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Brazil look on target without a number nine

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Tim Vickery | 10:10 UK time, Monday, 22 October 2012

"I was too busy scoring goals to learn how to play football," says Dario, a legendary figure in Brazilian football from the 1960s and 70s. A charismatic character, Dario invents phrases as easily as he used to put the ball in the net. "There's no such thing as an ugly goal," he once said. "Ugly is not scoring goals."

If both remarks sound a little defensive, it is easy enough to explain. Brazilian football has been gifted with so many artists - players capable of snapping their marker in two with a sway of the hips, wrong-footing the keeper and then sliding home - that a little prejudice sometimes persists about the centre forward. The target man number nine whose game is restricted to getting the ball over the line can be seen, at best, as the exponent of a minor art.

Since the Olympics, Brazil coach Mano Menezes has been working along the lines of doing away with this creature in his starting line-up. There was no specialist centre forward in the team that beat China last month, nor in the side that would have played three weeks ago in the abandoned match against Argentina.

The absence of a number nine opens space for an extra player to elaborate the moves. When it works it is very easy on the eye - the whole world drools at the pass-and-move game of Barcelona. But there are very few teams capable of playing their way through the opposition with the exuberant ease of Lionel Messi and company. And Leandro Damiao, Brazil's centre forward, seems to be developing well. He was top-scorer at London 2012.

I must confess, then, that I was very sceptical about this new tactical direction. I was even more sceptical about the recall of Kaka.

At the time he was named in Brazil's squad for the recent friendlies against Iraq and Japan, Kaka had not even played a competitive game this season. He had seemed entirely surplus to requirements at Real Madrid, who would have loved to unload him in order to reduce their wage bill. The problem was that Kaka's recent history of knee and groin injuries made it unlikely anyone would come in with a big-money bid.

Brazil impressed in their recent friendly wins over Iraq and Japan Photo: Getty

How on earth, I thought, could a player in this situation be ready to play for Brazil in the short term, or capable of a significant contribution in the long term?

There is, of course, no way of knowing for sure that Kaka will have enough gas in the tank to make it all the way to a fourth World Cup in 2014. But after his displays in the two friendlies against Asian opponents there can be little doubt he was ready. Announcing his recall, Menezes had said the player was looking good in training - information confirmed by the way the veteran was able to make space against his marker to set up team-mates or shoot at goal.

And just as my scepticism about Kaka proved misplaced, so were my doubts about the formation. In fact the two are intrinsically linked. Kaka was that piece in the jigsaw that completed the side with no number nine.

The new system is something like a 4-2-4-0. Nominally the strikers, Hulk and Neymar, are thrown wide - on the right and left respectively - so both can cut in onto their stronger foot. They can also track back - especially Hulk, whose physical capacity makes him especially useful in this respect.

In front of the back four are two all-round midfielders. Ramires is the more defensive of the two, with Paulinho looking to break forward, although the roles can be reversed. And in front of them are Oscar and Kaka. The Chelsea youngster is more the midfielder, proficient at dropping back to set up the play. The Real Madrid veteran is the support striker, bringing his pace and directness to bear in the final 30 metres. Both, though, are equally likely to pop up in the centre forward position and shoot at goal.

Oscar and Kaka were both on target twice as Brazil ran up 10 goals in the two games. Iraq were swatted away 6-0. Japan were much more of a test - they had just won away against France, and they had their moments against Brazil when they met in Poland last Tuesday. Brazil's 4-0 win, then, was a remarkable scoreline.

Tostao, himself an improvised centre forward in the Mexico '70 team, was impressed. "For the first time," he wrote after the Japan game, "I'm hopeful Brazil will have a great team in the [2014] World Cup. The four front players are both midfielders and strikers. All four give passes and score goals. This is the way forward."

He recognises, however, that Japan's high defensive line and adventurous approach made things easier, predicting greater difficulties "against stronger opponents and also against average sides who mark well, sit deep and counter-attack" - the very type of opposition Brazil are sure to encounter on home ground in 2014.

Brazil will trust that 4-2-4-0 can keep them defensively compact. It was the system Corinthians used this year to win the Copa Libertadores with an outstanding defensive record - just four goals conceded in 14 games.

There is a problem, though, with the left side of Brazil's defence. For a start, it is less protected - Hulk works back on the right, but Neymar on the left is usually the most advanced player and the target for the quick ball forward. At left-back, Marcelo is far happier pushing forward than defending - even Iraq were able to get into the space behind him. Injury meant he was replaced by Leandro Castan, a centre-back, for the Japan game, which could be worth repeating. Even then the positional sense of left-sided centre back David Luiz can be exposed.

There are, then, some interesting doubts. Can Brazil improve their defending down the left? Will Kaka retain form and fitness? Is the system with no centre forward the best way of playing against all opponents? But doubt is always necessary. My scepticism clearly was not.

Comments on the piece below. Send questions on South American football to vickerycolumn@hotmail.com, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.

Q: The future of Peruvian football is looking increasingly bright in my opinion, particularly in the offensive side of things, with Alianza Lima wielding a crop of very watchable youngsters - Junior Ponce, Jorge Bazan and Yordy Reyna to name few. Will this wave of exciting talent hold the key to elevating Peru into the elite footballing nations in South America?
Dominic Brady


A: There is certainly an interesting crop coming through - at Alianza, I've also been impressed with Jose Canova at centre-back. And there's an excellent group coming through at Universitario as well. But the financial problems of these clubs are forcing (and will continue to force) so many of these players into premature moves. So it's way too early to know whether this generation will prove Peru's footballing salvation.

Q: I am a Philadelphia Union supporter here in the United States. Our captain, centre-back Carlos Valdes, has been featuring for the Colombia national team recently. Have you had a chance to see him play and, if so, what are your impressions of him?
Greg Orlandini

A: Saw plenty of him on the way up - he was part of an excellent Colombia Under-20 squad in 2005, and I remember him captaining America of Cali at a very young age a few years back. To be honest, the impression I've always had of him is of a player who stands out more for his strength of personality and leadership qualities than for his ability. Back in 2005 I was far more impressed with another centre-back in that Colombia side, Cristian Zapata, now of Milan.

I'd be interested to know what US fans think of Valdes and his progress. Colombia urgently need a change of generation in the centre-back positions, and Valdes and Zapata would seem to be the best solutions around at the moment.

Comments

Page 1 of 2

  • Comment number 1.

    There is one major problem that Brazil faces.

    If you look at the team photo from last week that is at the top of this blog, it all becomes clear.

    Thiago Silva is the only player in the eleven who would get into the Argentina side.

    In fact, none of the others would even be close to a starting berth for Argentina. Neymar is a great young talent, but I'm more likely to displace Messi than he is at the moment.

    The Japan 0 Brazil 4 match was fascinating. Obviously it was played on neutral territory, but Brazil showed that they are far superior to the French side (which lost 1-0 at home to Japan four days earlier and then held Spain in a World Cup qualifier).

    Last week's World Cup qualifiers really only reinforced my oft-repeated prejudices. Argentina remain far superior to all other South American teams, and Chile, Uruguay, Venezuela and Peru seem locked in a battle not to secure the last two World Cup places for South America. (I say two because it looks increasingly likely that the fifth-placed side will meet either Uzbekistan - who lost 6-0 to Australia last year in the Asian Cup semi-final - or Oman, who wouldn't beat a League 2 side.)

    It's not that I believe that Brazil will be much better than France or Spain in 2014. Just that the South American teams - apart from Uruguay - have already started to groom their 2014 sides, whereas the European sides are still largely recycling their 2010 teams.

    A couple of Tim's favourites are looking very shaky in terms of 2014 qualification. Chile look really, really lightweight since Bielsa left, and are going to struggle to get to the World Cup having already racked up 5 defeats in 9 matches. Venezuela too look rather thin in terms of quality. Meanwhile Uruguay seem to be paying the price for their coach's conservatism and failure to refresh an ageing line-up.

    The World Cup is still 20 months away, but it strikes me that the only potential champions are Brazil, Spain and Argentina.

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi Tim, good blog as always. I wonder if this is the end of the road for Robinho and Pato. They promised so much but now appear to be a little more than window dressing at their clubs. Is there any holding midfielder in the local league with the composure, strength and mobility of Batista (78 -86), Moura Silva, Marcos Senna or Thiago Motta? In the absence of Romulo, it would appear that Ramires is the only quality midfielder capable of playing a holding role. This is quite risky bearing in mind the debacle in South Africa. Has Adriano (Barcelona) ever been used in the middle?

  • Comment number 3.

    1.At 11:39 22nd Oct 2012, yakubusdiet wrote:
    _________________

    Morning / Afternoon / Evening!

    "There is one major problem that Brazil faces." - I thought you picked them as favourites / winners for 2014?

    "I say two because it looks increasingly likely that the fifth-placed side will meet either Uzbekistan - who lost 6-0 to Australia last year in the Asian Cup semi-final - or Oman, who wouldn't beat a League 2 side." - But I thought the Asia / CONCAF etc sides were as good as European sides? Or have you accepted it's an easy qualification for USA, Mexico, Japan, South Korea & now Australia into WC?

