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E-Pao! Essay - Goals from backs and centre field

Goals from backs and centre field

By: Donn Morgan Kipgen *


The FIFA World Cup is on the roll, but the marksmen/strikers are yet to tie up their rusty boots. Nevertheless goals are coming aplenty from unlikely sources. As vaguely predicted in the last column of this H&T last week, it is the attacking mid-fielders and adventurous defenders who did the bulk of goal-scoring in the first round league matches so far. If the out-and-out strikers and centre-forwards could find their touch and rhythm from the second phase onwards, there would certainly be goal galores.

Judging by the clueless touches of star strikers this far, it would be sufficed to say that they still don't know where to put the ball in, even from 5 to 10 yards distance. Most of the centre forwards itchingly failed to time their defence breaking runs and unbelie-veably mispositioned themselves much to the painful chagrin of friends and fans alike.

As we have had clearly seen on the screen, there are dangerous lapses and weak-links in all the teams' defences, but top strikers simply failed to exploit those rare lapses or mistakes made by the defenders. Since most of the teams used their hard charging skilful left-and-right backs as sweeper and extra-winger in swift offensive moves, the two full-backs i.e central defenders are naturally forced to play wide, thereby creating big gaps for the opponents during swift counter-attacks.

However, coaches/managers do keep defensive mid-fielders like Claude Makalele (France), del Rossi (Italy), etc, deep in their own half to win the ball before the opponents reach the goal-mouth.

It is a fact that managers usually start cautiously in the first round of league matches. This might be one of the reasons why the centre forwards did not receive enough passes and crosses to put one in as planned. With the managers and players knowing or seeing the playing patterns and the quality of their next opponents, things would surely change from now one.

And as predicted in the previous H&T column, the standard formation used by almost all managers is the fail-safe 4-4-2 system which is often switch on to the more attacking 4-3-3 in the latter part of the game in search of a goal. Tactically speaking, the playing formation is the 4-3-1-2, an attacking mid-fielders like Steven Gerrard (Eng) F Totti (Italy), Michal Ballack (Ger), Ronaldinho (Bra), Rocisky (Czech) Zidane (France) etc playing a goal-scoring role as laid-back strikers with maximum output.

The ultra defensive 3-4-2-1 boring formation of the 1990 and 1994 World Cups wherein the opposing teams fighting for mid-field domination packed with 5 mid-field players supporting a single striker is now a thing of the past. The pace, dribbling and superb ball control displayed in Deutschland- 2006 remind one of the Total Football dished out magnificently in, where else but, the Deutschland-1974!

However, what we seen now is a 'semi-Total Football' wherein 2 or 3 supremely gifted players prowling the entire football field with full authority in any position they choose.

In this enterprising formation, one of the half-backs operates as a sweeper whereas the other defender runs down the other flank as a pacy winger supporting the centre-halves. These left-and right-backs complemented the quality wingers and attacking midfielders by providing decisive crosses or passes left and right vice-versa from all angles to the well-knit defence's formation. Nowadays atleast two goal-scoring defenders take part in set-pieces, especially the corner kicks.

Even though many teams don't have all-round versatile player or two and regular sweeper, they more than made it up by switching positions and filling up the gaps with their best all-round players to good effects. Ordinary team playing ordinary set of games just cannot book a place in World Cup finals stage. More importantly, it's the goal that counts and not conceding which matters most.

The prediction that this particular World Cup would be dominated by attacking defenders and midfielders has perfectly summed up by the fact that the first goal of tournament was drove in to perfection by the German left-back, Lahm, and the match was rounded up by a stunning 25 yarder by the versatile German mid-fielder Torsten Fringe against Costa Rica.

The gifted Dutch winger Arjen Robben curled in a 20 yard breath-taking goal past the Serbian goalkeeper after opening the tight Serbian defence with deft touch and wily set up. The Roben Van Persie, positioning himself as centre forward, team up with another central mid-fielder to create the second goal with a deft chip after pulling in the two meanest Serbian full-backs in a swift counter-attack.

In another free-flowing game, the Czech Republic delightfully checked the attempted in-roads planned by the US as they did in Italia '90 (4-1 victory) by ambushing them in the early period with three goals to none. The first goal headed in by the tall lone classic centre forward, Jan Koller, a pin-pointed cross from the Czech right-back. But it was the young versatile laid back striker.

Rocisky, playing as attacking central mid-fielder who blasted the Americans. Already bought by Arsenal, Rocisky has the flair of David Beckham, Xavi Alonso, Steven Gerrard, Michal Ballack, etc. It would be a joy to watch Rocisky teaming up with Pires, Lahm, Van Persie and Thiery Henry playing up front. England has a real problem in finding the back of the net despite having the necessary fire-power.

Playing with a 4-3-1-2 formation, England failed to unlock the Paraguayan back four. Incredibly as it was, it took the midfield general David Beckham's bending ball to have a cruel deflection from the Paraguayan full back Gammara for an own goal to give rusty England undeserved three points. In the next match it took an agonising 83rd minute for striker Peter Crouch to score England's first real goal in 2006, from yet another Beckham bender, for a spot in pre-quarter finals.

Trinidal and Tobago thought they had earned a goalless draw. The most defining moment of the match came in the first minute of the injury time when the England centre-half Steven Gerrard exquisitely drove in past the diving 'keeper Saka Hislop from 22 yards which he did time and time again: an attacking midfielder goal. Italian midfielder Pirlo opened the Azzuris account in Deutschland - 2006 with a 21 yard drive past the Ghanian 'keeper.

Defending champion Brazil, with superstar strikers in Ronaldo and Adriano supported by laid back striker Ronaldinho, were rescued from disaster by a 44th min. pile-driver from central midfielder Kaka from 22 yard. Australians were pulled back to life from the jaws of death by super-sub Tim Cahill, a midfield player, with two late goals against Japan.

Tight marking is not an excuse for centre forwards since they have had plenty of space and time through out the whole matches. Moreover, most of the defences got awry repeatedly so far in this World Cup. Since classic centre forwards are supreme opportunists - they have to be - they need to pace and position themselves in front of the goal to make the decisive touches. A team cannot win any major title with just sweepers, winger and attacking midfielders, the strikers have to score on regular basis.

The French can kiss and make real wine but they just cannot score a goal in World Cup. The unbelievable French goal-drought started since the 83rd minute of the 1998 World Cup final match against Brazil, despite having the services of Thiery Henry, David Tregequet, Zidane, Wiltord, Pires, Cisse, etc. Well, what could be the real meaning of the term 'French Luck'? Perhaps, it means winning a lady luck's heart once in a while.

The problem with French football team is the fact that they simply don't know where to put the ball in, and they just forget to score a goal while displaying their skills in the field. Apart from being the first defending champions to be knocked out in the first round in World Cup history, the French now hold the embarrassing record of being the first nation to have played four consecutive World Cup matches without scoring any goal.

Compare that to the brilliant record of 51/2 matches without conceding a single goal held by the Italians in 1990 World Cup. Whether they like it or not, Les Bleus have to score a goal, more goals, to stay alive in this World Cup: The French defenders and midfielders must have something to say about this, like they triumphantly did in 1988 at home. Perhaps, they should ask the Spaniards and Ecuadorians for goal scoring tips.

From now, on managers are likely to experiment their attacking formations. One of the defenders would play along side with a winger and a midfield player would be pushed into inside-forward position. The 3-4-2-2 system is the likely key formation. However, only time can tell, and there is a long long way to go. Anything could and surely would happen as the tournament goes on.


Donn Morgan Kipgen wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on June 18th, 2006

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