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The chain is as strong as its weakest link

  • Published at 02:11 am July 10th, 2018
  • Last updated at 10:40 am July 10th, 2018
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England promises to give us a good show REUTERS

Individual talent won’t win the game if teamwork isn’t strong

George Best, the enigmatic Republic of Ireland footballer, has to go down as one of the best never to have displayed his skills on the World Cup stage. 

In the 70s, with Ireland burning over an internecine conflict stoked by the remnants of British colonialism, the few Irish talent on show plied their trade in the United Kingdom; Best chose the flamboyant haunts of Manchester United.

Through the years of anything but manicured, muddy pitches, Best’s wizardry with the old laced up leather ball conjured up more tricks than a veritable magician. Fast forward to 2018, and we will not see Lionel Messi’s boyish face light up in holding the magnificent trophy aloft. 

Here is a player, arguably the world’s best in present day context, who sticks out like a tower of talent in a motley of average fellow Argentinians. 

That’s the beauty of the game. Individual skills always attract the supporters, but unless the team functions, it adds up to nothing. Argentina, Brazil, and Portugal are blessed with abundance of individual talent but the teamwork and Lady Luck had other ideas about their final destination. 

Compare that with the English. No real superstars, but a team that is young and bonds well. Picture-perfect set pieces are their forte, apart from the occasional skill of Harry Kane and to a lesser degree Jason Linggard and Jamie Vardy. And of course, the unlikely hero Jordan Pickard, their goalkeeper. Manager Gareth Southgate has asked the players to believe in themselves and the ability to go all the way, and one tactical ploy appears to have served very well. 

Whenever England lines up for a corner or free kick, they desolate the opponent by lining up in a column of four, each dashing a different way, as the ball is released thereby allowing the taller players to break defensive shackles or have more heads on option. It also combats the hug-embrace tactics that defenses are guilty of, often without punishment.

It’s one of the few successful strategies when blanket defense soaks up the pressure and attempts to thread passes through the maze. Germany, enjoy their square approach where four players inevitably are in position almost always but a team that looked their age, out of breath and devoid of ideas couldn’t make the individual or combined skills of Tomas Mueller, Mesit Ozil, and Mario Gomez work to their advantage. 

Defensively their lack of position and horror of horrors, weakness in the air were shown up and the famous Panzer-style attacks left too many holes in their rear-guard. For a change Brazil’s defense was solid, and they can consider the failing of the front line, Neymar and all the cause. 

Domination that isn’t capped with goals only increases the chance of conceding, and that’s what happened to them. In the coming years, Mexico and Morocco will be teams to match for the skill in combining individual performance with complete soccer. They’re a lot more exciting than Sweden and Switzerland. 

The semi-finals promise to be intriguing and stingily European. England’s approach to Luka Modric’s power-control on the midfield as lip-smacking a battle between the Belgian defense and the French forwards. Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku will need to pull out their best to overcome a French side that is arguably the best man-to-man. 

The weaker chains prevailed over the weaker ones, even though they were difficult. Luka Modric and Belgian goalie Thibalt Cortuis stand out as the players of the tournament so far. That’s not to suggest Belgium’s defense hasn’t worked, or that Croatia is a one-man show. They have the strongest chains, but the game has its own caprices.

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster and communications specialist .