Tuesday, 26 July 2011

A Brief History of Tactics - The WM

The WM

One of the sharpest tactical practices of the early 20th century was the creation and perfection of the offside trap. With three players needed to be between the goal and the opponent (as opposed to two in the modern game), it was very easy with the pyramid system to catch attackers offside. The first team to realise this was Notts County whose defenders Montgomery and Morley would use the trap to prevent opposing attacks. The masters of the trap though were Newcastle, with Bill McCracken and Frank Hudspeth as full-backs.

The result of the offside trap was a decease in the number of goals, and to remedy this the International Football Association Board (IFAB) took action. In 1925 they made the change to the modern offside law under which only two players (including the goalkeeper) need to be between a player and the goal for a player to be onside. Not only did this make it harder for a team to catch players offside as it needed greater coordination of the defensive line, it also made it much more risky as a failed attempt would see an attacker clear in on goal.

In the years after the change the number of goals rocketed. In the 1926-7 season George Camsell of Middlesbrough scored 59 goals in the league in just 37 games, the next season Dixie Dean scored 60 league goals in 39 games. Clearly the actions of the IFAB worked, but for coaches it presented a new problem: how to stop the opposition scoring.

Herbert Chapman was the greatest manager of his day. At Huddersfield he had created a team which would win 3 league titles in a row, with a system which seemed to run counter to all footballing orthodoxies. In the past the league’s best teams had been those who enjoyed the majority of possession and made this pressure count by converting it into goals. Chapman turned this thinking on its head and became the first manager to use counter-attacking as a genuine strategy rather than a mere response.
Chapman’s Huddersfield would defend deep and then launch quick counter attacks, before their opponents could reorganise their own defence.

In 1925 Chapman accepted the chance to move south and manage an Arsenal team who were less than successful at the time. In exchange for leaving the best team in the country Chapman requested full control of the team and warned chairman Henry Norris that he would not win anything for 5 years. Chapman’s pedigree forced the normally overbearing Norris to agree, and there began the beginnings of Arsenal’s success.

Chapman’s first signing at Arsenal was the great Sunderland inside-forward Charlie Buchan, a man who himself had a definite opinion on the impact of the new offside Law. What Buchan realised was that to combat the new Law it would be necessary to move the centre-half into defence and slot him between the two fullbacks. This new centre-back would provide much greater cover for the full-backs and give the team a stronger base from which to build. If Chapman was to continue his counter attacking policy it would be necessary to have a strong defence on which to base it.

The WM system though did not see just one radical change, but two. In order to make up for the loss of creativity suffered by the withdrawal of the centre-half, it was necessary to force one of the inside-forwards deeper to link the play between defence and attack. Buchan himself was too valuable a goalscorer to allow to play in such a deep position, so at first Chapman tried Andy Neil in the role with significant success. It was in 1928 though and with the arrival of Alex James from Preston that the withdrawn inside-forward really came alive.

Arsenal (below) v. Huddersfield, 1930

By 1930 the system was fully evolved, and it marked some radical changes for each position. With the arrival of the centre-back he was now charged with marking the opposing centre-forward, the full-backs now marked the opposing wingers, while the wing-halves would mark the inside forwards. For Arsenal, both inside-forwards were now playing in deep positions as David Jack arrived to play alongside Alex James.

The results were remarkable, as Arsenal won 3 titles in a row (though Chapman died suddenly mid-way through the second season) and dominated English football in the 1960s. As he had at Huddersfield, Chapman relied on counter-attack and made special use of his wingers, Joe Hulme and Cliff Bastin who were expected to score plenty of goals in contrast to the majority of wingers in the league.

Monday, 25 July 2011

A Brief History of Tactics - The Pyramid

The Pyramid

The next great change in football tactics was a move to the formation which would endure for over 50 years, and in some nations much longer. While the Scottish formation provided greater balance than the chaos which went before, it still saw the attack overloaded and resulted in each attacker having little space to play in.

In the 1878 Welsh Cup final Wrexham faced Druids and for them EA Cross (previously a centre-forward) was deployed as a centre-half. By withdrawing one of the forwards into the half-back line, a team could bolster its defensive strength and provided a better balance to the team. Wrexham were vindicated for their innovation, as they defeated Druids 1-0 to claim the cup and before long other teams were following them.

The newly created centre-half soon became the most important player in the team. Acting as the focal point of the side, the centre-half was expected to link the defence with attack and was consequently involved in the game probably more than any other player.

The addition of the centre-half also radically changed the roles of the other players behind the forward line. As the centre-half slotted in, the right and left-halves (wing-halves) were pushed wider from a previously central role. When out of possession the wing-halves were expected to defend against the opposing wingers, as modern defenders would do. With the wingers covered by the wing-halves, the full-backs were now only expected to defend against the two inside-forwards and the remaining centre-forward.

