The Tournament pt 2 - The Favourites

It’s no big news that Spain and Brazil are clear favourites for the World Cup. I would even go so far as to say that no other team has a chance of winning the title, with the possible exception of Italy, but even then it’s only out of respect for them as the current Champions. So many things are pointing in the favour of Spain and Brazil, so the real question is which team will have the edge.

Brazil’s fast paced, attacking style will mean they will no doubt rack up the scores against the average teams, but the challenge to Brazil always comes against the more defensive minded of the European Heavyweights. They faded limply against France four years ago. However this is a team that Dunga has built for these type of tactical, attritional battles. People have bemoaned the lack of flair, and it’s true that this Brazil team may not be scoring 3 or 4 goals on a regular basis. But this team will still win those games. Where they hold the advantage will be later on in the tournament. The team does still have its fair quota of attacking brilliance, but they play in a much more European style. Less Samba.

The defence for Brazil is looking pretty strong this time. Juan has been quietly excellent for Roma for about 2 years now. Has such great defensive ability that he sometimes made Mexes look good. Lucio is another superb defender, and a great ball player too. The same could be said of Maicon, a more physically imposing and defensively instinctive full back than we are used to seeing. Gilberto will also basically play as a stationary wall about 5 feet in front of the defence.

Melo is a very un-Brazilian player, again very defensive and not much of a ball player. Is trying to model his game on Emerson, and not really succeeding…yet. That’s a hell of a lot of good defensive players already. This team is built primarily to not concede goals. They are also blessed with 2 great keepers. In the recent past, Brazil teams have been built from the top down i.e Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and then whoever else. Even the inclusion of Elano as a playmaker/point guard is a nod to caution and pragmatism.

The biggest statement is the omission of Ronaldinho. He’s had a decent season, and you know he would produce a few magic moments if he was picked, but it’s a clear message from Dunga. These clear statements of Dunga are part of why he may not be the right man for the Brazil job. He has made the team all about his philosophy and his personality rather than that of Brazil. The Brazilian coach should be a background character. The team will pick itself, play itself, and win itself. Dunga will argue that they won that way in ’94, but then they had Romario and Bebeto. Now they have Luis Fabiano, Grafite, Nilmar and Baptista.

In ’94 Brazil, after failing miserably with their Samba style for 20-odd years, went for a different strategy. They played with midfield cloggers like Mauro Silva and Mazinho. But they won that WC because of the brilliance of Romario, and the ultimate 2nd Striker Bebeto. They certainly won’t be able rely on the brilliance of their strikers this time, because Pato and Neymar have been left behind, and all they have up front are Luis Fabiano, Grafite, Nilmar and Baptista. None of those players are ones I see setting this tournament on fire. Fabiano is a good player, always has been, but his best years are behind him and he is not genuinely world class. So the burden will fall onto Kaka and primarily (for goals) onto Robinho.

Strikers scoring won’t be a problem for Spain. In David Villa they have a player who is making scoring over a goal every 2 games at the highest level very easy. As far as I can tell, he appears to have completely mastered the art of goalscoring. With the service he will be getting from all areas of the midfield, he won’t fail to score at least 4 goals. This fact alone will probably get Spain to the final. The only slight weakness in the Spain line up is left back, and also that Puyol will get found out a couple of times. But they will ride that out pretty easily.

Fabregas will probably play ahead of Torres, but either way it gives Spain flexibility to switch from 4-4-2 to 4-5-1 with devastating effect. They have great players in all levels of the midfield too. They managed to win the Euros without ever having to get out of 3rd gear. They have a fairly easy group. The one thing against them is history. Spain have never won the WC, and there is the eternal taboo – no European team has ever won it outside Europe. Spain are probably better placed to break this curse than any European team previously. Despite history being against them, I make them favourites ahead of Brazil. Del Bosque is the perfect coach for this team, willing to play the background and let the players take centre stage.

The only other team that stand a chance of winning is Italy. The team is very nondescript, but, as it was 4 years ago, it’s not about the team. It’s about Lippi. In the last WC, you saw with Italy and England the 2 polar opposites of how to mould a team. England was based around the cult of the superstar player, Italy around the cult of the manager. It’s arguably been taken a step further this time with the omission of Totti.

I’m fairly certain Lippi will believe that the squad he is taking this time is actually stronger than 4 years ago. There are a lot of unrecognisable names. But the team is built around collective strength. 4 years ago they were characterized by the likes of Perotta and Iaquinta – hard working, skilful, yet totally unglamorous players. They will play by the same theory this time. They will follow Lippi’s instructions, work hard for each other, and might once again surprise a few people. The fact they are totally unheralded will play right into Lippi’s hands. This team is the footballing equivalent of a ninja assassin – silent, faceless, but brutally efficient.

Would be nice if Capello can achieve the same effect for England.


by guest-blogger Chrisman