Football: `If in doubt, get the ball out. Lash it upfield'

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The Independent Online
FOR YEARS Italian teams have been experts at putting defenders in the right penalty area positions to deal with the danger when crosses are swung over. I was thinking the other afternoon that this side were no different when they failed to defend a centre and gave Chile their equaliser. Then, lo and behold, Italy put themselves in danger of losing the game when Marcelo Salas, who is not the tallest striker around, got above his marker to head a second.

Chile's second goal was a calamity for the Italians because the move sprung from a failure to clear the ball out of defence. That has always been their way; the back players will try and pass the ball at every opportunity whereas I would prefer to see them lash it upfield. I always used to tell my defenders: "If in doubt get it out".

It was a shock to see Italy concede goals in that fashion and they were immensely fortunate to get back into the game through a diabolical penalty decision but write them off at your peril. They are notoriously bad starters, and don't forget that after Ireland defeated them in the opening group game in America four years ago they went on to reach the final. Nor did Italy lose that game with Brazil. I don't consider it a defeat when you are beaten on penalties.

Watching both Brazil and Italy it was clear that neither have changed their approach from four years ago. Italy still play with a sweeper behind two markers; they give you room at the front but not at the back. They'll track back and place people behind the ball. They have done it no differently for the last 30 or 40 years.

The two front men for Chile, Salas and Ivan Zamorano, have come in for a lot of praise. Apart from the goals I never saw them in the game though their movement and running and the way the whole team got forward was exceptional at times. They came back well after losing an early goal but the Italians help you do that, they always seem reluctant to look for the additional goals that will kill the game off.

The space Scotland discovered when they were able to get at Brazil, partiularly in the second half, will have given hope to the other fancied sides in the tournament. The likes of Argentina, Germany and France will be thinking now that Brazil are maybe not the big threat they were anticipating.

It was such an unfortunate way for the Scots to lose that my heart went out to them and Craig Brown. You don't mind if Ronaldo has thumped one home from 20 yards or so but an own goal is a real sickener. Then again, had Brazil taken their chances as Brazilian teams normally do, the game would have been over before Tommy Boyd put through his own goal.

Ronaldo's finishing disappointed me. Several times he was in scoring range and could only hit the goalkeeper or send the ball wide. What interested me about him was that he was making the same runs that we saw from Romario four years ago, coming deep to receive the ball and then either turning to run at defenders or laying off the ball, often to the guy who made the initial pass and who then set off into the spaces Ronaldo had just vacated.

Scotland gave themselves problems by allowing Ronaldo to turn instead of getting right up close to him. I've always thought that he is not the greatest at turning, but once he comes at you face on and has the chance to use his pace then he is a frightening proposition, as we saw with that mazy run that took him past several challenges and on to a shot which Jim Leighton turned away.

Brazil look solid in defence, they have big lads in there, good competitors, and they are pretty mobile. If I was their manager my worries would be over the goalkeeper Taffarel. He never gave me feelings of confidence and he will need plenty of protection from those in front.

That's where the captain Dunga is so important because while others are bombing forward he sits in the middle, closes the spaces and forces the counter-attackers to play down the flanks rather than through the middle When I was with Ireland I always told one of the centre-backs to step forward if we were short in central midfield because it is the one position you don't want to leave yourself exposed.

Brazil always seem to produce a glut of left-sided players whereas nations like ourselves struggle in that department. This time we've got Graeme Le Saux and nobody else. Against Scotland Denilson showed some masterful touches down the left side when he came on.

Most of the games so far have been full of goals and have perhaps been more open, entertaining affairs than had been expected in the early stages. The referees must take credit because they haven't been inclined to wave yellow cards after every tackle - and also some of it will be down to the rules which make it hard to tackle.

Attackers know they can turn without getting kicked and if they are fouled near the box they will win either a penalty or a free-kick while the perpetrator runs the risk of a red card. The front men have so much more freedom these days. Imagine what it must have been like before to have a Norman Hunter or a Jack Charlton breathing down your neck as you went to receive the ball!