Today I hung out at Ipanema beach with my coaching friends from Toronto. It was a quiet day (mostly because there were no World Cup games on). Also got into another pick-up game on the beach, this time with some much more reasonable Australians..it was a lot of fun. I have decided to go hang-gliding tomorrow (at the recommendation of several friends and family members who did it when they were in Rio).
Since there were no new games to comment on today, I will blog about the Argentina-Switzerand game from yesterday. It seems that a lot of people on the internet are commenting about how “lucky” Argentina are, because they have Messi and he can score (or create) late goals to win games for them. I have to say I find it a bit surprising that just because a team scores a late goal (in the final 10 minutes or so), people assume they were “lucky” to do so. In my opinion, luck had nothing to do with Argentina’s performance yesterday. Looking at any of the statistics which are the highest predictors of success in soccer (# shots on target, # total shots, ball possession, and # of corners) Argentina fared better than Switzerland. The Swiss goalkeeper Benaglio made several key saves throughout the match which kept his team in it.
True, Switzerland did play well and created some chances, but Argentina were clearly the better team. It is not necessarily realistic to expect any team to dominate their opponent in the knock-out stages of the World Cup. Almost all the gams in the Round of 16 were decided by 1 goal, and several of them also required extra time (or in the case of Brazil-Chile, penalties). In this particular game, Argentina created many chances but failed to find the back of the net until Messi came up with some individual brilliance. After a quick re-possession of the ball in the opponent’s half, Messi got the ball and dribbled very quickly, straight up the middle of the field. He attracted 3 Swiss defenders, including their left back, who came too close to Messi, allowing too much space for Di Maria on the right side of the pitch. Messi dribbled just long enough to get the left back to commit to him, before quickly passing off to Di Maria, who promptly scored the late winner.
I believe that it will be moments of individual brilliance that may be the deciding factors in several of the remaining World Cup games. Don’t expect to see any teams in the up-coming quarter-finals wining by 3 or more goals – the quality in each of the teams who have advanced is too strong to allow that to happen. Also, as I mentioned yesterday, the deciding goal in the Argentina-Switzerland game came immediately after a re-possession, another fine example of the importance of counter-attacking in the modern game. I think we are in for more of the same in the next 2 weeks.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.