/ 26 November 2022

Minnows prove that there is no ‘I’ in team at the World Cup

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With the exception of one or two hidings, games at this World Cup have been much closer than expected – with Saudi Arabia scooping one of the unlikely wins. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Football will never cease to remind us of Brian Clough’s immortal words: “We had a good team on paper. Unfortunately, the game was played on grass.” 

Saudi Arabia beating Argentina was not a shock if you watched the match. They were better in every department on the field and applied their tactics to perfection. The same with Japan when they overcame Germany.

It could be that some of the so-called elite nations were caught cold – the air-conditioning in the stadiums blowing too strongly – or it could be that they approached their fixtures with too much ease.

It could also be that those who are usually just there to make up the numbers have found a formula to compete. 

There’s always the element of hunger to win, which was definitely displayed by Saudi Arabia manager Hervé Renard and his players. The Frenchman tore into his players at half time on Tuesday. He told them to take their phones out and take a picture of Lionel Messi if they were not going to close him down as soon as he received the ball. 

Saudi Arabia’s equaliser subsequently came from them winning the ball off Messi, which also shows the discipline that the team had to expertly implement their coach’s plan. 

Not to say that the superstars of Argentina and Germany don’t have hunger or discipline, but these two games in particular exemplify that football is ultimately a team game. 

Argentina’s Paulo Dybala — who was an unused sub against Saudi Arabia — is worth more than the entire Saudi Arabia team, but there’s no money equal to what we saw on Tuesday.

Even after the victories for Japan and Saudi Arabia, many of us will find it tough to name more than one player in their squad. And even if they do continue to provide excellent performances, none of their players might not be signed by top clubs after the World Cup. For now, as long as they can maintain their team spirit, they will feel invincible. 

Canada also played number two ranked Belgium off the park in their first game, but they too fell to the hype of an individual. When they were awarded a penalty, the Canadians did not look for a proven penalty taker, but rather relied on their star man Alphonso Davies — who has never taken a penalty in professional football — to step up. 

That penalty miss ultimately cost them the game.

This World Cup will continue to prove that the team comes before the individual, even with the more glamorous nations. 

Initially, it was baffling to see Brazil opt for Richarlison over Gabriel Jesus in their opener against Serbia. Jesus has been far more successful this season and boasts better stats, but Brazilian coach Tite finds Richarlison to be a better fit in his team. 

Brazil are also not reliant on Neymar as they were back in 2014 and 2018, which tells one why they are so scary this year. 

They could kindly offer some lessons to Argentina and Portugal, who right now are relying on their old goats to carry the herd on their back.