As passing increasingly came to be accepted there was a gradual change in the role of the forwards. The outside-forwards became more and more providers for the centre-forward, who in British football would be expected to challenge keepers for headers and, if necessary, charge them into the goal. Wingers such as Billy Meredith of Wales, a prolific goal scorer, were increasingly the exception to the rule.

Inside forwards also became more creative as well, and were less and less relied on for goals. Great dribblers such as Nuts Cobbald remained admired, but the new style of inside-forward was more like that famous passer GO Smith than his predecessor.

What the game also began to see more and more was movement to aid the passing. Even under the classical Scottish passing style most players were static when the gave and received the ball. In the early 20th century that style was built on as teams played in triangles, constantly moving into a better position to receive the ball and then play it on. The first team to do it well were Sunderland whose “infernal triangle” would see the trio of Buchan, Mordue and Cuggy gradually progressing further up the pitch by passing the ball between them. Spurs in turn improved on the system, but it was overseas that it was taken to the highest level.

Uruguay (below) v Argentina, 1930

The Uruguay team which dominated world football in the 1920s added even greater movement to the passing style and used their half-backs to dictate periods of possession. With half-backs like Andrade, Gestido and Fernandez they had the most capable players and used inventive inside forwards Scarone and Cea to leave the opposition constantly trying to win back the ball.

Such was the success of the pyramid that it remained in place the world over until the 1930s. In nations such as Austria and Uruguay it remained the system of choice into the 1950s and it was only in the 1960s that printed formations were no longer often shown in that style.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

A Brief History of Tactics - Early Days

Early Days

When the game began tactics were basic. In fact it would be little exaggeration to suggest that there were no tactics in the earliest days of football. Emerging as it did from a mob game, often played by hundreds of participants early football was little short of chaos. Before the Laws were codified in 1863 football had been enthusiastically embraced by many of England’s premier public schools, but even there it remained little short of anarchy.

At almost all the schools the primary part of the game was dribbling. Players would effectively take it in turns to dribble towards the opposing goal until they were stopped or scored. Deliberate passing was unheard of, though in some cases the ball might ricochet off a defender to a team-mate who would continue the charge forward.

The reasons for this style of football were numerous. Firstly football was encouraged at these schools because of its manly nature, and to pass was considered unmanly. Secondly a number of schools either prevented any passing forward (as is the case in rugby today) or made it very difficult due to prohibitive offside laws. Thirdly at a number of the schools, the games were played in narrow cloisters (corridors which surrounded an open quadrant) and consequently there was little advantage gained from passing.

The old boys of a number of the most famous public schools gathered in 1863 to form the Football Association and later codify the Laws of the game. The dominance of the public schools had a dramatic effect on early tactics as they largely followed those that had applied at schoolboy level. As in modern school yard football there were large numbers of attackers and very few midfielders or defenders.

The earliest games under the official Laws saw the standard formation played with 9 forwards, and 2 defenders. The strangest point about these early games was that there was no designated goalkeeper, as the position was not laid down until 1870.   By the time of the first international in 1872 between England and Scotland, the English had made little progress in terms of tactics. Their Scottish rivals however, had made two notable innovations.

England (above) v. Scotland, 1872

The first of these was a change of formation. The Scots had moved to an organised structure of 2 full-backs, 2 half-backs, and 6 forwards. In this system the full-backs acted as central defenders, though given that there were no other defenders, they were expected to cover the whole back-line. The half-backs (modern day midfielders) were used to link the defence and attack, while the forwards were expected only to attack. The forwards were though given fairly strict roles which they were expected to perform. The outside-forwards (outside-right and outside-left) would hug the touchline, the inside-forwards (inside-right and inside-left) would act as providers, and the centre-forwards would be expected to score the goals.

The second innovation was really a natural corollary of the first as deliberate passing was introduced for the first time. In the game’s earliest day brute strength had been as much an element of dribbling as skill. Many of the best player of the day relied on their physical size to outmuscle opponents. In 1872 Queens Park (the first Scottish club) faced Wanderers in the semi-final of the FA Cup, and immediately noticed that that they were significantly smaller than the English side. To overcome that problem the Scots realised they would need to use more brains than brawn. To that end the Scots exchanged quick passes to get past their larger opponents. When England met Scotland later that year, the Scots employed the same stratagem and in both cases the games ended a draw. Given that the Scots had been playing for a much shorter time it was clear that there was something in this passing game. The next time the two nations played, England had adopted Scotland’s formation, but it would be some time before they would introduce passing.

