16 June 2010

World Cup Commentary: Simon Kuper on Spain

In the FT yesterday, Simon Kuper has a prescient piece on Spain's chances at the World Cup:
Spain’s first problem is that everyone knows exactly how they play. They methodically weave their way down the pitch with short passes, and score. They are so confident in their style that they shun the orthodoxy of modern football, which says that the best way to score is on a fast break. . .

Spain’s biggest problem is the World Cup’s format. Pre-tournament, pundits tend to presume that the best team will win. France and Argentina, for instance, have been written off on the grounds that they aren’t the best team. Yet the pundits are confusing World Cups with leagues. In a league the best team does win, because a league lasts nine months. Over such a long period, random factors like one referee’s error or a ball on the post are rarely decisive. In a league, quality tells.

In contrast, a World Cup is decided in four games. Almost every big team will reach the second round. After that, whoever wins four times is the champion.

Most of the knockout games will be decided by one goal or penalties. A referee’s error or a random element, a ball hitting the post rather than the back of the net, therefore can – and often does – decide the World Cup.

Luck of the draw matters too: if either Spain or Brazil somehow fail to win their group, they could meet in the second round – thereby opening the way to a second-rank side such as France or Argentina.

If this tournament were simply about deciding who is the best side, the Spaniards could swing round Fifa’s offices and pick up the trophy now. Instead, to use an analogy chosen entirely at random, Spain will probably default.

What are your best sources, including blogs, for World Cup commentary? Please share in the comments and I'll compile in a future post.

Congrats to Switzerland!


  1. The site I've been following the most is Unprofessional Foul: http://unprofessionalfoul.com/ Live blogs of every match and plenty of other stories.

  2. When I was 14, I was able to join a team that went over to Europe (Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden) for a month to play soccer.

    I recall playing in a Danish tournament, and we dwarfed nearly all of the Danes. They played very much like the description of the Spanish, while we were all about fast breaks, speed, strength and big plays. We beat them, too. :)

  3. Zonal Marking is great:


    The Guardian's coverage can be pretty funny. In particular the live blogs of games are worth a read.

  4. FiveThirtyEight.com (Nate SIlver) is doing statistical updates based on the Soccer Power Index every day after matches. Very fun to follow:

  5. Some very good points. Last season we (Tottenham Hotspur) had to play Man U, Chelsea, and Arsenal in succession at the end of the season, critical games for all of us, and we beat Chelsea and Arsenal pretty easily, at home, by employing the Swiss tactics, two lines of four close together (I know the Swiss had five at the back), defending deep, almost impossible to pass your way through, and working really hard, not pressing high up the pitch which creates space for them to pass their way through.

    That makes fast breaks, playing with two wingers as we do, really effective as the space is at their end not ours. They will score most likely from a penalty or a free-kick around the box, so a real art of defending like that en masse is to keep it clean. Foul only further up the pitch. England should play like that.

    I think I fancy Argentina - flair, strength, unity, cunning, know-how. We looked pretty clueless against your boys, but as Kuper says it doesn't start until the round of 16.

    By far the best place to track the betting is Betfair, live two-way prices set by the market-place.

  6. Spain played as ever, lost as always ...
    In 19 World Cups, Brazil, Italy, Germany, Argentina were in all finals.
    USA is very good. Understand how to play a World Cup.

  7. Best soccer commentary today comes without doubt from Günther Netzer (IMHO), former outstanding German midfielder and "Spielmacher". Unfortunately for those who only speak English he performs mainly on ARD (German TV). Impeccable and sharp analyses, choice of words and appearance.

    Netzer on Switzerland: http://www.swissworld.org/en/switzerland/resources/why_switzerland/guenter_netzer/

  8. Talking about fast break: 2nd goal Holland-Italy (2008), where Van Bronckhorst passed the ball after having it saved from his own goal line. This must be the Mother of all fast breaks...


  9. A tip for UK internet viewers. I discovered that the BBC broadcasts its programmes live without really publicising it.

    The feed is much more reliable, and if you are lucky, the video quality may be higher than the news/sport website. Choose channel from the menu on the right.


    Unlucky USA today, should have won, third goal should have counted. First game I've watched live.