The World Cup: Where Physicality And Skill Blend Perfectly

Like everyone else, our Johnny has hugely enjoyed this superb tournament. He believes that's down to a collective blending of physicality, skill and direct football...

Last Updated: 30/06/14 at 09:28 Post Comment

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England's performance aside (doesn't that all seem a long time ago now, almost as though those were the children's games before the grown-ups turned up) this has been a World Cup of unadulterated good times. But why has it been such huge fun so far? Firstly, Spain were poor and are out and secondly because everyone has stopped trying to play like Spain. Thank god.

Physicality is back, and back big style. So many sides seem to be built like small tactical field weapons, with plenty of rock-hard muscle and steel-core brawn to stand behind their skill and technique. So many of the Central and South American sides especially just look very, very hard. Everyone, perhaps excepting the England players who got cramp after 75 minutes, look so bloody fit, regardless of the temperatures they're playing in, regardless of the tempo of the game. It is a joyous relief. There is glory in sweat and muscle.

Old classic hits such as the team's hard man putting a reducer on the opposition's best player are refreshingly back in fashion, as anyone who saw Gary Medel give Neymar an early whack can testify. Robust shoulder charges which leave players sprawling are back in style along with lunging tackles and sticking your head where it hurts.

Watching Chile's Francisco Silva muscle Brazil's Hulk off the ball, shrugging him to the ground like an errant child, was a stand-out moment. Silva isn't the biggest man on earth, but he was so strong and determined and tough. Furthermore, he was almost utterly expressionless in the act, like Clint Eastwood in A Fistful Of Dollars.

Hitting longer balls and shooting from distance has superseded the pass-it-to-death model. We've seen the sort of aggression that would make delicate Arsenal fans cry into their Aqua Libra. Sorry Arsene, being a bit rough hasn't gone away. It is marvellous to see.

Outright power, strength and junk yard dog meanness is brilliantly entertaining and has always been part of football's enjoyment. At times it felt that it was all but outlawed in the shadow of The Spanish Way. It was, in some quarters, certainly frowned upon as being retrograde and very 20th century.

However, crucially at this World Cup, physicality has been married to high skill and when coupled with direct attacking intent it always has, and still does, make for the very best sort of football to watch.

In one of the game's most regrettable periods, the Big Sod fell out of fashion in favour of the Small Nippy Sod. The Big Sod was thought out-moded and even immoral for what Glenn Hoddle would certainly call 'out-strengthing' the opposition. But now even Brazil play some men who look like middle-weight boxers rather than middle-distance runners. Football needs its snake-hipped pretty boys, but also its muscle-bound monsters too.

Typically, England seem behind the curve. After the Spanish success, we tried to play a bit more possession football but couldn't really do that against top opposition. Yet we don't have marriage of physicality and skill that is so commonplace in Brazil 2014. If England players wore those tighty-tight shirts that Uruguay wore, physically we'd not just match up - one of Edison Cavani's pecs is bigger than the whole of James Milner's body. It's perhaps ironic that in those cartoon Nike ads, Rooney is portrayed as a hulking brute of a bulldog, but in comparison to many players at this World Cup, he actually looks a bit of a physical lightweight.

We're loving the World Cup because physicality has replaced pretension. Long range shooting has reclaimed its primacy over passing it into the net. We have seen some awesome goals as a result of everyone stopping trying to be the 2008 Spain. As long time readers will know, it has always been my view that everyone who proclaimed Spain to be the template for everyone else to follow briefly ruined football and look how brilliant football is when that self-indulgent boot-w*nk is dispensed with; when strength and power and sheer physicality is given prominence alongside high skill, not instead of it.

I even welcome the return of the long ball like an old friend. We've seen long raking passes volleyed into the net. The long ball, when played well, can be devastating, and is especially useful if you're playing in high heat. The idea it was the last resort of the dopey footballer was itself a dopey notion. Longer ball football was never the same as aimless hoofing.

At this tournament we've seen goals such as Robin Van Persie's header, Tim Cahill's peerless volley and many, many more, scored from long passes. This is what the short-passing, possession obsessed game all too often deprives us of. The beauty of a long, arcing ball being controlled and walloped into the net is an act of unsustainable football purity.

At this World Cup, whether they're from North, South or Central America, Africa or Eastern Europe, even players who are not massive physical specimens just look mean and are happy to get involved in a physical tussle. Emblematic of this, even in defeat there was not a mass breakdown into weeping by Chile.

Only Medel did so, perhaps having supped on the unmanly cup of Premier League hysteria proffered to him by legendary weeper, Big JT. Instead, they trudged off, disappointed but self-contained. The wailing red-eyed footballer weeping tears of self-pity is one of the modern game's least edifying sights and Chile would have little or none of it. Magnificent.

Brazil 2014 has put the lie to two old-fashioned orthodoxies, one which vaunted skill over physicality and another which hailed physicality over skill. It has blended both together into an intoxicating cocktail. It's no wonder we all feel a bit dizzy.

John Nicholson - he's on Twitter

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oved the article. i remember at school, after failing an exam, I would become obscenely secretly happy if I discover that others failed as well. Misery loves company...Now here is to hoping Chelsea joins the party and Stoke city wins the league...Cheers!

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