Paul Marcuccitti


 
Paul Marcuccitti is a passionate soccer fan from Australia who will share his views about the World Cup in this column.

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Brazil's magnificent 7



    Well, it has happened and I can't believe it. Brazil, the team that struggled and looked so mediocre in qualifying is World Champion again. At the start of the tournament, I did not believe the Brazilians would win. They were in, what appeared to be, the tougher half of the draw with France, Argentina and England. Surely the other three were better bets on form?

    I suppose it just goes to show how much some of us scribes know! And, hey, as if I needed telling, never underestimate a national team, in any sport, that wears green and gold. (Sorry, couldn't resist that one.)

    But here's what is even more remarkable: The 2002 Brazilians have become the first team to win the World Cup with 7 out of 7 wins at the finals. The last team to have a 100% record was the legendary Brazil team of 1970 - that was the last edition in which the two teams that contested the Final played 6 matches.

    [How ironic that, only months ago, I wrote (in my "history of crazy formats series") that, "From 1974 onwards, the World Cup became more of an endurance test and most of the tournament winners avoided spending too many pennies in their opening games. In 1970, Brazil won 6 matches out of 6 but, since 1974, no team has won the World Cup with a perfect 7 wins out of 7. That doesn't mean it may not happen in the future but you can see that even the most convincing winners in recent years have picked up at least a draw somewhere."]

    This has been the eighth World Cup in which the World Champion had to play 7 matches at the finals so, before we analyse how Brazil achieved their perfect record, let's have a look at the finals' records of all the World Cup winners since (and including) 1974.


Year Country W D L F-A 1974 West Germany 6 0 1 13-4 1978 Argentina 5 1 1 15-4 1982 Italy 4 3 0 12-6 1986 Argentina 6 1 0 14-5 1990 West Germany 5 2 0 15-5 1994 Brazil 5 2 0 11-3 1998 France 6 1 0 15-2 2002 Brazil 7 0 0 18-4
NB: Any match that has been decided by a penalty shoot-out is counted as a draw. Also, every fact/statistic/comparison from this point forwards will only deal with World Cups covered in this table.

    What quickly struck me about this table of finals' records is that the country most renowned for attacking football, Brazil, scored the least goals in winning the World Cup during this period (in 1994). And the country most renowned for defence, Italy, conceded the most (in 1982). Interesting facts but not awfully relevant.

    The first substantial thing to note is that the best record - other than 7 straight wins - has been achieved just twice. The 1986 Argentineans and the 1998 French both scored 6 wins and a draw.

    The 1974 West Germans also won 6 matches but they lost a game - to East Germany. So, of the 8 World Champions listed, we are left with 4 which failed to win either 2 or 3 of their 7 finals matches.

    What the table doesn't show is when the failures (to win) came. It will probably be no surprise to you that most came in first phase groups. If you hadn't already counted, the table shows that these 8 World Champions shared 10 draws and 2 losses. The 2 losses and 6 of the 10 draws came in first phase groups.

    We could, of course, analyse these stats forever but here's where I'll cut the long story short - only 2 of those 8 World Cup winners won all 3 matches in their first phase group and, funnily enough, they're the most recent two, France (1998) and Brazil (2002). And seeing as France needed one penalty shoot-out on its road to winning the World Cup, that leaves the newly crowned Brazilians as the only 7 out of 7 team.

    So how (and why) did Brazil do what World Champions between 1974 and 1998 couldn't/didn't do? My hasty list will almost certainly be incomplete but here are the main factors that contributed:

    EARLY FORM: Brazil didn't make a slow start and hit the ground running with three points against Turkey. It wasn't a convincing performance by any means, and the win had some good fortune attached to it, but you could not say that the players settled for a point. Interestingly, Italy (1982) is the only World Champion (of the 8 listed) which did not commence its campaign at the finals with a win. Indeed, as I'm sure most of you know, the '82 Italians drew all 3 matches in their first phase group.

