Listing catch-all formations runs the risk of disengaging the context in which they were used.
Nevertheless, this is generally more applicable to the club game, but international managers must foist an unconditional style upon their sides.
Infrequent contact and matches mean training camps focus upon reacclimatising to the coach’s methods: there’s just too little time before games to adequately prepare new, finicky masterplans.
The World Cup, where opponents are often discovered several days before the encounter itself, illustrates the difference between the international and club game.
Based on World Cup 2010, I’ve captured the essence of each national team’s current tactics and formation. Here are my attempts to encapsulate the findings in browser-friendly pen profiles.
Algeria Rabah Saâdane’s North Africans played 3-4-2-1. The tactics involved cynical melina among a deep defence, before long-diagonals, often overhit, to Belhadj and Ziani. Algeria’s aggressive midfield tirelessly sought to disrupt play in front of the defence.
Chaouchi//Bougherra, Halliche, Yahia//Kadir, Yebda, Lacen, Belhadj//Matmour, Ziani//Djebbour
Argentina Diego Maradona generally used a 4-1-3-2 formation. Mascherano safeguarded the spread out centre-backs, while Maxi and Di Maria either added width, or acted as a foil for Messi. Tevez endeavoured all over, but Higuain stayed at centre-forward.
Romero//Otamendi, Demichelis, Samuel, Heinze//Mascherano//Maxi, Messi, Di María//Higuain, Tévez
Australia Pim Verbeek abided by his 4-4-1-1 system. His brutal Oceanic side, content to play without the ball, thrust their physicality all over the pitch. Full-back crosses featured heavily, and having midfielders as forwards made 4-6-0 feasible at times.
Schwarzer//Wilkshire, Neill, Moore, Chipperfield//Emerton, Culina, Valeri, Bresciano//Cahill//Kennedy
Brazil Dunga’s Seleccao stuck to a 4-2-3-1. Interchangeability was key to this pragmatic outfit, with full-backs missiled upfield, the ‘2’ plugging any gaps, Kaká fluctuating between the opposition’s banks, and Robinho tucked in as a second striker.
César//Maicon, Lúcio, Juan, Bastos//Silva, Melo//Elano, Kaká, Robinho//Fabiano
Cameroon Paul Le Guen’s 4-3-3 didn’t enhance a talented, athletic squad. Wave-breakers harangued behind a fluid striking-trio, while the Cameroonian full-backs paraded in attacking areas. Occasional triangle passing moves and Geremi’s delivery were key.
Souleymanou//Geremi, N’Koulou, Bassong, Assou-Ekotto//Makoun, Song, Enoh//Eto’o, Webó, Choupo-Moting
Chile Marcelo Bielsa’s 2-3-2-3 enthralled the watching world; a swashbuckling high-octane style complemented by 10 capable ball-users. First-time team-triangles wowed, and Sanchez’s mesmerising dribbles were fed by the vision of Fernandez.
Bravo//Medel, Ponce//Isla, Carmona, Vidal//Fernández, Millar//Sánchez, Valdivia, Beausejour
Denmark Morten Olsen’s Danes marched out in a guarded 4-1-4-1. The midfield played off/from Bendtner, but Jorgensen could drop back as a second defensive midfielder. Agger, from the back, was all bullet free-kicks and long-diagonals to Rommedahl.
Sørensen//Jacoben, Kjær, Agger, S Poulsen//C Poulsen//Rommedahl, Jørgensen, Tomasson, Enevoldsen//Bendtner
England Fabio Capello played a hybrid version of 4-4-2, with Barry and Rooney often dropping back as ‘1’s. The full-backs were too subdued, but Milner made width on the right. Lampard/Gerrard found no space centrally. Passing moves? Nope, not here.
James//Johnson, Carragher, Terry, A Cole//Barry//Milner, Lampard, Gerrard//Rooney//Defoe
France Raymond Domenech’s 4-1-4-1 wasn’t the reason why France were a laughing stock. Diaby collected deeper than the trequartista Gourcuff stood. Govou and Anelka switched positions often, albeit too slowly. Full-back support was irregular.
Lloris//Sagna, Abidal, Gallas, Evra//Toulalan//Govou, Diaby, Gourcuff, Ribéry//Anelka
Germany Jogi Löw’s 4-1-1-3-1 won the team many fans. Schweinsteiger pulled the strings, Khedira made canny ghosts. Further up the pitch, Klose’s movement was ace, while Lahm, Müller, and Podolski were versatile threats. Germany mainly built from the back.