    "whereas the European sides are still largely recycling their 2010 teams" - If Germany started with a new team, it'd be a team full of 18 yos, and why would Spain replace a winning team? Brazil had to replace their team, because they were dire.

    "The World Cup is still 20 months away, but it strikes me that the only potential champions are Brazil, Spain and Argentina." - Surely, if Brazil have problems and none would get into Argentina & most likely Spain's team, how can they also be favourites??!

  • Comment number 4.

    @2 There is Sandro at Tottenham Hotspur who is a top quality defensive midfielder.


    Anyways, i agree with what yakubu is saying, argentina and brazil are one of the favourites for the world cup along with Spain. It will be interesting to see brazil and argentina face spain, as they havent faced each other competitively since spain's rise, but I am aware of argentina beating spain 4-0 in a friendly, i think.

    Excellent article as always phil

  • Comment number 5.

    Kaka has completely wasted the last 3 years of his career. At his peak he was as good as C Ronaldo and Messi, I remember him dominating them in the 2007 Champions League and 2006 Friendly between Argentina and Brazil.
    Sadly the electrifying pace and 70 metre dribbles are gone.

  • Comment number 6.

    When I look at that team photo it just makes me feel sick! Compare that to the Brazil team of just 10years ago, ronaldinho, ronaldo (the real one), rivaldo, roberto carlos, cafu. This current team is an absolute joke end of story

  • Comment number 7.

    Hello ESG
    I think you might be misconstruing a number of my points.

    I don't think Brazil are anything like as good as Argentina currently, but they have made a conscious decision to build for 2014 and in doing so have sacrificed the short-term. I think they're still excellent.

    As for Asia, here's what I believe currently - which may not match earlier posts. I think Japan and South Korea are comparable to Sweden, Switzerland, Portugal, Holland, England, Ecuador, Colombia or Mexico. That means that they are not either in the category of "most likely 2014 World Cup winners (Spain, Brazil, Argentina) or the second category of "2014 long-shots for the World Cup" (Italy, Germany, Uruguay and Belgium).

    The problem is that the allocation numbers for the World Cup owe everything to financial clout -specifically TV rights - which means that Asia, Concacaf and Europe get far more places than their football deserves, and South America gets far fewer.

    In the case of Asia, only Japan and South Korea currently have decent sides, with Australia's team having sunk rapidly from 2006, when they would have come around 7th or 8th in the EPL to 2012, when they would probably be a League 1 outfit. Yet Australia is certainly the third best Asian national team, even though they are very, very poor.

    Europe is similar: in 2010 only 5 teams out of 13 were good enough to get out of their group, whereas all 5 South American teams did. Realistically Chile, Ecuador, Venezuela and Peru are fighting for two World Cup places, yet if they were in UEFA all four would easily qualify for the World Cup, as indeed would Paraguay.

    As for "planning for 2014", I agree that Spain needs only make minor changes, and I always list them in the category of "likely winners".

    But Germany's defence is an absolute joke: in South America only Bolivia and arguably Chile have a defence as bad as Germany's. Of course Germany has a good keeper and excellent midfielders and strikers, but there is no escaping that their defence is the worst German defence I have seen for 35 years. And Loew shows no sign of fixing this disaster waiting to happen.

    Of course with Khedira, Schweinsteiger, Ozil et al in front of them the German defence is rarely exposed by European sides, because they play Spain so rarely.

    But I suspect that if they come up against Messi / Aguero / di Maria / Higuain or Neymar / Oscar / Hulk / Kaka at the World Cup they will risk suffering the sort of four goal thrashing that they handed out to Argentina and England last time around.

  • Comment number 8.

    @ Falcaocerezo
    Please stop polishing Tim's pole! Every week we gotta hear about,"Tim, good blog as always". I always read but never comment, decided that should change.

    Have not read the blog yet btw. Just felt I needed to say something.

  • Comment number 9.

    Haha agreed BTL

  • Comment number 10.

    7.At 12:26 22nd Oct 2012, yakubusdiet wrote:
    Hello ESG
    I think you might be misconstruing a number of my points.
    ___________________

    I think there is sense in some of your views, but the problem is you have to wade through the exaggerrations and generalisations to actually see it! You're obviously passionate about SAM football and asian football.

    "I think Japan and South Korea are comparable to Sweden, Switzerland, Portugal, Holland, England, Ecuador, Colombia or Mexico." - Based on what? And is that a finite list? What about say France, Czech Republic, Russia?

    "second category of "2014 long-shots for the World Cup" (Italy, Germany, Uruguay and Belgium)." - What is this based on? How are Uruguay and Belgium longshots in the same group as Italy & Germany??

    "which means that Asia, Concacaf and Europe get far more places than their football deserves, and South America gets far fewer." - How many countries are there to compare from? Asia get how many? 4? CONCAF get 3, and granted Europe get far more, but there are more stronger nations. COMMEMBOL get what 5 places? out of how many nations?

    Here comes the nonsense:

    "which means that Asia, Concacaf and Europe get far more places than their football deserves, and South America gets far fewer." Who are these 5 out of 13?

    "Realistically Chile, Ecuador, Venezuela and Peru are fighting for two World Cup places, yet if they were in UEFA all four would easily qualify for the World Cup, as indeed would Paraguay" - Really? Chile, Ecuador, et al would top a group of France & Spain or Russia & Portugal or Belgium, Serbia & Croatia? Really???!!

    "But Germany's defence is an absolute joke: in South America only Bolivia and arguably Chile have a defence as bad as Germany's." - Yes, you're right, I remember those Bolivan & Chilean defenders in the Bayern & Dortmund teams!!

    "But I suspect that if they come up against Messi / Aguero / di Maria / Higuain....they will risk suffering the sort of four goal thrashing that they handed out to Argentina" - Didn't Germany come up against THAT exact same forward line in 2010 and hand out a thrashing like you say?

    You forget, as Vickery has pointed out, Brazil have not faced a decent, organised team that can sit back, soak up pressure and counter. Neither have argentina. Rather than Germany, both teams in actual fact have a weak defence. And neither have been probed by european opposition.

  • Comment number 11.

    Belgium have lots of good individual players, but have done nothing as a tea, to suggest they are any less of a longshot than Sweden, Switzerland, Portugal, Holland, England, Ecuador, Colombia or Mexico etc.


    P.S. Tim, good blog as always...

  • Comment number 12.

    Interesting times indeed! More attacking formations being implemented means new & exciting ways of exploiting the opposition. Of course Barca played without a CF for much of their succesfull campaigns as well as the Spanish national team. Are Brazil copying Spain/Barca by playing this way? Do they really care? If Brazil can play like we all know they can, does this mean world domination? Brazil certainly have the personell in midfield to match Spain. They have better defensive players than Spain. Spain have the better strikers, Villa, Torres, Llorente etc, but they never use them. Brazil have all the ingredients to once again dominate world football. Nevertheless, Argentina to win the world cup! IMO!!!!!!

  • Comment number 13.

    Not that I care about the World Cup because we will almost certainly not be there ,but we are far superior to Chile, Ecuador, Japan, South Korea, Mexico and would beat them in every 8 or 9 matches out of every 10 against them. We are also slightly superior to Uruguay and even Belgium. If somehow we make it to Brazil with our inexperienced third-rate coach and with non-striker Postiga, we would still be in what someone called a group of 'second category' of "2014 long-shots for the World Cup".

  • Comment number 14.

    As for Belgium, I can imagine them doing a 'Portugal since 2000' and going far in Euros and World Cups in the following 10-12 years, with their golden generation of players.

  • Comment number 15.

    Why does everyone always call Tim, "Phil"...?

    Anyways with regards to the LB position it bemuses me as to why Filipe Luis of Atletico Madrid never gets a look in.

  • Comment number 16.

    I'm not convinced that Portugal is a particularly strong side. Ronaldo is of course superb, but there is noone else who I consider to be particularly good.

    I class Belgium as "dark horses" because their player group puts them on a plane above anyone else apart from Argentina and Spain. They have excellent defenders and defensive midfielders, but ahead of that they have Hazard, Fellaini, Dembele, Witsel, Defour and Lukaku, which is an astonishing array of talent.

    As for ESG's comment, I don't think you should ask whether Chile would escape the Russia + Portugal group because they would obviously be there in place of one of those two sides. But actually, yes, I do think that Chile or Ecuador would be quite likely to top a group containing those two sides.

    As for Germany and Argentina, well, it's an intriguing scenario. Argentina lost heavily to Germany at the World Cup because having won convincingly 1-0 in Germany before the World Cup, Maradona got carried away with his adventurous side and took out a midfielder and inserted Tevez to an already over-manned attack.

    This left Germany dominant in midfield, whereas three months earlier they had failed to get a single shot on target against the same opposition.

    Sabella has Argentina playing very differently, and against Uruguay their pressing was extremely forceful. They are going to be very hard to beat at the World Cup:ESG's comment that Argentina hasn't faced a defensively well-organised team that counter-attacks well seems to forget that Uruguay is probably the ultimate example of that in world football - and Argentina demolished them last week.