A Brief History of Tactics - Positional Terminology Part Three

ForwardsCentre forward: Clasically used to refer to the central forward in the pyramid and WM formations, regardless of their style of play. Later a generic term to describe all central forwards, now commonly used to refer to a target man. (Example: Tommy Lawton)

Centre Forward: Tommy Lawton
 Striker: Often used generically to refer to all forwards, specifically a clinical finisher whose primary purpose it to score goals. (Example: Michael Owen)

Striker: Michael Owen
 Withdrawn centre-forward: Prior to the Danubian school of football all centre-forwards were out and out goal scorers who led the line. Following the example of Matthias Sindelaar some centre-forwards dropped deeper in order to confuse their opponents and retrieve the ball. In modern parlance often referred to as the "false nine". (Example: Nandor Hidegkuti)

Withdrawn Centre Forward: Nandor Hidegkuti
 Outside left or right: In a four or five man attack, the widest players on the pitch. Essentially wingers with even greater license to attack, and no defensive responsibilities. Rarely heavy goalscorers these were primarily creative players who would stick to their flanks. (Example: Garrincha)

Outside-right: Garrincha
 Wing forward: The outside forwards of an attacking trio. Often very attacking wingers who will cut inside to shoot or seek to dribble past their markers, they can be heavy scorers but will also act as creators for a central striker. (Example: Pedro)

Wing-forward: Pedro
 Target man: Centre forward of a more physical nature. Normally they will be tall, strong and good in the air, allowing long balls and crosses to be played in their direction. Sometimes prolific scorers they are often used more to lead the line and allow others to play off them (Example: Jan Koller)

Target Man: Jan Koller
 Support striker: A forward who plays off the main striker, but in front of the midfield (commonly said to be “in the hole”). They are primarily providers and link men for the team, but in some cases can be prolific goalscorers as well. Often they will play in a very similar style to the playmaker, but in a slightly more advanced position. (Example: Alessandro Del Piero)

Support Striker: Alessandro Del Piero

Inside left or right: In the pyramid and WM the forwards who played in between the outside left and right, and the centre-forward. These were traditionally goalscorers themselves until Alex James dropped into the midfield in the 1930s and acted as another creator. Later a generic term to describe any central forward, though the inside left tended to operate deeper than the inside right. (Example: Omar Sivori)

Inside-left: Omar Sivori

Friday, 22 July 2011

A Brief History of Tactics - Positional Terminology Part Two

Half-back: Generic term to cover all of the midfield line under the pyramid and WM formations. This terminology continued into the sixties, well beyond the use of the formations that went with it.

Centre-half: Although the term has now been bastardised to mean a central defender, it originally meant the central player in the half-back line. They acted as the key link between the defence and attack, and as such played an instrumental playmaking role. (Example: Ernst Ocwirk)

Centre-half: Ernst Ocwirk

Right or left-half: In the pyramid the lateral members of the half-back line, who would be charged with marking the opposing wingers as well as providing a link to the attack. Under the WM these were generic terms to refer to central midfielders. (Example: Jose Leandro Andrade)

Right-half: Jose Leandro Andrade

Central midfielder: Generic term to cover all central midfielders. In these lists a term to cover an all round midfielder who has elements of each of the other central midfield positions. (Example: Michael Ballack)

Central Midfielder: Michael Ballack

Anchor: A defensive minded midfielder who often sits deep and looks to break up the opponents’ play. Likely to act as a holding midfielder and look to incept passes, and cut off passing lines. (Example: Claude Makelele)

Anchor: Claude Makelele

Destroyer: A defensive midfielder who plays at a high tempo and actively seeks to break up play by hunting down opponents and making tackles. They are likely to have limited attacking responsibilities and will normally look for more talented players once they have won the ball. (Example: Gennaro Gattuso)

Destroyer: Gennaro Gattuso

Box to box midfielder: A midfielder who covers the length of the pitch and is as likely to be found in the opposing box as his own. They require great energy and stamina to cover every blade of grass (Example: Michael Essien)

Box to box midfielder: Michael Essien

Deep lying playmaker: A withdrawn midfielder who sits in a deep position to dictate the play. They will commonly pick up the ball from the defence and distribute it with long raking passes. (Example: Andrea Pirlo)

Deep lying playmaker: Andrea Pirlo

Playmaker: An attacking central midfielder, who dictates the style of play of his team. Normally a significant amount of the team’s play will go through them, and they will be responsible for controlling the tempo of the team and generating assists. (Example: Juan Roman Riquelme)

