s recent record is quite good – they finished third in South American qualifying, drew with Spain and defeated England in friendlies, and had lost only two of their 15 matches last year. This March they showcased a spirited display of aggressive pressing and fluent passing against the mighty Germans where they finally lost by a solitary goal.

Chile has qualified for two consecutive World Cups for the first time in their history. They had finished their journey in the round of 16 in South Africa last time. This time they have their best side ever in the tournament but as luck would have it, are drawn in the toughest group in the competition. As their manager Jorge Sampaoli put it: “The margin for error is zero.” Even if they do qualify, they face a repeat of their last match from four years back at the same stage of the tournament – they would most likely line up against the hosts.

Chile has ample star power in their ranks in the form of Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal and Barcelona forward Alexis Sanchez. They also have some young and improving players like Eduardo Vargas, who is enjoying two back-to-back fruitful seasons after being loaned out of Napoli. Chile will never die wondering for sure.They were the second highest scorer in the qualifiers, but also let slip the most number of goals. So one thing is for sure, embrace yourselves for some spicy Chile action.

But having to face the finalists from 2010 – Spain and Netherlands – qualifying for the knockout round itself will be a major success for them. But count them out at your own risk. Also, watch out for the enthusiasm for Sampaoli. He has previously not hesitated to shout instructions from the tree-top after being shown a red card!!!

 
 

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Australia – now a member of the Asian Football Federation – qualified for the World Cup from their group behind Japan, but the journey has been anything but smooth. They could not get a win in their first three matches, upped the tempo to win their last five matches and got the green signal seven minutes from time in their final match against Iran.

Australia will start the competition with no pressure whatsoever. Nobody expects them to win anything – many back home will not crib if they fail to get even a single point. They are the lowest ranked team to feature this year and are drawn in the toughest group.

New manager Ange Postecoglou took charge of an ageing team as recently as in December, 2013 after they were thrashed in couple of friendlies following a dismal qualifying campaign. His main task would be to induct some fresh blood instead of relying too much on the fading stars like Tim Cahill. Leading this young brigade could be Australia’s Player of the Year, Mile Jedinak. The midfield architect is no stranger to grinding out results, being captain of the struggling Crystal Palace and he would be vital in adding some steel to this team. It will be unfair to expect the Aussies to set the stage on fire. As any other team with limited ambitions, they would just crowd around their own penalty box, shut the door and try to score through quick counter attacks.

The Soccerooshave progressed remarkably over the last decade, but are still no match for any of the teams they would be playing against. But they can play spoilsport and decide the fate of this group.

Predictions

While the rematch of 2010 World Cup final on the very second day of the 2014 edition sets the stage on fire, one would be really brave to undermine the challenge posed by Chile. If either of the 2010 finalists – or both of them – is caught off-guard,the tiny Latin American nation will be ready to pounce in. Even if this challenge is negotiated, the mighty Brazil awaits them in the next round. Looks like, a winner takes all for this group.

Passing Shot

Diego Costa has represented his native country Brazil last year but then decided to turn up for his country of birth, Spain. Those matches being friendlies, Costa was in a position to choose the country he prefers to represent internationally.

Spain had gone past both Chile and Netherlands en route World Cup 2010 victory.  But they will have very little knowledge about the Aussies – this will be their first ever international meeting. Similarly this will be the first competitive match between Chile and Netherlands.

The Dutch Debacle: Possible Solutions

History repeats itself as favourites Netherlands self-destroy themselves in yet another major tournament. Subhashis Biswas looks into the life of the Dutch beyond Euro 2012

When the final whistle blew at Metalist Stadium, Kharkiv on Sunday, June 17, the expressions on the faces of the Dutch players on the pitch were almost the same as they were two years ago at Johannesburg. Arjen Robben, Rafael van der Vart, Robin van Persie and others were all either looking blankly at the turf or to the sky!

No place to hide faces

The difference? In Jo’burg, they had failed to win a World Cup final in their third attempt. In Kharkiv, they lost three competitive matches in a row in a major tournament for the first time in their footballing history, and thus bowed out of Euro 2012 empty-handed.

We have all seen what happened on the pitch with Dutch football in this Euro, so shall not deep dive into it. It will suffice to say that they simply did not finish effectively. The story could have been a whole lot different had they scored goals in the first match. They had created many chances, and going by the calibre of their goalscorers, they should have won that match at least 3-1.

