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Cup shows global power shift

by Henry Kissinger: former U.S. Secretary of State

(Insights into the World on July 8, 2002- The Daily Yomiuri )

The soccer team of the little town in Germany where I was born won three national championships in the space of 10 years against teams from the major metropolises.
With soccer-mania rampant, my yearning to view the local heroes had to run the gauntlet of my parents, who preferred more culturally uplifting enterprises and were in the habit of scheduling these to coincide with soccer matches.
Escapades from culture were inevitable but, since the town was small (80,000 population), I had a high probability of being discovered. - And German parents in those days had means of expressing disapproval that were not quickly forgotten.

Having paid my dues, I have had the good fortune of attending seven World Cups since 1970, missing only two in that span of 32 years.
Unfortunately, this year's event was one of them.
But I did see about half of the 64 finals matches on television, which, due to the time difference with Asia, obliged me to watch a number of them at 2:30 a.m.
For a true soccer fan, inconvenience is not a sacrifice, but a validation.

It turned out to be an exciting experience.
For Korea-Japan marked the beginning of a revolution in the sport that excites more universal passions than any other.
It was the first time that the Cup was contested outside Europe or the Western Hemisphere.
It was the first time that the organization was divided between two countries - Japan and South Korea - two nations with a deep historical distrust of each other.

The technical arrangements proved uncommonly successful.
The stadiums were modern and impeccably maintained and there was none of the hooliganism that blights many European soccer contests.
The spectators were polite, and visiting teams were almost never booed; at the same time the crowds' passions for the two home teams took on a national scale rarely experienced before.

Neither Japan nor South Korea has ever won a World Cup finals match.
This year, Japan made it into the Round of 16, and South Korea's inspired team advanced to the semifinals.
No doubt the advance of Japan and South Korea was helped by their hometown fans, who will be lacking in comparable numbers in future World Cups.

But these two countries - and the equally unheralded United States - have foretold an approaching change in the global balance of soccer power that parallels the transformation in the global balance of political power since the end of World War Second.
The countries of Europe and Latin America have dominated global soccer because the game originally took hold there and because they had the resources to discover players, train them and compete for them via the major leagues by which each of these countries conducts its competitions.
Moreover, regional competitions have evolved in both Europe and Latin America that increasingly overshadow national rivalries.
As a result, elite clubs such as Manchester United in England, Bayern Munich in Germany, Juventus in Italy and Spain's Real Madrid, and their one or two equivalents in each of the countries, monopolize the best players and coaches, rotating the regional championships among each other and playing a homogenized style.

Nevertheless, some national differences remain. England, the claimed inventor of the game and for long the dominant country (no English team lost at home until 1955), exhibited the national virtues: fairness, discipline, dedication and a fighting spirit.
But England has been slipping because, until the last decade, it disdained to adjust its game to current standards of speed and tactical flexibility.
It is no accident that England has not won a World Cup, or even reached a final, since 1966 - though its clubs now frequently win European competitions.

However, England is gaining ground.
The English team in this year's event was eliminated by Brazil in the Round of 16 in the closest and most hard-fought challenge Brazil experienced.
Since England's is a young team, it has great prospects for the next World Cup in 2006.

Germany, as always, was the exponent of total football; every player was trained to attack and to defend, facing opponents with total commitment at both ends of the field in rapid sequence.
Yet with rare exceptions, Germany lacked the technically dominant players to prevail by maneuvers rather than by frontal assault. Even so, such tactics and the condition and dedication of the German players have seen Germany win two World Cups since 1970, reaching the final of two others.

The basic Italian game plan is psychological: Throw the adversary off his game.
Somewhere along the line, Italy will score a goal and then seek to erect an impenetrable defense based on the extraordinary technical skill of its players, designed above all to produce a level of frustration that reduces an adversary to incoherence.
But the Italian game is hard to implement against teams of equal quality (of which there are few) and especially in the face of rabidly hostile spectators, as in this World Cup when South Korea was the opponent.
For the slightest flagging of concentration can lead to an opposition goal, at which point the Italian exertions rarely leave the emotional resources for another offensive thrust.
This is what happened to the Italian team in the semifinals of the 2000 European Championships against France and in the quarterfinals of Korea-Japan.

Both France and South Korea scored equalizing goals against Italy in the last minute of both matches following a staunch Italian defensive effort.
Both these teams achieved victories in overtime.
This is why Italy, despite having technically proficient and elegant players, has reached the final of the World Cup only twice since 1970, winning on only one occasion.

Historically, Brazil has been the most joyful team to watch.
While the German team attacks as if engaged in a tank battle, and the Italians engage in stiletto thrusts, the Brazilian team is always on the attack, moving like a ballet dancer to the rhythm of a samba band.
Though Brazilian footballers sometimes are too intoxicated with their virtuosity and forget that the purpose of the exercise is not elegance, but scoring goals, Brazil is the most successful team in World Cup competition, having reached the final five times since 1970 and winning on three occasions.
In this sense, the June 30 final provided the paradigms of two classical styles: the German style, which represents in many ways the apotheosis of the globalized defensive soccer culture, and the Brazilian style, which, as of now, stands as the outpost of creativity and intuition.

