5 Key Tactical Decisions of the 2014 World Cup Group Stages
The 2014 World Cup has produced some fascinating tactical decisions throughout the group stages.
Success or failure can be dependent on such key factors in the first round of the finals, and the tournament in Brazil has underlined this.
Let's take a look at some of the crucial choices made by head coaches in the group stages in Brazil this year.
Uruguay vs. England
England's greatest weakness in the tournament was at the back of midfield.
Steven Gerrard is not a natural holding player, and Jordan Henderson couldn't offer sufficient protection—as anybody who saw Liverpool draw 2-2 with Aston Villa last season knew.
Without a natural anchor, England probably needed a third body in there and to play a 4-3-3 rather than a 4-2-3-1, as they had in the 1-0 friendly win over Denmark in March.
Oscar Tabarez, arguably the most tactically astute coach in the tournament, exploited the deficiency ruthlessly.
The Uruguay coach brought in Nicolas Lodeiro to operate a midfield diamond, immediately placing a player in that zone just in front of the England back four, and detailing Edinson Cavani to drop deep, placing pressure on Gerrard, which was at least partly responsible for the first goal.
Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Nigeria
Bosnia head coach Safet Susic's intention in leaving out Sead Kolasinac and playing Senad Lulic at left-back was presumably to take the game to Nigeria, with the Lazio winger overlapping Zvjezdan Misimovic, who was moved to the left of the 4-2-3-1 as Miralem Pjanic was employed further forward in a central role.
Perhaps Nigeria's drab draw with Iran—when they had had barely any width and had offered little in the way of attacking guile—had persuaded Susic that they were there for the taking.
As it turned out, though, given space to attack, Nigeria were far more effective, and gleefully made the most of the space behind Lulic. They hit a series of long diagonals for Ahmed Musa and Emmanuel Emenike to chase, dragging Emir Spahic, the left-sided centre-back, out of position.
The only goal came as Emenike outmuscled Spahic and cut the ball back for Peter Odemwingie to score.
Iran vs. Argentina
Patrice Evra has spoken of how Carlos Queiroz masterminded the defensive aspect of Manchester United's 1-0 Champions League semi-final win over Barcelona in 2008, and the Portuguese coach's tactical acumen was to the fore again as Iran held Argentina until the very last.
He set his side out in a 4-4-1-1 that became 4-1-4-1 out of possession. Javad Nekounam sat between the defensive and midfield lines, filling the gap in the midfield four when one of them went to close down the man in possession.
So disciplined were they that when Lionel Messi finally broke their resistance in injury time, he had 11 men between him and the goal.
Genius sometimes just cannot be stopped.
Netherlands vs. Chile
Louis van Gaal has always had his doubters in the Netherlands, not least because he often sends his team out in a style perceived to be "un-Dutch."
Fielding a weakened team against Chile, the incoming Manchester United manager got the result he required to top the group—and thus avoid Brazil in the last 16—by sitting his team deep and waiting for the Chilean storm to blow itself out.
The Netherlands then capitalised on Chile's lack of height at the back to take the lead from a corner before finishing the job with a well-worked breakaway.
Ivory Coast vs. Greece
Ivory Coast had two modes: there were the times when Didier Drogba and Wilfried Bony were on as a front two and the times when only one of them played.
With both together, Ivory Coast scored three and conceded one; with only one, they scored one and conceded five.
The arrival of Bony to join Drogba against Greece led to the surge that brought the equaliser, but then Sabri Lamouchi took Drogba off for Giovanni Sio.
The former Chelsea striker's slow march off the pitch suggested his unhappiness, and sure enough, the game tipped back Greece's way and they took the game—and qualification for the second phase—with an injury-time penalty.