One of the major talking points of the 2014 world cup has been the poor performance of a large contingent of the European heavy weights like Italy, Spain and England – all previous winners. Other less fancied European sides like Bosnia, Russia, Portugal and Croatia also failed to make it past the group stage in Brazil. Three of the four Euro 2012 semi-finalists were eliminated in the World cup Group stage.
Delving further into recent tournaments, what just happened in Brasil is not a big surprise. At the 2010 World cup in South Africa we had 13 European sides again and only 6 teams made it through to the last 16. Going a little further back we can see almost similar figures: 10 European Nations made it through to the Round of 16 at the 2006 world cup in Germany but that was held on European soil, and 9 teams made it through in Korea/Japan.
So what happened to the European sides? Was it the Weather, the location or is there a change in balance in football?
A disaster that signalled the end of the most successful team in Spanish football history. In my earlier article I raised doubts about how the Spanish side could find it hard to string one too many passes together in the heat in Brazil and about how other teams wont emulate this philosophy in Brazil.
It was a very poor outing by the Spanish side by all accounts and a lot of players failed to show up, the Diego Costa experiment certainly failed woefully. Spain became world champions by playing 6 midfielders (one false9) and keeping it compact in the middle, they tried to improve on this by playing a target man up front to finish their string of passes. Diego Costa looked like a forlorn figure up front as he was alien to this team and the system of passing it around.
Another stick that can be used to beat Vincente Del-Bosque is the fact that he kept his faith in some out of form players and dropped title winners like Navas, Negredo and Llorente. Even though Negredo had a dip in form at the turn of the year he scored more than Torres and The Veteran Villa.
After their first game against England where they secured 3 points, everything looked good in the Italian camp, Prandelli drilled his Italian side to keep the ball in the middle of the park and attack instead of the normal reliance on defending. We have known Italy for this, and it worked well against England with Mario Balotelli netting the winner in an end to end game. Their loss to Costa Rica came as a surprise to all and they were toothless up front in this match. Prandelli started with 5 midfielders to show his intention of frustrating the Costa Ricans in the middle of the pitch but the well drilled Costa Ricans had answers to most of their questions with Mario balotelli missing a glorious chance to put Italy ahead. This gave the Costa Ricans more confidence and they saw the game through to the end.
The problem I noticed with the Italian side is the fact that they couldn’t play the way they did to qualify on the big stage. Italy kept just 5 clean sheets on their way to Brazil with endless attacking display but decided to shrink into their shell a bit on the world stage. We noticed this when they tried to be cagey against Uruguay knowing a draw will send them through into the Round of 16; but this was not the case as Diego Godin broke many Italian hearts with his late header and Italy had only themselves to blame for a toothless(pun) performance.
The over reliance on Mario Balotelli to get the goals was a big problem too, as players like Ciro Immobile and Cassano didn’t turn up in Brazil. Ciro Immobile scored 22 goals in 33 appearances last season on his way to win the Capocannoniere (Serie A Golden Boot) and much was expected from him in Brazi,l but he failed to shine. The same can be said about playboy extraordinaire Antonio Cassano.
The English team failed woefully in Brazil by their standards. It was so bad that they failed to record a single victory in Brazil and scored only two goals. The only ppside to the poor performance in Brazil is that they played a young side that showed a lot of attacking intent but the results didn’t come their way.
They started the campaign with several arguments and opinions as to Wayne Rooney’s role in the squad. Even the manger seemed to be indecisive. He played Rooney on the left in the first match against Italy and even though he made the assist to the English goal it was a poor performance from the forward – as he failed to track back to help Leighton Baines and this gave the Italians an outlet which Antonio Candreva exploited well. in the second game against Uruguay, Rooney was deployed in the traditional Number 10 role and he had a better performance and scored.
England came to the world cup with a large contingent of the Liverpool players that just challenged for the Premier League title. Players like Sturridge, Henderson, Gerrard, Sterling and Johnson. However, they all failed to replicate their league form in Brazil.
Apart from Portugal, other teams like Bosnia, Russia and Croatia were not fancied but a group stage exit is still a poor performance. Portugal had a really tough group that included Germany, Ghana and the USA but you’ll expect a team parading 3 Champions League winners to do more against the United States.
They relied on their talisman and current World footballer of the year, but he failed to perform in Brazil after an exhausting season with Real Madrid. The midfield trio of Meireles(that beard), Moutinho and Veloso looked really good on paper but it didn’t work as Paulo Bento’s side lost woefully to Germany and couldn’t beat a country that calls the Beautiful Game, ‘Soccer’.
Bosnia on the other side lost a controversial game to Nigeria where a legitimate Edin Dzeko goal was ruled out by the referee, they are debutants and must learn a lot from this experience.
Those who have performed well (apart from Greece) France, Netherlands and Germany have done so by actively going out to win their matches, not look to protect themselves first and see if they can sneak a goal. They have made use of great offensive talents, played fast transition based football and, once ahead have looked to solidify their position by scoring more goals.
At this World Cup, the general theme is to attack and win, and those who were unable or unwilling to do so found themselves ousted.
There is still plenty to play for in Brazil, with four zones still offering challengers for the title. South American sides might be getting the praise for getting the most teams through, and CONCACAF sides have been exceptional to reach this stage of the competition.
European teams have never won in South America, but Netherlands, France and Germany will be eying up potential runs to the final.