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Jonathan Wilson

In cricket or death-spiraling planes, captains are critical — but not so with football, where the captain is as atavistic as an appendix, more a national worry towel than Henry V. Twofootedtackle and Nutmeg Radio trace the history of the term’s irrelevance, while Jonathan Wilson says Capello’s handling of Terry/Ferdinand shows his own increasing disconnection from England.

(Image credit: Diego Lorenzo F. Jose/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.)

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The Campaign Turns Negative

The tactic of the lessers this season? Negativity — “a sacrifice of possession for the sake of having two spare men at the back.” Look for lower EPL sides to adopt the World Cup’s regnant 4-2-3-1…not for its attacking virtues, “but the solidity the two midfield holders offer.” (Jonathan Wilson/The Guardian)

Reaction Formations

This World Cup was the death knell of the 4-4-2 as an attacking formation, says Jonathan Wilson at Sports Illustrated — unlike the regnant 4-2-3-1, it doesn’t easily create triangles, which are necessary to maintaining possession. But can anything beat the 4-2-3-1? A W-W (or 2-3-2-3) might be the reactive wave, says Dr. Ted at World Cup College, in which “the attacking midfielder can be shut-out by two defensive midfielders.”

Read of the Day: Is the Champions League Killing Small-Nation Soccer?

European small-nation champions like Dinamo Zagreb and Red Star Belgrade are being boxed in by the Champions League — way too good for their respective national leagues, not good enough for the big Euro tourneys, where their lack of mental toughness and domestic challengers shows. But the CL money ensures these teams’ edges at home, while the non-competitiveness of their leagues is killing attendance at live matches. “Can [a guy] be bothered to walk 20 minutes down the road to watch Red Star beat some village team? Of course not, not when he has 10 better live games on his TV in his living-room.” (Jonathan Wilson/Sports Illustrated)

Why You Should Be Rooting for Uruguay, Parts 4-7

That goal line handball and stabbing-the-last-hope-of-Africa-in-the-aorta unpleasantness aside, here are a number of reasons to pull for Uruguay: They have a long history of playing with joy (Eduardo Kaplan/The Wall Street Journal); they have a long history of playing with garra, or grit (Jonathan Wilson/Sports Illustrated); they have a long history of making the most of what they have (Tim Vickery/Sports Illustrated); and…they have this long, great history and enough with the Dutch, already (John Doyle/Globe and Mail).

Could Yugoslavia 1990 Have Prevented Yugoslavia’s Breakup?

Ivica Osim regrets two things: Turning down Real Madrid’s top job (twice), and not winning the 1990 World Cup with a Yugoslavian side that embodied Tito’s federalist ideal — five Bosnians, two Serbians, a Croatian, a Montenegrin, a Slovenian and a Macedonian. “In my private illusion I wonder what would have happened if Yugoslavia had played in the semifinal or the final, what would happen to the country. Maybe there would have been no war if we’d won the World Cup. I don’t think really things would have changed in that way, but sometimes you dream about what might have happened.” (Jonathan Wilson/Sports Illustrated)

Africa: Every Man for Himself

Africa is no closer to producing a World Cup winner than it was 20 years ago, when Cameroon’s quarterfinal appearance raised everyone’s expectations to utopian. Political interference, corruption, a lack of coaching infrastructure, a culture of give-me-mine, and the dominance of academies (which develop athleticism at the expense of creativeness) are to blame. “African football is not progressing, but more worrying is that it is not even progressing toward progress.” (Jonathan Wilson/Sports Illustrated)

The Demons of Serbia

The long tradition of Yugoslav football neurosis continues in Serbia, surpassing expectations against superior opponents only to have “self-doubt…suppress the imagination and bring to the surface the cynicism that has always underlain [their] technical excellence.” Too bad they’re out of the Cup: for it’s this transparency of self-doubt that makes neutrals love Serbia. “When asked one said he’d decided to support Serbia because ‘they seemed to be trying to lose.’” (Jonathan Wilson/The Guardian)

Thrust and Parry

Is offensive teamwork dead at the World Cup — murdered by defensive organization? Simon Kuper writes in the Financial Times that the rest of the world (other than Australia) now does European-style defending, and the only things that can beat it are soloists like Eljero Elia or Messi…or blunders. The Guardian‘s Jonathan Wilson adds that Cup play is swing away from attacking fullbacks and back to defined offensive and defensive roles — making Maradona look ever more the crazy fox.

Read of the Day: May the Best Team Finally Win

18 World Cups, but only 7 winning countries — what’s going on? Yes, home field advantage has played a role, but the tournament isn’t really about the best team winning, and it’s far too short for luck not to have intervened at some point. “The World Cup feels due a fresh champion….There will be, at some stage, a shocking winner — Ghana, perhaps, or Serbia, Portugal or Chile. World Cups are too short, and football too unpredictable, for this hegemony of the seven to endure much longer.” (Jonathan Wilson/Sports Illustrated)

Beyond Keep Away

Football reinvents itself constantly, and its fans trust that “players and coaches will be able to mediate their own way away from predictability or, worse, unwatchability.” So Inter’s narrow loss to Barcelona at the Camp Nou might signal the end of extreme possession football as a means to winning and the exposure of Barcelona’s passing carousel as often “simply a means of offloading responsibility.” So what’s next? Position. (Jonathan Wilson/The Guardian)

Getting Past Offside

The offside rule has a fascinating history of cat-and-mouse, trap-versus-goal-deluge tinkering since the first FA rules laid it out in 1863. But 142 years later, the 2005 rule changes seem to have gotten offside right, forcing defenders to defend instead of playing the trap, stretching the effective playing area of the pitch, and allowing smaller midfielders with skills and smarts (and the Barcelonas who depend on them) to excel. (Jonathan Wilson/The Guardian)

Press Play

A much ballyhooed recent piece by Jonathan Wilson says Barcelona wins because they press so well — not just winning balls back and dominating possession, but also ratcheting up the pressure for perfection on every pass their opponents do get to make. But what happens when you’re too tired to press anymore? Zonal Marking notes that, in fact, three of the four CL losers this week pressed early…and then pooped out and lost their leads.