Neuer//Lahm, Mertesacker, A Friedrich, J Boateng//Schweinsteiger//Khedira//Müller, Özil, Podolski//Klose
Ghana Milovan Rajevac’s side evolved into a 4-1-4-1. The midfield ‘4’ contained the inventive Asamoah, plus willing ball-carriers who complemented the sprightly Gyan. The full-backs balanced between coming and staying, while Annan tidied things up.
Kingson//Paintsil, John Mensah, Vorsah, Sarpei//Inkoom, K Asamoah, KP Boateng, Ayew//Gyan
Greece Otto Rehhagel’s 3-4-2-1 looked awful. Two-sided width was always late in coming, and over-reliance on past-it playmaker Karagounis was painful. Gekas was quiet, though generally isolated.
Tzorvas//Sokratis, Papadopoulos, Kyrgiakos//Vyntra, Tziolis, Katsouranis, Torosidis//Salpingidis, Karagounis//Gekas
Honduras Reinaldo Rueda’s limited team of niggly foulers tried hard in a 4-1-4-1. Unused to possession, passing sequences were hard to concoct at pace. Thus, attacks involved someone running the ball into the other half.
Valladares//Mendoza, Chávez, Figueroa, Izaguirre//W Palacios//Álvarez, Martínez, Guevarra, Núñez//Suazo
Italy Marcello Lippi stuck mainly to a 4-1-3-1-1. Gilardino was a loner; any support he received was oddly lop-sided. Montolivo acted as regista, the full-backs had to – but couldn’t – make width. Lippi’s squad seemed puzzled by the coach’s system and tactics.
Marchetti//Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Chiellini, Criscito//De Rossi//Pepe, Montolivo, Marchisio//Iaquinta//Gilardino
Ivory Coast Sven-Göran Eriksson bored us with his 4-3-2-1. Truth be told, it was little more than a cynical 4-5-1. But Kalou and Gervinho made the wings a threat, and with a quality centre forward to feed, the full-backs ensured that crossing was de facto.
Barry//Demel, K Touré, Zokora, Tiéné//Eboué, Y Touré, Tioté//Dindane, Kalou//Drogba
Japan Takeshi Okada’s 4-1-4-1 altered less than his frown. Abe occasionally made it a five-man-defence, but the other midfielders had attacking attributes. Japan maintained a death-defying tempo throughout, and their towering centre-backs were flawless.
Kawashima//Komano, Nakazawa, Tulio Tanaka, Nagatomo//Abe//Matsui, Hasebe, Endo, Okubo//Honda
Korea DPR Kim Jong-Hun’s 5-3-1-1 had a comedic air to it. But as Brazil will testify, a full-back would on occasion zoom upfield unnoticed and cause no end of problems. The Greedy Jong TS was often isolated, but Hong YJ displayed trequartista qualities.
Ri MG//Cha JH, Pak CJ, Ri JI, Ri KC, Ji YN//Mun IG, Pak NC, An YH//Hong YJ//Jong TS
Korea Republic Huh Jung-Moo stayed true to 4-4-1-1. Yeom and Park JS, the catalyst, took turns as support-striker. Park CY made clever darts, while shots from a bombing right back were a regular feature of South Korea’s tactical plans.
Jung SR//Cha, Cho, Lee JS, Lee YP//Lee CY, Kim JW, Ki, Yeom//Park JS//Park CY
Mexico Javier Aguirre incepted a fun 2-1-4-3. Dos Santos was talismanic, and his jinxes had bums off seats. The high and wide duo of Salcido and Osorio also shuttled back to defend. Marquez acted as the side’s shield-cum-polestar.
Pérez//Rodríguez, Moreno//Márquez//Osorio, Juarez, Torrado, Juárez//dos Santos, Vela//Franco
Netherlands Bert van Marwijk, Mr 4-2-3-1. A sodomising ‘2’, the frantic ‘3’, a cautious ‘4’, and then van Persie, the ringleader up top. He and Kuyt, natural strikers, carved gaps for the probes of Sneijder and Robben. Holland always built from the back.
Stekelenburg//van der Wiel, Heitinga, Mathijsen, van Bronckhorst//van Bommel, de Jong//Robben, Sneijder, Kuyt//van Persie
New Zealand Ricki Herbert chose the same 11 players for every game in his 3-4-3. His strikers aggressively laboured over the scraps. Bertos and Lochhead stuck to the chalk and crossed well, Elliott spotting and fuelling them.