  • Comment number 17.

    16.At 13:26 22nd Oct 2012, yakubusdiet wrote:
    "I'm not convinced that Portugal is a particularly strong side. Ronaldo is of course superb, but there is noone else who I consider to be particularly good." - You're right, moutinho and nani are pretty poor players.

    "But actually, yes, I do think that Chile or Ecuador would be quite likely to top a group containing those two sides." - I shake my head at these types of comments. It's like saying, it's a joke that SAM get 5-6 spaces at WC, because any 3 teams from a european group could make the 3 places in a SAM qualifier. Eg England, Ukraine, Poland, Montenegro or Belgium, Croatia, Serbia or Germany, Sweden, Ireland etc.

    As for Germany v Argentina, one game was a friendly, the other was a competitive game. Italy would be a team that would knock out Argentina / Brazil.

    Uruguay are going downhill mate, and they'll be fortunate to even qualify for WC unless they stop shipping goals and score some.

  • Comment number 18.

    Thanks Tim another good blog from you


    I've been watching teams develop the ideas that you have written about for Brasil.

    The idea of playing without a recognised no9 did not seem right until a few months ago at the Euros. I never thought i'd see a team win a tournament without a striker on the pitch but Spain more or less did just that.

    I believe teams could not replicate Spain but what they have done is adapt the idea. They are now playing what were once out and out strikers, in roles that make them look more like midfielders.

    Every team that I have watched recently who have adapted a playing formation without the traditional recognised striking role look very fluid in their movement. Even in England at league level, Chelsea are currently playing Torres but he looks more like a midfielder most of the time and it works.

    Brasil look to have a team capable of playing this way but I agree with you the weakness is the players who cannot or will not work back as cover. I thought Neymar would be the player who would make a difference for Brasil but without him working for the team they will have a weak link, especially if it continues throughout the left flank.

    Tim I too thought Kaka's time had gone but playing the way you have described, it is possible to incorporate a player of his undoubted quality.

    I cannot wait for the world cup to begin, Spain, Argentina, Brasil, a few of the usual suspects thrown in with a couple of dark horses [maybe Colombia or Belgium to upset one of the big boys]. It is starting to look like it could be a great tournament.

  • Comment number 19.

    New Zealand struggled to get past Oman last time (0-0 and 1-0) in the playoff, but that's another story. Surely there are 3 spots to play for, or 4 if you don't think Colombia will tie down 2nd place.
    With the Uzbekistans and Omans of this world, it is more than likely that SA will send 5 qualifiers to Brazil in 2014.
    I'd like to know why African teams don't have to play off against another continent? South America should have 5 at each world cup held outside of the continent, but no playoff places. Africa should playoff against CONCACAF countries and Asia should get a couple of fixed places with no further playoffs. Oceania should have a qualifying competition to send a representative to the later stages of Asian qualifying (isn't it a group stage?), not have the best Oceania team get the easier two match play-off when luck plays a greater role.

  • Comment number 20.

    @16

    Nobody denies that Belgium currently have a talented group of players, but to group them with Germany, Uruguay and Italy, and above Holland, Portugal, England, etc. based purely on the names on the teamsheet and completely ignoring their past achievements (or lackof) is naive.

    Even individually a fair few of them are still unproven, ie. Lukaku who is hardly setting the premier league alight with WBA so far this year.

  • Comment number 21.

    As always Tim, the best blog on the BBC by miles. Great stuff. It says a lot about the types who frequent the internet that some consider it sycophantic to say as much.

    I'm delighted at Kaka's recall and have said as much on these pages for a long time. He is a truly exceptional player and has that most important of attributes in his position - intelligence! That is why he can link the play so effortlessly and to great effect. He will bring out the best in the other highly talented players Brasil has.

    It's been obvious that he still has it by his performances for Madrid, whenever he's had the chance, and was only missing that bit of sharpness you get from playing every week. I would love to see Oscar, Kaka and Neymar playing behind Damiao wherever possible, sacrificing Kaka for a defensive midfielder when required.

  • Comment number 22.

    yakubusdiet @16

    Sabella has Argentina playing very differently, and against Uruguay their pressing was extremely forceful. They are going to be very hard to beat at the World Cup:ESG's comment that Argentina hasn't faced a defensively well-organised team that counter-attacks well seems to forget that Uruguay is probably the ultimate example of that in world football - and Argentina demolished them last week.

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Like you say a counter attacking team wil not prove effective against Argentina. Again like you i witnessed Argentina, a team full of quality but a team that pressed for an entire game, they can be relentless in their approach.

    They are also a team with midfielders who cannot be picked up, their starting positions ensure that.

    They have 20 months to fine tune the defence, that will come from leadership and Fernandez will grow into the role. He is inexperienced at international level but he definitely looks the type to lead a team's defence.

  • Comment number 23.

    The Spanish team, for me, looked a bit lightweight in goals and threat UNTIL Torres or Llorente came onto the pitch in the Euro's. The trouble they had is that whilst a lot of their attacking midfielders ooze class, they rarely score many goals throughout a season (except Fabregas), and therefore carried a lot less goal threat.

    Last Season (apps/goals)

    Silva 49/8
    Iniesta 47/8
    Xavi 51/14
    Sergio Busquets 52/2
    Fabregas 48/15
    Xabi Alonso 52/2

    This averages out at less than a goal in 5 games. The difference with Brazil is that the midfielder they possess (and use in this formation) for me carry more of a threat. As a lot of these players play in different leagues against varying opposition and tactics, it is difficult to compare directly.

    The thing with Belgium is they have a lot of players with (seemingly) massive potential right now. Many teams have had this in the past such as the 70's Dutch (Or Dutch of any period) or the WC 2010 Argentinians, but unless the whole thing clicks with teamwork, effort, luck etc....will we ever know how good they can be?

  • Comment number 24.

    1. I think you'll find that 6 European teams qualified from their groups in 2010
    2. No non-European team knocked out a European side in the knock out stages.

    And while Belgium have the best squad they've ever seen I'm not sure anyone can call their defence "excellent." They have several very good Centre Backs, but are lacking massively in the Full/Wing Back department.

    I'm also not convinced that Lukaku has proved enough to be mentioned in the same light as some of those other players.

  • Comment number 25.

    With reference to Argentina in 2010 as opposed to this team as ESG mentioned gliblt and inaccurately.

    di Maria was playing in midfield alongside Maxi Rodriguez and Messi was having to drop all the way to the halfway line to pick the ball up while Higuain and Tevez was isolated.

    Aguero did not play. No to mention the defence was far worse than it was compared today.

    Argentina outplayed Germany recently even with the man advantage they earned from a foul on Sosa.

    Sabella has managed to get the team functioning as a unit. A bit by chance perhaps in fielding Aguero with Messi as against Colombia and dropping a third defensive midfielder (a symptom of Basiles decline as a coach) and the improvements as a player of di Maria and the emergence of Fernandez and Zabaleta.

    They are very dangerous on the counter and the defence much maligned as it is , is still not solid but has defended stoutly recently, chasing , covering and blocking with tenacity.

    The midfield press as one saw with Sabella at Estudiantes is improving though perhaps not what it could be although in recent matches the front two/three have pressed effectively forcing turnovers in posession.

    Club associations have helped. Masche-Messi, di Maria-Higuain, Zabaleta-Aguero can find each other instinctively.

    With the judicious addition of some talented youngsters like Lamela, Mino, Peruzzi , Centurion hopefully in the offing, Sabella is building a core squad that is familiar with each other.

    They have a unity , growing confidence and belief that is pleasing to see after the shambles post Copa 2007.

  • Comment number 26.

    @19
    As things stand, Switzerland, Bosnia and Russia are going to qualify directly to the World Cup with dodgy teams (2 of them didn't even get to the Euros and the other got knocked out by Greece and the Czech Republic). There will then be a further 2-3 European lame ducks who qualify via the play-offs, plus France and Portugal.

    Most of us who are African football fans (hence my nom de plume) think that the intercontinental play-offs should be replaced with intercontinental mini-groups.

    Let's assume that the five African qualifiers are Ivory Coast, Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria and Morocco. If their vanquished opponents (say Cameroon, Egypt, Tunisia, Mali and Congo) played off versus the likes of Oman, Honduras, Rumania, Norway and Greece I think they would pretty much all expect to qualify, as would Venezuela, Peru and Paraguay if they were placed in such company.

    I don't mind Europe winning its way via play-offs to 13 places if it can, but six automatic places really is all the 2010 World Cup results suggest that UEFA deserves.

    We all know that Europe's top six are terrific. But what exactly did Greece, Slovenia, Serbia, France, Denmark, Switzerland and Italy contribute to the 2010 World Cup before getting knocked out at the first hurdle? Not a lot!

  • Comment number 27.

    You can't just use the worst place teams as examples of why Europe don't deserve their places. Someone always has to come last. European teams were bottom in 3 groups, as were African teams. Having had a much smaller allocation to begin with, by your logic Africa deserve even less places.