Playmaker: Juan Roman Riquelme

Offensive midfielder: A central midfielder who will look to surge from deep into goalscoring positions. They will often not start as high up the pitch as a playmaker or winger, but will either shoot from long range or use their movement to get into the box unmarked and will typically be a (relatively) heavy scorer. (Example: Frank Lampard)

Offensive midfielder: Frank Lampard

Lateral midfielder: A midfielder who plays on the flanks but is likely to play slightly infield from the touchline and in a deeper position than a winger. They will rarely look to dribble past players and are more likely to play crosses from deep or drift further infield to link play. (Example: David Beckham)

Lateral Midfielder: David Beckham

Winger: A midfielder who hugs the touchline and looks to beat his marker through a combination of pace and trickery. They will be responsible for supplying crosses for the centre forwards to attack. (Example: Ryan Giggs)

Left-winger: Ryan Giggs

A Brief History of Tactics - Positional Terminology Part One

As part of my upcoming history of tactics I've set out below some explanation of the various positional roles that will be commonly used. Most of these are common place and should be easily understood. Some though relate specifically to historical positions which no longer exist in the modern game and where misleadingly the name now applies to a very different role (centre-half and full-back for instance).

In all cases I have anglicised the positional terminology. Zagueiro, Regista and Enganche may add a bit of authenticity to descriptions of footballing formations but they do little to aid basic understanding. Furthermore I've tried to give a famous example for each position to aid the understanding of the role. Where possible these should be contemporary players that everyone should be aware of, where the position went out of fashion some years ago I have selected a classical example.

Hopefully these should be easily understandable and I've not gone overboard in splitting the various roles (the Brazilians have at least 5 different terms to define different types of central attacking midfielder), while still giving appropriate attention to the subtle variations between roles.

GoalkeepersGoalkeeper: Not much explanation necessary for this one. Since the amendments to the Laws of the Game in 1870 a goalkeeper has always been a feature of football. (Example: Gianluigi Buffon)

Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon

Sweeper keeper: A keeper prepared to rush off his line to act like an additional defender and play the ball with his feet. Various disputes exist over who was the first keeper to do this from Gyula Grosics to Petar Radenkovic, but regardless they tend to be the exception rather than the rule (Example: Rene Higuita)

Sweeper Keeper: Rene Higuita


Right or left fullback: In the classical pyramid formation, one of two defenders expected to cover all defensive duties. They would generally cover the central forwards of the opposing team. With the move to the WM and the arrival of a third back these players moved out towards the flanks and began to cover the opposing wingers. Little to no responsibility for going forward. (Example: Bob Crompton)

Right Fullback: Bob Crompton

Right or left back: Lateral defenders in a 4 or 5 man defensive line. Some responsibility for going forward but primarily defence minded. (Example: Gary Neville)

Right-back: Gary Neville

Right or left wing-back: Lateral defenders who look to get forward, these will normally be positioned between the defence and midfield. Some very attack minded versions can spend most of the game attacking. (Example: Roberto Carlos)

Left Wingback: Roberto Carlos

Centre back: Originally a term to describe the third back in the WM formation. Now a generic term to cover all central defenders. In these lists a term to cover an all round defender who has elements of stopper and cultured defender to his game. (Example: Carles Puyol)

Centre-back: Carles Puyol

Cultured defender: A central defender who is comfortable on the ball and has good technical skills. They will normally play in a 4 man defensive line and be partnered by a stopper. (Example: Rio Ferdinand)

Cultured Defender: Rio Ferdinand

Sweeper (also known as the libero): A defender who will sweep up behind the rest of the defence and act as the spare man. Commonly, though not always, a cultured defender who will bring the ball out from the back and join the attacks. (Example: Danny Blind)

Sweeper: Danny Blind

Stopper: A central defender who is almost exclusively used to stop the opponents. Commonly they will be less skilful on the ball than a cultured defender and will be unlikely to bring the ball out of defence. (Example: John Terry)

Stopper: John Terry

Thursday, 21 July 2011

A History of World Football in 100 Games - Part 17

England 4-3 Austria (7 December 1932) Stamford Bridge, London

For all his many achievements as a player, referee and administrator (see part 9) Hugo Meisl will always be best known for his work as the manager of a quite incredible team. Meisl oversaw the evolution in Austrian football from taking sole charge of the national team in 1919, but it was in the early 1930s that the side established itself as a match for any in the world. It was with good reason that the Austrians became known as the “Wunderteam”.

In the years of football’s spread throughout Europe the Austrians were far from the forefront of the game’s expansion. First the Scandinavians (most notably the Danes) and then the Western Europeans pressed ahead in the race to catch up with the sport’s inventors. Yet by the time of the late 20s and early 30s, the Danubian school of Central Europe was at the vanguard of innovation within the game.

