This world cup has been a snoozefest. Maybe not to the people that played the betting odds to predict such results but for the rest of us. Snore. I'm the first to defend soccer but I'm loathe to defend defensive soccer. Compliments to the U.S. who showed a willingness to attack England, despite being an underdog, and made offensive substitutions to go for the full three points. The rest of the tournament... not so much.
Every team has played a game by this point. And the only way we'd know less about them is if there were hockey, even than the Ice hockey odds might be easier to predict. At least there would be some scoring.
Any team that has scored a goal has either won or drawed (the exception being North Korea against Brazil). Therefore this year, scoring a goal insures you don't lose. You'd think teams would more aggressively pursue these "goals" but they haven't. Instead, they are like a bunch of old time nits at the same poker table. No action, with nobody willing to lose their stack.
Today, Spain lost to a dogged Switzerland, who as an underdog, followed the template of this world cup and actually came out on top. They bunkered and hunkered down, protected the goal with an overly defensive front and tried to counter attack and steal a goal and a result. Then bunker down some more.
When you are as big an underdog as Switzerland. So be it. If the U.S. were to play Spain or Brazil, I won't mind this type of strategy. However, I do mind this strategy against teams you can beat. Yet for some reason this world cup everybody is playing tentatively and cautiously. Some observers have said this is first game strategy, and the games will open up as teams MUST get results in games two or three and when goal differential suddenly crops up.
That makes sense but a couple of round 1 games were must wins and they didn't play that way. The most staggering was the limp performance that was Portugal vs. Cote D'Ivorie. Conventional thinking is Brazil is going to win the group. Therefore a win by Portugal or Ivory Coast would go a long way to qualifying with the top two teams advancing. (Course North Korea showed they aren't an easy out). Thus, both teams bank on losing to Brazil and beating North Korea and then it comes down to goal differential. Since Brazil may already be through by the third game, conceivably this is a bit of strategy for the team that plays Brazil last (Portugal I think), who might be able to steal a point if Brazil sits their studs (not like their bench players aren’t studs too).
Yet, despite the need for a win, both teams played not to lose. Sven Goran Erickson's passivity and caution was evident for England in the last few major tournaments and a dyamic team like the Ivory Coast is hamstrung with him at the helm. Afterwards, both managers expressed a desire not to lose. What? This is the World Cup--will some team besides rank underdogs just go for it. Used to be classic 3-2 scorelines throughout the world cup, this year only a few games (Germany 4-0, Brazil 2-1 off the top of my head) have had more than two goals scored.
Why all this caution?
I have a few suspicions...
In the NFL, every team apes what worked the year before and I think to a degree teams analysed what a very average offensive team, Italy, was able to accomplish by being a very stout defensive team in winning the last world cup. Prior to that, perfectly boring and nonthreatening Greece, got beat up for most games, stole a goal or two and won a European Championshp this decade. So, playing snoozeball works for good squads and bad squads.
To be continued...