World Cup

The Counter-Insurgency Spain Must Wage
June 30, 2010

How will Spain manage to crack Paraguay? They have struggled against teams that have packed players into the final third and dared them to elegantly kick the ball about the midfield, with Spain looking so refined and yet so lacking in goals. Paraguay are, of course, the supreme example of this genre in the tournament. (I’m very moved by Sasha’s paeans to their lyrical dullness.) Spain should be able to pick that lock. But the lameness of Fernando Torres has been a major liability. Without him running rampant, teams have horded resources and used them to swarm Xavi.

Are England Actually Under-Achievers?
June 29, 2010

A good question! Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski suggest not. Their argument, summarised by Tim Harford, runs more or less like this: - England do about as well as you’d expect, given their size, economic power, proximity to football’s “core” in Western Europe, and footballing history. That is, you’d expect them to usually make the last 16, sometimes make the last 8, occasionally make the last 4 and make the final very rarely. And they do. - Managers don’t make much difference to a team’s expected performance.

Best of the Web, PM Edition
June 29, 2010

Why FIFA's official match reports can't be trusted Sid Lowe: Spain discovers its old self US-Ghana and Mexico-Argentina TV ratings leave the networks hungry for more A musical interpretation of the Jabulani Is the Nike TV ad really cursed? Zonal Marking: substitutions the turning point for Spain How Germany saw their win

The Queiroz Problem
June 29, 2010

How to score when you don't have the ball? Portugal conceded the ball to Spain, who stroked it around for long periods waiting to penetrate the Portuguese defense and then they did. The Queiroz approach was to wait for a Spanish mistake and then punish them. For that to work, you have to have a perfect game where no one makes a mistake and everyone does everything they supposed to do. Portugal was not able to play a mistake-free game. But Paraguay did. The problem with Queiroz approach is that he has players far better than his tactics acknowledge.

Is Maradona's Madness Working?
June 29, 2010

As the World Cup began, Diego Maradona was a figure of absurdity and fun—a perverse and lunatic figure, his ego as bloated as his abdomen. On the sidelines, bearded and animated as he was during his days of cocaine and Castro, he wore two huge wristwatches at once. He forced his hotel to rebuild his suite to include a bidet. He had lost, in qualifying, to Bolivia, and favored an absurd strategy that committed everything to attack, a sugared-up video game kind of football.

Best of the Web, AM Edition
June 29, 2010

Peter Singer: why is it okay for footballers to cheat? Video replay technology confirms that England are rubbish at football Zonal Marking: Dunga wins tactical contest of the tournament Marcotti: Annan the key for Ghana Paul the Octopus picks Germany again Juan Mata makes Raul Albiol look like a fool Jonathan Wilson: use instant replay, but not at the expense of flow Martin Samuel: England remain full of excuses

How To Beat Brazil
June 28, 2010

You play soccer. You have a team, some decent players. You’re ambitious. Good for you. Now, attempt the following: When the whistle blows and the match begins, jog around the pitch slowly, laconically, grinning the entire time. Your body language should express an indifference to the game itself. In fact, let your opponent control the pace, let them have possession, let them think they’re in charge. When you do get the ball, pass it around a little, just to see how it feels. Isn’t the stadium pretty under the lights? Smile. Mostly, though, wait. Be patient.

The Other Reason Soccer Keeps Growing
June 28, 2010

Most soccer fans today accept the idea that the world's most popular
sport will continue to grow in the U.S.—albeit slowly—and that the
game's rise is supported by increased TV coverage, rising quality of
 MLS teams, and fan education and awareness that takes place during
spectacles such as the World Cup.
 But there's another reason: high school.
        Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the U.S.

Best of the Web, AM Edition
June 28, 2010

"Maradona and Me" Paul Gardner: should Bradley go? Steve Davis: Bradley's lineup leaves unanswered questions Sid Lowe: England's pathetic exit Zonal Marking's second-round preview, part 2 Tim Vickery: Bielsa plots Brazil's downfall Jonathan Wilson: corruption to blame for African failure Gabriel Heinze, meet the TV camera  

June 28, 2010

 What you gain on the roundabouts of 1966 you lose on the swings of 2010.