As influential as he was in the development of Austrian football, Meisl was not alone. In 1912 Meisl brought Jimmy Hogan, a former English professional, to Vienna and so began one of the most fruitful partnerships of early football history. Hogan was disaffected with the methods of training and preparation that were deeply ingrained within English football. He knew that if he was to find a more receptive audience for his ideas he would have to go and work abroad.

Jimmy Hogan
 Hogan’s first foreign coaching role was with Dordrecht in Holland and it was apparent from the start that the Continentals were naturally more open to the methods that he was attempting to impart. Hogan was an evangelist for the passing game so closely associated with the “Scottish professors”, and at Dordrecht it was this that he set about establishing, performing well enough to be asked to take charge of the Dutch national team for a game against Germany.

After Dordrecht, Hogan returned briefly to England to resume playing before moving to Vienna to work with Meisl. In Austria, Hogan and Meisl worked closely together to improve the standard of football but also to determine the best way of developing players. The pair shared a common vision of how football should best be played and the freedom afforded to Hogan allowed him to experiment with training techniques.

Hogan’s time in Vienna was cut short by WWI and by 1916 he found himself in Hungary with MTK who he formed into an exceptional side. Spells in Germany, France and Switzerland followed before in 1931 he returned to Vienna. In his absence Austrian football had altered immeasurably.

A draw for the national side with England in May 1930 had been the start of one of the greatest sequences in football history. Hungary were beaten 8-2, Switzerland 8-1, while Germany were defeated 6-0 in Berlin and 5-0 in Vienna. The result which really made the rest of Europe sit up though was the crushing 5-0 defeat of Scotland in May 1931. This was of course a Scotland team that had demolished England 5-1 at Wembley in 1928 with arguably the finest demonstration of the passing game ever seen to this point in history, yet they were comprehensively out-passed and out-played by the Austrians. The Scots were admittedly not at full strength, not selecting a single player from Rangers or Celtic (the great Davie Meiklejohn was a most notable absentee), but it still signalled a power shift in international football.

Striking as they were, these incredible results were not achieved by any form of revolution in the football played in Austria. The fundamentals that had been introduced by Hogan remained the basis for the style of play adopted by the Austrians, but by the early 1930s the technique had been perfected. Austria retained the pyramid 2-3-5 formation, but as with all the great teams they made movement an integral element to their game. When receiving the ball a player had a wealth of options available for him so that the “pass and move” style of play became simple. Such was the level of movement that the Wunderteam displayed that they came to be known as the “Danubian whirl”.

Matthias Sindelar
 Undeniably the focal point of this great side was centre-forward Matthias Sindelar. Known as “der Papierene” (the paper man) on account of his fragile frame, Sindelar embodied the ethos of Meisl and Hogan. He was a master of close control, demonstrated immense vision and possessed a lethal shot which skidded low and into the corner of the net. Sindelar was a genius whose ability demanded the right to roam around the field looking for the ball. Defences risked either allowing Austria an extra man in the midfield or being pulled out shape by this wandering waif.

The rest of the team were exceptional in their own right, but they fitted more neatly into the narrowly defined roles of the day. Rudi Hiden was a supreme goalkeeper, up there with Zamora, Planicka and Combi as the finest of the age. Karl Sesta was an exceptional left-back, only rivalled by England’s Eddie Hapgood for a place in any world XI. Inside-left Anton Schall was a prolific goalscorer, but also a majestic passer with a fabulous variety to his art.

Formations for England (above) v. Austria
 With huge expectations of an historic encounter between two sides with claims to be the continent’s finest teams, 40,000 packed in to Stamford Bridge. The familiar nerves that plagued foreign sides playing in England were evident in the early stages as Hiden gave away a needless corner which Jimmy Hampson turned in after just five minutes. Twenty minutes later the Blackpool man scored again with an effort from distance. Austria found themselves 2-0 down, yet they dominated possession and left England unable to win back the ball.

In the second-half the Austrians again took charge of the game with controlled spells of possession football. Six minutes after the restart Austria pulled a goal back as Sindelar and Schall exchanged passes before Karl Zischek, the outside-right, beat Harry Hibbs in the England goal. The crowd were in raptures as the visitors every move was greeted with cheers and applause for the way that the pulled the England defence from one side to the other. Austria thought they were level when Walter Nausch fired towards goal, only to be denied by the upright.

