||ESPNsoccernet: World Cup
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
ESPNsoccernet: May 30, 3:26 PM UK
Group G Tactics Board
France | Switzerland | South Korea | Togo
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Group G |
The time is fast approaching for France coach Raymond Domenech to deliver.
In almost two seasons in charge he has used several systems (notably 4-4-2, 3-5-2 and 4-2-3-1) and turned over players at a rapid rate, but up to now nothing has clicked.
Despite the decision of Zinedine Zidane, Claude Makelele and Lilian Thuram to come out of international retirement last summer, France could still only stutter to first place in their qualifying group.
Les Bleus are blessed with an embarrassment of individual talent, yet they are not a team who look capable of conquering the world once again.
Domenech has a mass of problems to resolve, not least how to get the best out of strikers Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet.
Both are prolific marksmen at club level, but the fact that they managed only two and one goal respectively on the road to Germany tells its own sad story. The supply line has to be better as France's build-up play is too elaborate, too predictable.
Another major concern is the poor current form of key midfielders Zidane and Patrick Vieira. France's early exit from the last World Cup had much to do with an over-reliance on golden oldies and the danger is Domenech may fall into the same trap.
A decision also needs to be taken on the identity of their first-choice keeper. Before receiving a six-month ban for spitting at a Moroccan referee last year, Fabien Barthez was the man in possession, but his replacement Gregory Coupet has not put a foot wrong and must have thought he had done enough to start at the finals. Domenech said there was nothing between the two candidates but left goalkeeping coach Bruno Martini with the decision, which eventually went with Barthez, now clubless after leaving Marseille.
Under attack from legendary internationals such as Michel Platini, Domenech insists all will be all right on the night.
'The idea is to be in Berlin for the Final on July 9. We have as much chance as anyone. In my time as coach circumstances have dictated that I haven't been able to field the same side in two successive games. But now I feel the team is coming together, establishing a real identity.'
In stark contrast to his French counterpart, Switzerland boss Kobi Kuhn literally has the whole of the Alpine nation behind him. One of the country's all-time great players, the former midfielder is not only admired for qualifying the 'Nati' for this World Cup and Euro 2004. What makes him so appealing is his modesty, lack of any pretensions and joviality.
His Swiss side very much reflects his character. They are set up in an uncomplicated, compact 4-4-2, are well-organised, busy and their teamwork is exemplary. As they proved in the World Cup 2006 qualifying campaign - when they twice held France to draws - they are extremely hard to break down.
Indeed, former Bayern Munich manager Ottmar Hitzfeld has said that he has rarely seen a team so expertly drilled as Kuhn's men.
Switzerland favour a counter-attacking style built around the creativity and incisive forward bursts of right-sided midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta and playmaker Ricardo Canbas and the finishing power of prolific striker Alex Frei.
Such a tactic will be fine against France but they may find it more difficult when they have to force the pace against Togo and South Korea. Some might claim the Swiss are too one-dimensional in midfield, high on endeavour low on genuine artistry.
'We are no troupe of stars but we are competitive thanks to our togetherness and organisation,' says Kuhn. 'All I ask of my players is that they enjoy playing and show solidarity on the pitch. It helps when many of our players have come up from the national youth team. Many of them have been playing together for years.'
After sensationally reaching the semi-finals at the last World Cup, South Korea now have the highly-problematic task of proving they were no one hit wonders, that they did not go so far simply because of home advantage or a series of favourable refereeing decisions.
Appointed only late last year, their new coach, the battle-hardened Dutchman Dick Advocaat, admits time is tight to put the Koreans back on track after a rather unconvincing World Cup qualifying campaign in which they lost home and away to Saudi Arabia and he remains optimistic of making the second round at least: 'I don't see the current team being any weaker than that of 2002. In fact, it's probably stronger because of the European experience of players like Park at Manchester United, Lee at Tottenham and others.'
Their tactics may have changed since 2002; four years ago coach Guus Hiddink enjoyed much success with a 3-4-3, while Dick Advocaat prefers a 4-3-3.
Still, the overall Korean approach will be identical, based on a high-tempo attacking game, unbreakable spirit and the willingness to work as a unit.
They do not just run at the opposition from all directions for periods of the game. They do it for 90 minutes and that makes them very hard to stop. On the other hand, they no longer benefit from the element of surprise.
They key men are likely to be hyperactive midfielders Park Ji-sung and Kim Nam-il. Watch out too for brilliant young striker Park Chu-young.
No matter that coach Stephen Keshi worked a minor miracle to qualify Togo for their first-ever World Cup. He will not be holding the reins in Germany, unceremoniously fired in February for three losses out of three at the African Cup of Nations and a blazing row with the team's star striker Emmanuel Adebayor of Arsenal.
The new man on the bridge is veteran German boss Otto Pfister and while he claims to have coached or advised in over a hundred countries, he might well come to regret taking on the Togo challenge. Apart from a few notable exceptions - Adebayor and Eric Akoto at the back - there is a distinct lack of quality in the squad and the vast majority of them remain angry that Keshi was jettisoned.
Pfister will only have one aim in Germany - damage limitation and that means employing a conservative 4-5-1 or 5-4-1 formation.
Adebayor is likely to be left to forage on his own up front, occasionally aided by attacking midfielders Sherif Toure Mamam and Moustapha Salifou. Meanwhile the rest of the side will scrap and run to keep the opposition at bay.
It will not be pretty and it probably will not work either.
One thing Pfister does have going for him, though, is that as a resident of Switzerland, he knows exactly what to expect from Kobi Kuhn's side.
'We are the outsiders of the group but even in a short space of time, there is no reason why we can't be organised, why we can't prepare to make life difficult for the opposition. The players will be eager to show what they can do at a World Cup and this enthusiasm can only be good for us.'
MAN TO WATCH - Thierry Henry
Unlike Premiership watchers, French fans do not revere the Arsenal striker. Now's the time to put that right.
THE SAFE BET: Togo to achieve nul points. They are out of their depth at this level and will be exposed as no-hopers.
THE DARK HORSE: Thanks to some excellent youth development work over the last decade and the sons of immigrants making themselves available, the Swiss are improving all the time.
COACHES CORNER: Domenech has to make a reputation, while Advocaat needs to restore his. As for Kuhn he will be looking to consolidate his standing in the game.
VERDICT: France to top the group but not without some panic attacks along the way. South Korea will win more friends with their full-throttle style, but the streetwise Swiss may have a shade too much for them.