  • Comment number 28.

    Tim, good blog as always !!!! I enjoy your posts even when I don't agree with your views. I'm glad you noted your error on Kaka. He was and remains a gem - typifying the sort of effortless elegance we were accustomed to between '50 and '86, especially in the 60's and 70's. His problem at Madrid is that Mourinho cannot afford to build a team around him due to his spate of injuries. His energy and mobility requires a lot of space in which to roam (hence he hardly played well with Ronaldinho who also demanded space and freedom). The current Madrid side is compact and highly organised (rigid???). There is not much room for a a free spirit so Kaka has become a bit player. This may actually serve him well because he is too frail to play 40 - 60 competitive games in a season.

    Brazil's experiment with a mobile forward line is too putative to warrant much comment. Even Spain struggled after dropping their central strikers and took a while to adapt to a midfield quintet/zero striker formation. However, the auguries are not good if history is a guide. Hungary tried this experiment at the '78 WC and partly in '82 where the excellent Pinter and Nyilasi were frustrated by the lack of a cutting edge until Kiss belatedly found form.

    Let's hope Brazil are able to find capable deputies in key areas (LB, CB, CM, ST) otherwise no formation will be good enough.

    PS: The improvised forward line of '70 (Tostao, Pele, Rivelino, and Jair) was borne of necessity and against the pragmatism of coach Zagallo. Are there strong enough personalities in the team to influence Menezes (or whoever is in charge) in the coming months? This lack of strong internal influence ruined the last two WCs for Brazil. In 2010 Dunga was allowed to persist with inadequate players and poor replacements in key positions and never developed a plan B. Hence, they panicked once Holland took the lead. In '06 Perreira had no idea how to use his best forwards and blend in his younger full backs. The result was a sluggish and predictable team, easily defeated by an average French side.

  • Comment number 29.

    Hello Folks...

    First of all, i want to tell I am Brazilian... In 2002 and 1994, when the brazlian was the winner of world cup no one here had believed before the tournament starts for many reason.
    With this past, we guess that would be sucessful the World cup here but the main problem to us is the coach... he is too much defender... he has got this job because he has good politics about relationship, he doesnt deserve it.
    If would change this position, the players wont be a problem... we need the excellent manager.

    Cheasea, wait to the biggest fan soccer club in the world... In 1977 we went to Rio de janeiro with 90.000 fans, It was the biggest invasion ever. We are Corinthians called "Timão" the big team, We are going to Japan...

    Thanks.

  • Comment number 30.

    The arguements about numbers of qualifing nations from each continent is a bit silly really, especially as South American teams have the highest number of places proportionally against the number of nations attempting to qualify. I do think more should be given to Asia and Oceania however

  • Comment number 31.

    Bosnia has been knocking on the door for the last two tournaments, but came up against Platini's seeding of the playoffs that was made up at the last minute to give France a hand in the draw for the 2010 playoffs. They've had to play Portugal in two consecutive playoffs. I think they'll make it directly this time. Dejan Savicevic of Champions League winning goal fame against Barcelona for AC Milan, would have been bosnian if the Yugoslavia team had already broken up. They have plenty of good technical players and have been growing steadily.
    And of course it was another hand from a frenchman that got France to those finals. I'm not irish, but couldn't resist the gag.

  • Comment number 32.

    My 2 pennies worth.

    Spain and Argentina have the largest pools of talent. Argentina also have the advantage of the World Cup been in South America. Spain have the huge advantage of been proven winners.

    A very average Brazil team (by their high standards), but they can challenge due to home advantage.

    Germany are outsiders but need to improve in defence and (unusually for them) their tactical discipline.

    Italy I think peaked at the Euros.

    France, Portugal, Uruguay and Holland are all long shots.

    I would agree with a few posters that Europe has too many places. I would say that average European teams that might qualify (Russia, Denmark, England, Sweden, Poland, Greece, Switzerland, Bosnia) add little to the tournament and another place or two for South American teams would add to the quality of the tournament.

    Still, the cream usually rises to the top and my last 8 for Brazil 2014 will be as follows.

    Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Portugal, Germany, Holland, Belgium.

    Spain vs Argentina final would be the dream match, with Messi been the player of the tournament.

  • Comment number 33.

    @27 Nick
    Of course the gold standard for how many World Cup places each team should have ought to be how it's lesser teams did at the last World Cup.

    In terms of exiting the group stage, the figures were:
    Europe 6/13
    South America 5/5
    Asia 2/4
    Africa 1/6
    Oceania 0/1
    Concacaf 2/3

    It is obvious from those figures that Africa and Europe have too many direct qualification places.

    Personally, I'd rather have intercontinental play-off groups for half the places and restrict direct qualification to:
    Europe 6
    South America 4
    Asia 2
    Africa 2
    Concacaf 2

    Then have eight Intercontinental groups of 6 held in the Middle East the Christmas before the World Cup, with the top two from each group going to the World Cup.

    That might give Europe 22 qualifiers, in theory. But only if they're good enough, because the likes of Greece and Switzerland would meet Honduras, Nigeria, Uruguay, Chile, Venezuela, Australia, etc.

  • Comment number 34.

    So we'll have a pre World Cup World Cup? The reasons qualifiers are held in Continental Groups is that poorer nations cannot afford to travel the world for qualifiers.

  • Comment number 35.

    And there is nothing obvious from the stats you have published. They are open to interpretation. Don't forget this was a World Cup held in Africa for the first time- had it been held in Europe for example we may well have seen the same teams perform differently.

  • Comment number 36.

    Please why do people mention England when speaking about world cup hopefuls or rankings? It is an insult to countries with serious aspirations. 1966 was an anomaly that will probably not happen again !!! Sir Alf Ramsey was a pragmatist who understood the limitations of his players and devised a wingless system (to the chagrin of the press, Joe public, and the FA big wigs) which made his team difficult to beat, compensated for Moore's lack of pace, and allowed his three quality players to thrive (B. Charlton, Greaves and Banks). Home support and friendly referees did the rest. It will be hard to repeat this brew and impossible with the current crop of tabloid superstars. If it could not be done with Lineker/Beardsley/Waddle/Barnes/Hoddle/Robson or Woodcock/Francis/Keegan/Brooking/Robson/Wilkins/Coppell or Shearer/Sheringham/Owen/Beckam/Gascoigne/Platt/Ince/Scholes/Ferdinand/Campbell then this lot should be left alone. Other countries accept their dips in quality. England should learn to do the same. Size does not matter !!! So they say.

  • Comment number 37.

    @36 Falcaocerezo

    Who are you even addressing? I didn't see anyone particularly talking about England having a chance?

  • Comment number 38.

    26.At 14:35 22nd Oct 2012, yakubusdiet wrote:
    @19
    "As things stand, Switzerland, Bosnia and Russia are going to qualify directly to the World Cup with dodgy teams (2 of them didn't even get to the Euros and the other got knocked out by Greece and the Czech Republic). There will then be a further 2-3 European lame ducks who qualify via the play-offs, plus France and Portugal." - Well the Swiss were the last team to beat Spain in a competitive match. Russia are ranked higher than the majority of the SAM teams, and Bosnia are a team on the up, much like Croatia were 12 years ago. Why should poor excuses for football teams who have zero to little history like Ecuador, Paraguay, Chile, Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia etc get any sort of leg up for qualification?

    "If their vanquished opponents (say Cameroon, Egypt, Tunisia, Mali and Congo) played off versus the likes of Oman, Honduras, Rumania, Norway and Greece I think they would pretty much all expect to qualify, as would Venezuela, Peru and Paraguay if they were placed in such company." - Where have you got Romania and Norway from? Currently second placed teams are like France, Portugal, England. Are they really going to be knocked out by poor outfits like Mali, Peru, Paraguay, Egypt etc?? Really???

    "I don't mind Europe winning its way via play-offs to 13 places if it can, but six automatic places really is all the 2010 World Cup results suggest that UEFA deserves." - Based on what?? How many European teams were in the semis? How many in QF? How many european teams were knocked out by non european teams? The reason they have 13 places is because they have the most nations, and the strongest teams. Any of those top 6 teams could realistically win the WC, how many can you say of top 6 SAM or African? How many can you say of top 3 for that matter??

    "But what exactly did Greece, Slovenia, Serbia, France, Denmark, Switzerland and Italy contribute to the 2010 World Cup before getting knocked out at the first hurdle? Not a lot!" - What did South Africa, South Korea, Chile, Paraguay, Nigeria etc all contribute? Not a lot either!! How many non european teams made the semis? When was the last time a non european team made the final? 2002!! 10 years ago!

  • Comment number 39.

    @30 you can't argue based on that kind of geography. You can't rewrite the map, it's not their fault that they are relatively few countries. South America is historically and culturally the place where football took root after Europe, and has contributed equally to the development of the game in ways that Africa, Asia, Oceania and North America can never hope to do. Thereby all the countries in the zone are strong and usually justify their place in the World Cup. I think they deserve to be at least 5, with 6 if they're
    Obviously the world cup has to be inclusive, but it can't be proportional to the number of countries in the zone. Otherwise Oceania and Concacaf with all their island nations would have the best representation.
    Arguably Ecuador have proven in their two world cup performances that they can play at sea level too. Could Serbia, Greece, Belgium win in La Paz or Quito? No, I would pay to be there and see them get a world record hiding. Would Spain or Germany escape from La Paz with a point? Not the first time, perhaps after a couple of tries.

