STARE hard at the eight names of the quarterfinalists at the 2010 World Cup. 50% are South American (usual suspects Argentina and Brazil along with the highly impressive and resurgent Uruguay and first timers Paraguay). One is from Africa (a determined Ghana) and the rest are European (powerhouse and consistent Germany, solid Netherlands and a fluid Spain). If this World Cup has proven anything, it is that the ‘European’ game seems to be dead. Four years ago, it was all Europe in the semifinals. This year, there is even a chance of it being all South America. Passing, threading through defences, clever short corners and free kicks with wicked variations are all the rage. But don’t go just by the numbers – South America has impressed (were it not Brazil pitted against Chile in Round 2, all 5 qualifiers from the continent could have made the quarters – an unprecedented feat) but with smart tweaks to its basic game. There is an amalgamated and to some extent mutated ‘Euro-Latin’ style of football that has been the style of choice.
Those who tried the pure European formula of shoot and hope – Italy and Greece – have been left back in the group stage. (What about the French? Well, they went out because they tried the pure French formula – of being insufferable in general.) Add to this the half hearted attempts of ‘European’ styles by Switzerland and even Australia. The pure latin approach 9a flair for dare) was what the Africans tried and they got too confused to be able to carry on. Case in point – Cameroon and Ivory Coast. Globalization of leagues, proliferation of TV coverage and more frequent interactions between players and coaches who are, if I recall Richard Marx’s opening words from ‘Right Here Waiting’ correctly, ‘oceans apart’ has led to the mutation. Nobody looks at the Dutch and cries out ‘total football’ any longer, and Brazilian coach Dunga proclaims that winning the game is more important than the beauty of it. Teams training day in and day out to be ‘efficient’ will concur.
In the initial periods of the tournament when goals were trickling in at a rate slower than foreign aid to Darfur, everything from tactics to fatigue to footballs were blamed. But the simple point is that scoring goals is a matter of intent. Facing elimination, Italy found it in them to produce two goals in ten minutes. If only they had shown the same alacrity earlier. Slovenia sat back on a 2-0 advantage over the US (and an assured berth in the second round) only to see the Americans equalize and almost win it. The Yanks, spurred by the specter of elimination, turned up the heat in attack and almost won the game. Portugal and Brazil, out of convenience played out a 0-0 draw after scoring 7 and 3 goals in their previous matches respectively. It is intent that moves scoreboards, and it is this attacking intent that can become the heart of this new hybrid game. No grandmaster has ever won a chess game with his fabulous defence. Football’s not too different either in this new globalized ‘flat pitch’ game, the oldest of clichés rings heavily true – attack is the best form of defence.
The only time the word ‘draw’ is likely to produce a decisive result is when it is yelled out in the Wild Wild West. The US still may not have warmed upto football en masse but the very American of icons, Walt Disney, had this modern football playbook covered in three simple words – Keep Moving Forward. Just ask David Villa, or the Uruguayan team.