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“To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you're not, pretend you are.” – Muhammad Ali

Monday, October 16, 2017

From The Archives - Tactical Trends from the 2014 World Cup

2014 World Cup gave us memories and tactical trends still prevalent today...
The following piece was written three years ago (August 21, 2014) after the 2014 World Cup. Three years later, some of its points are relevant today.

The 2014 Fifa World Cup, it seemed, left as quickly as it came but it did leave some indelible legacies. As with previous editions Brazil 2014 showcased today’s en vogue tactical trends, where the game stands at the moment and, perhaps, where it is headed.

Mostly, there was a refreshing bravery and, after a counter-punching 2010 edition, this was perhaps confirmation of another shift in collective philosophy – a new cycle where attack is king.

Certainly, around Europe, clubs in the supremacy right now are those with attacking approaches.

In Germany, the two top sides – Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund – are proponents of an attractive, offensive game. In England, Manchester City and Liverpool both scored over 100 league goals last season and, in Spain, Barcelona and Real Madrid continue to add to their rich attacking talent every year.

Even in Italy, the land of defensive arts, last season’s top two teams – Juventus and Roma – averaged two goals per game over the course of the league campaign.

Now, with the focus shifted to the new football season, here are some trends from the World Cup to look out for over the course of the 2014-15 season.

The return of the back three
For a decade the back three seemed extinct from the game with teams preferring a four-man defence of two centre-backs and two full-backs. As explained here by Zonal Marking, this was partly down to a rising prevalence of one-striker formations which often left the third centre-back redundant in both phases of the game.

However, the use of three central defenders has gradually crept back into the game and was in full vogue at the World Cup.

Costa Rica, Mexico, Chile and the Netherlands all used the system throughout the tournament.

All were highly successful and all reached the last 16.

The advantages of the system are clear with defensive solidity being the most obvious (in total, Costa Rica, Mexico, Chile and the Netherlands conceded only 13 goals in 20 tournament games).

But, offensively there are benefits, too. Three centre-backs allow the fullbacks to push even higher up the pitch, making it possible to squeeze opponents back because the extra centre-back is able to cover or sweep up balls over the top.

The wingbacks, therefore, are able to support attacks as well as defend.

Teams will no doubt look to adopt this tactic this season with Louis Van Gaal’s transition from Netherlands coach to Manchester United being the most intriguing.

It will be interesting to see how widespread and frequent the use of three central defenders will be.

Is this the return of the back three?

The advanced keeper
Manuel Neuer was at times an extra outfield player for Germany...

Germany’s Manuel Neuer introduced a new position at the World Cup – the advanced keeper.

Of course the concept of a sweeper keeper isn’t new. It is widely credited to the Dutch and was popularised by Rinus Michels and Total Football in the 60s. Gerrit Bals, the Ajax Amsterdam goalkeeper at the time, was encouraged to patrol the space behind the defence by Michels and the stopper played a notable role in Ajax’s dominant side from the mid-60s to early 70s.

Later, Edwin van der Sar became perhaps the role’s first master, being able not only to sweep behind the defensive line, but initiate attacks with his distribution as well.

Fast forward to Brazil 2014 and Neuer took things a step further by basically becoming an extra outfield player for Germany, most famously in their last 16 tie against Algeria.

Manuel Neuer’s famous heat-map v Algeria:

Image via Squawka
-           59 touches of the ball
-           19 outside penalty box

In the chess game that is football, coaches are forever seeking an upper hand over opponents and the 11th-man keeper has obvious advantages – he allows the team to push higher up the pitch because he covers space behind the defence and can also launch attacks.

Apart from Neuer, other exponents of the advanced keeper are Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris and Victor Valdes, now at AS Monaco.

Modern football is more holistic.

Increasingly every player on the team has to contribute more; the advanced keeper is just another step in this evolution.

The winger-playmaker
Arjen Robben was influential at the 2014 World Cup
as a winger-playmaker
This was a particular quirk of the World Cup, the winger that was essentially a number10, i.e. the team’s main creator.

Arjen Robben was the best example of this.

Nominally a winger, Robben spent a lot of time creating havoc in central zones. Costa Rica’s Bryan Ruiz also had a successful tournament drifting infield from a wide position while Mesut Özil was similarly influential in Germany’s World Cup final win over Argentina drifting in from the wing.

