Sunday, July 13, 2014

A look at how World Cup 2014 can help us learn a thing or two

FIFA World Cup 2014 logo.
Within a few hours we shall have 2 teams sweating it out against each other for one last time for the coveted trophy in Brazil, with the final match being played out at the historic Estádio Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro.

While some may face terrible withdrawal symptoms after this month-long tournament has concluded, I can't help but think of what this tournament in particular has taught me and all of us.


Hosting the football (or soccer) world cup is a herculean task, something that can't be done in a few years. Thats why the host nation is decided 8 years in advance, Russia being the host for the next edition while Qatar in 2022.

But inspite of the timelines Brazil couldn't get their act together. Incomplete stadiums, transportation systems not being in place made the rounds and gave the nation a bad name. 

Start early and stick to a well-thought of plan with proper audits along the way. It saves time, effort and ample time at the end to do as one pleases.

Putting differences aside

While going into this tournament, news reports of violent clashes and strikes in Brazil against the staging of the tournament made the headlines world over. Police forces were called in and curfews imposed at many places to keep the protesters at bay. Some thought that even during the world cup enforcement agencies would have to face daily challenges to keep the event going on. But somehow as the event went on, clashes reported kept decreasing and the focus shifted to the event.

Also the stadiums were completed just in the nick of time and all other amenities were in place.

No matter what the odds may be, when people come together for a common purpose the purpose turns into a mission and even the impossible becomes possible.

Can't live on your laurels

With the quality of football played in Europe everyone expected them to do well but that was not to be. The reigning champions Spain were among the first to exit the tournament without making it to the second round. Italy, Portugal and England too followed suit. 

Actions and not words that speak louder. All these teams were world renowned but when it came to delivering in those make-it-or-break-it 90 minutes they fell short.

All start from scratch

While the major teams kept exiting the tournament, lesser known teams from Africa and Latin America surprised everyone. Even USA joined in the action winning their first ever match at the World Cup and qualifying for the 2nd round. 

This showed that while these teams didn't have big names they toiled hard in peacetime to be ready for the biggest tournament in the world. The results were for everyone to see.

Team first, player second

While going into the tournament, one question that did the rounds was "Who is greater - Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi?" After 63 matches played the time tested golden rule was proved right again. Football is a team sport and not an individual one. One man cannot win a match, at best he can inspire his side to do well. 

Ronaldo tried his best but with the opponents marking him at all times there was not much he could do - scoring just 1 goal in 3 games. Messi faces the same challenge. Luckily Argentina have been able to float through tense moments. Neymar's and Silva's absence in the semi-final match too showed how their absence left the team high and dry. But the same is not true for Germany who are clear favourites for winning the cup as they have a complete team and not a star individual.

It's also important that players believe in being team players. Suarez from Uruguay and Pepe from Portugal lead their team down with their on field behaviour denting their teams chances.

The team is more powerful than what any individual can be.

Finish well

Many matches have been close encounters resulting in the more deserving team losing while those not so deserving winning due to goals scored. In football, like in life, the sad truth is no matter how much effort you put in its the one who finishes well is crowned the winner. No matter how many times the ball was dribbled or tackled or how much was the distance covered, the only count that mattered was the ball hitting the back of the net.

Finishing is as important as the effort, without which there is no victory.

History can be rewritten

When Brazil took on Germany in the semi-finals, they had an unbeaten record of not losing a competitive game at home which spanned more than 60 years. Little they knew that along with that record many more were about to be shattered. With their 1-7 loss the streak was broken. Also it set a new record for the most humiliating defeat in the semi-finals and brought them close to the most ever goals conceded in the history of the World Cup.The 0-3 defeat to Netherlands for the 3rd spot confirmed that. 

In a more positive sense, USA and Costa Rica proceeded to stages never reached before.

With belief all things are possible, even re-writing history.

Have plan A, B, C ready

In the semi-finals, when Neymar went down due to a brutal challenge which ruled him out of the World Cup it must have left the Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari pondering over whether his plan of building his team around Neymar was a good idea. With Neymar out of the team and no plan B or C in place his team was looking towards disaster and disaster it was. His decision of leaving out Ronaldinho, Robinho and Kaka from the World Cup squad backfired. 

In 2002 when Brazil lifted the world cup they had a complete team and not an individual. The likes of Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldinho, Kaka among others added a lot value in every department - defense, mid-field and strike. If a player went out there was a fitting replacement. The result was a convincing victory in every game and a record 6 time coronation. Scholari forgot his mantra used and had to bite dust. 

On the opposite side, the Holland coach Louis van Gaal played smart and put in his penalty-specialist goalkeeper Krul to take on the decider in the quarter-finals against Costa Rica. That move saw his team make it to the semi's.

Having a backup plan is as important as having a primary plan. You may never know what hits you when and where.

These are some of the lessons I learnt. Did you learn them as well? Is there something you learnt not mentioned here? Would love to know it in the comments.

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