Unfortunately, that did not happen, and nothing did happen for them afterwards. Their match with Germany was reminiscent of the Italia 1990 round of 16 match-up, sans the Voeller-Riijkaard saga. Holland was almost non-existent in that match, and some poor finishing by the Germans saved them from further blushes. The movements, the penetrations, the punching finish, were all quite evidently lacking. Could be players like Giovanni van Bronckhorst were being missed considerably.

Anyway, as there is no way to turn the clock back, at least in the real world, let us move on. It is important to think, how the Dutch should move forward, because within three months the World Cup qualifiers will be here.

A lot of people may think that this crack in the Dutch scenario is nothing much to worry about. Every possible good player is available at various positions. Maarten Stekelenburg has done his best and he is a worthy torchbearer for the likes of Edwin van der Saar. He can be nurtured into the future captain of Holland. Over the years we have seen their goalkeepers uniting a football squad short of spirit. Dutch football need not entertain the thought of a complete overhaul. Their football association must conduct a root cause analysis of Dutch failure. Not only in this Euro, but time and again, the Dutch players have been to big tournaments with plenty of dressing room problems.

Most of the Dutch star players play in separate teams, where they are indispensable for their club sides. Come national team scenario, there is bound to be some omissions from the starting eleven, and that’s where the problem begins. Having too many talented, but egoistic players vying for the same position is recipe for disaster. That is what happens with them most of the times. There were problems regarding different types of players and camps within the Dutch squad in earlier days. The Dutch team that won Euro 1988 was a tough one, and such was the stature of Ruud Gullit at the time, that other players got united under him and delivered the best performance by a Dutch side, recorded till date. But almost the same set of Dutch players then lost to Denmark in a penalty shoot-out at Euro 1992 semi-final, and stories of rift in the squad started pouring in. Before delving into the rift theory, let’s take a quick look at the current Spanish squad. Most of the players in the Spanish national team play their club football in Real Madrid and Barcelona – two of the fiercest rivals of club football,  or for that matter any form of football, and the rivalry stretches much beyond the football ground. Yet when the time comes, all men playing under the La Furia Roja banner unite like they are part of one body, and deliver like there is only one goal in their life. That’s how professionals ought to play. Different individuals may have diverse upbringings, opinions and egos. But on the pitch, there should be only one goal- to put the ball inside the opponent’s goal, and protect it from entering your own.

Football is a simple game, but players tend to complicate it. Bert van Merwijk created problems by his poor reading and judgment of the squad. Mark van Bommel, alas, is no longer one of the great holding midfielders to have donned the orange jersey. Making him the captain,, when some other worthy players are warming the bench, does not look like a wise idea. Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart are both creative players and to accommodate them in the squad, Bert van Merwijk could have employed Robin van Persie as wide-left out to partner Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. The formation would have been 4-3-3, and Holland could have looked more effective in that scenario. But that meant son-in-law Mark van Bommel sitting on the bench. The coach’s daughter probably would not have liked that!

Unimpressive, clueless

Rafael van der Vaart had a relatively good season at Spurs, and was expected in the starting line-up for the Oranje. But he ended up on the bench more often than not. Same with Hunteelar. Recently Johan Cruyff billed him as the ’next best thing’ in Dutch football. After rather poor stints at AC Milan and Real Madrid, Hunteelar has settled in Schalke 04 for the last couple of seasons and found his goal-scoring touch. He wasn’t too pleased at not seeing his name in the starting XI. And those who were in the starting eleven did not live up to expectations.

Robin van Persie has scored a plethora of goals in EPL this season and carried the Gunners almost single-footedly to the next season’s Champions League. Yet, he failed to deliver in the Euro. In the first match against the Danes, he wasted a fairly simple chance of scoring at the start of the match, shooting the ball well over the bar from a relatively close range. He never was allowed a free shot at the goal in the rest of the match. Sometimes the Danish defenders suffocated the Dutch forward line at the edge of the penalty area and the Dutch players were forced to shoot from a long range, albeit ineffectively.

Was it him or his clone?

