2010 FIFA World Cup Opening Day Highlights the Importance of Teamwork

Sports WriterCorrespondent IJune 12, 2010

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 11:  Goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune (R) of South Africa and Aaron Mokoena of South Africa celebrate their first goal during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group A match between South Africa and Mexico at Soccer City Stadium on June 11, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa.  (Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)
Phil Cole/Getty Images

The opening day of the 2010 World Cup highlighted the importance of teamwork in the game of football. The advertisers might try to persuade you otherwise but football is not entirely about moments of individual brilliance, it is about a team working together collectively as a cohesive unit.

Once you have this organizational infrastructure in place individuals are able to shine but without it the entire team will fail. This was perfectly demonstrated by Mexico's late equalizer against South Africa.

With 10 minutes to go, South Africa were on course for the victory which they so desperately craved and which few expected them to actually achieve. They had survived an early onslaught from Mexico and successfully converted one of the few opportunities that fell their way.

All they needed to do was continue to work together as a team to ensure that nothing short of a moment of magic would allow their opponents to equalize. Instead, they gifted Mexico an equalizer from the most harmless of crosses because one of the key components of their defensive unit, the highly experienced captain Aaron Mokoena, failed to perform his specific role.

With Mexico about to send a speculative cross into the South African box the defending side pushed up as a unit in a well rehearsed manoeuvre which should have left at least three forwards well offside. Were it not for Mokoena's moment of madness it would have been a perfectly executed defensive strategy which would have resulted in a free kick for South Africa inside their own penalty area.

Unfortunately Mokoena failed to push up with the rest of his defenders thereby singlehanedly playing all three Mexican attackers onside. While the other defending South Africans were all in a line on the edge of the penalty area, Mokoena was left lingering uncertainly by the penalty spot.

Perhaps realizing his mistake he attempted to redeem himself by winning the header but the ball eluded him entirely to leave Rafael Marquez with a goal scoring opportunity which was quite simply unmissable.

Any aspiring defenders can learn a huge deal from Mokoeana's misjudgment. It does not matter how good or how experienced a player you are, and Mokoena has been capped by his country over 100 times, you still need to retain total concentration from the kick off to the final whistle.

A centre back looking from right to left to ensure that his back four are all level with him and then marching them forward together might not be the stuff of which sportswear commercials are made of. It is something which most fans take for granted until it goes wrong, as it did for Aaron Mokoena and South Africa on Friday.

The reality of the game is that goals which result from defensive errors such as this are worth just as much as goals which are the product of sensational solo efforts.

Many of the French players seemed to be under the impression that they were there to create their own personal highlight reel rather than to perform as a functional team. Nicolas Anelka and Frank Ribery are both outstanding players, but they did not perform to anything like the level they are capable of against Uruguay.

The main reason for this was their reluctance to play simple football, to simply receive the ball, protect it and lay it off. Virtually every time that either man received possession they embarked on an ambitious solo run and almost without fail they ended up surrendering possession.

Abou Diaby and Yoann Gourcuff were two of France's better performers, but both seemed in danger of believing their own publicity. Diaby was probably thinking about scoring the goal of the competition when he attempted to score from 30 yards in the first half. He should have been thinking about finding a teammate and he ended up blazing the ball embarrassingly wide.

Gourcuff actually deserves some credit for an audacious shot from a left wing free kick that almost caught the Uruguay goalkeeper unawares. It was symptomatic of a wider problem for France though; that of players attempting to find the answers individually that they should have been searching for as a team.

The ultimate demonstration of this came when Diaby played a beautifully weighted cross-field pass which would have perfectly picked out the run of the onrushing Sidney Govou had it not been intercepted by an offside Nicolas Anelka.

If Anelka had stepped over the ball or just allowed it to run past him, Govou would have been behind the Uruguyuan defence with a clear run at goal. Govou had already missed one golden opportunity to score from inside the six yard box and perhaps Anelka simply did not trust his teammate and felt the need to take control of the situation himself.

Football is a team game; it always has been and it always will be. Having good positional sense, communication skills, and an awareness of where your teammates are is far more important than being able to perform a step over or shoot effectively from 30 yards or more.

It seems that even at the most prestigious tournament on the planet there are players who need reminding of this fact.

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