Football, as a game has four types of action — defence, recovery, build-up of a move and definition or execution of this. Two of these are carried out without the ball, the other two when in possession. Management of time, space and deception are strategic responses, originating from the knowledge of and belief in an idea, the operation of a team.
Two of the possible candidates in this Championship are already gone. Russia started well, showed good moves on the pitch, they had ideas but unfortunately no commitment to them. The team meshed well when in possession of the ball, employing good technique, but they appeared to get bored, weary. This team was not a provocative one, they seemed to fall asleep and subsequently lost their competitive edge. The Russians seemed to be more interested in the upcoming vacations than in qualifying for the quarterfinals.
Holland was the biggest disappointment. It is hard to imagine how, with such good players, they can play so badly. They were unable to efficiently coordinate either space or time. They played so far apart from each other that they presented space on a plate to their opponents and time to allow their adversaries to defend.
They were always too far off the ball to quickly get a touch and be effective. This is the first time that I’ve seen Holland return home playing so badly. I also held them to be in the running.
Portugal has got the merits to progress. Their problem, however, has always been a lack of competitiveness in the collective sense. They have players with excellent technique, but they rely heavily on individual performances.
They show weakness in their commitment to the game and the team is one which always only “seems” to be a unit. But it costs them a lot to overcome adversity. The team did well in their last game against an opponent who presented them with so much space and time, a Netherlands who allowed Portugal to win with so much ease and themselves to disappoint so badly.
The major candidates are the ones who played best. Strong and clear ideas supported by elegance, enjoyment of the game and moments of beauty with the power to move the fans.
Spain defends well, using their strategy of closing down space to the opposing team. They recover the ball quickly and keep it far from their own goalmouth. The Spaniards defend as a cohesive unit, can regroup rapidly and use their extensive technical skills to establish a wide domain of possession.
They are patient however, waiting for the right time to start a new move. They are also happy to win by playing well, a guarantee for a good game, although perhaps not always for success. Their recipe for success is to outplay the opponent and find victory.
The Spain against Ireland game was a symphony. Of course, to enjoy it, one had first to understand it. The victory against Croatia was sealed with a goal worthy of their pedigree and a great demonstration of team play, Iniesta’s pass to Navas said it all.
Germany and the revolution in their game since the 2006 World Cup, grows in stature, moves the fans and confirms that, like Spain, they are committed to the idea of playing well. They are similar in conviction, ideas and emotions, though differing in style. Germany wants to provide the fans with emotion, drawing on their traditional solidarity and always hovering very close to the beauty which is the sign of a good game.
We can affirm that the qualification of these two teams, evidence of their defence of the game as a great event, presages a great festival of football.
There is no guarantee that either of them will finish as champion, but that is football. It is more probable that they could lose a game than that they be technically inferior on the field. — Distributed by DPA/Asia Features
(Cesar Menotti coached Argentina to World Cup glory in 1978)