International football appears headed in the right direction with
a FIFA technical study confirming the positive play on show
at the recent World Cup.
Risk-taking and counterattacks are the new fashion in football,
according to a FIFA study of World Cup teams’ tactics.
“The trend is for teams to play positively and do everything
to win a game rather than merely ‘not lose’,”
FIFA’s panel of coaching experts working in Brazil reported on Friday.
The best teams were rewarded for being “not afraid of losing
their shape for brief moments,” the 284-page document noted.
But the four winless Asian confederation teams “lacked creativity,
ideas, penetration and players who could turn a match in their favour.”
Outstanding fast transitions and counter-attacking tactics
were praised as the most effective strategy at a World Cup
which equalled the tournament record for most goals
and was widely praised as the best in a generation.
It was a different story four years ago.
Then, the football was so poor in South Africa that
FIFA President Sepp Blatter asked a task force to suggest
ways of making it more entertaining.
Though that panel achieved little, in Brazil, the teams,
coaches and players rose to the challenge.
“The tempo of the game was impressive – Brazil 2014 was one of,
if not the fastest World Cups ever played,” the FIFA technical report said.
Other successful trends included playing with at least two strikers,
three central defenders and only one defensive midfielder.
Controversial incidents – including Uruguay forward Luis Suarez biting an opponent, and players continuing despite apparent head injuries – are not mentioned in the document.
Teams are also rarely criticised, though Brazil is not spared after being outplayed by eventual winner Germany and Netherlands.
“An incomprehensibly poor performance against Germany,” the report said of the host nation’s semi-final humbling, adding that 7-1 was “a fair reflection of the strengths of the two teams.”
Tactically, the FIFA report says top teams no longer use two holding midfielders, which was effective in South Africa. A lone striker is also out of fashion.
Goalkeepers like Germany’s Manuel Neuer now function as an extra outfield player, and specialised coaching should reflect that, the report said.
Four years after Spain rode its ‘tiki-taka’ passing to win the World Cup, the report notes effective use of the ball is now more important than simply having it.
In Brazil, 21 of 64 matches were won by the counter-attacking team having less possession.
“Possession play must be efficient and not sterile,” the report noted, adding that 34 of 171 goals in Brazil came from “quick transition play.”
More goals than expected came from corner kicks and “remarkable” high-quality crosses, and early leads were often overturned.
“Teams that scored the first goal were at times too confident and too sure of themselves,” the report said.
Defensive tactics included aggressive pressing to get the ball in the first 15 minutes, and holding a back line at least 40 metres from goal.
Costa Rica and Algeria are praised for making progress, and so was the CONCACAF region which also had Mexico and the United States reach the second round.
FIFA’s experts also hope the World Cup will encourage a generation of unselfish players putting their team first.
“Individual skill can only be effective if it is fully in sync with the efforts and philosophy of the team.”