By Lucien Betancourt
With the World Cup fast approaching, most of the national team’s rosters are close to being finalized. However, before predictions can be made for the winner of the World Cup, one must first consider how exactly a team wins the Cup.
There are six steps you need to take to win. Let’s go through them.
The first step is one of the most important, not only in football but in every sport in the world. Tactics and organization are two key elements of every team, and the coach is the one who provides that. Every World Cup winning team in history has had good coaching, most recently Didier Deschamps with France and Joachim Low with Germany. Both are good examples of tactical geniuses who introduced game changing tactics that led them to having an advantage, and eventually to their team’s victory. Deschamps, for example, favored a balanced attack and defense that is aggressive but can also play passively. Other good coaches currently are Hansi Flick of Germany, Louis van Gaal of the Netherlands and Luis Enrique of Spain. All have the tactics and experience that could become essential to their team’s success.
- Team Chemistry
A team is only as good as their weakest player, and the weakest is usually the one that relates the least to the rest of the team. Every past World Cup winning team has had multiple players playing in the same team or league, therefore establishing chemistry before they even meet up for their country. Recent examples include Spain’s 2010 team, which was mainly Barcelona and Real Madrid players, and Germany’s 2014 team, which was mainly Arsenal, Bayern Munich, and Dortmund players. In the past, most players played in the same league and usually for the best teams, leading to more unpredictable World Cups. Today, however, it is much harder to build a team from the same league or same clubs, because there are players everywhere. Only Spain, England, Germany, and Italy are able to put out a full domestic league lineup of elite players. When multiple players play in the same league or club as their international teammates, they already have a sense of their playstyle, speed, tactical ability, and linkup play. Exposure to new tactics and the already established connection to club teammates leads to a domino effect with the rest of the national team, where knowledge about potential opponents can be spread and tactics can be developed.
- Home Field Advantage
Obviously, the host has the best advantage, with millions of fans at their disposal to root for their team, which does cause issues for opponents. With so much loud noise produced by the fans, communication between players and coaches will be more difficult. The hosts have won the World Cup 6 times and reached the semifinals 13 times, out of the 21 editions of the Cup. The hosts have reached the semi-finals 13 out of 21 times.
Even then, the hosts of every single World Cup besides 2010 have made it past the round of 16. Teams whose country neighbors the host also gains a similar advantage, as their fans are closer to the stadiums where the tournament is played and can sway the favor to them. Teams whose country is next to the hosts have won it 5 out of 21 times. The best example of this is 1950, where Uruguay won the World Cup, beating hosts Brazil in the final. Since this year’s tournament is in Qatar, which is quite far from the major football nations, not many teams other than Qatar will have any sort of home advantage.
- Player Versatility
Football today has advanced so much from where it was. There are many different positions to be played in, roles to cover, and unique skills to master that a coach basically needs one of every player type. It was simpler in the early days, with only a few key positions such as center back, wingback, central midfielder, wingers, and forwards. Football has gotten so oddly specific now that 22-man squads no longer are enough to cover every position and a change had to be made to fit 26 players. Football used to be ruled by “swiss army knives” who could fill in several roles, like Pele and Maradona. However, even the best players can’t fill in at other positions. Having the right players at the right time has become more important with all these fluid tactics. It allows for more tactical development and mind games in tricking the opponent to play one position rather than another to exploit their weaknesses. It is bad for potential players themselves, however, because not as many will be able to play significant enough minutes to use their skills fully.
An example of the good of this effect is Germany this year, of which has loaded up on every position and has played in different formations year-round. Coach Hansi Flick favors a rigid structure, so fluidity is somewhat absent, hence why the formation changes so much.. An example on the flip side is France, who has so much talent at its disposal. However, Didier Deschamps is stubborn when it comes to who plays and where, and expects the players that are the best in their domestic leagues to play together and naturally pull off a victory, which doesn’t work in practice.
- Balancing Experience and Youth
When is it right to play old players who have experience, and when is it right to put the game in the hands of a young player? Both of these types of players are key components of a team. All of the past World Cup winners since 1998 have had to deal with this problem, with four of the last five champions being knocked out in the opening stage during the very next Cup. The issue with these teams was simple– their experienced players who led the team to a World Cup victory had aged. These teams’ best players either fell out of favor or were simply too old to play, and it threw everyone else on the team off balance. No team since Brazil in 1958 and 1962 have won 2 World Cup finals consecutively. Losing talent is part of the tradeoff for winning the World Cup. But the current defending champions, France, could be different. 15 players of the 23 total were below the age of 26. This team was young, and it proved that trusting young players works sometimes. But…so does experience. Which raises the question, what is better?
Generally, a mix of both is good, as it provides growth for the team and uses up the older players as role models. However, young players seem to be the trend as football becomes more global and more players are produced in academy teams. However, the reality of an all youth team is more for the future World Cups rather than this upcoming one . Rather, the team that has the most diversity in age and experience will likely win. Old players will fill in the gaps in experience while the younger players will provide the speed and flair that a World Cup winning team needs . Germany has a perfect combination of this, with veterans from their 2014 team combined with young and technically gifted players to provide the team with better physical abilities such as speed.
This last step is a little controversial, but I should still mention it…
Cheating is part of almost every sport in the world. Although it is unsportsmanlike and not in the best interest of the game, it does work to some extent. There are several examples of teams winning the World Cup because of cheating. Italy won in both 1934 and 1938 because dictator Benito Mussolini threatened to kill the referees if they didn’t allow Italy to win. Germany won in 1954, partly because their team was given performance-enhancing drugs before the final. England won in 1966 because the local referees fixed the game so England could beat Germany. The last example is South Korea’s 2002 team, who benefited massively from match fixing versus Italy and Spain, leading them to an unexpected 4th place finish. Although it is not that common today to see teams cheating, there are corrupt officials in all aspects of the FIFA board. Cheating will always be an issue, and it will always hurt one team and boost another.
The perfect World Cup team has all of these, (perhaps without the cheating), and to some extent are the best in these categories among all the teams. For this year’s World Cup, two teams stand out among the rest: Germany and France. They are the best in these categories and are favorites to win it. But who will win?
Maybe that’s a question for next time.