  • Comment number 40.

    @31 Savicevic was Montenegrin not Bosnian. He played for Serbia and Montenegro after the break up of Yugoslavia.

    What a fantastic group of players in that Yugoslav team of the 90s. Stojkovic, Savicevic, Prosinecki, Boban, Sukur.

  • Comment number 41.

    @8 the reason people say it is probably they are good articles, unlike those written by a certain chief football writer...

  • Comment number 42.

    Good blog Tim.

    It will be interesting to see how the Brazilian team develop over the next year.

    I think 2014 will be a little too early for the majority of this group of players but with a good draw and home support anything is possible. Getting knocked out at the quarter final stage is probably realistic though.

  • Comment number 43.

    I'm going to stop talking up Colombia's chances, don't want a repeat of 1994.

    Disagree with ESG about the history of football. Football took hold of South America in a much more profound way than it did in all continents but Europe, football fans in South America are knowledgeable, passionate and loyal to their local team - interesting that european clubs don't tour SA, but they do tour Asia and North America. South American club teams are the only ones that have a chance of beating european teams. And much of the early history of football and it's first world cup winner comes from South America.
    I agree that most of that history comes from the southern half of the continent, but Colombia was supposed to host 1986 before it being taken away from them. They are football mad, and there are 57 million of them. Australia doesn't care about football, it barely even cares about rugby despite them being amongst the best. New Zealand and the pacific islands even less. In Eastern Europe it seems like football is just a distraction for emulating the british football firms. Does the soviet union team really count as historic when it was just the propaganda machine of a dictatorship? They had to play, they had to beat the west. So much love for the game!

  • Comment number 44.

    .............eeeerrrrrrmmmmmm.............it was China..........Iraq..............and Japan!!!!

    Can we please save the Brasil propaganda for when they play someone else that's expected to challenge in 2014.

  • Comment number 45.

    @40. Indeed he was, my mind wandered. Fail! Salihadmidzic of Bayern Munich was a well respected player, but I'm sure there were others absorbed into that Yugoslav team.
    Seems unfair that Italy has twice been embroiled in match fixing scandals that arguably have an enormous impact on the health of the sport, but Yugoslavia get banned from playing in Euros because they're having a civil war, at home, thousands of miles from Sweden where the Euros took place.
    Again, one rule for the big teams and another for the rest.

  • Comment number 46.

    44- the standard of Brazil's recent opposition was taken into account in the article - but I think Japan deserve a lot more respect than those 4 exclamation marks. They've been to every World Cup since 1998, looked very handy in the last one and - although it is always dangerous to read too much to results in friendlies - they had just won 1-0 away to France. They have plenty of players in Europe and are clearly a growing force.

  • Comment number 47.

    28 - I don't follow too much European football, but, run of injuries aside, it seems to me that Kaka's problem at Real is as follows - Ozil (and now Modric) are better midfielders. And what Kaka does - that thrust he offers in the final 30 - Cristiano Ronaldo does better.

  • Comment number 48.

    7.
    At 12:26 22nd Oct 2012, yakubusdiet wrote:

    But Germany's defence is an absolute joke: in South America only Bolivia and arguably Chile have a defence as bad as Germany's. Of course Germany has a good keeper and excellent midfielders and strikers, but there is no escaping that their defence is the worst German defence I have seen for 35 years. And Loew shows no sign of fixing this disaster waiting to happen.

    Of course with Khedira, Schweinsteiger, Ozil et al in front of them the German defence is rarely exposed by European sides, because they play Spain so rarely.
    ___________________________

    I wouldn't say it was a joke but the German defence is poor by their very high standards. I mentioned on an England blog last week that with the exception of Lahm the rest are not top quality.

    At one point in the Euros they drafted in a midfielder to play at right back which says it all really. Even against realatively weak opposition such as Greece they were exposed at times. Against Italy they were ripped apart by the incisive passing of the Italian midfield led by Pirlo.

  • Comment number 49.

    @43 RoverOnTour

    I presume the reason that European teams don't tour South America is more commercial than anything. Like you said, South American fans are loyal, and (Definitely in Brazil anyway) favour following their own teams over a European one much more than places like North America and Asia.

    Ergo, fewer potential fans/shirt sales and so forth.

  • Comment number 50.

    43.At 15:44 22nd Oct 2012, RoverOnTour wrote:
    __________________

    I'm not denying SAM's huge history in modern football. But if you remove Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay from the history, there's very little that SAM offers. Where as in Europe it was shaped by a huge number of countries rather than 3. That's the difference I'm pointing out. In Europe you have 5 different winners. There's far more history.

    As for Eastern Europe, I don't think I've read much more of an ignorant post!

    "In Eastern Europe it seems like football is just a distraction for emulating the british football firms. Does the soviet union team really count as historic when it was just the propaganda machine of a dictatorship? They had to play, they had to beat the west. So much love for the game!"

    I recommend that you read some of Jonathon Wilson's extracts or his book. It was the Hungarians (eastern europeans) along with the Brits that taught the South Americans how to play. It was Viktor Maslov (Russian) that developed the modern day 4-4-2 formation. It was Valery Lobanovskiy (alongside Michels) that developed the style of play known as "total football".

    Given the Soviets also won the Euros and have a 3rd place finish, I think they're fairly relelvant to history. Not to mention the great HUngarian, Yugoslavian, Czech and Croatian teams.

  • Comment number 51.

    38.
    At 15:10 22nd Oct 2012, Eduard_Streltsov_Ghost wrote:

    "But what exactly did Greece, Slovenia, Serbia, France, Denmark, Switzerland and Italy contribute to the 2010 World Cup before getting knocked out at the first hurdle? Not a lot!" - What did South Africa, South Korea, Chile, Paraguay, Nigeria etc all contribute? Not a lot either!! How many non european teams made the semis? When was the last time a non european team made the final? 2002!! 10 years ago!
    _____________________________

    Indeed. The last time a European team was not present in a World Cup final was 1950 and I expect there will be at least one in the final in 2014.

  • Comment number 52.

    10. Eduard: you say, inaccurately ''... Brazil have not faced a decent, organised team that can sit back, soak up pressure and counter. Neither have argentina. Rather than Germany, both teams in actual fact have a weak defence. And neither have been probed by european opposition.''

    Since the 2010 SA WC ended Argentina, playing at full strength, has faced a fair bit of European opposition: they have beaten Spain 4-1, Germany 3-1, Switzerland 3-1, Albania & Ireland (I know...) and Portugal 2-1.

    They have been looking pretty good: At full strength, they beat Brazil twice, Colombia away (the toughest match), just blanked Uruguay and have owned Chile.

    Sabella has been trying to balance the team in order to shore up defence, although playing four extremely offensive players upfront is something that could/will cost Argentina and decrease ball possession, therefore playing the fast breaks. First 30 minutes against Chile 10 days ago was a show of that thin midfield we fret about. I do not think that Sabella will go for 3 attackers against teams like Spain, Germany or the Netherlands.

    When you have the little guy playing like he has been playing... you can afford different combos. Sabella is naturally conservative and would much rather play one or two forwards, but he has to make Messi happy first and foremost.

  • Comment number 53.

    10. sorry forgot about the verdeamarela and European opposition:

    Since 2010, Brazil has beaten Sweden 3-0, Denmark 3-1, Bosnia 2-1, tied Holland 0-0, lost to Germany 3-2, beat Romania 1-0, lost to France 1-0, beat Scotland 2-0 (I know...), beat Ukraine 2-0. Their results don't look that good but their starting 11 are never the same, so today it is impossible to say what is their full strength team.

  • Comment number 54.

    52.At 16:12 22nd Oct 2012, marcelao wrote:
    ___________________

    Apologies. I guess what I meant was that they have not played (through no fault of their own) any european team in a competitive game. We all know for example SPain do not take the friendlies seriously, hence their 2-2 draw with Costa Rica.

    Friendlies are an indicator but can be a false one. For example Russia hammered a full strength Italy side 3-0 a week before the Euros, yet it was the Italians that reached the final.

  • Comment number 55.

    51.At 16:12 22nd Oct 2012, BaggiosPonytail wrote:
    Indeed. The last time a European team was not present in a World Cup final was 1950 and I expect there will be at least one in the final in 2014.
    ____________________

    Exactly. People forget that Europe has been largely dominant here. Just because there are the odd nations that qualify to the last 16 outside of Europe nations means squat. I've done it before, and I'll do it again. I'll do the top 6 per europe, SAM, Africa, Asia & CONCAF.

