ANALYSIS: Defence enough for fortunate France

Alan O’Brien 

Despite never coming close to engineering a cohesive team performance, Didier Deschamps possesses the World Cup trophy for the second time. Individual talent, shining through at both ends of the pitch, dragged France to glory. Croatia, who executed their gameplan to near-perfection, can only reflect on what might have been. Continue reading

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PREVIEW: Vrsaljko has what it takes to vanquish France

Alan O’Brien 

Over the course of this captivating World Cup, only Spain have favoured the left flank more than Croatia. But if the Vatreni are to spring an upset, and emulate La Roja‘s first-time triumph in 2010, a change of tack is needed. The path Zlatko Dalic chooses will ultimately decide his nation’s fate: the right fork may lead to glory, but the left will surely invite the wrath of Kylian Mbappé. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Sundgren sunders Bradley’s harmless Hoops

Alan O’Brien 

This was Stephen Bradley’s shot at glory. Despite boasting eight full internationals, AIK arrived in Tallaght with precisely zero interest in controlling proceedings. Shamrock Rovers, therefore, were invited to give the Swedes their best shot. But, alas, their visitors escaped with nary an eyelash out of place. The Hoops, in short, were absolutely harmless here. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Croatia full-backs punish Southgate stasis

Alan O’Brien 

This was to be Gareth Southgate’s greatest test yet. After a facile route to the semi-final, throughout which England’s 3-3-2-2 was never seriously tested, the question was this: could Southgate adjust when the going got tough? The answer, after an enthralling clash with Croatia, is an emphatic no. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Martinez’s Belgian waffle finally falls to France

Alan O’Brien 

Little of the laudatory coverage hailing Roberto Martinez’s apparent tactical victory over Brazil made any sense. Belgium’s haphazard hybrid shape offered up chance after chance to Tite’s wasteful troops on Friday. France, just as defensively sound as Brazil here, simply did not suffer the Selecao‘s incredible misfortune. Finally, therefore, Martinez was made to pay for his hubris-fueled tactical codology. Continue reading

PREVIEW: Croatia 4-3-3 may spell curtains for Southgate

Alan O’Brien 

Neither England nor Croatia have reached the last-four of a World Cup in a generation. Both fell at the penultimate hurdle last time out, in 1990 and 1998 respectively. But now, with all the favourites fallen by the wayside, a golden opportunity to progress further has materialised that only one nation can grab. And, with Gareth Southgate firmly wedded to his preferred system, it’s difficult to avoid the following conclusion: victory and defeat depend almost exclusively on the tactical whims of one Zlatko Dalic. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Southgate kryptonite stalls super Swedes

Alan O’Brien 

Four decades on from falling for the humble English 4-4-2, Sweden have yet to lose that loving feeling. Popularised in the late-seventies by emigrés Roy Hodgson and Bob Houghton, the quintessentially English system is still very much Swedish football’s go-to. How ironic, then, that the most English blueprint of all would falter at its originators’ hands. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Ragged Red Devils survive Brazilian barrage

Alan O’Brien 

Knockout football has always been capable of throwing up the odd aberration, but this one takes the cake. Tite’s Brazil created three big chances, and at least four very good ones. Roberto Martinez’s Belgium, at the Selecao‘s mercy on the flanks throughout, created absolutely nothing. And, yet, the Red Devils are looking forward to a World Cup semi-final, while Brazil contemplate the long journey home. Football, eh? Continue reading

ANALYSIS: France go forth as Tabarez reverts to type

Alan O’Brien 

Having allegedly swapped “la garra charrua” for “o jogo bonita“, Oscar Tabarez reverted to type here. Uruguay’s ultra-defensive outlook made for a depressingly dire spectacle from which France, still less than the sum of their star-studded parts, were still fortunate to emerge. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Pekerman spoiling tactics pay off until the penalties

Alan O’Brien 

José Pekerman’s plan-of-defence turned this second-round match into one long mutual nullification exercise. And, while Colombia’s safety-first system produced a penalty lottery they ultimately lost, it also exposed the South Americans’ longstanding over-reliance on one creative fulcrum. Continue reading