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failed by adapting to adversity
In life it can be known as the moment of truth but in football it is the moment of adversity. It is the moment when as a team you find yourselves trying to cope with pressure, bad performances and even off-field problems which have combined to jeopardise your continued participation in the world’s greatest football tournament. You know that how you react will define your opportunity to lift the World Cup and become part of history.
This week Germany and Argentina stared into the abyss of impending failure when adversity struck both sides much earlier in the tournament than expected. In the case of the South American team, I guarantee the relief, euphoria and joy they felt when Marcos Rojo fired the winning goal against Nigeria will make them psychologically stronger, more confident and fearless in the next game against France. This is the benefit in both facing extreme adversity and pressure from back home and having the knowledge that a major obstacle has already been hurdled, galvanising the group and strengthening them mentally.
I feel Argentina are still a major threat in this World Cup. Problems in tournament football can actually be a good thing if a solution is found in time, something that
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Argentina have done, changing Jorge Sampaoli’s aggressive high-press game with three central defenders
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for a more conservative, conventional back four. It gives them a solid basis from which the pace of Ángel Di María, the probing passing of Éver Banega and
the genius of Lionel Messi can flourish in forward areas.
A lot has been made of who is actually making the coaching decisions within the Argentina camp but as long as everyone is on the same page and the players are open, honest and respectful in discussions with the coach, having a collaborative approach to tactical problems can
encourage accountability, decision-making and group unity on the pitch. This will improve both team performance and dynamic in the future. The fact is the group saw something was not working, faced the challenges head on and tried to adapt, resulting in a much-improved performance against Nigeria than in their previous game against Croatia.
Argentina’s adversity may make them an even tougher team to face in the later rounds and I have a feeling that they will overcome France on Saturday. Conversely, France have cruised through without having the scrutiny and difficulties that Argentina have had to overcome. They have played within themselves at a low tempo and question marks remain about whether they will be able to turn it on under pressure against an Argentina side who, even with the greatest footballer on the planet, will still be classed as underdogs and have nothing to lose.
And then there’s Germany. Despite their reputation for finding solutions, they did not adapt or solve the problems they encountered in their first match against Mexico, instead continuing with their tactical plan of expansive full-backs without the necessary cover from midfield to protect them from counterattacks. This left them open against Sweden and ultimately led to them crashing out of the group against South Korea.
I think many of us in the UK were amazed at Joachim Löw’s decision to leave Leroy Sané at home but that act points to something deeper within the Germany camp. Look at the reaction of supporters towards Mesut Özil and Ilkay Gündogan after they were pictured with the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and then the public criticism by Mats Hummels of the performance in the Mexico game, which indicated that when adversity hit the group they were not unified or equipped psychologically to deal with it. They
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didn’t adapt or counter the problems that were clear in their first two games, basing their hopes on the quality of their players and the proud history of German teams in qualifying from
the group phase rather than tackling their tactical deficiencies head-on. Compare this way of working with
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Argentina, who were humble enough to change and adapt to keep their World Cup dreams alive.
In England the theory of coaching our next generation of players is based on a “growth mindset” – embracing problems and finding practical solutions – rather than a “fixed mindset” – relying on natural ability and previous history to overcome a problem. It is more and more being identified as the best way to help players to be mentally strong enough to make decisions,and be accountable and adaptable on the field of play.
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