That 0-1 loss to Denmark probably took all the steam out of the Dutch team. What everybody termed as the match of the Euro, after the draw, the Germany-Netherlands encounter turned out to be a badly one-sided affair. Thanks to some missed chances by Thomas Muller and Mario Gomez, the scoreline looked a respectable 2-1. Something similar happened against Portugal as well. A bright start, a superb Rafael van der Vaart goal, and then Ronaldo stole the show, and the Dutch slowly but surely faded out of the tournament, registering three losses in a competitive tournament for the first time in history.

Robben jumped out of the ground from the far side and was not seen in the bench after being substituted in one match. He never looked like a team player. Sneijder admitted that the Dutch dressing room was not a place where people treat each other as friends. As long as the common goal of winning trophies remained intact, he did not have any issues with it. But the problem persisted. All the big players with their self-proclaimed superiority over the others, wanted to increase their price in the club football market. After all, the previous Euro had given rise to the likes of Andre Arshavin and Luca Modric. One could barely see the pride of playing for the country. Mark van Bommel was saying a lot of things to his previous club mate Bastian Schweinsteiger after the Holland-Germany match. Bastian was consoling him. Consolations do not heal wounds. Unless you feel the depth and pain of the wound, you will never be able to heal it. I have seen the blank faces of Dutch players after the match against Portugal, but that pain was missing. They have to feel the agony of losing, in order to succeed in the future.

What next?

What lies ahead for Dutch football?  First step: out goes Bert van Merwijk, enter Louis van Gaal. Yes, Louis van Gaal. Last time when he was the coach for a substantial period of time with the Holland national team, they failed to qualify for 2002 World Cup; their only failure to qualify for a major tournament in recent times. He tasted some success with Ajax, followed by Barca, and his last big assignment was with Bayern Munich. Overall, as the football world recognizes him, he is a decent coach. But here, old wine is served in an old bottle. The Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) thinks this is the right step forward. Although, quite a few people have doubts regarding his appointment.

Coming to players, who are the new bloods in Dutch football? First thing that popped up in my mind after the debacle in Euro, is that I missed a player named Giovanni van Bronckhorst. The ex-Arsenal and Barcelona player was a link between defence, midfield and wing players. He changed positions along the flanks frequently, and sometimes used to cut back inside effectively to create scoring opportunity. Holland lacked versatility in Euro. Same old left flank runs by Robben or powerful shooters by van Persie were no more a threat to opponents who were well prepared this time.

Ron Vlaar: there is promise

Ron Vlaar is creating some excitement in EPL. Some of the mid-table EPL clubs are after him. Names like John Heitinga, Joris Mathijsen and Gregory van der Wiel are common in football circle by now. The problem is players like Nigel de Jong have not evolved in the last few years. Holland is getting stuck in the midfield, no supply line, not many players who can orchestrate a game from the midfield. Wesley Sneijder needs to change his approach. He will have to get back to the level of the second half of 2010 World Cup match against Brazil. He is becoming more of a dead-ball player nowadays.

Patrick van Aanholt has been on loan in various clubs after 2009, and played just a couple of matches for Chelsea. He is a young speedy defender. Good coaching can help him cut down juvenile mistakes, based on which he can have a bright future. Jetro Willems is a strong defender, who can play in centre back along with his usual left back position. These two should be good prospects as full-backs. They also have Erik Pieters, Alexander Buttner and Urby Emanuelson to consider for the full-back positions. Urby is rather an experienced player, having played seven seasons for Ajax and currently with AC Milan.

In central defence, Daley Blind, son of Danny Blind, is a good prospect. He needs a strong marker as assistant, and some names that can pop up there are Ryan Donk, Jeffrey Bruma and Nick Viergever. Jeff Bruma has played a few games for Chelsea, and then was on loan to Leicester City and Hamburger SV. His height and presence in central defence makes him an intimidating player. Jeffrey Gouweleeuw can be another choice, though he is short on experience, and need some more playing time at the club level before he can be tested in national team. But the man who will rise strong in the central defence and counter opponent attacks both on the field and air, is Douglas Franco Teixeira. He is a sure choice for the Dutch in Brazil 2014. The defence needs to be built around him.