    DESIRE: I mentioned that only France (1998) and Brazil (2002) won all of their first phase group matches. The teams that failed to do this usually didn't win their final game in those groups. In 1974, the West Germans lost their final first phase group game after they had already secured a spot in the next round; ditto Argentina (1978). West Germany (1990) and Brazil (1994) drew their final group matches after winning their first two. There wasn't much incentive for any of these teams to win so, rather than extend themselves, they weren't too concerned about drawing or losing. However, Brazil 2002 simply had the hunger to win their final group match. Even though a draw against Costa Rica would have guaranteed victory in the group, Brazil romped to a 5-2 win.

    THE DRAW: Brazil had two easy opponents in its group in China and Costa Rica. It was quite a luxury when you compare the carnage in other groups in the same half of the draw (e.g. A and F). Having squeezed past Turkey, a 100% record in the group was always a big possibility. Then France and Argentina missed the knockout phase so England was the only heavyweight nation the Brazilians faced en route to the Final. In 1998, France had a similarly easy group (and where Brazil had a tricky match against Turkey, France had a tricky match against Denmark) but when the French faced a heavyweight (Italy) in the knockout phase, they needed penalties to advance.

    LUCK: Well you can never have too much of this. And, before Brazil fans get upset, I'm only suggesting that luck played a part in the 7 out of 7 record - not so much the winning of the World Cup. But there was luck in the first match against Turkey, firstly because a poor kick out by the Turkish goalkeeper, Rustü, led to the late Brazilian attack which drew the foul from which the decisive penalty was awarded. Secondly, that foul was well outside the penalty area. So this match could easily have finished 1-1. There was luck against Belgium in the Round of 16 as Marc Wilmots had a perfectly good goal ruled out when the score was 0-0. Would Brazil have come back? And the Rivaldo goal that broke the deadlock in that game took a lucky deflection. The 'keeper might have saved it otherwise. Was Ronaldinho's goal against England planned or a misplaced cross? Hmmm... And what about Oliver Kahn's uncharacteristic howler which handed Brazil the lead in the Final? Of course, even if all these things hadn't run the Brazilians' way, they still could have won all 7 games ... but some good luck never goes astray!

    GOAL SCORING ABILITY: You can see from the table that the 2002 Brazilians scored 18 goals in their 7 games. The next best is 15. Of course, the weak group was a contributing factor but an attack that boasted so many goal scoring options gave Brazil the confidence and ability to win each of its games. Besides, Brazil scored two or more goals in every match except the semi-final against Turkey. None of the other World Cup winners (since 1974) scored more than once in as many matches. Note also that the number of goals conceded by all 8 World Champions listed is reasonably similar. The only two teams to concede less than 4 goals are Brazil (1994) and France (1998).

    CHARACTER and SELF-BELIEF: Brazil has gone behind in two different matches: In its first match against Turkey and in the quarter-final against England. There has been no dropping of heads - on each occasion the Brazilians were able to score twice and win. If you don't have belief in your ability and if you don't have the necessary fighting spirit, going behind can be fatal. Of the other World Cup winners listed, only the 1974 West Germans won two matches after going behind.

    And here's something a little less statistical that I've noted about the Brazilians. Four years ago, they often seemed to be troubled when facing European opponents - Scotland and Denmark gave them a run for their money, and Norway and France beat them. Brazil needed penalties to dispatch the Netherlands in a semi-final. But when they came up against Morocco and Chile, the Brazilians looked far more comfortable.

    The 2002 edition has seen Brazil cope rather better with UEFA's army: Five wins out of five - Turkey (twice), Belgium, England and Germany. Most of those games were tough, and a touch of luck was sometimes involved, but, overall, Brazil handled the Europeans with greater aplomb this time.

    So there you have it. My take on how Brazil achieved its perfect 7, its magnificent 7. Well done Brazil. I would have preferred others but you are a worthy World Champion.


 

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