It is no accident that since 1970 only one final (Argentina against the Netherlands in 1978) did not include either Brazil or Germany. In 2002, both teams played well, but, in the end, inventiveness overcame systematized routine, albeit narrowly.
However, it may be that the 2002 World Cup will be the last in which the current type of soccer dominates.
Because the soccer market has been globalized, there is no longer any significant difference in the technical skill of the various national players-though African and Latin American players maintain an acrobatic edge.

Since the largest resources for soccer are still in Europe, its dour style of primary emphasis on defense dominates.
The style has been likened by Franz Beckenbauer, the great former German midfielder and current organizer of the 2006 Cup in Germany, to that of an accordion.
According to Beckenbauer, every player is a potential attacker and a potential defender, extending or collapsing the team as the tactical situation requires.
The contest is over control of the space from which a goal can be scored.
When stars play on both sides - as they do in the World Cup - scoring becomes a Herculean effort.
Indeed, Beckenbauer has pointed out that the normal outcome of an errorless accordion-style game is 0-0.

This dominance of the defense explains the rapid exit of such heretofore offensive stalwarts as France and Argentina and why of the seven matches comprising the quarterfinals, semifinals and the final, exactly eight goals were scored in regulation time and, of these, five were scored by Brazil and two by Germany. (Two matches finished goalless after regulation time, of which one was decided by a golden goal and the other by penalty kicks.)

Soccer is now becoming as complicated as a mathematical equation.
Teams probe for a specific weakness, the inability to protect adequately a specific area, or a difference in the height of the players-which is Germany's comparative advantage, built on scoring from high balls into the penalty area.
For the avid soccer fan, these tactics have the fascination of a fencing match in which two experts probe each other's weaknesses until one makes the decisive thrust. But it casts doubt on how quickly Americans will take to a game of such low scoring, however intricate the maneuvers.

In the United States, games thrive on unambiguity rather than subtlety; Americans will come to appreciate the mounting tension for which a great soccer game is unparalleled, but they want culmination, not perpetual teasing.
There is hope that a new style of soccer is emerging driven by new soccer powers, including the United States.
The European dominance is not based on superior athletic ability, but on a greater pool of trained players and on better coaching.

However, the pool of players is expanding around the world and other national teams have been hiring European coaches.
With European coaches, South Korea and Japan not only won their first games ever at the World Cup finals, but also advanced deep into their draw.
Thus the comparative advantage of European football is on the way to disappearing.
The so-called Asian values of teamwork and obsessive national dedication will come to the fore when success will be sought by immaculate coordination and wearing down the opponent through superior conditioning and relentless attack.

Japan and South Korea are bound to improve by playing their more offensive styles, and, by its disciplined performance, China has foreshadowed that it is only two World Cups away from a major role.
The established soccer powers will note that Brazil, despite its attacking style - and perhaps because of it - gave up no goals in its last two matches.

In this shift lies improved prospects for the U.S. national team.
For the first time, the United States reached the quarterfinals, where it held mighty Germany to a close 1-0 victory - made possible by German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, the best in the world (despite a lapse in the final), and a referee's oversight of what should have been a penalty.
But the long-range significance was that the United States more than held its own against one of the best prepared soccer powers in the world.
As more American kids play the game, the pool of available talent is bound to increase.
With good coaching - which was the case this time - the expectation is that American athleticism will yield results comparable to the competitive U.S. results in other sports.

African soccer is likely to progress even more rapidly. For three World Cups now, African teams have played perhaps the most attractive football of the tournament - acrobatic, joyful and offense- oriented.
In 1990 it was Cameroon, in 1998 Nigeria, in 2002 Senegal and South Africa. Each ran out of steam for lack of experience, conditioning and perhaps inadequate political backing at home to support the infrastructure for an effective performance.
The 2010 World Cup, which likely will be played in South Africa, may provide an impetus for putting all the elements together.

If there is cause for concern, it is the structure of international soccer.
FIFA, the governing body, deserves much credit for organizing a splendid World Cup under the leadership of its president, Joseph Blatter.
However, FIFA has grown from an administrative body of a sport to a giant business with global implications.
Its structure is too feudal and too haphazard to avoid the frequent public clashes which, one of these days, are likely to erupt into a major crisis that could blight an enterprise that entrances people around the world.

An outside examination organized by the governing body, such as was undertaken by the International Olympic Committee in the 1990s, would create the transparency and cohesion to enable FIFA to fulfill the passions and hopes that have given the world a month of excitement and unity.

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[Yamazaki's report - Japan poised to be cool cosmopolite]

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