Source: The Wall Street Journal
With the semifinals of Euro 2012 set to begin later Wednesday, the time for intense tactical analysis has arrived.
Much of the talk has been dominated by the usual questions. Which team will win? How do you stop Spain? And what on Earth does Cristiano Ronaldo use to style his hair?
But most of the discussion ahead of the matches centers on what formation each team will employ. Through the first 28 games in Poland and Ukraine, teams have used five distinct formations, a greater spread than at any Euro tournament since 1996, according to UEFA's technical report. We've seen 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 3-5-2, 4-3-3, 4-6-0 and even something roughly akin to 10-0-0. (See England/Czech Republic).
Here's the problem -- For all practical purposes, formations in soccer don't really matter anymore.
"Formations are dying out," according to Slaven Bilic, head coach of Croatia. "It's increasingly difficult to mark the movement of the players, with respect to the ball, just by assigning numbers to each line."
But it may be that this historic game, which has been played in pretty much the same form for close to 150 years, is now at a point where every responsible way of deploying 11 players on a field has been exhausted.
For traditionalists, this will be a difficult idea to swallow. Formations were introduced in the 19th century to impose order on a sport that was still largely a lawless free-for-all. Ever since, the way a team is assembled on the field has been seen as critical to the outcome of matches.
In a sport that has no time outs, few stoppages and is often decided by individual acts of spontaneity, formations are one of the few ways coaches can shape the action on the field -- and justify their stratospheric salaries.
"I love nothing more than to talk about the technical side of soccer," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said.
Alexi Lalas, the former US international who played in Italy's Serie A, supposedly the most sophisticated league in the world, said that formations are a suggestion for spacing, but little more than that.
Once the match starts, teams take a quick glance at how their opponent is lined up and adjust but give little thought to the numbers after that. "The way the outside world thinks about formations is completely different from the way a player thinks about it," Lalas said.
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