Saturday, June 12, 2010

Mexico's and Uruguay's Three Centre Backs

As has been well documented in recent times, the ploy of teams around the world in playing a lone striker has made tactical systems incorporating three centre backs all but redundant. The deficiencies of such a system were in ample evidence in Mexico’s 1-1 draw with South Africa in the opening game of the World Cup finals yesterday. Although it was believed prior to the kick-off that Rafael Marquez would start the game as a front sweeper, he was found dovetailing for most of the match alongside fellow centre-backs Ricardo Osorio and Francisco Javier Rodriguez, with Paul Aguilar and Carlos Salcido, plying as wingbacks.

The danger in such an arrangement is that by utilising three defenders to counter a single centre-forward, the opposition is certain to find space in other areas of the pitch. And in this case, South Africa found the extra space in the middle of midfield, from where Teko Modise played an excellent ball through to Siphiwe Tshabalala, who finished with aplomb, having cut in from the left wing. It was no doubt a fine through-ball followed by an outstanding finish, but it was clearly a result of the advantage derived by South Africa from Mexico’s decision to deploy a three member central defence against a team employing a sole centre forward.


Uruguay who held France to a goalless draw yesterday also utilised a tactical system involving three centre backs against a team deploying a single centre forward, but with diverse effect. France’s 4-3-3, on paper should have caused Uruguay plentiful problems. But Frank Ribery’s tendency to drift in from the left wing and Sidney Govou’s ineptitude at this level coupled with Domenech’s decision to play him closer to Nicolas Anelka as opposed to using him on the right wing meant that none of Uruguay’s centre backs were rendered superfluous.

France also found their three players stationed in central midfield cancelled by Uruguay’s three in the middle of the pitch, which meant that they were forced to rely on their fullbacks for attacking width, a threat which was competently countered by the Uruguayan wing backs. This meant that even though France did have the odd chance, for most of the game, their tactics were skilfully nullified by Uruguay. It was certainly a commendable result for the South Americans, but the perils of their system, especially against sides using a single centre forward together with two wide players up front is bound to be exposed by teams possessing greater tactical acumen than France, even if not the flair.

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