The reasons for this shift are also clear.

The introduction of the Makelele midfielder has minimised the work space of the traditional number 10, usually seeing him harassed and chased for 90 minutes.

For the winger playmaker, however, there is often to space be found when the opposing fullback ventures forward, a major part of the modern game. The winger-playmaker usually gains possession in wide areas and can then decide whether to cut inside or attack on the outside.

By a winger-playmaker cutting inside it means fullbacks are unable to use the sideline as an extra defender and, by engaging midfielders centrally, the winger-playmaker creates space for runners coming from deep and teammates on the overlap.

The rise of the counterattack as a team strategy, not just phase of play, is another cause of this strategy as the languid, traditional number 10 has been sacrificed for quicker alternatives. The team’s most creative player is now frequently stationed out wide.

This was seen, for example, with Atletico Madrid last season, and they had great success with skilled ball-players Koke and Arda Turan who could put in a shift out wide and also drift infield to dangerous effect.

Two-man pivot remains the way
Even with a three-man defence the Netherlands still employed a two-man pivot in front of the defence, just like all the other three semi-finalists – Germany, Argentina and Brazil.

Standard interpretation of the midfield double-pivot:

This is a tactic that was solidified at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and has become standard today. The double-pivot provides protection to the defence and ensures the team isn’t overrun in midfield.

Still, it is vital the two central midfielders are able to build play and dictate the game in an offensive sense as well. That was a problem Brazil had; Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo were unable to progress play into the final third.

Balance between the double pivot's defensive abilities and capacities for progression is crucial. Germany were successful because at all times they had a duo able gradually press opposition back and dictate the life of the game.

This area remains key.

Importance of set-pieces
Not so much of a tactical trend, but a confirmation: set-pieces are crucial in the modern game.

Roughly set-pieces account for 30% of goals scored at the highest level and they have become a crucial part of the game.

For example, from the quarterfinal stage to the final (barring Germany’s 7-1 mauling of Brazil), four of the six goals scored came from set-pieces.

It is simple.

The biggest games are decided by the smallest margins because all teams involved are highly skilled and defensively prepared. Space and clear-cut chances from open play are at a premium.

Set-pieces, thus, provide a golden opportunity to decide a game.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Lesotho faces Zimbabwe in COSAFA Cup semi-finals

Lesotho striker Thapelo Tale (left) challenged by Namibia's Denzil Haoseb
Lesotho is one step away from reaching the final of the 2017 COSAFA Castle Cup. Likuena will face Zimbabwe in the COSAFA Castle Cup semi-finals on Wednesday afternoon and the match will kick-off at 17:30 at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg, South Africa.

Moses Maliehe’s charges booked their place in the last four thanks to a 5-4 penalty shootout win over 2015 champions Namibia in Saturday’s quarterfinals after the match had ended goalless draw in normal time.

Minister of sport Kabelo Mafura praised Likuena’s progression to the final four of the regional showpiece being hosted in South Africa’s North West province.

“We want sports be a unifying factor for Basotho and that is what I am working towards,” Mafura added.

Before the COSAFA Cup, Mafura boosted Likuena’s tournament budget with M50 000 from his own pocket. Wednesday’s semi-final against Zimbabwe will be the second time in the past four years that Lesotho meets the Warriors at the last four stage. In 2013 in Zambia, Zimbabwe ran out 2-1 winners.

Likuena will be looking for a reversal of fortunes as they chase a first-ever international title.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Namibia looking forward to Lesotho clash at COSAFA Cup

Namibia were COSAFA Castle Cup champions in 2015...
Namibia coach Ricardo Mannetti says the Brave Warriors are looking forward to the challenge of facing Lesotho in the 2017 COSAFA Castle Cup. The draw for this year’s competition was conducted two weeks ago and the sides will face-off in the quarterfinals.

Asked about the draw, Ricardo Mannetti was buoyant. He said Namibia respects Lesotho but is aiming to go all the way to the final and championship glory.

“I know Lesotho very well; they play positive football with a lot of energy. We will have to control those qualities which I think we are capable of doing,” Mannetti said.

Mannetti said Namibia’s main objective was to win to the regional showpiece, a feat they achieved for the first time in 2015 when the COSAFA Castle Cup was last hosted in South Africa.