As holding midfielders, Dutch playing style allow only one player in that role. Kevin Strootman did not get a look-in although he was in the Euro 2012 squad. Nigel de Jong is still there, but if freshening up the squad is the agenda then Kevin is definitely a choice. He can be used as a sweeper too. Another option is Stijn Schaars. Schaars is an experienced campaigner, having played most of his club football at AZ Alkmaar, and moved to Sporting Club de Portugal last season. Some other names in this position are Jordy Clasie, Leroy Frer and Vernon Anita. Vernon Anita came through Ajax youth ranks and has been a consistent performer for Ajax in the last few years. He was also selected in the preliminary squad for 2010 World Cup, but was not picked for the final squad. Martin Jol introduced him as left-back, but later he was more successful as defensive midfielder.

In the more creative role as a midfielder, Netherlands is well set. Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vart should play together to open up the field in a more effective way. They will need some support in the upper half of the field. Marco van Genkel and Adam Maher can both be their support and backup.

Up front, Luuk de Jong is creating headlines. He had three fairly reasonable seasons with Twente, and several clubs from EPL and other leagues are looking to sign him. He recognizes the goal. He has a sense of where the opponent’s goal is, and his effectiveness in putting the ball inside the net is admirable. Dutch Eredivisie generally consists of good big defenders and Luuk de Jong showed promise by scoring goals against those defenders.

Bas Dost has been the top-scorer of Dutch Eredivisie in the 2011-12 season. He scored 32 goals in Eredivisie last season for SC Heerenveen and will be playing for Bundesliga club VfL Wolfsburg in the coming season. Under the guidance of Marco van Basten, who knows a thing or two about goal-scoring, Dost learnt the art well and can be a great prospect for the national team. He has the looks and movements of a striker. KNVB will do well to nurture him.

So the talents are there. Dutch Eredivisie has always been the place from where some spectacular world beaters came up, played the game in an artistic, passionate yet steadfast way, and achieved glory through the years, though mainly at the club level. The current group playing inside the Netherlands boundary is also capable of doing great things in future. Holland is like an emotional and unpredictable pop singer – creative minded, passionate, sometimes beautiful yet sometimes straightforward. And, like we all know, a pop singer’s life will always be eventful. Sometimes their shows are a complete sell-out, while at other times you won’t find many followers. Sometimes they might disappoint you, but can leave you spellbound too.

We cannot revisit the past and alter the course of history. Also, old habits die hard. However, what Holland need now is stability. They are due to catch the plane to Rio de Janeiro come summer of 2014. Other than Turkey, they will not have much competition to face in their World Cup qualifying round group. How they will fare in Brazil, depends a lot on the next few months. Will the artistic pop star rise again? As football lovers, we await the return of “Rhythm Total”.

Scouting Network – Jetro Willems

Goalden Times brings you the stars of tomorrow – 20 years or under, promising players from across the world

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Date of Birth:  March 30, 1994

Height: 1.70m

Position: Left-back

Nationality: Dutch

Club: PSV

Market Value: €1.5 mn

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This Scouting NetworkTM is based on Euro 2012 and no one deserves to be featured more than the boy-man – Jetro Willems, who broke a 28-year-old record to become the youngest ever player in the history of Euro Championships. It is an honour that was not just held by a random player but one of the national legends of Belgium – Vincenzo ‘Enzo’ Daniele Scifo. Scifo had audacious skills as a youngster and was compared to Pelé but he never rose to such heights. Scifo though, was capable enough to be only one of three Belgians to play in four FIFA World Cups. Willems would do well to emulate that record.

The rise of Willems is not sudden. He has been breaking the age group records all along his development. But his big break came in 2011 when he was part of the Dutch U-17 team that won the European U-17 tournament for the first time in its history. Even more sweet was the fact that Holland didn’t concede a single goal up until the final, where they thrashed the Germans 5-2. That was an amazing 368 minutes of goalless journey and Willems was one of two defenders, chosen along with the goalkeeper in the team of the tournament for that.

A transfer move was inevitable after that. Willems, who had begun his career at Spartaan ’20 and then moved to Sparta Rotterdam in 2010. The big clubs were already aware of him and Sir Alex Ferguson wanted to bring him to Manchester United. Arsene Wenger was interested in him too. But Willems ultimately remained in Eredivisie by moving to PSV for a sum of € 800,000.

The season with PSV was eventful. He started 20 matches in the league, scoring a goal and assisting two. That goal made him the youngest goal-scorer in the Eredivisie for the season. He made his European debut in a UEFA Cup match with Hapoel Tel Aviv and this made him the youngest Dutchman ever to appear in a European contest. Amidst transfer speculation in the winter window, PSV quickly extended his contract till 2016.

