Each World Cup is a quadrennial opportunity to evaluate the state of the game. The end of day two, with the opening pageantry over and the first big game (or games) behind us, provides an opportunity to look at some of the big issues facing the game. This article deals with three of them.
Can the game maintain its entertainment value in the face of increasingly organized defensive systems?
I’m not one of those who believes that soccer is in danger of becoming a boring game because it doesn’t have enough scoring. The beauty of soccer is not measured in goals. Since the 1970s football has made great progress in overcoming some of the worst problems of being an entertaining game. However, since becoming a professional game, the game, (one might argue like most sports), has emphasised defense more and more and this is a constant threat to the entertainment value of the game. The increasing emphasis on defence can readily be seen in the evolution of “formations” for organizing the team. Soccer formations are typically described in a numeric shorthand starting from the defense out. E.g. one of the most common modern formations, with four defenders, four midfielders and 2 strikers (forwards) is called the 4-4-2. The earliest known formation in soccer was the pyramid or 2-3-5 formation. In England this developed into the 3-2-5 (or W-M) formation assocated with Herbert Chapman and in Italy into the “Metodo” or 2-3-2-3 system devised by Vittorio Pozzo with which Italy one their first two world cups in 1934 and 1938. Since those days there has been a steady trend to bring players back into the midfield and defense so that the most common tactical alignments in modern soccer are the 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-5-1, 4-3-2-1 and so forth. Not surprisingly, as more players have been pulled into the midfield and defense the number of goals scored has generally fallen. In 1954, the highest scoring world cup, the average number of goals per game was over 5. However scoring has fallen steadily since the early 1960s, even though some analysts predict higher scoring for this World Cup.