Paston//Reid, Nelsen, Smith//Bertos, Vicelich, Elliott, Lochhead//Killen, Fallon, Smeltz
Nigeria Lars Lagerbäck adhered to a 4-3-2-1. An unmannerly trio shielded the deep defence, but Haruna sometimes showed creativity. The ‘2-1’, playing off Yakubu, weren’t that great tactical discipline-wise. Taiwo’s set-pieces were key.
Enyeama//Odiah, Yobo, Shittu, Taiwo//Kaita, Etuhu, Haruna//Odemwingie, Uche//Yakubu
Paraguay Gerardo Martino deployed a 4-4-2. The full-backs provided width, as the wide midfielders crawled inside ahead of a deep central duo. Paraguay constantly made long-diagonals, and the strikers were always moving.
Villar//Bonet, da Silva, Alcacraz, Morel//Vera, Cáceres, Riveros, Valdez//Barrios, Santa Cruz
Portugal Carlos Queiroz utilised a stringent 4-1-4-1. Portugal counter-attacked; overlapping full-backs crossing for Ronaldo/Almeida, or disguising it to Meireles on the D. Off-ball, a corridor-cramping 4-5-isolated 1 looked to kill the opposition’s fun.
Eduardo//Costa, Carvalho, Alves, Coentrão//Pepe//Simão, Tiago, Meireles, Almeida//Ronaldo
Serbia Raddy Antic also did 4-1-4-1. Stanković was the guarded quarterback, but Serbia overworked the right channel. Krasić dribbled; Jovanović veered in up front; midfielders hassled; Žigić held the ball or glanced it on for ghosters.
Stojković//Ivanović, Vidić, Luković, Obradović//Stanković//Krasić, Kuzmanović, Ninković, Jovanović//Žigić
Slovakia Vladimir Weiss tinkered, but 4-1-2-2-1 encapsulated Slovakia. Thuggish Štrba screened a subdued back-four, while Hamsik orchestrated. The wingers ran at their markers, or darted to the space made by a dropping forward.
Mucha//Pekarík, Škrtel, Saláta, Ďurica//Štrba//Kucka, Hamšík//Weiss, Jendrišek//Vittek
Slovenia Matjaž Kek’s 4-4-1-1 felt traditional. Slovenia were compact and energetic, but capable of the unpredictable via inside-right Birsa. His set-pieces were the primary source of attack. Koren directed things from open-play.
Handanovič//Brečko, Šuler, Cesar, Jokić//Birsa, Radosavljevič, Koren, Kirm//Ljubijankič//Novakovič
South Africa Carlos Alberto Parreira’s side played 4-2-3-1. The ‘2’ were cautious, but the full-backs would advance. Pienaar had a free-role across the ‘3’, but their main tactic involved feeding, or feeding off, Mphela.
Khune//Gaxa, Mokoena, Khumalo, Masilela//Dikgacoi, Letsholonyane//Modise, Pienaar, Tshabalala//Mphela
Spain Vicente del Bosque confidently plumped for a 2-4-3-1. Ramos made width on the right, while further up, Villa offered it on the left. Ultimately, all players gravitated centrally for the side’s famous tiki-taka.
Casillas//Piqué, Puyol//Ramos, Busquets, Alonso, Capdevila//Iniesta, Xavi, Villa//Torres
Switzerland Ottmar Hitzfeld’s 4-4-1-1 was very negative. A compressed, narrow midfield bolstered a resolute defence. Target-man N’Kufo was aided by the chalk-veering presence of Derdyiok. Inler held the wand, Huggel hustled.
Benaglio//Lichtsteiner, von Bergen, Grichting, Ziegler//Barnetta, Huggel, Inler, Fernandes//Derdyiok//N’Kufo
United States Bob Bradley favoured a 4-2-2-2. A forceful, defensive-minded ‘2’ let Dempsey and Donovan veer in and instigate. The forwards were there to run, hold, head and lay on others. The defensive shape was sloppy.
Howard//Cherundolo, DeMerit, Bocanegra, Bornstein//Bradley, Clark//Donovan, Dempsey//Altidore, Findley
Uruguay Oscar Tabárez liked the festive 4-3-2-1. Midfield workers and a last-shoulder striker ensured the team stayed built around Forlán. He operated as trequartista in a counter-attacking side with exciting full-backs.
Muslera//M Pereira, Lugano, Godín, Fucile//Pérez, Arévalo, A Pereira//Cavani, Forlán//Suárez