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The Thin Line Between Euro 2008 Winners And Losers

christmas-tree-formation.gifIn international tournaments such as Euro 2008, tactical formations are overrated. Just because a team that plays a 4-3-2-1 formation beats a country playing 4-4-2, that doesn’t mean that a Christmas Tree lineup is better. At the end of the day, so much of football comes down to chance.When you think about the 16 teams that have played in Euro 2008, any one of them could be in a completely different position than where they are today if they were simply able to convert more chances into goals. Austria could have beaten Germany if they had a decent striker. Romania could have knocked Italy out if Mutu had scored that penalty. Holland could have beaten Russia if they put their chances away in the 90 minutes. Portugal could have beaten Germany if they were on target in the first 25 minutes, and the list goes on and on.In all of the above examples and the other matches not named, the defeated team had plenty of chances to overturn the result and win the match.I honestly believe that tactical formations and all of the intricacies of coaching are overrated. At this level, there isn’t much of a disparity between the countries participating at Euro 2008. So, the deciding factor between both teams is usually so small. It could be a deflection, a mistake by a defender, half a chance in front of goal or penalties.As a manager of a national side, you can prepare your team as best as you can but your fate is dependent on your team — and mostly the strikers. Italy’s Luca Toni is a perfect example. Throughout this tournament, even in the 3-0 loss to Holland, he had so many chances to score and failed. If he was on form or if a more talented striker was in his place, Roberto Donadoni’s job wouldn’t be on the line.Of course, strikers aren’t the only important players in a match but so much of a balance of a game hangs on their shoulders. That’s why we put such a value on clinical finishers such as Fernando Torres, Cristiano Ronaldo, Robin Van Persie and the multitude of star strikers around the world.What are your thoughts? Share your opinion by clicking the comments link below.

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  1. Django

    June 23, 2008 at 11:39 am

    This reminded me of an interview with one of the Phoenix Suns (NBA) rookies who entered into a game early in the season…he expressed concern to one of his teammates that he didn’t know the plays, and the teammate responded, “That’s fine, we don’t have any.” As long as there was an understanding of the pace of play and each individual’s responsibility was understood, the offense was free-flowing. A little more rigid in football, but I can definitely understand how an “end rather than means” position makes sense.

  2. Lonnie

    June 23, 2008 at 10:00 am

    Formations are not rigid either. Far too many people tend to think of it as foosball where they move in straight lines up and down the field. Certainly, players will tend to be found in certain areas more than others but players move and interchange positions throughout the match. I completely agree that formation is often mis-used in terms of discussing ‘winning’ football. The difference in games comes down to the one-on-one battles and other subtleties. Does a winger or forward know where to move when their team does not have the ball? Can a forward effectively find himself space by eluding his marker? Do the wingers track back to help move the ball out of their own end? Do the defenders push out of their own end effectively to support the attack? Can you deny time and space to the other team’s playmaker? Are you going to man-mark or zonal defend on set-pieces? Is the ball movement in the final third precise? That was one thing that I thought was serverly lacking in the Spain-Italy game. Both teams were very poor around the opposition goal.

    If you actually were to map out a ‘formation’ during the middle of a game, its shape would depend on whether the team is on the attack or defending. When attacking it might resemble a 2-5-3 with your full-backs pushed up high and a couple of central midfielders sitting a little in front of the central defenders. When defending (and depending where the ball is on the field) it might resemble a 5-4-1 with one of the forwards tracking deep to help link the defense to the rest of the midfield. What I tend to look for more than how they might line up at kick-off, is what type of players are out there. Has the manager opted for two defensive midfielders? Is there a lone target man up front?

    What I’ve found useful has been the ‘heat map’ that I believe is on the Telegraph site after Premier League games. It gives a much richer understanding of where the players were during the match and where the key battles took place. No shock to say that midfield (around the centre circle) is more often than not the ‘hottest’ area on the pitch.

    I actually find it funny how often the TV coverage gets the ‘formation’ of the teams incorrect. The most recent example I can think of was in the Canada-St Vincent match where the Canadian broadcaster did not even have the defensive backline correct let alone the midfield/forwards. At least they had the goalkeeper in the right spot ! 🙂

  3. Kartik

    June 23, 2008 at 6:39 am

    I met Donadoni a few times while he played in MLS and he was amazingly arrogant. I don’t cry for him or Italia.

    This is a good piece. Players have to execute, which is why national team fans who continuously blame managers and we see all the instability in int’l management are so foolish and out to lunch.

  4. The Gaffer

    June 23, 2008 at 4:44 am


    It was definitely inspired by it. I read in his article a few days ago how he thought the Dutch were uninspiring and had finally been found out, but I couldn’t disagree more.

    There was such a thin line between Holland winning and losing this past Saturday. If they had taken just one or two of their golden opportunities, everyone who have been extolling how wonderful the Dutch were. But having lost, everyone is saying “I told you so.”

    The Gaffer

  5. Django

    June 23, 2008 at 1:13 am

    A response to Gabriele Marcotti’s article, perhaps?

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