Rio de Janeiro (MunichNOW Sports / dpa) – The World Cup which kicks off in Brazil on Thursday is likely to be dominated by talk of tactics and how best to adapt to playing in high heat and humidity.
Most experts are in agreement that the tournament in Brazil will be difficult for all teams, who are facing gruelling travelling schedules and unfamiliar climatic conditions.
For European teams in particular, adapting to the conditions will be of prime importance if any are to win the title for the first time on the American continent.
Conditions in Brazil are also likely to dictate tactics. Teams accustomed to playing a high, intensive pressing game are unlikely to maintain energy levels over 90 minutes or longer in tropical conditions expected in Manaus, Fortaleza and many other venues.
FIFA’s technical study group will be observing the tournament with great interest. Yet it is already clear from the experience of last year’s Confederations Cup that a different tactical approach will be needed by many teams to cope with conditions in Brazil.
For former Liverpool and France coach Gerard Houllier, a member of the study group, it was already clear last year that teams that don’t adapt will fail.
A high-pressing or long-ball game is not possible in Brazil. The approach instead has to be one of slower build-ups and only quick moves from defence to attack toward the end of matches when teams begin to tire.
“No European team has been able to win a FIFA competition in South America and I believe the conditions will determine sometimes the pace of the game,” Houllier said.
Houllier, who also coached Aston Villa and Lyon, saw Brazil take advantage as he thought they would, brushing aside world champions Spain 3-0 in the final. Uruguay and Italy, two teams who like to dictate the pace of the game, got to the semis – perhaps a pointer for the next few weeks in Brazil.
Houllier believes World Cup matches will not necessarily be slower, but that teams will have to pick the right moments to raise the pace, with goals more likely to come later on in games. Teams will be looking to conserve energy whenever possible.
“When you play every three days with a hot temperature, and then add the travel, you have to have a strategy, and most teams will have a strategy of ‘spare your energy, regroup, get back,'” he said.
If the Confederations Cup is any indication, a change of pace may not necessarily have a bearing on the number of goals scored, or the standard of play in general.
Another past FIFA and UEFA technical expert, the German Holger Osieck, told dpa that pressing and high defending is “wishful thinking.”
The former Australia coach and number two to Franz Beckenbauer at the 1990 World Cup, said: “Teams will have to play more economically. Playing the whole time with full power is absolutely impossible.
“The old English saying, ‘to pace oneself,’ to dictate the tempo of the game, will play a big role.”
Those who came to observe the action a year ago, including Germany coach Joachim Löw, were impressed by the level of play. The tournament goals record was bettered – even removing the 24 goals conceded by minnows Tahiti, the match average was still almost three goals.
A team like Germany, who always reach a physical peak for tournaments, could do well with an arduous schedule when others begin to wilt. Löw has almost certainly chosen his squad with conditions and tactics in mind, and seems now to be favouring the option of a withdrawn striker.
“It will be a different type of football to what we are used to in Europe,” he said this week.
Loew appears to be following the approach of canny Spain coach Vicente del Bosque, who surprised Euro 2012 when playing without a real striker, and described his final line-up in the 4-0 crushing of Italy as 4-6-0.
Although del Bosque has tactical alternatives, he told dpa at last year’s Confed Cup: “I sometimes say they should all have the mentality of midfielders, by which I mean the duty to defend, construct and also attack. If we had 10 midfielders we would be even better.”
Del Bosque, Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari and Italy’s Cesare Prandelli all made use of all three substitutions in each game last year, and Loew has said in Brazil no player can expect to play the full 90 minutes.
The full use of subs is therefore also likely to be a feature of the World Cup.