    Europe: 1. Spain, 2. Germany, 3. Portugal, 4. Holland, 5. England, 6. Italy
    SAM: 1. Argentina, 2. Uruguay, 3. Colombia, 4. Brazil, 5. Chile, 6. Ecuador
    Africa: 1. Ivory Coast, 2. Algeria, 3. Mali, 4. Ghana, 5. Egypt, 6. Zambia
    Asia: 1. Japan, 2. South Korea, 3. Australia, 4. Uzbekistan, 5. Oman, 6. Iran/ Saudi?
    CONCAF: 1. Mexico, 2. USA, 3. Costa Rica, 4. Honduras, 5. Jamaica, 6. Antigua

    Hmmmm which continent has the strongest 6 teams? Top 12 would have Greece, Croatia, Russia & France.

  • Comment number 56.

    @yakubusdiet

    5 South American teams won't qualify for World Cup 2012.

    40 European teams won't qualify for WC 2012.

    Based on players available I would consider these to be the top 13 European sides (obv these are not the sides that will qualify due to organisation, luck, the draw etc):

    Spain
    Germany
    Netherlands
    Portugal
    France
    Italy
    England
    Croatia
    Russia
    Belgium
    Sweden
    Switzerland
    Turkey

    The first two teams on the list could win the tournament. The next eight would be disappointed not to make the quarter finals at least.

    The next three could be surprise packages - each has a personnel mix of class and mediocre.

    Is it really that awful that 13 European teams will qualify? 40 disappointed European nations will be looking on as neutrals.

    Of the ten South American teams two have a chance to win it. All others are in the Sweden category for me - Colombia, Chile, Ecuador have a few class players and a few mediocre ones. Uruguay are horribly overrated. The other sides are no better than Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Bosnia, Czech Republic etc

  • Comment number 57.

    On a slightly different note. Can anyone remember the ROW vs Europe match that took place before France 98? The ROW front line was Batistuta (best striker I have seen) and Ronaldo (who was incredible before injuries slowed him down) Would love to see a repeat before Brazil 2014.

    One area where South America does have a big advantage over the rest of the World is with its attacking options. No other continent has quite as large a collection of fantastic forwards.

    Messi, Suarez, Aguero, Falcao, Cavani, Neymar, Tevez, Di Maria, Forlan, Rondon, Lavezzi, Hulk, Pato etc.

  • Comment number 58.

    ok, ESG, i rightly give you Hungary. They were one of the best and should have been another european name on the cup but we all know what happened in 1954.
    But you are ignoring the fact that the odds were stacked against the small teams until 1996 with a qualifying system that almost guaranteed the same 3 or 4 countries qualifying every time. Unlike the minnows of Europe though, the minnows of south america have grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Ecuador for example, the improvement of Venezuela. And the teams that reach the finals justify their place, by qualifying from the groups. 7 out of 13 european teams didn't last time, and all of those would have had to face a conmebol team. I hate this idea that europeans blindly support the idea that europe deserves all of these places. Yes, we deserve a lot of places because we are the continent of football, but that should be measured by the fact that half of those will always approach the world cup with a don't lose, don't take risks mentality. Only half of them come out playing football that is exciting. The worst offenders are the Serbias and Polands of this world. And they rightly get knocked out with that attitude. Chile and Paraguay were lightweight in attack, not scoring the goals their play deserved, but they played football how it should be, the way that makes other non-footballing regions take notice and get interested. Japan too, at the last world cup, played it how it should be played.

  • Comment number 59.

    @54 ESG

    Whilst I can agree with your point in general, I'm not sure anyone could honestly say that England are the 5th best European team and ranked higher than Italy! (I say this whilst been fully aware of the flawed FIFA rankings).

    I think that all the traditional powers of European football (Spain, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Holland and France) are far superior to England. Certainly if England were to play a knockout game against any of these teams I could not see a way that England would win. History tends to prove my point.

    I would say that England are (as always) firmly set in the second tier (Sweden, Belgium, Croatia, Russia, Denmark, Greece, Turkey). Probably fair to say that England are somewhere between the 7th and 12th best European team.

  • Comment number 60.

    @58 I think you have a valid point about some of the second tier European teams. It is rare that the likes of Greece, Denmark, England, Switzerland and Sweden (to use a few examples) produce anything other than negative, dour football.

  • Comment number 61.

    57.At 16:44 22nd Oct 2012, JamTay1 wrote:
    On a slightly different note. Can anyone remember the ROW vs Europe match that took place before France 98?
    __________________

    Go on then! Challenge accepted. Modern Day ROW v Europe. I will use 4-2-3-1 formations.

    Europe:
    Buffon,
    Lahm, Pique, Hummels, Alba
    Busquets, Alonso
    Ronaldo, Xavi, Iniesta
    Villa

    2nd Side:
    Casillas,
    Arbeloa, Kompany, Vidic, Cole
    Khedira, Schweinsteiger
    Reus, Moutinho, Ozil
    RVP

    No room for Pirlo, Benzema, Torres, Fabregas, Sneijder etc

  • Comment number 62.

    ESG: I can't see how you can get 'competitive' matches between Argentina or Brazil and European teams more often than every four years, at WC's. They will always be friendlies. Lately, these matches are just gigantic money making opportunities, ran by international promotion companies and forming part of 'packages' contracted to the national associations. Does the SAM classic like the one played in Jersey count? I guess we fans hope for an ideal world where strengths of teams can be measured objectively. This would not be football really where so many factors come into the equation.

  • Comment number 63.

    58.At 16:52 22nd Oct 2012, RoverOnTour wrote:
    _________________

    I think Joan Burton had it spot on to be honest. From 40 odd countries, 13 qualify. The top 12 look incredibly strong compared to a top 10 in SAM. That is the point I'm making. Yes you can do some form of knockout competition, but that would be slightly unfair to the european teams. I mean how would it work?

    2nd placed knockout v another 2nd placed team in Europe then a knockout with Africa, South America etc? Or do they all go into a knockout pool so you can get say France v Portugal and then New Zealand v Oman?

  • Comment number 64.

    59.At 16:52 22nd Oct 2012, JamTay1 wrote:
    @54 ESG

    Whilst I can agree with your point in general, I'm not sure anyone could honestly say that England are the 5th best European team and ranked higher than Italy
    ______________________

    For consistent purposes I took it based off the FIFA Rankings.

    With England, who knows, they could win on an "away goals" rule. They rarely lose a competitive match, usually draw and out on penalties.

    I'm not sure what Portugal have done to be a traditional power? I'd put them in the second tier as well.

  • Comment number 65.

    @58 RoverOnTour

    The approach of many 'decent' European teams is undoubtedly quite negative. It does make for rather dull matches but this safety first attitude enables average teams to progress from tough groups. In fact as Greece showed in 2004 a well drilled defence and a committed, organised team can achieve amazing results.

    If a team does not have a good or even excellent defence they will not progress far in a major tournament - it's just the way it is now. Despite the huge array of attacking talent they possess there are still questions marks about the defence of Argentina for example.

    In 2010 they looked in great form despite Maradona being in charge. Then in the Quarter Final they came up against Germany and were soundly beaten. Germany were then given a lesson of their own in the semi final against Spain.

  • Comment number 66.

    62.At 17:00 22nd Oct 2012, marcelao wrote:
    ESG: I can't see how you can get 'competitive' matches between Argentina or Brazil and European teams more often than every four years, at WC's.
    _____________________

    I suppose the point I'm making is that over the years it seems that the SAM teams are a bit like England, imperious in the friendlies, but then lose when it counts. Eg

    Argentina out to Germany in 2010, Brazil out to Netherlands
    Argentina out to Germany in 2006, Brazil out to France etc etc

  • Comment number 67.

    By 2014, Piazon will be playing as the false 9. He is already awesome, all rounded, and a clinical finisher. Two years might seem too soon, but his potential is very very high.

  • Comment number 68.

    I am no fan of England, but their results (since South Africa 2010) have been consistently strong. I know that these are friendlies too but, let' see:

    They have beaten Mexico, Japan, Hungary, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Denmark, Wales, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Ukraine, Italy, Moldova and San Marino.

    Conversely, in the same period they have lost to three top European teams: Italy (on penalties), Netherlands and France. They have played dodgy teams and have tied weak teams as well too often.

    I might get a lot of flak for this but I venture to say they could do well in Brazil.

  • Comment number 69.

    There's doing well and there's doing well. Depends what you expectations are...

  • Comment number 70.

    68.At 17:35 22nd Oct 2012, marcelao wrote:
    __________________

    They will reach the QF at best (depends who they face in last 16) and draw 0-0 or 1-1 before going out on penalties. It happens every time!

  • Comment number 71.

    @yakubusdiet

    'It is obvious from those figures that Africa and Europe have too many direct qualification places.'

    2006 World Cup. Qualifiers from Europe = 10 out of 16 reach the last 16. 2002 World Cup. Qualifiers from Europe = 9 out of 16. Etc, etc. You cannot simply be as specific as to use one World Cup as the limitation of European teams in competition. Some teams you make sweeping statements against, like Switzerland who are 'dodgy', despite being a much better team than before the last World Cup with the emergence of young players such as Shakiri at Bayern.

