Thursday, December 20, 2007

How to win the FIFA World Cup (Reflections on an evening with the FFA)

Australia wants to win the World Cup. ;)

Why wouldn't we? We pride ourselves on being a world class sporting nation. We are, per capita, a world class sports watching nation. But while we have convinced ourselves of our sporting prowess, the more we find out about the rest of the world, the more we find out that just about every country loves its sports teams and thinks they are, should be, or will be the best.

In a globalising world, America has been caught out badly proving its international capabilities excelling at sports that only it plays (ok Canada plays a form of gridiron but if you talk about 'gridiron' ordinary Americans think you are talking about that odd game that the Canadians play). Or, like having 'world series' in sports that require teams to be based in America (baseball).

Now Australia, like America, is having to come clean and try to prove their world (I'll put 'sporting' in here so no one gets confused) dominance by winning at a sport that most of the world puts their sporting effort into. So we tried to build up union and cricket, no-one else is interested in AFL (particularly the Irish who complain bitterly about having to get hurt playing it every year). No one watches hockey, golf and squash are too individual to prove the point, and as tennis has expanded to more countries and demographics, we are getting less competitive.

And so, to prove our sporting prowess on the world stage, Australia wants to win the FIFA World Cup by 2020 (or 2022 to be precise).

Just how far away our capability is was demonstrated by the FFA when they invited me to go and hear their National Coach Education Manager talk at Griffith University. As background, Pim had just been appointed coach, so when I sat down and heard Kelly Cross' very English accent, I wanted to shout out 'you hide your accent well.' Our plan for the world cup has been vested in going Dutch - well if you pay of course.

To summarise the evening, this question was posed:

'Are Argentina the ultimate 'World' team?
South American qualities:
Flair, streetwise, attacking philosophy, jogo bonito
European qualities:
Hard work, strikers prepared to run for team, respect the importance of defence'

The Argentine team had just won the U-20 World Cup in Canada. They played mostly one-on-one marking, their two strikers had a key role in defending up field - closing down the opposition's defence and not letting them build an attack. They attack narrow and like the ball at their feet, passing short. They play with a classic play maker whose role it is pass players into opportunities - he is 'the man' who will pass to a player and then come and take it off him if the play isn't developing as he wants (the sought of South America our A-League teams are trying to buy but end-up with something a bit - or a lot - less). The wings are hardly used. Three defenders plus a screen ensure that no opposition gets through. By enlarge, their players are lighter and shorter than other teams (I think this works for younger teams and less so for professional teams - ie maybe this is why they are so narrow they don't try to win and create much in the air?).

This works for Argentina because they were the most talented team in the U-20 cup and the the most integrated team - only 2 or 3 were playing with big clubs overseas. Plus, and this could be a message for the FFA, their coach Hugo Tocalli had been dedicated to U-17 and U-20 as coach or head coach (since 2002) since 1994.

Anyway, I learnt a lot. I will try to apply a few things. Like getting a star player to make the plays rather than just star. And the knowledge will help my reading of A-League and other games. But overall, I know that if I apply this to the team I coach it is going to end in a mess. You need it all to be happening at once, we just aren't that good.

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