Cracking goals, gritty underdogs, late equalizers and underperforming favorites - this World Cup has seen it all. In a dramatic opening week, Mexico stunned world champion Germany; Argentina got lost in the Iceland defense and Brazil could not hold on to a lead against Switzerland. France and Uruguay barely got away with three points. Les Bleus, in particular, would be in real trouble if there were no video assistant referee. These results, however, make two things clear - firstly, the chaotic football in the World Cup only increases the importance of individual talents and secondly, small teams are now able to stop talented players with disciplined defensive strategies.
Take Iceland for example, which faced one of the most dangerous forward lines in contemporary football, simply shifted its positions collectively and forced Argentina to play in narrow spaces. It did not press the opponent in the front but waited until Argentina arrived in its half. Although it conceded the first goal, Iceland's defensive discipline did not allow Argentina to widen the gap, and with some luck, the team found an equalizer. The crucial point here is Argentina relied heavily on the individual talents of Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero and Angel Di Maria, but when their efficiency dropped to nothing when Iceland pressed on these players collectively.
This explains how all the other relatively weaker teams have performed well against the favorites. Neither played dominantly or aesthetically, but they did one thing very well: Collective defense. An individualistic attack is bound to lose against the collective defense. Even though there might be great individual moments like Philippe Coutinho's goal against Switzerland, moments like that are not enough to bring constant success.
However, this brings us again the meaning and the importance of the World Cup and how it should be played. Last week I argued that the World Cup should be aesthetically beautiful since there are no financial pressures on the teams. Nevertheless, weaker teams apparently do not want to try that option since their opponents are heavily armed in terms of individual talents. In that case, strong teams should also invest in collective attacks, which can be aesthetically beautiful as proven by teams like Barcelona and Manchester City.
If individual talents are not allowed to operate beautifully in chaos, then coaches must create collective strategies to create enough time and space. Otherwise, the favorites of the tournament will continue to have a difficult time.
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