    Then you saved the best until last.
    ‘But what exactly did Greece, Slovenia, Serbia, France, Denmark, Switzerland and Italy contribute to the 2010 World Cup before getting knocked out at the first hurdle? Not a lot!’
    Italy won the World Cup before that ! Who did they beat in the final? France. Italy have won the second most World Cups of all-time. France are one of the most successful international teams of the past 15 years. What have Egypt, Tunisia, Mali and Congo, Oman, Honduras, Venezuela etc ever achieved on an international stage? A struggling Irish team recently beat Oman 4-1. Ireland struggled to beat Kazahzstan.
    The European allocation is fair. If we’re talking about improving the quality of the World Cup, then let’s look at the third team in the Concacaf, Oceania’s play-off place (now without even Australia) and even Africa, only 1 team in the last 16 in the past 3 tournaments.

    Then as for your Brazil comment that only one player of theirs would get into the Argentinian team, that's underrating their quality. Neymar, Marcelo, Daniel Alves, Ramires, Thiago Silva would all be pushing for starting positions if you moulded the two together. Brazil also have a much wider selection of quality in every position except attack. If Argentina get a few injuries in defence or midfield, then they could struggle. But they do have Messi, so that makes anything possible.

  • Comment number 72.

    @68 marcelao

    England generally beat teams they should beat although often not convincingly. The problem we have is that when it really matters we do not beat the top sides. England will probably progress from the group but will go out in the last 16 or quarter final depending on the draw. Teams like France and Italy seem to go from abject to brilliant from one tournament to another - you just don't get that uncertainty with England.

  • Comment number 73.

    England just don't have the quality at the moment for me to contend. If they had've brought Scholes back from retirement and utilised him better (in his late years, very similar player to Pirlo) and left Gerrard-Lampard times behind, they may have been more competitive. The best England team in recent years was the one for the 2002 World Cup but they didn't have the best preparations with a few injuries. Scholes, Beckham, Owen, Campbell and Ferdinand were great players in key positions and Nicky Butt was doing a fine anchorman job, no different to the anchormen of many winning teams. If a young Rooney had come along four years previously, you never know.

    When you don't have as much quality as some of the top teams, you need your best players to play well. Rooney simply hasn't played well in major tournaments for England for a number of years and there isn't enough quality around him for it not to matter too much. England need Wilshere back in form, Rooney to perform and a prayer.

    The thing about Hodgson though is that his teams will be organised and England were very tough to break down in the Euros. That always gives the opportunity of a few flukes and a fairytale story, even at the Euros, if they could win penalty shoot-outs they would have made the semis without playing well.

  • Comment number 74.

    I'm shocked no one has mentioned the Germans, along with Spain, Argentina and Brazil.
    Germany are always so strong when it comes to tournaments. Their team has been growing since 2010, and will overpower anyone in their way, apart from Spain-their ony threat.
    Going through their squad there is clearly style, but substance also. Badstuber and Hummels are currently maturing centre halves. By 2014 they will have had enough experience to stop opposition. The midfield, marshalled by the excellent Scwheinsteiger, can dominate any team and create plenty of chances for two of the best goalscorers in Gomez and Klose.
    Watch out for Germany, they will be focused

  • Comment number 75.

    Tim,
    Most of the time, I find your blogs very informative. But this one had me in stitches for a while. I wonder if you know something about FIFA planning to increase the number of players on the pitch from the current 11.
    What does 4-2-4-0 add up to? 10. So will we see teams playing 4-2-4-2 at 2014 World Cup? Plus goalie, that's 13 - that's Rugby League isn't it? The Spanish 4-6-0 made sense because there were literally no strikers in the team. But with this 4-2-4-0, Neymar & Hulk are the strikers. Also, the conventional 4-2-4 is not alien to Brazil. It is what they used at the 1970 World Cup to devastating effect.
    In any case, I don't expect Brazil to do well at the World Cup in 2014. All these friendlies are just that. When push comes to shove, Brazil will get knocked out in the q-finals like in 2006 & 2010 by teams who they will beat 9 times out of 10. Especially, if they take Marcelo from R. Madrid, Oscar (Chelsea) , yes Neymar & the goalie from the Olympic team. The attitude of the Brazil team at the Olympics was very poor. Let's hope the coach Menezes can change that

  • Comment number 76.

    @75 Steve Cooke

    As I see it the formation Tim is talking about (4-2-4-0) is similar to the one Spain used at the Euros. They had Alonso and Busquets in the holding roles and then four attacking minded midfielders/wingers ahead of them.

  • Comment number 77.

    This article praises Brazil for trivialities. Kaka is no guarantee to play in 2014 and there is therefore no reason to play him now. He is old, injury prone and inconsistent. It speaks volumes that Milan sold him and Real Madrid do not play him, his call up is another sign of the failings of Mano Menezes. The fact that he plays well against the likes of Iraq and Japan is nothing because if and when Brazil play worthy opposition, Kaka and company will not shine. I do not see how Tim is optimistic when the population of Brazil has not been convinced for some time now.

    Tostao is correct in praising and liking a style of play and formation that made him champion, 4-2-4, in essence what Brazil are looking to do. Yet as an intelligent man, on and off the pitch, he does recognise that Brazil needs to try this out against worthy opposition and this is where we have, will and do see the shortcomings of Mano Menezes's Brazil.

    In short, how these last two matches show positives for Brazil is beyond me and if a significant part, read the vast majority, of Brazil still prefer someone else to Mano Menezes, these last two games will not make a difference to her chances. The best thing that can happen for Brazil is her getting rid of her pathetic manager and get someone that can select the right team and tactics.

  • Comment number 78.

    75 - Brazil playing 4-2-4 in 1970! Please!
    I've gone in depth on this with Mario Zagallo, the coach of that side. He was appointed with just a few months to go, and the first thing he did was change the formation - they had been playing 4-2-4 in qualification and Zagallo was emphatic - no way would they win the World Cup with anything so open - his big idea was to pull the team back behind the line of the ball when Brazil lost possession, with only (improvised) centre forward Tostao left up front. Zagallo told me that he saw the team as 4-5-1.

    The current tem as 4-2-4-0. I think i't's a fair description because neither Hulk or Neymar occupy the position generally used by strikers, Both are wide - Hulk will come all the way back and play alongside his right back, just like a wide midfielder (or like Jairzinho in 70).

  • Comment number 79.

    Surely the value of Kaka is one of experience. This takes pressure off Neymar - which was going to be tremendous - and the presence of Neymar and Oscar take the pressure ( that was put on Kaka in the last World Cup) off the Real Madrid player. Apart from that the number 9 line up is always an option on the bench ( or in the squad for a specific game).
    Question though - is there space for Ronaldinho and if you want a tall forward Jô from Ath Mineiro??? In the end, all Brazilian managers are faced with a selection problem the English managers would be pleased to have - too much choice!!!
    Winning at home will be the hardest thing for a Brazilian side to achieve - believe it or not!

  • Comment number 80.

    We should all be glad that WC places are not divided evenly by member countries in each confederation. If places were allocated on this basis, UEFA and CAF would get 8 teams each, ACF 7, CONCACAF 6, and shock CONMEBOL 1. Decimal points accepted, that would leave two places, one of which would be allocated to the hosts.

    There is no perfect formula to equate who should be in the finals; but before we start asking for change, let's be aware of what change could lead to. If CAF, CONCACAF, and ACF decided that their one vote per country counted; then UEFA and CONMEBOL would lose out heavily.

  • Comment number 81.

    Agree with Yakubusdiet all but in one respect..add Germany to the list of potential 2014 winners. The analysis re Argentina is absolutely correct..they are top class and have two world class players for virtaully every position..even ignoring Messi, the Man City and Newcastle boys, and indeed those based in Spain & Italy are all top players. Added to that Levazzi (apols for the spelling) of Napoli look a potent force. Like Brazil they lack a target man (in case you have to go for Plan B) like they had with Batistuta, but they have ability and power to win the World Cup.

  • Comment number 82.

    Who says that only Thiago silva would get into Argentina ?? Sorry but you seem to be forgetting about Neymar, Oscar, Romelu, Marcelo ect...

    Argentinas squad is top heavy unfortunately the attack is the best in football but the midfield and defence are weaknesses. But even then Neymar is a better player than Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi aside who is a better foward than him? He is easily much better than Higuain Di maria and or Levezzi. Oscar also is would get into the Argentina team as would Marcelo and Dani alves, although defence isnt Brazils strongest point it isn't Argentinas either.

    Of course Messi would get into thet Brazil team displacing Hulk. But Brazil although not as strong as Argentina in attack, they are a much more balanced team with quality midfielders and defenders. Oscar, Thiago Silva, Romelu, Dani alves and Marcelo show this as do Ramires, David Luiz, Pato, Damio and Juan who has been a revlation in Seria A so far this season' claimed as the best left back in the world by Maldini. In short Brazil are better than Argentina.

  • Comment number 83.

