Fair play, attacking football and Latin dominance - the three outstanding elements of Malaysia '97. What were the reasons for this?
There were hard fought, exciting matches, without a single yellow card being shown. And that more than once. The comparison with Qatar shows this clearly : the fairness in Malaysia was exemplary.
Did this have anything to do with the referees? "The fairness in this tournament had a lot to do with the referees and their assistants," explained David Will (Scotland), FIFA Vice-President and Chairman of the Referees Committee. The referees and above all their assistants, who received official status for the first time in March 1994 before the World Cup in the USA, have improved a lot in the last few years. Will got the impression that the referees were more relaxed, and because they are now on the average younger and fitter, they were closer to the players.
"The players sense this change," says Will. "The feeling of us and them is much less noticeable than it was a short time ago. The understanding between the referees, the coaches and the players has improved." Will is also convinced that the tireless and many-sided-efforts of FIFA in the area of fair play are slowly beginning to bear fruit.
Even if the average of 3.17 goals per match did not quite reach that in Qatar (3.28), it is obvious that the clear intentions of the coaches and players towards attacking football have not diminished. In comparison: in Australia in 1993 just 2.56 goals per match were scored.
"Football," says Chief O.B.Adegboye Onigbinde of Nigeria, who was present in Malaysia as a member of the Technical Study Group of FIFA, "is going back to its simple roots, which means that everyone attacks and everyone defends. History is repeating itself." That is the main reason for the higher number of goals scored, which the trainers with their positive approach have made possible. Chief Onigbinde backs up this view with the observation that most of the teams play a 3-5-2 system. "This system provides the most flexibility for both attacking and defensive football."
Latin American dominance
Chief Onigbinde agrees that the South Americans finally dominated the competition, but they had been strongly challenged in the process. The difference to other countries, he believes, is that the boys play regular competitive football, that they have fine facilities and that they are well looked after. And compared to the developing countries, of course, they have financial advantages and a better administration.
Julio Grondona (Argentina), FIFA Senior Vice President and Chairman of the FIFA Committee for Youth Competitions, confirms Chief Onigbinde's statement. "The other countries have caught up a lot with the South Americans. We continue to be better only because we give our youngsters all over the country, through a smooth-running programme, a perfect training in all facets of the game." Five years ago, they began to invest intensively in the youth of Argentina, and the Association is prepared to put a lot of money into the venture. As President of the Argentinian Football Association, Julio Grondona admits that the coach of both the U-17 and the successful
U-20 team, José Nestor Pekerman, is well paid, "because I don't want to lose him just because he can earn more money somewhere else. He is the best youth trainer I have ever seen."