When Dutch national coach Bert van Martwijk included him in the 32-man list, it was a signal of great progress. When he was included in the 23-man squad, it was thought to give him some exposure with the team and nothing more. Vurnon Anita would have been the chosen left-back. But come the opening fixture, Martwijk kept faith in the young 18-year-old, who had only made his debut for Holland two weeks before the opening fixture in Euro. It was a baptism by fire. Holland in a Group of Death crashed out without a point. The defence didn’t hold on well. Willems though only missed 24 minutes of action, as he was substituted in the final group game for a desperate goal.

From the season he has had in the Euros, it is evident that Willems is more comfortable going forward than defending at the back. He made 5 tackles and four intercepts while fouling 5 times in those three matches. But he made many run ins down the left, crossing eight times. He also had a pass completion percentage of 90.8%. He needs to work on his positional skills and anticipation better. Defensively, he still requires tightening up and with age on his side that should not be a problem. His physicality and technique will hold him in good stead though. With the dearth of quality left-backs in the European game, Willems is a guy worth keeping your eyes on.

Denmark: Expect the Unexpected

Denmark 1 – 0 Netherlands

Krohn-Dehli 24

As it Happened

Denmark pulled up the first upset of 2012 Euro Cup with a 1-0 victory over Netherlands. Michael Krohn-Dehli’s goal in the 24th minute of the game split the two teams 3 points apart in the “Group of Death”. A plethora of misses by the Dutch forwards, especially Robin Van-Persie and Arjen Robben resulted in the unexpected defeat of the runner-ups of 2010 World Cup.

From the very start of the game, the Dutch launched a series of attacks against the Danes with Van Persie, Robben and Ibrahim Affelay all on the front. However, the Danish goalkeeper, Stephan Anderson was invulnerable. The only time Anderson failed was in the 36th minute when he gave away the ball to Arjen Robben, who could just hit the far post at best.

The Danes, on the other hand, were building up solid counter attacks. These eventually bore fruit when Krohn-Dehli went past two defenders and shot through the feet of Maarten Stekelenburg, the Dutch keeper . As we mentioned in our preview, in the absence of Joris Mathijsen, the Dutch defense was weak. The Danes utilized this opportunity to the maximum extent.

Robin Van Persie missed another glorious opportunity towards the end of the first half when Wesley Sneiijder passed him an easy ball to score. But the Arsenal Captain could, at the best, hit the ball without any power or commitment to Anderson. In the 63rd minute, it was Robben’s chance to miss. Sneijder found him about 6 yards out, and he headed wide. 73rd minute, and it was Klaas-Jan Hunteleer’s chance to miss the goal. He shot straight to Anderson in a one-one situation and Van Persie fails to score from the follow-up. The Dutch manager’s strategy to introduce Dirk Kuyt at 85th minute couldn’t help the Oranje. Towards the end of the game, the Dutch appealed for a handball against the Dane defender, Lars Jacobsen, which the referee turned down. Overall, the Netherlands’ inability to keep the ball within the net cost them crucial points in their first game.

Afterthought

Denmark will definitely be elated at this victory. They have secured crucial 3 points. On Wednesday, they meet Portugal. If they can pull up another surprise, they are sure to move towards the quarterfinals. Even a draw might help them secure a place in the top 8. This would be a real upset, since the Danes had the least chance of moving on from the Group of Death. With the goalkeeper Anderson in this superb form, the Scandinavians can dream.

Netherlands have just themselves to blame for this defeat. With 28 shots, 5 of which were at the goal without any fruit is extremely disappointing. The Dutch will have to start afresh. They have two games left in the group against the mighty Germany and Portugal, and needless to say, they have to win both. They are a balanced team and can possibly proceed to the quarterfinals even after this defeat.

