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Posted: Thursday June 10, 2010 11:44AM ; Updated: Saturday December 4, 2010 4:26PM
Ben Lyttleton
Ben Lyttleton>INSIDE THE WORLD CUP

Ten storylines to follow (cont.)

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6. Will Brazil's Dunga side ever be popular? "The perfect World Cup squad should be made up of the 16 best players and the seven nicest," said Helmut Schoen, who coached West Germany in a record four successive World Cups from 1966 to 1978, reaching two finals and winning one of them (in 1974). "And there should be no distractions." Brazil coach Dunga may not have picked the nicest players available but he has certainly avoided any distractions. Brazil's press were clamoring not for the inclusion of Ronaldinho or Pato, whose supporters were based in Milan, but for home-based duo Neymar, 18, and Paulo Henrique, 20. But Dunga, captain of Brazil's 1994 World Cup side, remembered the media circus surrounding squad member Ronaldo, then 17, and did not want a repeat of that. So he ignored their claims and has picked seven defensive midfielders in the squad. This group is in total contrast to the "joga bonito" team of 2006, who were picked on reputation and allowed so much freedom by Carlos Alberto Parreira: Dunga has banned fans and media from the team's training-base in Johannesburg and in the low-key but effective Lucio, has picked a captain in his own image. "To those who complain about style, I just say nothing is more beautiful than winning," he told The Guardian. Dunga's Brazil has already won the Copa America and the Confederations Cup; it has topped the South American qualifying group and beaten Argentina, England and world champions Italy. But still this team is not loved. Winning the final might just change that.

7. This could be the first scientific World Cup. Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the biggest innovation of the 2006 World Cup, employing American fitness coaches who gave each player an individualized training program for two years, designed to peak during the tournament. The result was that Germany made more tackles than any other team, sustained fewer injuries, and scored late goals in important wins against Poland and Argentina. "It's hard for coaches to prepare 22 players individually, but I learned from Arsene Wenger to view a player's development in the long-term," Klinsmann told the Financial Times. Other national teams have caught up fast: England coach Fabio Capello has convinced his players of the benefits of video analysis while Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld has taken advantage of the sports scientists and performance diagnosticians at his players' clubs. This is all part of a wider shift in the game, part of a new dimension where science and technology combine to improve performance. "All the teams at the World Cup will be studying computer-generated data and it could just be that clever use of data decides certain games," said Simon Kuper, whose book Soccernomics has made coaches rethink strategy just as Michael Lewis's 2003 best-seller Moneyball did for baseball.

8. Germany needs a goalscorer. After Michael Ballack, Christian Trasch and Heiko Westermann -- three players who could all play as one of Germany's two holding midfielders -- dropped out with late injuries, coach Joachim Low was expected to call up another midfielder and drop one of his six strikers. But it's a sign of how worried he is about Germany's goal threat that he kept all six in the squad. His first-choice was Miroslav Klose, Golden Boot winner in 2006, but he spent most of last season on the Bayern Munich bench, and scored only three league goals. Lukas Podolski scored even fewer for FC Cologne but could start wide on the left, while Mario Gomez, Bayern's €30m record-signing, has scored in two international matches in the last two years, and his only competitive goals for Germany were against San Marino. Thomas Muller, a key figure in Bayern's double-winning season, should get the nod on the right flank. The wild-cards are recently-naturalized Cacau or Stefan Kiessling, who had a prolific Bundesliga campaign with Bayer Leverkusen. If Germany does struggle, expect to hear Kevin Kuranyi get mentioned: the forward has been ignored since walking out at half-time of Germany's qualifier against Russia in October 2008, but after top-scoring for runners-up Schalke 04, perhaps represented the best combination of goals, experience, and form.

9. Which players' market value will rise most during the tournament? The breakout star of the 2006 World Cup was Ecuador's 20-year-old winger Antonio Valencia, who after gaining most votes in the Young Player of the Tournament award, took four years to go from unwanted at Villarreal to a Manchester United regular. This time around there are fewer unknown quantities, though even the known ones could raise their profile, and potential transfer fees, with a few good performances. Ajax will have high hopes that their young trio of Luis Suarez, Nicolas Lodeiro (both Uruguay) and Cristian Eriksen (Denmark) can impress, while scouts are already on the trail of Sammy Inkoom, Kwadwo Asamoah (Ghana), Alexis Sanchez (Chile), Lee Chung-Yong (South Korea) and Milos Krasic (Serbia). Other players, like Napoli's goal-scoring midfielder Marek Hamsik (Slovakia) and Borussia Dortmund forward Lucas Barrios (Paraguay, but Argentina-born) could end up with moves to elite European sides if they fulfil expectations.

10. Attacking full-backs could make all the difference. Recent World Cup winners have all benefited from playing fullbacks who are happy to push forward: think of Lilian Thuram winning France's 1998 semifinal against Croatia with his only international goals, or Fabio Grosso's dramatic semifinal winner for Italy against Germany in 2006. SI.com's Jonathan Wilson, author of Inverting The Pyramid, suggests this is because fullbacks have more room than other players and therefore more options on the pitch. "Even against a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation, when the fullback is facing a winger, he can neutralize him by pushing forwards," Wilson says. Brazil will start with a winger, Michel Bastos, at left back, while England (Glen Johnson), France (Patrice Evra) and Spain (Sergio Ramos) all use their fullbacks as attacking outlets. The team least likely to do so is Argentina, whose coach Diego Maradona prefers to play with three or four center backs across the back line.

2010 World Cup
For the host country South Africa, the 2010 World Cup is more than just a global soccer tournament. It represents vivid proof that a nation that once symbolized racial oppression has been transformed into a vibrant multicutural society. On the field, 32 teams will compete in an attempt to lift the coveted trophy. As usual, the tournament will provide us with unforgettable games, moments, heroes and even villains. On the ground in South Africa, Grant Wahl, Peter King, Mark Bechtel, Joe Posnanski, Steve Davis and Jonathan Wilson among others, will convey the flavor and fervor of the tournament with round-the-clock reporting, in-depth analysis and video discussion of all 65 matches.
 
 
 
 
 

Ben Lyttleton has written about French football for various publications. He edited an oral history of the European Cup, Match of My Life: European Cup Finals, which was published in 2006.

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