The battle off the field | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 06, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, July 06, 2018

The battle off the field

As the World Cup enters the quarterfinal stage, the intensity has gotten so high that it is felt not by the players alone but also by the tacticians in the dugout. In the first match French legend Didier Deschamps will face Uruguay's master tactician Oscar Tabarez, known as El Maestro, while Brazil's Tite will pit his wits against Belgium's Roberto Martinez.


Didier Deschamps won everything as a player, including captaining France to glory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. As a coach he took Monaco to the Champions League final in 2004 and ended Marseille's long wait to win a French title.

CHALLENGE: Deschamps has Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele, Olivier Giroud and Nabil Fekir in his squad. Yet he has struggled to settle on the perfect system to accommodate his attacking talents, and get the best out of Paul Pogba.

Observers outside France are especially baffled how a team with such an embarrassment of riches in attack cannot play like they did against Argentina more often.

But as Spain great Xavi Hernandez pointed out in a recent interview with French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, it is simply that Deschamps has a style more akin to Diego Simeone than Pep Guardiola.

"He has not changed his ideas on becoming a coach: defensive solidity and counter-attack," Xavi said.  

FORMATION: 4-2-3-1


Oscar Tabarez began his second stint as Uruguay coach in May 2006. Tabarez is still in charge 12 years on, having led them to one World Cup semifinal, one round of 16 and the Copa America title in 2011.

Not even ill-health has stopped the 71-year-old who was expected to resign in 2016 after he was diagnosed with a rare neurological disease known as Guillain-Barre syndrome but has carried on regardless with the help of a walking stick or electric wheelchair.

CHALLENGE: Tabarez has managed to retain Uruguay's renowned fighting spirit while curbing their wildest excesses.

Uruguay have the best disciplinary record of the eight quarterfinals with only one yellow card so far. Uruguay's watertight defense is marshalled by Diego Godin while the firepower up-front is provided by Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani.

"When we won the Copa America in 2011, we also took the fair play title and that was very significant," said Tabarez.

His approach is summed up by a message which adorns the wall of his house and is attributed to Che Guevara: "You must toughen yourself without losing tenderness."

FORMATION: 4-2-2-2


Tite's playing career was prematurely ended by a serious knee injury. Tite has spent nearly all his managerial career in Brazil, aside from two brief sojourns in the United Arab Emirates.

After Tite took over in June 2016, Brazil's defensive record under him has been remarkable, with only six goals conceded in 25 matches, and they have been just as miserly in Russia where they have only conceded one goal.

CHALLENGE: Tite has instilled an admirable collective discipline and his team are built on solid foundations. Brazil are looking to Italy for inspiration.

"Juventus have been champions for the last seven years, and only once without having the best defence," said Tite's assistant Sylvinho, the former Arsenal and Barcelona left-back, after the Mexico game.

"In such a short tournament, we want balance to be what characterises us, and that does not make us a defensive team."

History shows that the team with the best defence tends to win the trophy. And while Brazil have always possessed brilliant individuals (Neymar, Coutinho, Marcelo), they have also long since been pragmatists above all else.

FORMATION: 4-2-3-1


Roberto Martinez became Belgium's head coach in August 2016. Under his tutelage, the Red Devils became the first UEFA nation to qualify for Russia 2018, and did so with an unbeaten record.

CHALLENGE: Martinez has been stuffing four prolific attackers into one starting 11. They are his four best players (Lukaku, Mertens, Hazard and De Bryune) and four primary reasons Belgium seem closer than ever before to a World Cup title. Belgium are the tournament's top scorers with 12 goals.

For Friday's match, the tactics might be simpler according to Martinez.

"Against a team like Brazil, you must attack and defend with 11 players. We are not talking about a system but understanding what we must do when we have possession," the coach added.

"I don't think it will be a game with many secrets. We have to defend as well as we can and then cause them pain when we have the ball. It can be that simple and this squad is ready for that."

FORMATION: 3-4-2-1

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