Happy Canada Day everyone!
Today the sun finally came out in Rio De Janeiro! I was on the beach all day and stayed at the Fan Fest to watch the Argentina-Switzerland match. I must say that the Argentinian fans are pretty amazing. The whole day they were singing and partying on the beach. I tried to learn the words to one song, the last verse of which is “Maradona e mas grande de Pele” – Maradona is better than Pele! I watched the Belgium-USA game at a restaurant near my hotel, then met up with a former coach of mine who is now coaching youth soccer with one of the clubs I work with, afterwards.
The second game today made a great impression on me. In the past 5 years, the importance placed on speed and high intensity running in soccer-specific sports science research has been steadily increasing, and I have seen practical examples of this at various levels of the game in which I have worked and been involved with, including female Provincial and National teams, and male professional academy and senior professional teams. If you watched the Belgium vs. U.S.A game today, you will have seen a great demonstration of just how important speed and high intensity running are to soccer at the highest level. Belgium deployed an all-out attack, pressing the U.S.A. in the middle 3rd of the field, forcing them to lose possession and then countering with speed from the centre and both flanks of the pitch. Several of their players (specifically midfielder Fellani, and forwards Hazard, Origi, and Mertens) seemed like they made 200 sprints each in this game. Every single time they attacked, Belgium sent 4-5 players forward at full speed, sometimes over distances greater than 30 metres, and it was only the brilliant goalkeeping from the United States’ Tim Howard that prevented the game and score line from being very lopsided. The substitutes Belgium brought into the game in the extra time period, Romelo Lukaku and Naser Chadli, continued the trend of frequent, intermittent bursts of speed for the remainder of the game, and to great effect as both Belgium’s goals were scored in the final 30 minute period.
Payers have to train very hard – and smart – to develop the ability to perform so many sprints over the course of a 90+ minute match. Their training must involve a closely calculated workload that includes speed, power and acceleration training (to improve and maximize the speed of each run), in combination with a large amount of high intensity aerobic endurance training (to improve the recovery between sprints and ensure optimal performance later in the game, even when fatigue sets in). I don’t have any data on the exact amount of sprints the Belgium players did today, but I am sure that if/when it does come out, it will be very impressive. The running speed of the players is also used in combination with extremely quick transitions between defending and attacking, and both of Belgium’s goals, as well as several of their shots on target, were created within 4-6 seconds after winning possession of the ball. I believe this type of quick counter-attacking, using players who possess world class speed and recovery, will be the future of how soccer is played. I just don’t think it will be possible to break down organized and disciplined defenses unless you catch them off-guard, when they are unbalanced, with a quick counter. It will be interesting to see if Belgium is able to sustain the same amount of high intensity running and effective counter-attacking against Argentina, a technically more talented team than the United States, and also a team that likes to keep a lot more possession of the ball. We’ll see what happens in a few days..