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Zonal Marking

If the sports section had stories as good as these, I’d start reading it again…or at least the three column inches currently engulfed by Wilbon and Boswell:

World Cup College: England’s tension between neo-realism and Hobbes’ mechanism

Zonal Marking’s 23-man all-World Cup-side

Soccer Spieler dares look back to name the real Group of Death

Tim Vickery’s advice to Brazil: Hire Leonardo and start attacking

Isn’t it time to take down the World Cup flags?

Said & Done wraps the World Cup: Jack Warner’s noose, how many teachers executive hospitality costs in South Africa would have employed, and the best FIFA expenses ever claimed

Watford Academy: Jockeys + ballet + school = the envy of Europe

Sleep well, Minus the Shooting and World Cup College — you will be missed

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Well Struck: Deceptive Correlations, Card Waving and a Ball Tom Friedman Would Love

Did England’s early World Cup exit boost English tourism? Did the Jabulani make shots less accurate? Can a soccer ball boost business productivity? Click the headline for some great…click-throughs.

Reads of the Day: Upon Further Review, England Lose

As clear as Frankie’s goal was yesterday, so too is England’s breakdown: Luke Dempsey at The Goal Post says the squad is 45 years behind other countries in terms of technical ability; The Run of Play’s Alan Jacobs argues England is plagued by “backshadowing,” the belief that one’s cause is always being betrayed by imperfect decision-making; Sid Lowe writes at the CBC’s World Cup blog that England’s tournament play has been “eye-bleedingly awful”; The Guardian editorializes that it might be time for the country to try a new national sport. (Oh, right: And Zonal Marking says Germany was pretty good, too.)

Spain: It’s Not You, It’s Me

Google “shock loss Spain” this morning and you get 209,000 results – but losing is no surprise when your play is marked by “constantly bad passes, poor movement and a lack of drive from [your] host of top-class players,” says Zonal Marking. “Whilst Switzerland defended well, the most notable feature of the game was quite how bad David Silva and Andres Iniesta were when they got the ball, how anonymous Xavi was, and how frustrating the full-backs were to watch.” Meanwhile, Laurent Dubois at Soccer Politics says Gelson Fernandes’ winner for Switzerland should remind that country to pause before enacting yet another restrictive law against immigrants.

Barcelona ’09-’10 2-1 Barcelona ’08-’09

Three trophies versus onehow could this year’s FC Barcelona have been even better than last year’s? Because they were better defensively, both collectively and individually; Busquets was better than Toure; Pedro gave them flexibility; and the systems were more various and more effective, pace the Inter tie. “Whisper it quietly, but this was a better Barcelona side than last season.” (Zonal Marking)

Reads of the Day: The Greatest Loss of His Life

There are times when the hype about José Mourinho is frustrating and cliched, there are times when it is fully deserved,” writes Zonal Marking regarding last night’s Barça’s not-enough defeat of Inter. “Tonight was the latter in one of the greatest defensive performances in recent footballing history.” But ESPN’s Jon Carter says that, while Inter’s defense was magnificent, Barca was shown in serious need of a Plan B — moving past the Ibra mistake, and with a scoring midfield threat like…a certain injured Catalan in north London.

Sweepers Awake?

Is the neglected sweeper set to make a comeback? Barcelona and Brazil — two of the best teams in the world — already do it provisionally, dropping their deepest midfield player back into the defense’s center when on the attack, allowing the full-backs “to bomb forward.” If Brazil wins the World Cup, look for English clubs to convert the proto-sweepers they already possess. (Zonal Marking)

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.

Arsène Wenger: Great Manager, Bad Tactician?

The Arsenal loss at the Camp Nou last night wasn’t Arsène Wenger’s fault — but neither did it alter his reputation as a manager who “isn’t good enough at setting up his side to neutralise the opposition’s main threats.” Wenger’s 4-1-4-1 “didn’t make it hard for Barcelona to find players between the lines, it made it very, very easy.” (Zonal Marking)

Read of the Day: Greece is the Word

The best team of the last decade is remembered as “negative, defensive, cynical and unimaginative” — but Greece’s win in Euro 2004 “was unquestionably the tactical achievement of the decade,” marked by manager Otto Rehhagel’s willingness to throw out shapes that had worked against the last opponent for new formations suited to counter the next. (Zonal Marking). Plus: Zonal Marking’s 20 top teams of the Oughties.

Brazil 2010 ≠ Brazil = Still Good

Brazil 2010 ≠ Brazil = Still Good: Brazil is playing patiently, less spectacularly, with two holding midfielders — not at all like Brazil, in other words? Is this what happens when you’re a budding world power? Or when you’re comfortable enough to just win instead of trying to thrash the opposition? (Zonal Marking)