Yet despite their superiority Austria could not make their possession count, and soon after pulling one back they found themselves further behind. Eric Houghton, England’s outside-left, aimed a free-kick at goal but the cruel deflection off Karl Sesta took it away from Hiden and into the net. Austria rallied through the brilliant Matthias Sindelar, but David Jack’s clever pass put through Sammy Crooks to score and England were out of sight. A late goal from Zischek made the score 4-3, but Austria could not force another and went away bitterly disappointed at their defeat.

The English press was in no doubt about who had been the better team. The Austrians were commonly regarded as the moral victors, while England were lucky to have scraped a win from a game in which they had been utterly outplayed. The game was described by the Daily Herald as “a most disturbing victory – the kind that leaves one wondering how it happened and a sort of creepy feeling that we were successful by the kindness of some spirit of chance which will never be so good again.” England’s famous home record was under increasing threat.

Friday, 15 July 2011

A History of World Football in 100 Games - Part 16

 England 7-1 Spain (9 December 1931) Highbury, London

Having suffered the ignominy of defeat in Barcelona at the hands of Spain in 1929, England were desperate to make amends when the two sides met in London in 1931. Spain were only the second team outside the Home Nations (after Belgium) afforded the chance to play an international on English soil, and hoped to do rather better that their predecessors who had twice been thrashed by a rampant England. Since their famous defeat in 1929 England had fallen again to Continental opposition, losing earlier in 1931 to France in Paris though they had not been able to field their first choice XI.

However, the new season had seen improved form for England. In the opening games of the Home Championship they had comprehensively defeated Ireland 6-2 in Belfast before easing past Wales at Anfield. England had also at last found a solution to the problems they faced in goal. Ever since the departure of the great Sam Hardy (who dominated the position from 1907-1920) England had tried a succession of men in goal, with nobody able to make the position his own. Harry Hibbs of Birmingham City had made his debut against Wales in 1929 and immediately showed that he was the man for the job. England’s long search for a goalkeeper was over.

Harry Hibbs

Spain had continued their own impressive form since the victory over England. The intervening years had seen them pick up victories over Italy, Yugoslavia and Portugal, with just one defeat to Czechoslovakia in Prague to mar their record. They did though have to make some late adjustments to their team for the game at Highbury.

Right-back Ciriaco Errasti had established himself as the first choice right-back for Spain but he was ruled out and was replaced by Ramon Zabalo of Barcelona, a man born in South Shields in the North-East of England but of Catalan ancestry. This change broke up the club partnership between Errasti and Jacinto Quincoces who played together at Real Madrid, but Zabalo was a capable replacement. Arguably of greater significance was the loss of inside forward Luis Regueiro, also of Real Madrid, which prompted a reorganisation in the midfield with Leonardo Cilaurren coming into the team.

The greatest challenge that the Spaniards faced though was psychological. As Willy Meisl wrote in his “Soccer Revolution”, “What the English could not know was the incredible inferiority complex under which these early Continental sides laboured when they stepped on to a British football field. For them it was sacred soil. They were so over-awed they hardly dared to put a foot down. If they were hit by an early goal, let alone by a couple, their strained nerves were shattered and they were beaten before they had a chance to get going.”

Sadly for Spain exactly that happened. With only four minutes gone they already found themselves two down. Jack Smith of Portsmouth put England ahead almost immediately after kick-off from an Alfred Strange pass, while Tommy Johnson doubled the advantage minutes later with a tap in. Meanwhile, thousands were still locked outside a bursting Highbury, with a capacity of only 55,000 preventing many more enjoying the slaughter.

he Spaniards struggled to get to grips with either the pitch or the physicality of the England players. The turf at Highbury was soft from the rain and gave easily underfoot. Furthermore Spain didn’t seem accustomed to the direct style of the English side, while their lack of pressing allowed the home team to dictate play at will. When they did get the ball the Spanish attempted to dribble, but found themselves the targets of some hard tackling from the English half-backs.

England went further ahead before half-time when Smith rifled a powerful shot into the roof of the net after receiving the ball from Dixie Dean. Spain stood little chance of recovering, but they had found themselves in a similar position in 1929 and had come back to win. Could they repeat the feat?

Any faint hopes that remained among the Spaniards were soon extinguished in the second-half. Two minutes after the interval Ellis Rimmer’s cross was met by Sammy Crooks who floated the ball over the head of a stranded Zamora. Crooks was the stand out performer in the second-half with his relentless dribbling running the Spanish half-backs ragged. It was from a Crooks corner that Dean scored the fifth goal of the game and the Everton striker soon turned provider when he laid the ball off to Johnson for England’s sixth after a Spanish handball.

Sammy Crooks
 Late on Crooks pounced on another sweeping crossfield pass from Rimmer to score England’s seventh, but Spain did have time for some consolation. Gorostiza, the Spanish outside-left who was known as the “red bullet” on account of his flame coloured hair and thunderous shooting, broke away and, true to his name, hit a powerful strike that Hibbs could not keep out. It was no more than Spain deserved.

