AS I grew older playing football, one of the things that was hardwired into my brain by my first coach—the late Spanish Basque Bro. Jesus Oscariz—was to think and not just kick the ball.
During my grade school days at the Ateneo, I was a free kick specialist with long bombs that would find the back of the net. He taught me to make reads on how players liked to move or pass the ball. Or where they positioned themselves.
“Speed of thought and the importance of being tactically aware” was reinforced much later in my adult life while covering the Ateneo men’s football team under its former coach Ompong Merida.
Watching the United States bundled out by a clinical Netherlands Sunday morning in the round of 16 of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, I recalled that lesson.
For the Dutch’s first goal, forward Cody Gakpo raced up the middle of the field with midfielder Denzel Dumfries racing up to the final third. Gakpo found Dumfries who immediately lashed the ball into the just close to the edge of the box where Memphis Depay raced in—unmarked I should point out—from side footed it home.
The US had five defenders inside the box—Antonee Robinson who was marking Dumfries, midfielder Weston McKennie who was close to Gakpo, defender Tim ream and Walker Zimmerman who covered Davy Klassen deep inside the box, and Sergiño Dest and Yunus Musah who doubled-teamed Marten de Roon.
Midfielder Tyler Adams was not running back with any sense of urgency and he was right behind Depay. He should have covered Depay and it led to the first goal by the Netherlands.
For the Dutch’s second goal, it was Klassen, just outside the right side of the box, who once more found Dumfries who was confronted by Adams. Dumfries found a cutting Daley Blind who came from behind Dest and he struck it home.
The third goal saw Blind cross the ball to an unmarked Dumfries who just knocked the ball in. Blind knew where to place the ball. Dumfries raised his right arm to signify that he was unmarked.
In my opinion, Robinson should have marked Dumfries. Instead, he packed the front of the goal with Ream and Zimmerman.
That kind of abysmal defending is not going to help.
On defense, a defender prioritizes his space or zone. One should really be aware of who is around them so they can make those decisions. Granted the game is played at a fast pace, hence, making good reads.
In my opinion, Dest and Robinson were not aware of the danger lurking behind them. And now, they have paid the price.
They are going home.
Football is all about exploiting mistakes. Australian defender Aziz Behich playing a bit to the wings made a back pass to defender Kye Rowles who was being harassed by Julian Alvarez. So Ryan sent the ball to keeper Mathew Ryan. The problem was Argentine Rodrigo de Paul was lurking nearby.
Ryan’s first touch was poor and now under duress, he lost the ball and Alvarez, who joined the trap, scored the goal that sent Argentina to the quarterfinals.
There was nothing Australia could do when a genius like Lionel Messi nutmegs Mitchell Duke (a forward helping out on defense) for the first goal. But remember, Australia equalized following an own goal by Enzo Fernandez. So that error was a killer.
Behich should have played the ball to a teammate who was in the middle of the pitch. Instead, a poor decision in the back pass led to the goal.
I am not a fan of excessive back passing. I think that invites trouble. It should be tactical. But watching the World Cup, you see a lot of needless back passing when they should go forward and send the defense on the back pedal.
Players should be aware of everything in front and to the back. At all times too.
I remember being privileged to watch a silent drill by Fabio Capello with Real Madrid where the players moved as one upfield and downfield looking at where the ball was going on defense and offense. There was no speaking, only hand signals and eye contact. Capello’s reasoning was during games, you cannot hear your teammates so being tactically aware, hand signals and eye contact was the means of communication.
Football may sound like a simple sport but really, there are so many nuances that make it interesting and challenging. Not to mention fraught with danger.
Let’s see how the rest of the World Cup goes.
The 2022 FIFA Qatar World Cup can be viewed on World Cup TV on Skycable as well as the TapGo TV streaming application.