by Kwok Ka-Ming
Japan came close to springing an upset against the Netherlands only to be edged out by the slightest of margins. But even if they fell short, it was an impressive performance that warrants comparison with the efforts of Switzerland and Serbia, who have both produced surprise results against highly-fancied opponents. Such unexpected outcomes throw up an intriguing topic: what is the best strategy for underdogs to employ against the big guns?
The strength of the big teams lies in three aspects: skill, physical power and experience. These are all fundamentals of competitive football. Yet these qualities do not mean that the smaller teams have no chance against their formidable rivals. There are other factors which can turn the tide of a game and on which the so-called minnows can capitalise. Courage and motivation are essential but the key is that they have to come up with a proper tactic to counter the big boys and carry it through.
On most occasions, they focus on their defensive game to keep things tight and ensure they do not concede goals cheaply, but to pull off a shock they also need to possess a threat on the counterattack. Set-pieces can provide this. As coach of Hong Kong in the qualifying rounds of the 1986 FIFA World Cup™, we managed to surprise China with a 2-1 win, scoring our first goal from a free-kick and the second on a breakaway. Mind you, it is not just unfancied sides who rely on scoring goals in this manner. If you look at Italy's triumphant campaign at Germany 2006, they actually scored seven of their 12 goals from set-pieces and another three on the counter-attack.