The World Cup is over, and now that we’ve had time to reflect, what have we learned that we can take away from one of the best tournaments in recent memory?
Is there anything that Ireland can take away from this World Cup, having not even taken part? Are there lessons to be learned for other nations, and for FIFA themselves, despite a fairly peaceful tournament with less focus on the protests that marred the Confederations Cup? The Man Cave ponders a few of these issues and looks at five things that we can take away from Brazil 2014, a tournament that will live long in the memory.
Ireland have a long way to go
Despite no team really shining, and Eamon Dunphy insisting that the Brazil team were terrible, the likelihood is that Ireland wouldn’t have made any impact on the World Cup at all. There’s a definite need for us to improve on the style of football that we play, and although we saw ‘smaller’ teams manage to make it past tough opposition and out of groups where they were given no chance, the likelihood is that had Ireland made the cut, we would have been sent packing fairly early. Costa Rica showed flashes of quality football when they attacked, and looked to move the ball quickly, similarly Mexico also had their fair share of ball-playing midfielders and a centre-back in Rafa Marquez who comes striding out of defence with the ball. Algeria and Greece pushed their opposition in the knockout stages, but mainly through great organisation and having the odd player who could take on a defender and beat him. In other words, they all played to their strengths, and mostly on the front foot.
The best comparison for us is perhaps the United States team, who are a side on the up and up, with plenty of young talent coming through, like DeAndre Yedlin. Yedlin is an athlete who might otherwise have ended up in one of the other major sports in the US, but his choice of soccer proves the game’s growth over there. Perhaps the opposite might be happening here with the more recent successes of rugby and the constant presence of GAA, and there are few players who look to be breaking their way into top-level teams who could make a real difference for Ireland. Germany’s ideal was one based around a team, and the ability and technique to move the ball. Irish players clearly do have that, and we all remember that night in Paris, but it’s not something the national side tends not to show, rather they opt for conservative tactics. Teams that played that way were punished, and hopefully that will change for us too, but probably not before 2016.
Look to Europe
The last three world cups have now been won by continental European teams (Italy, Spain and Germany) and all of the players involved in the final (more or less) play in the top European leagues. While many are based in England, Ireland seems to exclusively send players to learn their trade there, and perhaps looking to Europe and seeing if our younger players can get experience abroad or spend time on loan in other leagues around the continent rather than slogging it out at Burton Albion for a few months is the way to go.
Some players can manage to break through, but they’ll have to be vastly superior to their English team-mates to do so, and that will mean having some experience or skills that they don’t. If we rely so heavily on the English system, then we will end up with a similar but watered-down version of their set-up, which clearly doesn't work.
Brazil have some changes to make
The name in world football that has long been synonymous with the beautiful game is Brazil, but recently they have looked at creating more powerful players who can cover the distance in midfield. We hesitate to call them cloggers, but the days of Brazil producing creative midfielders with a bit of flair look to be long gone.
Paulinho, Fernandinho, Luiz Gustavo, Ramires and Willian; many of these players are box to box and are there to slow down opposition play in the midfield. When that doesn’t work out, as against Germany, then they seem to have no other options. Coutinho, a creative player, was left at home, along with Ronaldinho and Kaka (more fanciful picks) and their dependence on Neymar was shocking. In a way, Neymar slipped through the cracks of a system designed not to create players like him, or rather he was skillful enough to get through them, and they worship him for it. The concentration on powerful, strong, athletic players is all well and good, but you can build those traits, for the large part. While they don’t need to do a complete root and branch revamp, Brazil will look at how they got to this point with the team they have, and it may be a long road ahead for them to Russia 2018.
Concussions are becoming a real problem
Uruguay’s Álvaro Perreira, Javier Mascherano of Argentina and German midfielder Christoph Kramer all suffered what looked to be a concussion on the field, and played on afterwards. Mascherano collapsed, Perreira looked to be totally dazed, and Kramer claims he doesn’t remember the entire first half of the World Cup final, not to mention that he clearly had no idea where he was when he had to be helped off the field.
The game is played at such a pace that these injuries are becoming more frequent, and they need to be treated with the same level of seriousness that they are in rugby and the NFL. High-speed and high-impact collisions have long term implications, and it’s no longer an acceptable attitude to admire someone’s bravery for wanting to play on with a head injury.
The idea of a winter World Cup might not be so bad after all
We saw Spain look absolutely exhausted and out of form from day one, something that they can probably thank their federation for, as they sent them around the world on a Harlem Globetrotters-style tour since winning three titles on the bounce. Messi was clearly not fit, Agüero and Di María weren’t either, and by the time final rolled round, the conditions had taken their toll too. There’s no doubting that if we’d seen those three together against Germany, it would have been an even greater test, and possibly a better game.
While everything else about the Qatar bid seems to have been completely wrong, the idea of a World Cup that takes place in winter, when players haven’t yet had a tough run in to the league final, a grueling season in the Champions League or still have something left in their legs to give would make for a greater spectacle. This one started with a bang but faded slightly, and after playing for the last ten months straight up to three times a week, it’s hard not to think that tiredness played its part.
Oh, and finally...
FIFA are still a bunch of jerks, and John Oliver agrees.