A boring tournament in Russia so far but all hope is not lost yet
The World Cup is the only time one can watch eight hours of the sport and be sad, and yet hope for the next day of games, hope for some really exciting football
Football should always be played at the highest possible level and no club will ever reach the level as an international side,” the legendary Italian coach Ariggo Sacchi had once said. He was right.
For a long time, the World Cup and other major international tournaments were the pinnacle of the beautiful game, not just as prestige events, but also in terms of quality. Sacchi’s words don’t hold ground any longer. International football has been proclaimed dead many times now, overtaken by the operatic narrative of money-infused club football. The Manchesters and Madrids dominate the global game. They have advanced at all levels—from fan engagements, advertising revenues, corporate and state funding, infrastructure—not in the least tactically.
But national teams simply don’t have the luxury of time to replicate the methods or, in fact, success of Pep Guardiola and Co, developing, honing and fine-tuning their team based on a broader philosophy.
That broader philosophy, the fast play, is precisely what the majority of the 32 participants in Russia can’t offer. Players are exhausted at the end of the club seasons and teams are content to drop back and take the cautious approach, a far cry from the high-octane European club game.
The last two World Champions are notable exceptions. Spain won the 2010 World Cup and tika-taka-ed their way to glory with a core of Barcelona players. Germany triumphed at the 2014 World Cup with a group of Bayern Munich players. However, in their opening game in Russia against Mexico their midfield was exposed and the team suffered. They still press high, and so do Brazil, who have finally started playing modern football under coach Tite. The Brazilians, however, may opt to hang deeper against teams of their repute. Argentina press intensely under coach Jorge Sampaoli, but a 6-1 friendly defeat by Spain exposed their high line. Both South American teams have disappointed in their World Cup curtain raiser.
Spain and Portugal served up a classic, two contrasting styles of quick counter-attacking and neat triangulations, all punctuated by the mercurial Cristiano Ronaldo, but other games have felt more sedate. It is natural to look at the World Cup through the prism of the club game. At the previous tournament in Brazil, attacking football dominated the group stages before the goals dried up in the knockout stages. Every World Cup comes with its own context but in Russia so far, barring the Iberian clash, football has been mostly, well, boring. But all hope is not lost yet. After all, the World Cup is the only time one can watch eight hours of the sport and be sad, and yet hope for the next day of games, hope for some really exciting football.
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