The real impact of the game was restore the fa├žade of England’s invincibility. It was clear to the fans at home that the defeat of 1929 (as well as the loss against France earlier in the year) was an aberration, a fluke result caused by the heat and the absence of England’s best players. In reality the scoreline flattered the home team, and they benefitted significantly from the soft turf and wet conditions.

Where England won the game was in their experience in dealing with such conditions and a willingness to play to their strengths. While Spain attempted to stick to their natural game of passing and dribbling the English backs were content to pump the ball forward for the strikers to chase. The ease of the victory only reinforced the view that the English style of play was the only way to go. On the Continent however, new ideas were being embraced which would challenge the pre-eminence the game’s inventors still enjoyed.

Friday, 8 July 2011

A History of World Football in 100 Games - Part 15

 Uruguay 4-2 Argentina (30 July 1930) Estadio Centenario, Montevideo

The first World Cup produced the final that all neutrals had hoped for. A repeat of the 1928 Olympic final pitted the two great South American rivals against each other again to decide which nation would enjoy international bragging rights for the next four years. Despite relatively slow starts from both sides in the group stage, the semi-finals had illustrated quite how strong each side was and the symmetry of their 6-1 wins in the previous game only showed how well matched the two sides were.

For their victory over the USA in the semi-finals, Argentina had enjoyed the passionate support of the Uruguayan crowd angered by the perceived arrogance of the North Americans. Any hopes that this positive atmosphere would continue in the final were clearly pipe dreams as traditional service was resumed between these two most bitter rivals. Neither side could contemplate losing at this stage, especially not to such a hated enemy.

If they could not rely on support from the home fans the Argentines did at least have their own countrymen to call on. The Argentines had chartered ten packet ships to transport their supporters across the River Plate, but the fans who gathered in Buenos Aires demanded still more. The crowds saw off these ships by chanting “Argentina si! Uruguay no! Victory or death” in an effort to pass on their own passion to the players charged with bringing back the World Cup. As it was the Argentine flotilla hit a snag when heavy fog descended on the River Plate and left thousands stranded on board ships with no hope of reaching Uruguay in time.

Those who did arrive were faced with suspicion by their Uruguayan hosts, almost like an invading army come to challenge the Celestes in their own arena. The Argentine supporters were searched for revolvers both on docking in Montevideo and on arrival at the Centenario as police feared for the security of the game. They were not the only ones nervous about the potential for violence. Referee John Langenus of Belgium insisted on life insurance prior to the game, such was his concern for his own personal safety. He also took the unusual precaution of having a pre-planned escape route to a waiting ship in the event that trouble might escalate.

1930 World Cup Poster
In fairness to Langenus there was genuine cause for concern that violence might break out between the supporters of the two nations. The disgraceful scenes that had taken place in 1924 when Argentina faced the newly crowned Olympic champions in Buenos Aires, had forced both the initial encounter and the replay to be abandoned due to crowd trouble. A repeat of such circumstances would have been a disaster for the organisers and all parties were keen to avoid such an embarrassment. Luis Monti, Argentina’s bulldog centre-half, had been the subject of death threats in the build up to the final in the hope that it might unsettle the visitors’ influential midfielder. Furthermore the decision was taken to reduce the capacity of the ground to just 80,000 in the hope that the issues of overcrowding could be avoided.

The first challenge that referee Langenus faced was to select a ball. Somewhat predictably both sides wanted a ball of their own manufacture, but Langenus immediately demonstrated the diplomacy which had made him an ideal choice for the final. It was agreed that Argentina’s ball would be used in the first half and the Uruguayan ball for the second. Each ball had its own characteristics, with the Uruguayan ball larger and heavier than its Argentine counterpart. The mind games clearly started early.

The two sides were almost unchanged from the semi-finals with Uruguay bringing back Castro in place of the ill Anselmo, while Argentina had Varallo returning from injury to reclaim his place from Scopelli and Suarez standing in for Orlandini. The Argentines had been forced to play one more game than their hosts, but had rotated their squad sensibly and so could have little grounds for any fatigue. A game of this magnitude could motivate even the most tired of players.

Uruguay (below) v. Argentina formations
The sides emerged to a rapturous welcome from a crowd eager to see the game underway and to their delight it was the home side that made the brighter start. Within the opening minutes Uruguay took the lead despite the desperate defending of the Argentines. When Scarone’s shot was blocked by Paternoster the ball fell to Dorado who rifled the ball through the legs of Botasso and past the flailing leg of Evaristo who stood on the goal line. The crowd’s roar of approval was as loud as any the new stadium would ever hear and put the Argentines squarely on the backfoot.

