World Cup For Dummies

Football (or “soccer” for my American and Australian friends) is a pretty simple game. Twenty-two guys kick a ball around for an hour and a half, they fall over a lot, and the game often ends without anyone scoring. That much anyone can glean from watching it for a while. Of course there are tactics. Football people will talk for hours about formations and methods of attack and defense, but these are largely invisible to the TV watcher because so much of the action happens off the ball. I don’t pretend to understand it all myself. But what about the tournament itself. Are there strategies for that? Well yes, I think they are, and I think they are quite simple.

In the group stage you need to have a team that is good at scoring goals in the face of a determined defense. If you don’t, you are liable to find your team held to a 0-0 draw by a team of no-hopers from a country you hadn’t heard of before they qualified for the tournament. These teams can’t score against a good side except by luck, but there is a fair amount of luck in the game so you have to be able to score a couple of goals.

The knock-out stage is quite different. Here your first priority is to be able to prevent the good attacking sides that have made it through this far from scoring. At this stage a loss is fatal, and most coaches would rather risk going out on penalties than risk attacking too much during the game and conceding goals.

A corollary of this is that the longer the Italians stay in the tournament, the more chance they have of winning.

8 thoughts on “World Cup For Dummies

  1. …and a corollary of that is that if the Italians manage to stay in the tournament until the final, their chances of winning are at their highest 😉

  2. oddly enough, I find your post starts with a poor general description of soccer/football, though I suppose it does describe the version played in the World Cup. That is to say, “Twenty-two guys kick a ball around for an hour and a half, they fall over a lot, and the game often ends without anyone scoring” omits the fact that the players of the game might be female.

    As someone who played the game competitively for years and is quite familiar with the tactics, I would say the television coverage is actually quite good at providing enough information to follow the action on the field, most of the time. And replays fill in the gaps.

    I do prefer watching basketball on TV, because the smaller court makes it easier for the camera operators to provide a comprehensive picture. But they do a pretty good job for the World Cup, too, so far as I’ve seen.

    1. Yeah, the whole thing about soccer being a game for girls is pretty much limited to the USA as far as I can see. You do get women’s soccer in the UK now, but media coverage is very limited and pretty much confined to Sky.

      Talking of cultural differences, my California friends tend to use “guys” to mean people of all genders, and I have picked it up from them. That gets me into trouble with people from elsewhere. In this case, however, I was thinking of the World Cup, which is very much a male event.

      As to the TV coverage, the lads in the studio (Gabby Logan having been dispatched to South Africa to do touchy-feely reporting) do a pretty good job of analysis. There was a great piece last night illustrating how the Paraguay team were making no effort to attack Italy, concentrating instead on ball retention. But I still find it difficult to follow tactics in play. Cricket and Baseball are hugely enhanced by watching on TV, and you get a lot in rugby, but soccer, NFL, Aussie Rules — I suspect any sport in which the forward pass is a major attacking weapon — are always making a choice between following the ball and allowing the viewer to see the whole pitch to get a feel of the tactics.

      1. I’m pretty sure the use of “guys” for any gender extends beyond California. OTOH, I think only us natives of California would ever use the informal constructions which can result in addressing a woman as “dude”.

        As for the broad description of soccer football that game with the black-and-white ball, my first thought is that also works pretty well as a description of NFL football for people in the US who don’t care for it. (Except for the part about not scoring much, because most of these people are baseball fans.)

  3. Ah, but you forgot our dazzling attacking game in the 1982 campaign: 3-2 Brazil, 2-0 Poland, 3-1 West Germany…
    Not to mention that the WC 2006 final was the first time we won on penalties in a major competition since, well EVER.

  4. The whole thing would be SO much more interesting if the participants were to be equipped in the style of the Ancient Gladiatorial Games and the wimpish modern concern over injuries to players dispensed with ..

    I understand that there were female gladiators – just as there are Modern Female Professional Football players – but I think that they were probably regarded as being mere ‘Novelty Acts ‘ and so some things havent changed ..

    ” The Larinum decree under Tiberius banned senators’ daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters, and “any female whose husband or father or grandfather, whether paternal or maternal or brother had ever possessed the right of sitting in the seats reserved for the equites” from training or making paid appearances as gladiators, implying though not confirming that some females did already appear as gladiators.[1] Their first attested appearance is under Nero, at the games organised by Patrobius for Tiridates I of Armenia[2] There is also a reference in Petronius’s Satyricon – possibly based on a factual show – to a female essediarius, or one who fought from a Celtic style chariot.[3][4]

    The Emperor Domitian liked to stage torchlit fights between dwarves and women, according to Suetonius in The Twelve Caesars. “

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