    55. At 16:38 22nd Oct 2012, Eduard_Streltsov_Ghost wrote:

    Exactly. People forget that Europe has been largely dominant here. Just because there are the odd nations that qualify to the last 16 outside of Europe nations means squat. I've done it before, and I'll do it again. I'll do the top 6 per europe, SAM, Africa, Asia & CONCAF.

    Europe: 1. Spain, 2. Germany, 3. Portugal, 4. Holland, 5. England, 6. Italy
    SAM: 1. Argentina, 2. Uruguay, 3. Colombia, 4. Brazil, 5. Chile, 6. Ecuador
    Africa: 1. Ivory Coast, 2. Algeria, 3. Mali, 4. Ghana, 5. Egypt, 6. Zambia
    Asia: 1. Japan, 2. South Korea, 3. Australia, 4. Uzbekistan, 5. Oman, 6. Iran/ Saudi?
    CONCAF: 1. Mexico, 2. USA, 3. Costa Rica, 4. Honduras, 5. Jamaica, 6. Antigua

    Hmmmm which continent has the strongest 6 teams? Top 12 would have Greece, Croatia, Russia & France.
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Antigua? This is nonsense. Antigua & Barbuda isn't even a top 10 team in CONCACAF.

    You name out Greece, Russia and Croatia as if they are good teams. They would even qualify from South America.

  • Comment number 84.

    no target man? whho might i ask then, is Leandro Damaio?

  • Comment number 85.

    Harsh to call Germany's defense a joke, Lahm has been one of the best full backs for the past decade. Hummels is highly rated, question marks over Badstuber/Mertesacker/Boateng. Schmelzer is a talent at 24..

  • Comment number 86.

    Tim, Kaka in his prime was a better all round player than Modric and Ozil combined. He has never been a true "midfielder" but occupies the space between midfield and attack like the old masters Rivelino, Cruyff, Zico, Platini, Francescoli, Zidane etc. There is no room for at Madrid because Ozil/Modric are more disciplined hustlers and Ronaldo/Di Maria are happy to play wide.

  • Comment number 87.

    @83, I meant to say that they wouldn't even qualify from South America.

  • Comment number 88.

    @13

    Portugal can't even beat Northern Ireland, how are they superior Uruguay and Belgium and so on?

  • Comment number 89.

    @ 78

    Tim, the Brazil '70 formation in modern parlance would be consider a 4-2-3-1 with the proviso that central attacking midfielder had a greater role as support striker than they usually have today. In the recent Real Madrid-Ajax game in the Champions League, the Spanish team essentially lined up with the Brazil '70 formation, with Kaka in the Pele role, proving true the adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same!

  • Comment number 90.

    Brazil style of play *is* precisely the reason defense suffers. It's just math: more players committed forward means fewer players defending.

    David Luiz is a fine defender who has been tests on the highest stage. Thiago Silva too. I do agree concerning Marcelo and because essentially you only have two players who can cover him (Paulinho/Sandro and Ramires), it's going to be difficult to cover both attacking minded fullbacks.

  • Comment number 91.

    83.
    At 20:07 22nd Oct 2012, 764dak wrote:

    55. At 16:38 22nd Oct 2012, Eduard_Streltsov_Ghost wrote:

    Exactly. People forget that Europe has been largely dominant here. Just because there are the odd nations that qualify to the last 16 outside of Europe nations means squat. I've done it before, and I'll do it again. I'll do the top 6 per europe, SAM, Africa, Asia & CONCAF.

    Europe: 1. Spain, 2. Germany, 3. Portugal, 4. Holland, 5. England, 6. Italy
    SAM: 1. Argentina, 2. Uruguay, 3. Colombia, 4. Brazil, 5. Chile, 6. Ecuador
    Africa: 1. Ivory Coast, 2. Algeria, 3. Mali, 4. Ghana, 5. Egypt, 6. Zambia
    Asia: 1. Japan, 2. South Korea, 3. Australia, 4. Uzbekistan, 5. Oman, 6. Iran/ Saudi?
    CONCAF: 1. Mexico, 2. USA, 3. Costa Rica, 4. Honduras, 5. Jamaica, 6. Antigua

    Hmmmm which continent has the strongest 6 teams? Top 12 would have Greece, Croatia, Russia & France.
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Antigua? This is nonsense. Antigua & Barbuda isn't even a top 10 team in CONCACAF.

    You name out Greece, Russia and Croatia as if they are good teams. They would even qualify from South America.
    ______________________________

    If it was based on current FIFA rankings then the CONCACAF top 6 would be:

    1. Mexico, 2. USA, 3. Panama, 4. Jamaica, 5. Haiti, 6. Canada

    Nevertheless it is basically Mexico and the USA plus one or maybe 2 teams depending on whether the 4th place team can beat New Zealand.

  • Comment number 92.

    91. At 22:28 22nd Oct 2012, BaggiosPonytail wrote:

    Nevertheless it is basically Mexico and the USA plus one or maybe 2 teams depending on whether the 4th place team can beat New Zealand.
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    I actually saw a match between NZ and Jamaica that was played in NZ back in February. Jamaica won 3-2. So the 4th place would probably beat NZ.

  • Comment number 93.

    @ 8: not enough love, evidently :o)
    @ 13: I'm not sure Portugal are currently better than Mexico and they're certainly not 'far' superior to the two Asian sides or Ecuador.
    @ 15: perhaps because they think he should have Phil's job - tho' I imagine Tim is very happy to be based in Rio :o)
    @ 16: funny how Germany do that. They got thrashed 5-1 at home by England in the qualifiers and then got an easy draw to the 2002 finals, while England came up against champions Brazil.
    @ 29: I think it would be foolish at this point to change the Brazilian manager, and alternatives would be even less likely to accept the post than in 2010 (knowing it is a poison chalice lose-lose situation for the unfortunate incumbent).

  • Comment number 94.

    Would agree with the article in that Brazil have a very exciting team coming through.

    Very mobile/interchanging. The centre backs are complete footballers, the right/ left backs are highly effective attacking (Marcelo has the potential to be even better than Carlos), the defensive midfielders can attack and defend, and the front 4 can all interchange, score and assist. They are all young and quick (compare this to Dunga's team which had no pace in many areas of the team).

    Perhaps 2014 is too soon for this team (2018 more realistic), but they will have the home advantage. Time, when is the last time Brazil have lost a competitive match in Brazil? 1964 I think?

  • Comment number 95.

    Sorry, question aimed at Tim:

    When was the last time Brazil lost a competitive match in Brazil?

  • Comment number 96.

    Hi Tim.

    I was wondering if you could give us any insight as to the current goings on of Nicolas Millan? I remember as a youth player in Chile he looked really exciting and even Chelsea were monitoring him but I haven't heard anything in a while.

  • Comment number 97.

    @ 33: I agree with your idea, which would be more of a meritocracy (assuming fair rules and refereeing), but I suspect the idea would be quashed - not by Europe, but by Asia, Africa and Oceania, who would probably prefer fewer guaranteed final spots to the possibility of more (but also a risk of less).
    @ 36: Greaves was class, but hardly figured. England proved they were better than Portugal and W. Germany and I don't think anybody eliminated earlier has a right to claim superiority (it's funny how Argentina complains about favouritism when the whole world saw what they did in 1978). The England team of 1970 was as good as anybody else bar Brazil, and again in 1982 and 2002. In 1990 any of the 4 semi-finalists could have won it. The 86 team wasn't strong, but it still took a blatant bit of cheating to eliminate them. I would say that on the whole the managers have let the side down much more than the players, starting with Ramsey in 1970 snatching defeat from the jaws of victory with his complacent substitutions upsetting the rhythm of a side that was dominating W. Germany. And again in 82 when 2 injured players were preferred to the fit Hoddle and Francis when England only needed to beat a weak Spanish side they'd recently thrashed at home. However, I accept the argument that since 2006 England has not had a team that ever looked capable of challenging for the final. But who would've thought Chelsea would win the CL, with a much weaker side than ones that had already failed??? In football you can never be sure, but perhaps it's time we allowed ourselves to be pleasantly surprised at overachievement, after so often being let down by the underachievement. The antidote is a healthy dose of realism :o)
    @ 39: I think you spoil it a little with the 'can never hope to' as you're discounting the future, which hasn't been written yet!
    @ 56; thanks for putting the whole thing into perspective!
    @ 61: interesting!

  • Comment number 98.

    selecao9 @95

    When was the last time Brazil lost a competitive match in Brazil?
    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    That has to be going back a few years for the 2010 world cup qualifiers, pretty sure they did not lose at home. I also do not think they lost a home game in the 2006 qualifiers.

    My guess would be prior to 2002 because in those qualifiers, I remember the news of Brasil doing the unthinkable and making hard work out of qualifying. But of course they went on to win it so I may well be wrong.

    It's a very good question.

    I can't remember the last time they hosted the copa but that has to be over 15 years ago.

  • Comment number 99.

    @95: 3-1 defeat to Peru in the 1975 Copa America

  • Comment number 100.

    Hi Tim,

    Do you see a place for Pato in the new 4-2-4-0 system?

    And how do you rate Leandro Castan as a defender? Would you play him ahead of David Luiz?

 

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