Turkey U19 1-0 Germany U19

The first half formations.

Turkey qualified for the European U19 Championships at the expense of Germany after a confident and disciplined performance from the Anatolian side.

This was an all or nothing clash for both sides as they were locked on points having each thrashed the two other teams in their pool, Hungary and Macedonia. However, although the tie was being staged in Turkey (on what looked like a training ground pitch), Germany had the goal difference advantage, and therefore knew a draw here would be good enough to take them through to the eight-team European U19 Championships tournament in Romania next month (for which the hosts, Belgium, Serbia, Ireland, Greece, and the Czech Republic had already qualified.

Germany, coached by former Liverpool defender Christian Ziege, could count on the form of BVB man Moritz Leitner coming into this game – the diminutive 18-year-old midfielder boasted a goals to games ratio of four to two. Continue reading

Republic of Ireland 1-2 Norway

The formations that started the game

Norway continued their fine recent form by beating Ireland on a rainy Wednesday night in Dublin.

From the off, Ireland were moving well against a compact Norway side set out in three very flat banks (4-5-1). But although Ireland retained possession, and had passing options, the ball was stuck in harmless areas. Despite the Irish being set out in a 4-4-2, you could argue that they actually had four banks – the widemen pushing up higher than the very deep centre-midfielders.

Nevertheless, coach Giovanni Trappatoni will have been pleased with his attackers; Kevin Doyle, constantly dragging either Brede Hangeland or Henning Hauger out of position, and Shane Long always offering his colleagues run (either through the D, or down the left channel).

Norway were determined to play just as narrowly in attack as they were in defence. The tactic failed, however, because their players ended up on top of one another, and unsure of what to do, where to go and who was seizing the initiative.

The Irish were far more comfortable in possession, and relished the low tempo of a game where neither side did much pressing. Unsurprisingly, they took an early lead. John O’Shea stepped out with the ball after single-handedly breaking down a Norwegian attack, and slipped Shane Long clean through in the box. Continue reading

Turkey 3-2 Belgium

Turkey 3-2 Belgium, 07/09/10. Belgium's 4-2-3-1 was a very negative take on the system. Facing inside-out wingers, both Vertonghen and Simons could do little bar support the full-backs when Altintop or Turan stepped inside. Lukaku gave Belgium some presence on the right, and Fellaini flitted between centre-forward and centre-back.

A fiery, frenetic affair saw the Turkish national team prevail from yet another of the epic matches they habitually partake in. With two wins from two games, Turkey will push Germany all the way in the EURO 2012 qualification race.

Initially, I was left stunned by the Belgium line-up, as Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Daniel van Buyten and Thomas Vermaelen – all of whom play centre-back at club level – started.

Add to that list Timmy Simons, who can also play in defence, Anderlecht right-back Guillaume Gillet, plus Everton’s defensive screen Marouane Fellaini, and I was convinced coach Georges Leekens had lost his marbles.

However, his players amalgamated into a hybrid of 4-2-3-1 – one winger, a very high-standing forward, a stupendously mobile central attacker, a right-sided midfielder who acted as a third defensive-midfielder, and a deep and flat back-four.

Guus Hiddink was taking charge of his first competitive game on Turkish soil, and rightfully appeased a vociferous crowd by sending his team out to attack with infectious gusto. Continue reading

Five lesser known Hungarians

The formations and line-ups for the famous 1953 meeting at Wembley

Following May’s 3-0 defeat to Germany, Hungary terminated the contract of coach Erwin Koeman. The new man, Sándor Egervári, begans his tenure next week with an not particularly highly anticipated fixture against England at Wembley.

For next Wednesday’s fixture, the Dutchman’s successor has picked a squad containing stellar names, newbies and trusted veterans.

Akin to the lack of enthusiasm England’s media, public and managers are giving this tie in the build-up, Egervári has named a suitably unspectacular squad.

Fabio Capello’s players have one eye lingering on the imminent Premier League campaign, while Egervári picked his squad knowing that his nation’s U21 game against Bosnia is of greater importance.

Nevertheless, Football League fans will recognise the likes of Zoltán Gera, Ákos Buzsáky, Gábor Király, Márton Fülöp and Tamás Priskin, all of whom will feature at Wembley.

In order to bolster the casual fan’s knowledge of what other players lie in store for England,  allow me to introduce five players likely to cause problems to the 1966 world champions on Wembley’s woeful turf. Continue reading

Marko Pantelić

Pantelić's position in a typical 2009/10 Ajax XI.

It’s unlikely anyone has a passport bearing more wrinkles than the Serbian striker’s.

Cravings for a long-term deal went unfulfilled by cash-strapped Ajax and leave the veteran hunting what would be his 12th club.

Changing team doesn’t just involve moving city for Pantelić, as the 31-year-old tends to combine a change of scenery with a change of country.

