Are the bad teams at this World Cup better than they used to be?

Like everyone else, I’ve been wondering why there has been such paucity of goals at this World Cup. Has it been the altitude? Did it have to do with the ball? Does it have to so with top players on the verge of exhaustion after long European seasons?

I don’t doubt that each of those factors have played some part in the lack of goals, but I think there’s another factor at work. I think the information revolution we’ve witnessed in the last 10 years had helped make the bad teams less bad. Here are the two key things that the revolution has done to make world smaller and the bad teams a bit better:

  • Tactical information exchange. Thanks to the internet and the explosion of televised soccer on cable/satellite TV, everyone, even those in poorer or non-soccer-obsessed countries can see what the best players, teams, and coaches are doing. In Soccernomics, the authors talk a lot about how important it is for the best coaches (especially the Dutch ones) to go to other countries and bring with them knowledge and “best practices.” The increased ability of countries to see those “best practices” put to work in matches serves as a cut-rate version of what the Soccernomics authors were talking about. Sure New Zealand or North Korea might not be able to go get Jose Mourinho or Guus Hiddink, but they can watch many of their teams’ matches on TV, learn from the systems, and do their best to implement then with their own teams.
  • Increased ability to scout opponents by video. Again, thanks to the explosion of televised soccer and the ability through means like Youtube and Bittorrent to watch past games, teams and players; coaches, even those on the “periphery,” can scout opponents better than they ever have before. Even if you don’t have access to every relevant match an opposing team or player might play, coaches in poorer countries now, if they have broadband, have far more access to that video than they would have even 10 years ago. This means they are in a position to better prepare teams for opponents. I wonder how much video US coach Bob Gansler had before Italia 90 to prepare his team for Italy, the Czechs, and Austria. Knowing what I know about the pre-1994 USSF and the availability of televised European matches in the USA pre-1994, my guess is that he had very little to work with. And that’s no longer the case, for not only rich countries like the USA, but for poorer ones as well.

This won’t turn New Zealand into the Netherlands or the USA into Brazil, but what it has done is eliminate some of the “fog of war” that used to afflict poorer and more geographically peripheral teams. Teams, even “small ones” have come into this tournament better prepared both physically and tactically than I’ve ever seen before. It means you’re less likely to get repeats of South Korea 1954 (0g scored, 16 against) or Zaire 1974 (0g, 14 conceded). In the end, for the sport as a whole, that’s a very positive thing.

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9 thoughts on “Are the bad teams at this World Cup better than they used to be?

  1. I don’t think there’s any doubt except for that pub side called Australia. it is truly a global sport now and teams have players from all the top leagues in the world.

    There are some weaker than others, but no more 6,7,8 or 9 goal hammerings. But Australia are really bad………………

  2. Don’t be so hard on the Aussies….Germany will hammer several more opponents before all this is said and done…

  3. Germany will be tough no doubt, but that doesn’t take away from how bad the Aussies are. They are brutal and they’ll be worse without Cahill.

    Any team that is clamoring for Kewell to play can’t be any good. Good player in his time but way over the hill.

  4. Playing on a winter night where the temp is 3C is going to affect the results. It’s better than 38C, but not optimal. Note the result of Spain v. Switzerland.

  5. I can’t see tactics, coaching and scouting being the dynamic at play here. It is the quality of players.

    The level of talent at this cup is unequaled at any previous 32-team cup. Almost every team has at least one player in a top European league. Europe is scouting for young athletic talent in North America and Africa now, not just South America and Europe. Further, Brazilians who cannot make a selacao are switching to other national teams.

    It is the players. Not scouting and tactics.

  6. According to your logic, if a is true, then all else must be false. Somewhere in the universe, there’s a planet where that makes, I guess.

    Anyway, it’s not exactly a new development that “almost every team has at least on player in a top European league”. That’s been true since ’98, certainly ’02. And neither is Brazilian-born players playing for nations other than Brazil. Other than Cacao and Tulio, how many of the 736 players are naturalized Brazilian natives? I’ll tell you – not enough to mean a whole lot.

  7. I also find that the lower rank teams seem to put more effect into their preperations than the highly rated teams,as lot of them don’t have the luxury of playing top internal teams,because of their distance that they would have to travel or belong to a poor country.Like New Zealand which had to travel something like 40,000 km to get the world cup.Another thing is I think the major thing with the top teams at the world cup get too complacint and think they will easily win against lower teams too.Besides that it has been a great world cup so far and South Africa should hold their heads high,because with doing what they have done they have proven that they are ready now for future World Cups,because their younger generation will take over from where they leave off.I wouldn’t be surprise if they don’t get some very world class players from years from now.

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