Your 5 a week – Things we have learned from the pre-world cup friendlies


Costa had a frustrating day against El Salvador

1. It looks like another drab World Cup

Again it looks like in a lot of games despite being friendlies teams have been reactive, which is obviously reflective of the fact that teams want to practice the system they want to use in the tournament. Hence this will lead to another world cup where games containing more than 3 goals will be rarity. Similar to 2010, where it was ultimately epitomized in the final with a stagnant 0-0 until right at the death of extra time. (Although the games Uruguay played seemed to be the exception especially in the final stages). The teams that have bucked the trend and tried to press and play attacking football (Chile springs to mind) may have some success in the group but any further progress seems doubtful. The biggest team’s in the competition will look to either control or react to the game like the favourites Spain have done in their friendlies (only 2-0 v El Salvador) and Brazil who only managed to beat Panama in a slow 1-0. Even the other favourites Germany’s 6-1 victory was a tight and close game up in till 60th minute, when the opposition collapsed. Then again they may be conserving it all, until the finals.

2. England can’t just paper over the cracks and hope all is dandy

England’s inability to beat Ecuador and Honduras, teams they’re comfortably above in the FIFA rankings chart, illustrates the problems with the English national team. Despite the fact they may only be friendlies and players are being rotated, if it’s a sign of things to come in sub-tropical conditions against opposition more comfortable with them, then England may only reach the stage that many expected when they saw the draw. It’s important not to forget they did comfortably beat Peru 3-0, even though the goals came from woeful defending against a side missing nearly of its top players. In these games England have gone with ‘4-2-3-1’, despite lacking any natural holders. Looking at anything other than the back four and the formation and tactics does not seem to resonate on the pitch as well on paper.

The England match being suspended by lightening was probably the most interesting thing to happen in the Honduras match

The Miami lightning provided the most entertainment for the England – Honduras game

For most of these games it’s been a 4-1-5 situation, and there’s a very obvious lack of spatial awareness of a lot of the players including a woeful lack of movement. Which shows why most of their goals have come from defensive mistakes rather than neat passing play. This is true of the whole midfield, and is even more of the case when Rooney has played. The two ‘holding’ midfielder roles has been given to either Gerrard or Lampard because of their experience, in spite of the fact that neither of them look comfortable there. Also they will play alongside Henderson and Wilshire, which again are players who don’t like to defend and a lot of the time show tactical indiscipline.  Lallana, Sterling and Barkley all have the potential to offer something different but it’s unlikely they will ever be picked together. The pressure to pick Rooney has been too great on Hodgson and it seems like he will probably start, despite again him playing not up to standard in any of the friendlies and more just proving the case he’s one of the most tactically inept players for his technical qualities. Again it looks like this England team will suffer from them the same fallacies as before and try get the players into a system that doesn’t fit them rather than building a system which suits its players. Just putting 4-2-3-1 down on paper doesn’t necessarily mean that the team can suddenly pass a ball under pressure. In the months running up the world cup, fans in England have begun to go with the sentiment that because there is no ‘pressure’ or ‘expectation’ on this England side they will do well. Ironically this does the opposite and has made commentators and fans alike expect more from this team which it doesn’t look like it can give.

3. Minnows of the tournament should be given more respect

Out of the few friendlies that the supposed “whipping boys” of the groups played, most of them had good showings. Which means they may cause an upset to any of the teams thinking they can walk the group stage and history shows this can very well be the case. Australia, who sit rather worryingly in this year’s group of death, have changed style to a more possession based under Postecoglou. Their recent games, bar a 1-1 draw with South Africa, have proven that there are better side than their ranking suggests and they were unlucky not two get anything out of the other games. It will still, however, be incredibly tough for them to get anything. Iran is another side that has been written off, but in qualifying they provided a dogged defence and will look to frustrate the other teams and will bring a question of the firepower of the other teams, exactly how they did to Montenegro in 0-0 draw in one of the friendly’s. They will be looking to make sure Messi keeps up his world cup goal scoring form. A team like Nigeria without any quality playmakers you feel will be another team who may struggle. They will finally try and exploit the nerves of the Bosnians, being their final game of the group.

England fans will remember how Algeria frustrated them causing Rooney's outburst. Which ultimately changed the complexity of the next round for England

England fans will remember Rooney’s outburst at the hands of a frustrating Algeria side in 2010. It ultimately changed the complexity of the next round as well

Group H’s Algeria is also perhaps a better team than given credit for, Feghouli provides quality linkage play for the rest of his team and they also boast wingers who have the ability to whip in good balls for rugged and very good in the air Silami up front and the rest of the team will sit back and provide a dogged defence. They won both of their games against Armenia and Romania in this manner and will hope to offer the same against some of the better teams. The key point about these teams although they will inevitably not get out of the group, they could be taken for granted, spring a surprise and change the outcome for the rest of the members of the group, they are better than what has been perceived and their FIFA rankings would suggest.

4. Brazil’s anger with the world cup has spread

The confederations cup last year founded a lot of the discontent with this tournament and many of the protest movements were born. However it was masked by a Brazil victory and the fans in the stadiums never transferred this anger to the stadium and to the team. Over the last year, as more and more of the worlds gazed upon Brazil, the frustration has begun to grow. Not helped by the overreaction by the authorities, with well documented cases of police brutality.  The original 50/50 divide of opinion about the world cup being staged in Brazil, has now converted to an overwhelming majority. Their voice is growing and after the 1-0 victory over Serbia last week, it has reached the place where FIFA and their Brazilian cronies didn’t want it too. The stadiums. The end of the first half and the end of the game was followed by deafening boo’s. A lot of the Brazilian people can’t just be manipulated by the spectacle of football any more and if it’s a sign for the rest of the tournament, Brazil as a football nation might not reach the heights they aspire to. It may be finally realized by the authorities that there is more to Brazilian people than just football.

5. There are too many of them

The friendlies have brought about some very unfortunate injuries to important players to a lot of major teams, including Reus for Germany or Montolivo for Italy who are both  keys players and starters for their respective teams and they aren’t the only ones who have unfortunately missed out on the world cup.

Reus's injury is a big blow for Germany. Could it been avoided?

Reus’s injury is a big blow for Germany. Could it have been avoided?


Of course, this could have happened at any time, which includes training (England fans will remember what happened in 2010, when training before a tournament, involving a certain Emile Heskey ). It seems however for a lot of teas having 3-4 friendly’s seems a lot on players who have to endure at least 3 games over 2 weeks at the height of their ability and against world class opponents. They may be no way around this for a lot of teams however and they need to try and practice formations and systems with players at their disposal. International managers want to find the right balance between risking injury but still being able to form a system and find the right players.   Perhaps playing teams (unlike Honduras for example) who would be not so hasty in the tackle and keen to prove themselves against stronger opponents.




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