I am constantly being asked about individuals. The only way to win is as a team. Football is not about one or two or three-star players,” Brazil great Pele had once commented about how the contemporary narrative regarding football is skewed, for its focus on superstardom of certain players, rather than the achievements of the collective. This summer in Russia, however, has dispelled all such notions as the collaborative endeavours of teams prevailed over the solo acts of certain star footballers.
While the chaotic nature of the ongoing World Cup has taken precedence in the discussions, with late goals and dramatic comebacks featuring prominently, the two nations which made it to the finals – France and Croatia – have a rigorous conventional tactical system in place to rely upon, boasting of the absolute cream of world’s midfield merchants.
Germany’s capitulation at the hands of South Korea in the group stage or Russia’s resolute rear-guard action against Spain in the Round of 16 encounter may have added to the montage reel of the World Cup, but most games have been decided on the quality of midfielders participating in that tie.
In the group stage fixture between Spain and Portugal, which found its place among the World Cup classics, it was Spain’s midfield brilliance in the form of Andres Iniesta and Isco which had managed to match up to Cristiano Ronaldo’s sensational display.
Even Peru’s exceptional pressing performance in losing causes was down to the surprisingly sterling Peruvian midfield. From Hakim Ziyech playing for Morocco the first nation to get eliminated in the group stage to finalist Croatia’s Marcelo Brozovic, whose presence in the field adds another dimension to Dalic’s team, the narrative has been controlled by midfielders and midfielders alone. And that is a trend which has gained momentum with every progressing round this summer.
Kylian Mbappe walked away with the plaudits in France’s defeat of Argentina and rightly so, but Argentina’s abysmal chance creation in the seven-goal thriller was as much due to their rudderless midfield as it was due to their blunt attack. Their arch-rivals Brazil also bade goodbye to the competition in a game where Casemiro was suspended. While the mercurial Neymar is often credited with Brazil’s blitzkrieg attack, it was Casemiro’s presence at the base of Tite’s midfield which made Brazil tick and his absence allowed Belgium to control the tempo of the game.