 

Holland in Nutshell

 

Quotes

“I’m speechless, because these three points are very important.” – Dutch captain Mark Van Bommel

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“We know the Dutch, they can be very dominating. If you get scared of them, they play really good football. I think we played them in the right way”, Denmark coach Morten Olsen

Teams

Netherlands: Stekelenburg, Van der Wiel (Kuyt 85), Heitinga, Vlaar, Willems, De Jong (Van der Vaart 71), Van Bommel, Robben, Sneijder, Afellay (Huntelaar 71), Van Persie

Manager: Bert van Marwijk

Denmark: Anderson, Jacobsen, Kjaer, Agger, S. Poulsen, C. Poulsen, Kvist, Rommedahl (Mikkelsen 84), Eriksen (Schone 74), Krondelhi, Bendtner

Manager: Morten Olson

A Sneak Peek: Stars of UEFA Euro 2012 Group B

We continue our build-up to the Euro 2012 with the rising stars of Group B. Kinshuk Biswas profiles them

In this feature we bring you some of the players who have the potential to become stars in Poland and Ukraine. We begun with Group A and now move on to Group B.

Denmark

Name: Christian Eriksen

Age: 20 (14.02.1992)

Club: Denmark 2008 – Present

Position: Attacking Midfielder

National Caps (Goals): 21 (2)

Current Market Value: € 13,000,000

Christian Eriksen is one of the most exciting young talents in Europe. Though deployed in the attacking midfield position in his club as well as for his national team, he is being hailed as the complete midfielder by the pundits. He has great vision to pick up a fellow player, good passing and dribbling skills to open up defences as well as a thunderbolt of his own. He has made a meteoric progress so far in his short career and has already notched up the coveted Danish Football Player of the Year award in 2011. Under coach Morten Olsen he has been a regular in the first XI and quite an influential player at that with his recent performances. This year in the Eredivisie he has made an astonishing 18 assists over and above netting seven. The little playmaker has drawn attention from European giants but he remains committed to Ajax for his professional development so far. So far, that is.

   Germany

Name: Mario Götze

Age: 19 (03.06.1992)

Club: Borussia Dortmund 2009 – Present

Position: Attacking Midfielder / Winger

National Caps (Goals): 12 (2)

Current market Value: € 30,000,000

Mario Götze, a promising German midfielder, is a product of the Dortmund youth system. Competent in either flank, as well as through the middle, Götze has done well through various age groups and made his senior international debut at a tender age of 18. That came on the back of his impressive 2010-11 club season when he was an integral part of the Bundesliga winning team. He is pacy, full of trickery and is helped by the fact that he is naturally two-footed. His growing influence in the international stages – he started the 2011-12 campaign by scoring back-to-back goals for the national name – will see him as one of the (if not the) youngest player in Euro 2012. He is yet to cement his place in the starting XI and is likely to be used as an impact player given the riches of wealth in the midfield for the Die Mannschaft.

Netherlands

Name: Kevin Strootman

Age: 22 (13.02.1990)

Club: PSV Eindhoven 2011 – Present

Position: Central Midfielder

National Caps (Goals): 10 (1)

Current market Value: € 8,000,000

Kevin Strootman was plying his trade in the second tier of Dutch league two years back. The tall, deep-lying playmaker has made a rapid progress since and is now a well established international player. In the qualification stages he has made five appearances with 2 assists and a fine goal against Finland. Overall a technically sound player, he can lock horns with his more illustrious counterparts. For the Orange he is the fulcrum of the midfield just as he is for his club Eindhoven. Besides anchoring the midfield and winning balls in a 50:50 duel due to his strong physical presence, Strootman has great vision, is an astute passer of the ball and often dictates the tempo of the match. He is also a dead ball specialist on virtue of a deadly left foot. An all round player, Strootman is more of a box-to-box midfielder who will like to announce himself in the Euro 2012 in a grand fashion.

 Portugal

Name: Fábio Coentrão

Age: 24 (11.03.1988)

Club: Real Madrid 2011 – Present

Position: Wing-back/ Midfielder

National Caps (Goals): 19 (1)

Current market Value: € 24,000,000

Fábio Coentrão is a natural left flank player who has established himself in the Portugal first XI for quite some time now. Still only 24, he is a relative greenhorn for a defender, and Euro 2012 will be a great platform for him to continue his fine showing at the World Cup 2010. He is a natural dribbler, likes to be involved in a short passing game and is very good with the ball in his feet. His stop-start career at Benfica finally blossomed at Real Madrid. He is given more of a defending role and has shone brilliantly there. Coentrão is also quite multi-dimensional as he can be slotted in the midfield – either in the left side or as a defensive shield – and it would give Portugal the added flexibility to change their shape and tactics during a game. Challenge for him will be to use his trademark maundering runs down the left flank to his advantage without being exposed defensively.