World Cup 2018: Five Takeaways from Brazil vs Belgium
The 2018 World Cup has left us spoiled for choice when it comes to great games. Personally, however, yesterday had my favourite game of the tournament as favorites Brazil were shocked by a talented Belgium side.
It was a game that had everything: a lucky goal (Belgium’s first), exceptional counter-attacks, the brilliance of Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku, great goalkeeping etc. It was also a game that revealed a lot about the two teams and this entire tournament.
On that note, here are five takeaways from the fixture:
The Counter-Attack is the Tactical Trend of this World Cup
In 2006, it was Italian Catenaccio. In 2010, it was Spanish tiki-taka. In 2014, it was German gegenpressing. Usually, the tactical trends that dominate a World Cup are preceded by the dominance of a few clubs before the competition. In the four years before 2006, Juventus and Milan dominated Europe with their defensive style. The years before 2010 saw the emergence of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona who won the treble in 2009. Bayern Munich dominated the Champions League between 2012 and 2014 with Jupp Heynckes’ pressing style working wonders.
2018 is strange in the sense that there doesn’t seem to be one tactical style that was prominent in the Champions League over the past four years. While Real Madrid have won three of the past four Champions Leagues, they do not have a defining tactical style apart from “have the best midfielders” (Isco, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos) and the best striker (Cristiano Ronaldo).
Instead, what we have seen in Russia is the return of the counter-attack. It never really went away, but the initial emergence of tiki-taka had meant that most teams which tried to sit deep and wait for the counter-attacks were just overwhelmed.
However, elite International teams do not have the synergy of elite club teams and thus often are vulnerable to counter-attacks. Germany’s exit in the World Cup can primarily be attributed to this as all three of their group opponents overwhelmed Die Mannschaft on the counter. Argentina were crushed by both Croatia and France in a similar manner.
This continued yesterday when favorites Brazil were continuously exposed by Belgium’s counter-attacks, especially in the first half. Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku combined on multiple occasions, notably for Belgium’s second. The Red Devils’ fluky first came from a corner earned after an excellent counter.
In fact in the knockout stages, 7 of the 10 teams that have progressed to the next stage have spent more time in their own third than their opposition’s (6 out of 10 have had less possession). It’s been around for years, but sitting deep and counter-attacking still works.