His passport has also been stamped in exotic climes while on international duty – summons which have only arrived in great frequency recently.

Capped 34 times, Pantelić has scored for his country in the Czech Republic, Ireland, Algeria, and South Africa.

Goals have also been scored in European club competition; outfits from Albania, Croatia, Moldova, Romania, Russia and Slovenia the victims. Continue reading

Thirty-two tastes of tactics

Marcelo Bielsa, Chile coach at World Cup 2010

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. Continue reading

Introduction of Cavani a tactical masterstroke

Edinson Cavani

Diego Forlán is the poster boy for Uruguay’s successful campaign in the World Cup, and perhaps justifiably so. On the march to the second round, the former Manchester United striker has steered La Celeste to seven points, four goals, and none conceded.

Yet had coach Óscar Tabárez not implemented adjustments in the wake of that 0-0 with France, Uruguay would likely be on the plane home.

In that game, Uruguay looked empty down the right, and Patrice Evra attacked at will. With Ignacio González as trequartista, and Forlán and Luis Suárez high and horizontal, the South Americans floundered.

Realising his tactics were wrong (but saved from defeat by French incompetence), the former Milan manager identified and addressed the issue.

For the encounter with hosts South Africa, Tabárez included Edinson Cavani, the Palermo marksman, part of a partnership with Fabrizio Miccoli at club level, put out on the right of midfield. Continue reading

What to expect from Algeria

Algeria with the ball. They utilise the left flank mainly, with Nadir Belhadj offering width, and Ziani cutting inside

In the second game to be contested in Group C, Slovenia overcame the much-dismissed North Africans by a single goal. The match-deciding strike was late, and came courtesy of a goalkeeping blunder.

The goal was a cruel blow to one man in particular, as although Algerian ‘keeper Faouzi Chaouchi made a meal of holding on to Robert Koren’s tame strike, the 25-year-old stopper had looked distinguishably sturdy during the rest of the game.

The Slovenians went at him from set-pieces from the off – Boštjan Cesar attacked whip-ins with the air of Bruce Lee. One vertical punch aside, Chaouchi’s fisting was decisive from all Slovenia’s deliveries. Likewise, the rest of the Algerian side defended Slovenian set-plays with a steely discipline, and didn’t give their opponents an inch.

England and USA fans should note that Les Fennecs are as content off the ball as they are on it. Their goal kicks tend to be played short, though expect the occasional (central) punt. For the latter scenario, Karim Ziani shifts inside to flick the ball on.

England’s defence should also note that Rafik Djebbour works hard up top despite a paucity of service or numerical support. Continue reading

Playmaking defenders characterise the losers

Japan vs Cameroon

Despite neglecting to play a recognised striker against Cameroon, Japan still managed to score the game’s only goal. Their African opponents, on the other hand, started with with a striking-trident, but lacked an incision.

The trio of attacking midfielders instead utilised by Okada were wonderfully dynamic and fluid.

Japan’s tactics dithered little from first whistle to last. If anything, Keisuke Honda’s goal was incidental, but unsurprisingly, it resulted from a rare occasion of Japan’s attackers venturing into Cameroon’s box. Continue reading

Who does Löw call on to replace Ballack?

Michael Ballack's injury

Michael Ballack's injury

News broke a fortnight ago that Michael Ballack will miss the World Cup. Rather than just being shorn of a key individual, one who possesses crucial experience and talent, Ballack’s absence is also a blow to the coaching staff’s 4-2-3-1 system.

Bastian Schweinsteiger would have been flanked by the Chelsea man in that ‘2’; the pair supporting a creative and nippy trio of Lukas Podolski, Piotr Trochowski, and Mesut Özil. Now, however, the 33-year-old’s absence leaves Germany shorn of a partner for the aforementioned Schweinsteiger in the wavebreaking/spraying/covering berths.

Ballack thrived in an insurance role during Chelsea’s recent FA Cup final win against Portsmouth. Shielding the centre-backs or slotting in at left-back when Ashley Cole surged, Ballack did his job with all the assurance and class you’d expect from a world class veteran.

Germany play equally surge-minded full-backs in Jerome Boateng and Phillipp Lahm, and Ballack would have provided ample cover for either of those two whenever they bombed upfield.

In the squad Löw and Bierhoff undoubtedly thought long and hard over, the former Fenerbahçe manager has included just two outright defensive midfield and centre midfield options – Sami Khedira and Christian Träsch, both of whom play for Stuttgart. Although creative, classy and highly competent, the 23-year-olds boast a mere two caps apiece.

But it now appears that Khedira is likely to get the shout if a 4-2-3-1 system is used because potential Schweinsteiger-partnering candidates in the preliminary list continue to suffer. With Simon Rolfes already ruled out due to ongoing injury woes, Träsch has now been sidelined for a short period of time: a nasty collision with an advertising hoard during a friendly game leaves him on his backside for at least a fortnight. Continue reading