Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Fatman And Robben

The World Cup is not a place for an old man to have his last hurrah. You bring an aging team to the World Cup and younger, faster teams will make you pay. The way Ghana ran rampant over the Czech Republic highlights the problem that teams without youth tend to have. Experience is always good in big tournaments but if you field a team that is too ancient you probably are going home early. Tournaments like the World Cup are usually a place where a star is born and older men are laid to rest. Michael Owen announced his arrival on the world stage in '98 with his goal against Argentina and now at just 26 he seems to be over the hill and second choice to Wayne Rooney.

Carel Bruckner doesn't have a choice to play younger players in the Czech team. His best players are his oldest. The only good midfielder under 30 is Tomas Rosicky. The others like Poborsky and Nedved have already seen their best days. Raymond Domenech and Carlos Pareira have young talent on the bench who can improve their teams but choose to keep them there. Domenech has a keeper in Gregory Coupet who has won the french league title four years in a row and has been playing in the Champions League. Coupet is probably one of the best keepers in Europe yet he is kept on the bench in favor of Fabien Barthez. Barthez's best days are behind him. Now is not the time to get sentimental and reward him for being on the World Cup winning team in '98. Similarly, Zidane should be laid to rest once and for all. He's probably the greatest player since Diego Maradona, but those days are long gone. Right now he's an old man who looks out of place and can't go the distance in an international match. Bench him and bring on Franck Ribery. Ribery has more pace and distributes the ball quicker. His quickness would probably help Henry in attack. Another change would be to take off another aging player, either Vieira or Makelele because they both have the same strengths. Bench Vieira and bring on Vikash Dhorasoo.

Brazil look to be in cruise control and Pareira doesn't mind because they have won both of their games. You come to the World Cup to win it, not to play with flair and lose. To that end, Pareira will probably keep Ronaldo in the side because although they haven't been that impressive they haven't been in danger of losing any of their two games. They are on top of their group and they are going to be waltzing into the second round. If it aint broke don't fix it. For the most part I feel the same wa about the Brazilian team but Ronaldo's inclusion in the team doesn't make much sense after watching the first two games. He is a hero from days gone by who should be laid to rest if for no other reason to preserve his legacy. When people think of Ronaldo they think of the player from '97 and '98 but he's not that player anymore. He's got all the individual and team accolades. His place in history is secured. He's just going through the motions and this point. Bench him and bring on Robinho. Robinho brings everything to the table that Ronaldo used to bring: speed and great technical ability when he's on the ball. The drawback to Robinho is that he doesn't finish as well and he's not a true center forward so if he's on the field the tactics would have to be changed to accomodate his talents.

The Spanish and Dutch team seem to have to understand this phenomenon. Van Basten left big name players like Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf, Patrick Kluivert and Roy Makaay back home in favor of younger players like Van Persie, Van der Vart and Robben. Robben has been a revelation in the Dutch team. He was single handedly responsible for seeing off the Serbians in their first game and in the second game against the Ivory Coast he played team ball and allowed Van Persie to get in on the action. The young Dutch team is playing with a sense of flair and adventure that they probably would not have if they were playing with the older players who were big names in the late 90s but today are washed up has beens.
Luis Aragones of Spain has also benched big name players in favor of talented youngsters. Instead of starting Raul, the golden boy of Spanish football, Aragones has gone with David Villa and Fernando Torres up front. Aragones also played 19 year old youngster Cesc Fabregas yesterday who was responsible for setting up the first two goals for Spain. The biggest surprise in the Cup for me has been how well Fernando Torres has played. I’ve always referred to El Nino as “El no no” because for all the hype surrounding him he hasn’t performed well on a big stage. However, what he has shown so far in the World Cup is if you surround him with good players he can be effective. He was given good service from Fabregas for his first goal against Tunisia which put them to rest. Granted, Ukraine and Tunisia aren't world beaters in international football but he is doing what he is supposed to: laying bums to rest. He scored a nice goal against the Ukraine with the one time volley off the Carles Puyol headed pass and scored two more against Tunisia and could have had a hat trick.
In truth, the Dutch and the Spaniards probably won’t be playing for the title on July 9th but with the young talent they have on the field they have given themselves a better chance than the French who are still holding on to the glory days of ’98. Brazil probably has enough talent to carry Ronaldo for a few more rounds of the tournament but I suspect if they come up against a strong side like Argentina they will need to have 11 players whose best days are still ahead of them.


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