It’s that time that comes up every four years (or every two years, if you are a true football fan), that gives us late nights and turns everyone, including my eighty-year-old grandmother into a football pundit. Yes, it’s football, World Cup time (or soccer for those American wannabe).
But stringent training schedules, peak fitness, and multiple strategy scenarios aside, what exactly makes a winning team? How is it that at every World Cup or European championship or even at a Club level there always is one major upset that must occur? Is it plain luck or complacency by the opposition? Or is it something else. Is it reveling in the hopes and dreams of thousands of your fans, is it having that extra drive to excel that does the trick?
According to me (and yes, I am an avid football viewer and couch pundit) the team that performs, regardless of the training and money spent on them is the team that plays together like a team. A team is one that stands up when another is down and takes on greater responsibility. A team that plays to the strengths and weakness of the other members and works those disadvantages to their advantage. And in this sport we have seen countless number of times that the team size or player reputation does not guarantee success.
Here is a list of how teams playing in the World Cup this year are starkly different, but gel together through teamwork.
- Portugal: Apart from Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal has not had and still do not have any proficient strikers. However, the team rallies behind their superstar, feeding him long balls, short balls and defending in numbers. They make up for their lack of goal scoring abilities in open play, by winning penalties, free kicks and try to push decisive games into shootouts. This strategy has not only won them the European Championships in 2016, but make them a force to reckon with this year too.
- Spain: Quick, nimble passing, relentless buildup and holding the ball for long periods of time, Spain have become an expert in the art of Tiki-Taka. Their entire team rises to the occasion with forward passes, back passes, passes across the pitch, biding their time, until they create either a gap in defense or frustration in the opposition ranks.
- Germany: The power house of precise strategy, German defense can lock down mostly any team. Even in losses, their margin of defeat is no greater than a 2-0 on their worse day. Stocky and tough central defenders, a burly holding midfield and quick wingers ensure the lone striker is always fed balls into the danger zone.
- Brazil: Lightening quick moves are what all South American teams are known for. However, Brazil takes this up another notch, combining pace, skill, and the love for football. The major issue that they have is that most players in the team are individual players and not contributors. This leads to many shots on target with little to show for.
- Belgium: Young, skillful, they are the opposite of what Brazil is on the field. Making use of the Spanish quick passing, this youthful squad is a force to reckon with. Their major is issue is a lack of trustworthy strikers who can provide the firepower up front. However, their flamboyant mid field makes amends for this shortfall.
- France: When the French team play together, they play extremely well, making it difficult for the opposition to grab chances. However, on most days they do not bring their A-game to the field. A good thing about this team is that the entire team either play very well or very bad, together. In that they have good teamwork!
In every World Cup there comes a team that causes upsets of magnanimous proportions. Underrated, with nothing to lose, these team gel together in ways that no one would ever expect them to, taking down the high and mighty and mostly complacent over achievers. In the first week of World Cup 2018, we have already seen some startling upsets and there surely will be some more in the weeks to come, because when a team works together, they mostly win together (unless everyone in the team has their own agenda, like the English!)