“We aim to win the trophy and in order to do so we will have to beat Lesotho to reach the semi-finals, and ultimately the final,” he said. “But, we will take it one game at a time, because that’s what it’s all about. You can’t play the next game, before the one you have to play,” he said.

According to Mannetti, the Brave Warriors’ preparations will ultimately be more important than the opponents they will face.

“It is not much about whom we are drawn against, but rather our preparations and intensity. We have faith in our strengths and approach and we will have to perfect that and play our own way,” he said.

As in the previous three tournaments, the quarterfinal losers will contest the Plate competition.

However, for the winner of the match between Lesotho and Namibia the prospect of a Cup semi-final and final will await. In the semi-finals the two teams will either face Swaziland or the winner of Group B.

COSAFA Castle Cup draw:
Group A: Angola, Tanzania, Mauritius, Malawi
Group B: Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Mozambique, Seychelles

Quarterfinals:
1 July
Match 13: Botswana v Zambia (Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Phokeng)
Match 14: Namibia v Lesotho (Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Phokeng)
2 July
Match 15: South Africa v Group A winner (Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Phokeng)
Match 16: Swaziland v Group B winner (Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Phokeng)

Semi-finals:
5 July
Winner of Match 13 v Winner of Match 15
Winner of Match 14 v Winner of Match 16

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Lichocha women not resting after NBL championship win

Lichocha women are Lesotho's basketball queens again...
There is no rest for the wicked, as they say, and that is the case for the Lichocha Shooting Rifles ladies basketball team. Just three weeks ago Lichocha won a third successive National Basketball League (NBL) women’s title but already they are looking at ways to improve their squad.

Lichocha were crowned 2016/17 champions after beating Bokamoso North 49-45 in Game 5 of a thrilling women’s NBL finals to win the series 3-2.

It was a tightly-contested series pitting the experience of Lichocha against the youth of Bokamoso. But, in the end, Lichocha prevailed to add to titles they won in 2015 and 2016.

However, instead of celebrating, Lichocha say they are already head-hunting players to reinforce their squad. It is this attitude that can help explain why the team has won seven major trophies since 2014.

Lichocha captain Khothalo Mpeta said the team is on a scouting mission to find two players that will fill their roster. Lichocha currently have 10 players and teams are allowed to have 12. Mpeta also praised the team’s closeness as being the key to their continuing success.

“We need to recruit a few more players to make it a full team of 12 players; at the moment the team has only 10 players,” she said.

“We are successful because of the love we have between us as players,” Mpeta added. “We trust each other and everyone knows what to do on the court. The love that we all have for each other keeps the squad in high spirits.”

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Lesotho cycling manager Mark West pleased with performance at African Champs

Team Lesotho won two medals at the African MTB Championships
Lesotho cycling team manager Mark West says he is happy with the country’s performance at the African Continental MTB Cross-Country Championships that were held in Mauritius two weeks ago.

Team Lesotho was made up of a five-member squad of Phetetso Monese, Teboho Khantši, Tumelo Makae, Malefetsane Lesofe and Likeleli Masitise.

Monese and Khantsi competed in the elite men’s competition; Makae and Lesofe were in the Under-23 men’s section and Masitise competed in the elite ladies competition.

Lesotho competed against mountain bike specialists from host nation Mauritius as well as South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Morocco in the continental event that took place on May 12 to 14.

The team’s best performers were Makae, who won silver in the men’s Under-23 XCO Olympic Cross-Country race, and Likeleli Masitise who won bronze in the women’s elite race.

2016 Olympian Monese, meanwhile, only just missed out on a bronze medal. He finished fourth in the elite men’s XCO race and fifth in the marathon category. Lesofe also put in a solid display finishing sixth in the Under-23 race.

West said he was pleased with Lesotho’s medals haul and overall performance.

Likeleli Masitise (right) on the podium in Mauritius
“I am happy with their performances. I had hoped for more medals but we still did well,” he said.
“They struggled with the weather conditions but at least we managed to finish in positions five and six in the men’s (elite) category and Masitise finished third in the women’s category.”

West continued: “This shows there was commitment and I am really satisfied. We now need to go back to drawing board and wait for the Lesotho Cycling Association to tell us about our next competition.”

Lesotho is one of the world’s top nations in the mountain bike discipline. The country is ranked 30th in the world by the International Cycling Union ahead of nations such as Great Britain, Greece and China and second in Africa, only behind South Africa.