If the World Cup in Russia is anything to go by, we can safely assume that football is changing.
Ever Banega and Nicolas Tagliafico have a muddle at the centre of the pitch. Argentina, who enjoy 70% of the possession at the moment, suddenly lose the ball. Kylian Mbappe picks it up, and runs like he is being chased by a leopard from Kruger National Park. Marcos Rojo can’t match his pace, and eventually fouls him.
Japan is at the top of their game in the final minutes of the match, with the score level at 2-2. They need a win and continue to attack heavily. Japan finally gets a free-kick, and commit seven outfield players for a corner. The corner is bad, Thibaut Courtois says thank you very much and passes it to Kevin de Bruyne. Lukaku and Nacer Chadli run.
The latter, unmarked, unchallenged, puts the ball into the net.
The 2018 World Cup in Russia has been phenomenal on various counts. It was unpredictable, eventful, controversial, but moreover, it has brought a change in face of football. It served as an exhibition to how football, as a game, is gradually changing. Again.
It was in 2010 when Spain revolutionised football with their tiki-taka style. The European side, obviously, won the World Cup that year. Argentina, who also takes pride in their possession-based football, reached the final of the World Cup in 2014. This year, though, both the teams were knocked out of the tournament in round-of-16, to teams who adopted a completely reverse approach to their games.
This has been the story of the World Cup, and more so for two teams who have reached semifinal this year, France and Belgium.
France boasts of one of the most talented squads in the World Cup, and so does Belgium. However, both the team aren’t scared of conceding possession, even when they have many strings to their bow. They like to play the waiting game because they rely on their counter-attacking football.
France seem to be at their most dangerous when Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann come alive with their terrific speed, as we have seen many times during this World Cup. Or when Paul Pogba and Ngolo Kante, the two highly energetic midfielders, retrieve the ball from the opposition and fly it past the defenders for their forwards.
Belgium’s defensive football against Brazil didn’t hint towards being negative, because when on attack, Belgium proved to be a massive threat for Allison, the Brazilian goalkeeper. When Brazil exerted pressure on Belgium, it was immediately eased through quick counter-attacking breaks led by Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku.
But like tiki-taka, counter-attacking football also requires proper organisation, where players are accustomed to having an eye for quick breaks. It also needs a defined set of roles for all the players in the side. France and Belgium, both have pulled out this style of football very effectively, and quite efficiently.
And this is why a semifinal clash between the two European sides is the battle of equals. The two teams which are seemingly leading the change in football will meet for a place in the final of the World Cup.
Playing deep, inviting opposition into their half and a lightning fast counter-attack is a tactic Roberto Martinez has applied throughout the World Cup. While France also takes pride in such a game-play, they also have two midfielders who have the ability to take charge of the game and create spaces. It is going to be an excellent contest between two European heavyweights, and pace will be a defining factor on the result.
Ultimately, one of the two teams will reach the final of the World Cup on the back of their defensive football, which is an excellent benchmark to consider for managers and players across the world.