Minutes later though the tide had turned in favour of Argentina as they levelled the game with an excellently worked goal. Ferreira set Peucelle free down the right flank and with a moment of skill he skipped past Gestido, surged into the penalty area and thrashed the ball past Ballesteros to restore parity. It was a fine response to the Uruguayan opener and signalled that the Argentines were more than ready for the fight.

Before half-time Argentina took a shock lead when Stabile latched on to a hopeful cross from Ferreira and tucked the ball calmly past keeper Ballesteros. Varallo had given a smart pass to the Argentine skipper and sprinted into the box to get on the end of the return ball only for Stabile to bundle him out of the way to net for the Argentines. Such was the desire of the Argentine players that they were even prepared to ”foul” their own teammates in order to score. The Uruguayans complained vehemently to Langenus that both Ferreira and Stabile had been caught offside in the move, but the linesman failed to spot the infringement and allowed the goal to stand. Given the Uruguayans’ good fortune in the semi-final they could hardly complain about the disputed goal, but their vociferous protests were joined by those of the massed crowds inside the Centenario.

So disgruntled was Uruguayan captain Jose Nasazzi that he continued his discussions with Langenus into the half-time break, even following the Belgian into his dressing room to harangue the unfortunate official still further. Legend has it that Nasazzi scrawled a diagram of the contentious offside in the walls of the referee’s changing room and that it remained in place for many years in honour to this “national treasure.” Regardless the goal stood and the Uruguayans faced an uphill battle in the  second half as they sought to come from behind to win.

Early in the second half the Argentines had an opportunity to stretch their lead further as Stabile found himself one on one with Ballesteros only to miss-fire at the vital moment. Uruguay beathed a collective sigh of relief at the failure of the Huracan hitman to take this golden chance, but they still trailed and needed a goal of their own to get back on level terms. It came from a set piece as Fernandez, whose clever free-kick had undone Yugoslavia, swung another into the box towards Castro. He in turn fed Scarone who lofted the ball over defender Della Torre and into the path of Cea to finish the move off and bring the sides level again.

They would not stay tied for long as Uruguay, clearly lifted by their second score swarmed towards the Argentine goal. Luis Monti who had been so influential in the earlier games appeared unsettled by the alleged death threats he had received and failed to impose himself on the game. Instead it was the trio of Andrade, Fernandez and Gestido who yet again orchestrated the Uruguayan attacks. Scarone and Cea among the forwards looked the most dangerous though Petrone was out of sorts and had little impact on the game.

When the goal came it was one to savour as Iriarte received a long punt forward from Mascheroni and blasted the ball past an outstretched Botasso. Juan Evaristo had attempted to block the Uruguayan winger’s venomous shot, but despite his close marking the ball flew into the Argentine net. Finally Uruguay had recaptured the lead and from now they seemed desperate not to give it up. That’s not to say however, that they did not face scares before the game’s end. First Stabile and then Varallo rattled the frame of the Uruguayan goal, but it appeared that the footballing gods were smiling on Uruguay that day.

Soon after, Varallo’s knee injury reduced his impact and he was forced to the wing as Argentina reshuffled their pack in an attempt to steal an equaliser. They had faced a daunting task when playing with eleven fit men, but with ten the Argentines stood little chance. Soon after the Uruguayans applied the coup de grace as Dorado crossed for Castro to head past Botasso despite the intervention of Della Torre. The one armed forward settled any argument and sealed the victory for Uruguay, a magnificent victory for the hosts.

Uruguayan celebrations
In the aftermath of the game Varallo’s father was forced to sneak out of the stadium draped in a Uruguayan flag to avoid being recognised as an Argentine in such a charged atmosphere. Back in Buenos Aires the reaction was no less measured, as fans pelted the Uruguayan consulate with stones and were only forced to disperse when the security forces opened fire. On a footballing level the Copa America was not played for another five years (though this was in part due to the  internal schisms which arose in both countries over the issue of amateurism) and the two sides would not meet again in any competition until 1932.

Uruguay had proved beyond doubt that not only were they capable of producing a world class team, but they were also able to host the game’s biggest event. Of course a number of administrative hiccups had arisen over the course of the inaugural World Cup, but that was to be expected given the scale of the undertaking and the novelty of the tournament. The World Cup had undoubtedly been a significant success, with the festival even making a modest profit. The gamble of awarding the tournament to Uruguay ahead of the more established powers had paid off and despite the indifference of most of Europe towards the competition there was no doubt that the experiment would be repeated.