As the World Cup approaches, I’m getting my old Cup blog ready to return, and it’s interesting to re-read the things I wrote … by the time WC ‘06 ended, I think I’d established what I liked, what I didn’t like, and, for better or worse, the limitations of my knowledge of the game.
I know more than I did then, although I’m still barely past being a beginner. The one area where I feel more confident is tactics. This is largely due to an essential book, Inverting the Pyramid, by Jonathan Wilson. Lately, I’ve also discovered a very intelligent website, Zonal Marking, which is like an advanced course taught by protégés of Wilson. I’m not sure I belong in an advanced class … I’m still in grade school … but I’m trying, and today’s Champions League final offers a good example.
I had a rooting interest … I wanted Inter Milan to win … but I also knew that Inter can be pretty boring if you aren’t rooting for them. They play the kind of soccer I complained about a lot in 2006. They play modern tactics, allowing the opponent plenty of ball possession, which was once thought to be ill-conceived, for how could you score if you didn’t have the ball? What Inter does, under manager Jose Mourinho, is work as a team to create an impenetrable defense, with the opposition free to get the ball 2/3 of the way up the field, but closing the door before they reach a danger zone. This in itself is what leads them to seem boring, but Mourinho isn’t usually interested in a scoreless draw. He pulls the opposition forward, which leaves space in the back which can be exploited via counter attacks. It is an attacking strategy based in defense. And, to be fair, it can be boring. Now, though, I recognize it for what it is, and see how it is working (or not). It is perhaps more chess game than sporting event at times, but at least I can appreciate it more.
It can also lead to wonderful goals, which is why this particular match will look good on the highlight reel. Goals happen quickly when you counter attack, and they often feature incisive individual play. Mourinho’s Inter play a team-oriented game, but they wouldn’t be successful without the likes of Wesley Sneijder and Diego Milito on attack. Milito’s second goal, in particular, was artful. So yes, there were long periods where Bayern knocked on the door without getting past the porch in front of the house, but the sudden nature of Inter’s goals made it worthwhile.
I guess what I’m saying is I may be ready for more tactical matches in World Cup 2010. Or maybe not … like I say, in today’s match, I had a rooting interest, but if I didn’t, I might have cursed Inter for soaking up energy. Three weeks from now, we’ll know.