Football: World Cup - Nodding off to a surfeit of the short-ball game

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The Independent Online
IT USED to be the case that only poor players fell over on the football field, the good players were those who managed to stay on their feet. In this World Cup we have seen people toppling over when an opponent so much as breathes on them and I'm getting fed up with it. If we are not careful that kind of blatant cheating will drive a lot of people away from the game.

Defenders are not allowed to tackle anymore, so forwards are plunging to the ground to win a free-kick. With the diving and the non-tackling we are not seeing players turning on the ball, yet that has always been one of the basic footballing arts. Think of the great players - Maradona, our Robert, Eusebio, Pele - they were all gifted at turning on the ball and fooling their markers.

There have been a lot of goals and that is because people are afraid to tackle. Michel Platini, who organised the tournament, and Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, seem determined to turn football into a non-contact sport and if that's the case you can count me out of it. I just don't want to know.

When you do see a tackle in this World Cup it appears outrageous because we are not used to them. Look at the African players when they try to make a tackle - I wish the Brazilian coaches, who have gone into that part of the world, would teach them how to make a proper challenge. Then look at Norway, Denmark and Sweden, countries which have benefited from the introduction of British coaching techniques. Their players know how to execute a challenge correctly.

When I watch a game I like to see something different, but the problem with this World Cup is that everybody is playing the same way. They are all playing from the back and sometimes the ball will go through three or four players without making any headway. This type of football bores me from time to time and I'm afraid I have been nodding off to sleep in front of the television.

Norway have a lot to answer for because they are not playing the game. They are trying to be more progressive and get the ball forward early. When I was growing up in the North-East I was always told that when you received the ball you first looked up to see what was ahead of you and then played the ball forward whether it was five yards, 15, 25 or 30.

It is a fallacy that all the great sides only play short balls. Brazil, for instance, play a large number of balls long and into space - they only play it square or back when they are being pressed.

I like the look of Brazil, but I am not departing from France as my original tip to finish up the winners. Somebody described them on the television the other day as "awesome" and I wouldn't disagree with that. They have so much pace and depth of talent. They have been preparing for this World Cup for the last two or three years and it shows.

It was interesting to see them beat Denmark even without Zinedine Zidane. He is a crucial part of the French set-up. There is nobody stronger, more aggressive, more powerful in this tournament, but the stupidity of his foul, which saw him dismissed against Saudi Arabia, left me shaking my head in disbelief.

Zidane and the Brazilian captain Dunga are the two players to impress me so far. There's nothing exceptional about Dunga, he's an ordinary type of player whose passing is sound, but he is always available to receive the ball or to break up an opposing attack; he is my sort of player. I also like the Croatian striker Davor Suker and the Italian Christian Vieri who looks like a centre-half trying to play centre-forward; he is so awkward. But when the ball is delivered across there he is to head it down or strike it first-time.

The important stages of the competition are now beginning and this is when things start to close up and the games get tight. I'm upset that Scotland are not there, because they are a nation who love their football, but I agree with the verdict that they were just not good enough. Right from the start they looked as though they needed a Duncan Ferguson-type figure. When the defensive areas are congested and the likes of Gordon Durie and Kevin Gallacher are becoming bogged down sometimes you just have to put the ball over the top and Ferguson would have been ideal for that.

It's also amazing to think that Spain won't be there after thrashing Bulgaria 6-1 in their last game. Their manager, Javier Clemente, is a pal of mine and I feel for him.

It was outrageous to see how the Nigerians played against Paraguay on the same night. Their tall midfield player, Kanu, was knocking balls to team-mates and then taking a little hop in the air, just as players do when they are warming up before a game.

But for a couple of moments of hesitation against Nigeria in their opening fixture, Spain would have qualified and the fact that they didn't is good news for the 16 who have gone through. Nobody would have wanted to face them.

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