Tuesday, April 28, 2009
In the Zone, Part 2
It was a triumph for underdog fanciers rather than lovers of the beautiful game, admittedly. Otto Rehhagel's men won few points for style, and indeed Paul Gardner, World Soccer's resident frother-at-the-mouth, has made the 2004 Greeks into the footballing devil incarnate, frequently using them as the topic of his monotonous tirades.
Yet as a defensive unit, they were hugely impressive, conceding not a single goal in the knockout phase, against opposition of the quality of France, Portugal and the Czech Republic (with Milan Baros in the sort of form he has rarely shown, either before or since). So how did it all work?
Unlike the Italians of 1982, the Greeks had a resolutely negative (but very effective) sweeper in the mighty Traianos Dellas. The stopper was Michalis Kapsis, detailed to mark the point-man in each side. Konstantinos Katsouranis, nominally a midfielder, often morphed into a central defender at times, leaving the hard-working Theo Zagorakis to take charge in the engine room.
But it was to the side of these central men that the real story played itself out.
Zagorakis was named player of the tournament in the wash-up. Other contenders, in the eyes of many, were the redoubtable Dellas, and Angelos Charisteas with his crucial goals. But none of these really deserved the accolade.
The real player of the tournament, in my view, was the fullback Giourkas Seitaridis, who gave one of the most outstanding performances by a defender in modern times.
While Kapsis was given the job of shadowing the focal point of the attack, Seitaridis, the youngest and quickest of the Greek defenders, had the job of tailing the greyhound in the opposition ranks, be he striker, winger or a combination of the two. And so it was that, in successive games, Seitaridis nullified Thierry Henry, Milan Baros and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Whether they went through the centre or out wide, Seitaridis was always there: harrying, anticipating, tackling when necessary, and committing surprisingly few fouls. Otto Rehhagel had clearly decided that the three attackers in question possessed such pace and trickery that allowing them to be pitted against one of the other, slower, Greek defenders - Kapsis and the left-back Panagiotis Fyssas were both the wrong side of thirty - was asking for trouble. So man-marking it was.
One of the factors I mentioned in my initial piece that discouraged the use of man-marking in modern football was the likelihood of defenders getting worn out, after covering so much ground. At Euro 2004, Rehhagel and Greece found an interesting solution.
They had within their ranks Giorgos Karagounis, a somewhat under-rated midfielder with an uncanny knack for...drawing fouls. Accordingly, the go-to man in attack was Karagounis. A feint here, a swivel there - and down he went. And the Greeks took, it must be said, an eternity over many of their set-pieces at the event.
A necessary breather for the defenders - and the final link in the chain of Greece's crude but remarkably successful strategy.
If I can add another factor to their success.
I believe that the major players of the major teams were just worn out from too much club football. I also expected that these major nations would never tolerate this situation again.
Whether or not they have, I am not sure.
In Germany '06 and Austria/Switz 2008, the major nations were to the fore again. Was this because FIFA has set aside more days for exclusive National Teams to play?
In Germany '06 and Austria/Switz 2008, the major nations were to the fore again. Was this because FIFA has set aside more days for exclusive National Teams to play?"
In a hot 2006 German summer they adapted to their players already being pretty worn out and played safety first football to avoid a repeat of Japorea '02 and Portugal '04. And with such conformity they were successful. Euro 2008 was interesting, a lot of teams (even very nearly Spain in the quarter-final against an average Italy) having an such an approach (not just in style but in attitude like resting first XIs in the last group game, which I think backfired - it turned out more detrimental to the rhythm and form of teams than physically beneficial) being shown up in, for once, comfortable summer footballing conditions (and maybe players just being more fitter too).
I think, as Hir0 says above, that it had more to do with the fact that they realised the benefits of an, erm, "conservative" approach to the big international tournaments, especially in the knockout stage. Personally I found Germany 2006 dull as ditchwater (for the most part) after the group phase...too many teams unwilling to risk anything.
Keep up the good work, Mikey.
I'm not entering posts on TWGF ATM, as my Mac computer tells me it is riddled with a malignant Malware virus.
...I'm not entering posts on TWGF ATM, as my Mac computer tells me it is riddled with a malignant Malware virus...
Wouldn't worry, you've missed very little.
They ultimately won the championship by employing this strategy. Their skill helped as well!
They ultimately won the championship by employing this strategy. Their skill helped as well!...
That's very interesting. I've heard that there's something of a schism in Argie football between (1) the man-marking + sweeper system, which produces a flooded midfield, thus allowing a genuine No. 10 to do whatever he bloody well wants, (2) a more European four-in-line zonal approach, using wingers.
The kicker is that they basically won their first WC in 1978 using (2), and their second, in 1986, using (1).
But, as I've said often in these pages, I reckon the 1978 side was much better than the 1986 one in many respects, although they were both a bit suspect defensively. Put it this way, in 1978 they won because they had a fine team (who got one or two home-town calls), in 1986 they won because of Maradona.
Having said that, I reckon system (1) probably does suit Argentinian players better, on the whole, because of their predilection for No.10 types, whereas system (2) probably suits Oz (for instance) better...interesting that Berger has come out today virtually saying that all Oz national teams should follow the same tactical template (something with which I strongly disagree, incidentally), and the one he was suggesting is more or less (2).
You can see some of the problems with system (1), incidentally, in the semi-final from 1986 (Argentina v. Belgium). Twice in the first half the sweeper, Jose-Luis Brown, falls asleep and drifts well behind his two markers, and the Belgians play quick balls through to the forwards, who have stayed onside thanks to Brown. Funnily enough, in both instances the Belgian attackers (who would have been clean through on goal) are then called offside, even though they were onside by miles. Go figure.