For many years, UEFA (Europe) has been widely thought of as the pinnacle of soccer; home to the best players, the best international sides and the best club teams of any confederation.
To some extent, this is still true, but this year’s World Cup has revealed that there are some cracks in UEFA’s armor, specifically when it comes to style of play. UEFA teams typically keep to a more traditional approach, emphasizing a good defense complimented by a methodical offense.
This year, the approach championed by UEFA has been directly challenged by a new, more modern approach from another part of the world, developed in large part by the members of CONMEBOL (South America); building around specific players, emphasizing offense and keeping up the attack. This style of play has also become more and more popular at the club level, since it keeps fans on the edge of their seats and games exciting enough to sell tickets and keep the endorsements rolling.
I also want to mention that when I speak of UEFA’s style versus CONMEBOL’s style, we should keep in mind that these are just general archetypes, and that each team has its own unique take on them. At the same time, every team adheres to the same basic set of rules associated with the style they chose; UEFA-style demands balance and patience, while CONMEBOL-style needs attack and speed.
It should be noted that having an offense-oriented team built around a few superstars (such as Messi or Neymar) and basing game strategies around those stars seems to be a trend in not just CONMEBOL, but most of Latin America. Argentina does it, Brazil does it, Chile does it, and even Mexico does it.
The main problem that all these teams face is that when a key player is injured, that’s it; it’s game over. Brazil showed us this firsthand, when Neymar was hurt, by losing in historic fashion to Germany.
I am by no means saying that UEFA’s strategy is any better, since the Netherlands and Belgium have demonstrated what happens when a team using the traditional approach simply loses steam. I am just saying that in this year’s final, the fast-paced, attacking style of play found in Latin America is being put to the test against UEFA’s more traditional, defense-heavy approach.
It is quite possible that whichever style, UEFA or CONMEBOL/Latin American, wins this year may have a huge influence on the style that less-successful teams try to emulate in the near future. Every confederation has teams, both club and national, that haven’t found a winning strategy in a long time and are most certainly looking for new ideas outside the approaches that their confederation traditionally champions.
If Argentina wins, it is possible that teams from all over will begin to adopt the CONMEBOL approach more and more, but if Germany wins, UEFA will prove once again that tradition trumps all.