Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Football - holes, pockets and diamonds 

Wales lost a game of football tonight against Poland. This seems to mean that we will not qualify for the World Cup finals. Our manager quit his job some weeks ago and this was his last game in charge of the team. I get the feeling that our local paper: The Western Mail, 'The National Newspaper of Wales' felt cheated by the manager quitting so soon. People in Wales have watched and followed the media coverage of the English football team for sometime. Our last manager apparently did a lot of work to make the Welsh team more professional and more like the English team. As a result we all think that we should start talking and reading about the Welsh players and management in the same way that everyone talks and reads about the English. When we started loosing some games the newspaper got excited and thought that it was it's duty to act like many of the national newspapers and write negative stories about the manager. Then it thought it should copy some of the other newspapers and start a campaign to get rid of the manager. Then the manager got a new job before the campaign had a chance to get started. That's why I feel the newspaper felt cheated, but I think it serves it right for trying to act grown up and copy it's big brother's bad habits, it should just grow up.

There is a lot of talk on the radio, in the newspapers and on the TV about the tactics associated with football. It seems that you can sum up many of the tactics and the general approach of the team take towards a particular game (whether they are playing to score goals, or to stop the other team scoring goals), by considering the formation.
Here be my limited knowlage of football tactics:
The formation is a triplet of numbers that add up to 10, denoting the number of players playing defence, mid-field (both defence and attack) and attack (the goalie is not counted in the formation). For example a team playing the formation (5,3,2) would have five defenders lined up with three players in front of them, a further two players would be in front of them trying to score goals. This would be considered to be a defensive formation. England have been playing in a (4,4,2) formation, but these are very exciting time in world football because for the last two games England have been playing (4,3,3). This seems to be very interesting to many people. When they talk about (4,3,3) they also note that one of the attacking players is playing behind the other two, he is playing 'in the hole', so if I follow what they say correctly then we should expand the formation syntax and say that they are playing (4,3,1,2) where there is one player playing in the hole. Now in the big picture including things like the motivation and ability of the players I don't see much difference between (4,4,2) and (4,3,1,2), but that's probably just because I don't understand much about football.
There is also a formation called the diamond, and people on the radio got very excited about this diamond formation for weeks, but it turned out that many of the players didn't like playing in a diamond and told the manager, who acquiesced.
Back to what I know. I don't understand how strictly the formation is followed when a game is in progress, what I have seen from my limited exposure to the game are four main tactics:

1) Get all the players bar one to stand next to the goal to block the other team from scoring, when one of the players gets the ball then they kick it as hard as they can down the pitch, hopefully to the one guy who is attacking. You may get lucky.
2) Act as in 1) (i.e. very defensive). When you get the ball from the opposition, rather than kicking it away you should all run as fast as possible towards the opposition goal and try and get a goal before they are able to get organised in defence (they will all have been down your end of the pitch trying to score the goal).
3) Pass the ball around allot in the middle of the park (pitch), your team should be skilful enough to pass back and forward between players for quite sometime. Eventually get one of the fast players to run with the ball down the side of the pitch and have the others run down the middle of the pitch towards the goal. When the player reaches the corner of the pitch they should cross the ball into the box (the bit outside the goal mouth) and hope that one of their team mates gets a head or foot onto the ball and scores a goal.
4) Pass the ball around in midfield as with 3). Eventually get one of the skilful players to run towards the goal with the ball. They should be skilful enough to get past one or two of the opposition. When the player gets into the box they should wait until a defender comes close to them before falling over on their own. This would seem to be counter-productive, why don't they just use their skill to kick the ball into the goal? Well sometimes the referee will think that they have been pushed over by the defender, and because they are so close to the goal they will be given a penalty kick. The chances of scoring from a penalty kick are pretty high, around 80 percent I would guess.

So that is my summary of what I know about football tactics. Probably not a lot, but there we go.

To summarise; in football a striker can play in 'the hole', in rugby a first receiver can 'sit back' in 'the pocket'. I'm not sure why there is only one of each (the hole and the pocket), and I don't know if there are similar voids in other sports.

I started this post because I was thinking about writing a story where everything said came to pass literaly, and there are loads of metaphors in sporting terminology.

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