Having now seen every team perform twice at the 2010 World Cup it is difficult to determine just who is going to win the tournament. Argentina have been the most impressive side yet nobody would dare say they have been the most balanced. What is interesting to note, after the first couple of rounds, is the types of systems which are resulting in success.
Every single African side has adopted a negative counter attacking approach at some point. The Ivory Coast did so against Portugal and Brazil. Ghana did against Serbia. Algeria did against England. Cameroon did too after going a goal up against Denmark whilst Nigeria and South Africa have in all of their matches. All the African sides appear to be going out of the tournament. This system might have served Switzerland so wonderfully well against Spain but the general idea is that this system has failed. An odd result does not suggest a trend. Brazil want to control matches, they do not purposely concede possession and then retreat to their defensive lines, but they invariably play in a negative fashion. Individual pieces of brilliance will be the Brazilian saviour. Should they come from Maicon, Luis Fabiano or Robinho does not matter. The team defends as a unit and the individual, in some respect, attacks.
Spain continue with their own unique brand of delightful football but do not look as convincing when Fernando Torres is not on song. David Silva, Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta are also struggling for form. Xavi the metronome, supported by Xabi Alonso, are in fine form but tiki-taka means little if over 90% of the opportunities created are wasted. Still, there is general agreement that it is Spain’s system that is the most likely to lead to victory. This general agreement is arrived at because there is a collective conviction that Argentina’s lack of defensive solidity will be their undoing not because Spain’s system is the most attractive. In fact, as with Barcelona, the Spanish system is often rather infuriating. Passing, seemingly, just for passing’s sake. If there is an opportunity to shoot, and a good at one at that, the chance should not be wasted.
Argentina do not appear to be set up to control matches or to defend and counter attack. It is a rather unorthodox system that would appear to be very off-the-cuff Diego Maradona.
After all the complaints about defensive football, spoiling tactics and negative formations could it be that a team liberated, in many ways, from these ideas is set for victory? Of course Argentina’s tactical liberation is not absolute, there are still basic and simple rules and commands the coaching team indicate that must be followed. By comparison, though, the Argentina team appear to be playing in a very informal way. It appears as though they are free. Angel Di Maria is prepared to run with the ball and not worry about what might happen should he lose it. Gonzalo Higuain is making runs into the same space occupied by Carlos Tevez but instead of being berated, nothing happens. The coach trusts the players to work it out.
For neutrals, and Argentina fans, this Argentina team is playing with a touch of naivety, but the type which is commended and saluted. Hopefully, this is the World Cup where we will celebrate not a style of play, such as Jose Mourinho’s defensive systems or Sir Alex Ferguson’s counter attacking wonders or Josep Guardiola’s tiki-taka control, but rather an anti-system, the liberation of football. Diego Maradona and Argentina are, in some respects, fighting for the future of football, the idea that a team can win without great balance, without constant metronome passing and without intrinsically negative tactics.