Every four years, the world’s elite footballing nations gather for the greatest sporting tournament of them all. The FIFA World Cup™ is the ideal crucible for the FIFA Technical Study Group (TSG) to identify and examine the latest trends in the game. The TSG’s analysis of the 2010 FIFA World Cup has now been published in an official technical report. The document and an accompanying DVD are now available to the governing body’s 208 member associations, with the aim of promoting the game’s global development. FIFA.com asked TSG director Jean-Paul Brigger about the tournament in South Africa and the latest trends in football tactics.
FIFA.com: The TSG has published an exhaustive analysis of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa. Did you uncover any new and important trends in the game?
Jean-Paul Brigger: Trends is not the right word to use after a World Cup. What we saw was that all 32 teams were well-organised, some of them very well-organised. Every team finds an effective way of defending these days. Korea DPR caved in physically against Portugal, but otherwise, they too were a very well organised team. It was worth noting that the South American teams, and Spain and the Netherlands too, started defending very early and very high up the field. When they lost possession near their opponents’ box, they didn’t drop back, they started defending there and then. This ‘offensive defending’ will be adopted by all the major teams. Another trend is the movement of teams en bloc between the penalty areas. Teams are operating as a single, compact unit. Every player is involved, there are none hanging back or dropping off into space.
Was there a favoured formation? Were there any tactical revelations?
Not especially. Most teams used tried and trusted 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 formations, occasionally reverting to 4-3-3. However, the formations were highly flexible, with the fundamental tactical orientation variable according to the state of play or the score at the time. The players have become more flexible.
There were very few goals in the early group stage games. Why was that?
Avoiding defeat was the priority early on, so the teams weren’t prepared to take risks. An opening match defeat is always a real setback, due to the extra pressure applied by the media and others. But there were one or two teams who attacked from the off, Argentina and Germany for example. And there was much more attacking football in the knockout stages, where it’s win or bust, so there were more goals too.
Once again, the Final was between two European nations, Spain and the Netherlands in this case. Does this confirm Europe as the strongest continent?
We saw that Europe has remained strong. Spain won the UEFA Euro in 2008 and are now world champions too, which is a stunning success. The Spanish team has grown and developed together and is now capable of fantastic, highly attractive football. They’re compact, and tackle and run hard too. Xavi, Iniesta and Xabi Alonso in midfield cover huge amounts of ground but play fabulous football too – it looks pretty and even playful, but it's actually very hard work indeed. They’re a complete team, arguably contenders for team of the century. And up until the Final, the Dutch also played some fine football.
With four teams in the quarter-finals, South America looked in great shape, but none of their teams made the Final. Why was that?
Brazil’s defeat to the Netherlands was a knife-edge affair. Brazil played world-class football in the first half but lost their way in the second, and were beaten by goals from set pieces. That confirms that the slightest weakness can cost you a place in the next round at this level. Germany taught Argentina a lesson in organisation and intelligent play. Paraguay were hard to break down and their meeting with Spain went to the wire. Iker Casillas had a superb match, and David Villa struck the winner shortly before the end, so it was won by individual class. Uruguay proved you can go a long way on hard work, team spirit, good players in key positions, and two world-class strikers. They deserved their fourth place at the end.
Germany fielded a very young team, with Thomas Muller finishing as top scorer and Best Young Player. Are the Germans leading the way in youth development?
I was very surprised by Germany. Huge respect to them for the way they’ve integrated their talented youngsters. Joachim Low took something of a risk in handing a number of young players a chance at a World Cup. Hardly anyone had heard of Thomas Muller a year ago. The Germans played great football, they kept it tight and tackled well. They combined a number of virtues practically to perfection: intelligent defending with almost no errors, fast breaks, and some wonderfully inventive attacking.
How would you explain the early departures of 2006 finalists Italy and France?
It came as a surprise to everyone. The Italians never managed to compensate for the loss of two world-class individuals, Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo. In any case, it’s always difficult if you won it last time out. As for the French, they need to rebuild from the ground up. New coach Laurent Blanc has already launched that process.
Ghana so nearly became the first African team to make the semi-finals. What do you make of recent developments in African football?
Ghana were superbly organised and set up to counter-attack at speed. Every player knew exactly what he had to do. Their U-20s won their World Cup in Egypt in 2009, and a number of those players went to South Africa. And Asamoah Gyan is an outstanding striker, who unfortunately ended up as the tragic hero of the tournament. If he’d converted his penalty in the quarter-final against Uruguay, he’d have gone down in history. But it was just another illustration of the fine line between joy and despair.