Football (or soccer as some countries know it) is of course a team game but sometimes it seems that the individuals are more important than the teams in a lot of instances.
You only have to look at the recent World cup tournament from Brazil to see that there are always certain individuals that attract a lot of the headlines.
Argentina’s Lionel Messi, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar of Brazil in particular got a lot of coverage and are elevated to a status way above any of their team mates.
This may well seem sensible as they are regarded as some of the very best players in the World at this moment, and perhaps,ever. But there is possibly the feeling that their teams rely on these special players a little too much.
It’s okay to have great players doing great things but when they are expected to create all their teams great moments then it can prove difficult for the individual players to keep going and the opposition know that if they nullify the threat from these players then they have a great chance as these teams often don’t seem to have another plan than get the ball to their talisman as often as possible.
In the case of Brazil,once Neymar got injured and missed the last 2 games of the tournament there seemed to be widespread panic that their best player was out and nobody was equipped to adequately take his place and the team were not really able to adapt tactics without him.
Compare on the other hand to a few teams who maybe didn’t have the most talented individuals but certainly played to their strengths and very much performed as a team.
There were a few teams who not much was expected of but who performed very well throughout the duration of the tournament. Teams who played for each other and didn’t rely on one or two players but whose strength came from the fact that everyone who took the field gave their best and played to the absolute limit of their skill, strength and stamina.
Mexico were in a difficult group and it was thought it would be difficult for them to qualify as they had a new,younger team on view but they finished in 2nd place in their group,just behind the hosts Brazil on goal difference and ahead of Croatia and Cameroon after winning 2 and drawing the other group game. They were very unfortunate to go out in the 2nd round to Holland who equalised with just a couple of minutes to go and then got the winner from a controversial penalty well into injury time. They had gone out but there remained a feeling that they were unlucky and could well have gone a bit further in the tournament. They had a really strong team ethic and every player seemed to work well for each other and but for a couple of dodgy decisions they could well have marched on in the tournament.
Chile were a great team to watch but as seems to happen to them each time they are in the tournament they get a difficult draw and go out early while other teams with a lot less to offer go marching on. Firstly, though, it was a great effort to qualify from their group. Also in with them were Holland, Spain and Australia which looked, on paper, to be a very difficult group to qualify from. But they, and Holland, both won their opening 2 games and qualified with a game to spare. They beat Australia 3-1 in their first game. They came out of the blocks extremely quickly and were 2-0 up in the first 20 minutes. Australia pulled a goal back and made a game of it but Chile made sure of starting with a win when they scored a late clinching goal. In their 2nd game they came up against the defending champions Spain and gave a great display to win 2-0. This put them through and at the same time knocked out the Spanish team. They were to lose the final group game to the Dutch which decided the final group placings and so came in runners up and met Brazil in the next round. They gave them a really good game and were also unfortunate to go out. The game finished 1-1 and late on Chile hit the bar but were to go out in the penalty shoot out. They were very unfortunate to go out in such a way. Like Mexico the feeling was that if they had a slightly easier draw then they could have gone further, maybe even a lot further. But people that watched their games will take away a lot of enjoyment. Possibly one of the players of the tournament. They had some great individual players such as Alexis Sanchez but he played, as did they all for the benefit of the whole team. They were great at covering and blocking in defence. Their midfield was always moving. Whether it was closing down the opposition or attacking the opposition goal in numbers they showed real desire and fitness and up front there was a real flair as well as a great amount of hard work to pull defenders out of position. But they were certainly one of the top teams of the competition and it was a pity we only got to see them play 4 times during it.
Colombia were another fantastic South American side. They reached the quarter finals and were then knocked out by Brazil. Again, though, it could have been even better. They had won all 3 of their group games- beating Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan before beating Uruguay in the 2nd round. They had become a really good team to watch. So much so that it was them rather than Brazil who had the better team and outstanding individuals when they met. They finished with James Rodriguez as top scorer in the tournament with 6 goals. He scored in every game he played and was one of the stars but they were also a real team throughout their performances. A mean defence, a good hard working forward line and a midfield featuring Rodriguez as well as Cuadrado, which was among the best in the tournament. But when it came to their game against Brazil the Brazilians targeted the Colombian dangermen and committed a lot of fouls against them. A stronger referee may well have booked a few Brazilians quite early in the game but not on this occasion. They got away with it and the Colombians didn’t control the game as they otherwise might have. Brazil went into a 2-0 lead and although Rodriguez pulled a goal back from the penalty spot and set up a nervy finish Brazil held on to win and we were all left to wonder what might have happened had there been a stronger referee that Colombia probably needed and deserved.
Costa Rica were probably the big revelation of the whole tournament . They were in a group with the big hitters of Uruguay, Italy and England and most pundits discounted them from qualifying and thought quite possibly that they wouldn’t get any points at all. But they played superbly. They went a goal down to Uruguay but came back brilliantly to win 3-1. The next game they came up against Italy. The Italians were poor but a lot of that comes down to how good Costa Rica were. They defended well when they had to and broke up the park with quick skilful moves when they had the chances and got a famous 1-0 victory. This amazingly meant they had qualified after only 2 games and they had a 0-0 draw with England in their final group game to go through as group winners. In the next round they played really well against Greece, despite being a man down for a large part of the game. Again their defending was good and they moved the ball forward very well. The game finished 1-1 and they went through to the quarter finals after a penalty shoot out in which they scored all of their kicks. They were so close to reaching the semi finals. They came up against the much fancied Dutch team and the game finished 0-0. Again Costa Rica worked magnificently with every player putting in maximum effort. Their goalkeeper had an outstanding game and made some great saves at crucial times but it was no way a backs to the wall performance. In fact in all their games they played a very open style of play and tried to attack. Although they didn’t score a lot of goals they certainly didn’t play in a defensive style. Like some of the others mentioned they were very unlucky in the way they went out, after another penalty shoot out. The Dutch had brought on substitute goalkeeper Tim Krul in the last minute of extra time and him and his gamesmanship helped the Dutch through as he saved 2 penalties. Perhaps just seeing a goalkeeper coming on in those circumstances threw Costa Rica a bit as they must have wondered what was happening. In the end they went out in the quarter finals but maybe for what was expected of them they were one of the top teams in the competition.
USA were the other team that showed up particularly well and who many had written off at the start of the tournament but their hard working and pressing the opposition paid dividends and they made it to the 2nd round. They were in a group with the eventual winners Germany as well as Portugal and Ghana who were both fancied to finish above the American team but their spirited play was to get them out of the group as runners up. Their first game was crucial as they beat Ghana 2-1 before drawing 2-2 with Portugal where they conceded in the last seconds after looking as if they would qualify after 2 games. But despite a 1-0 defeat to the Germans they still qualified and one of the games real superstars Cristiano Ronaldo along with his Portugal team went out. Here they took on the fancied Belgium team and they were up against it as the Belgians created enough chances to win a few games but Tim Howard had a great game in goals for USA. At 90 minutes it was 0-0 because of him and again the team working for each other but they conceded 2 goals early in extra time. It looked all over at this stage but they pulled a goal back and very nearly equalised but it was not to be but the team and coach Jurgen Klinsmann had certainly created some great memories as well as featuring in some of the best games of the whole tournament, with possibly the game v Belgium being the pick of the bunch.
But it was a real team effort from USA that got them through and seemed to win them many friends who watched the tournament. In fact all of the teams mentioned here would have won new friends and fans if only for the duration of the tournament because of not just their individual ability but also that great spirit that they all showed in fighting for each other, the organisation and the workrate that most teams could only look on and envy.