Group H: Is Fabio Capello suited to the international game?
Two World Cups. One flop in South Africa, with a bigger fiasco looming on the horizon in Brazil. This is the mark Fabio Capello is set to make on the international stage.
It is a major fall from grace for the 68-year-old Italian who was once regarded as one of the best tacticians in the world, his Russia now on the brink of elimination after losing to Belgium 0-1 in their Group H match at the Maracana Stadium.
This was the same man who was once unrivalled in the club scene as he won virtually everything that could be achieved at the highest level in Europe with AC Milan, Real Madrid, Roma and Juventus.
While he maintained the same work ethic and no-nonsense approach that served him so well at the club level onto the international stage, he was unable to find a similar Midas touch in a different arena.
Never mind his tenuous relationships with the mandarins in the English Football Association after a shambolic World Cup 2010 that subsequently led to his resignation, Russia was supposed to be a fresh start for the world's highest-paid international manager.
For all the minor success in guiding the Russians through in qualifying ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, the swagger appeared to desert them the moment they landed in Brazil.
It was instead replaced by apprehensiveness as they tried to make a careful, calculated approach against both South Korea and Belgium. The youthful Asians certainly wasted no time picking out chinks in his tactical plan.
They even relished in taking them on and found a huge weakness when Igor Akinfeev kept bungling straightforward shots from distance. Even so, Capello made no move until late in the match.
While substitute Aleksandr Kerzhakov saved his blushes with a late leveller, the Italian tactician did not heed the lessons he was supposed to have taken from the South Korea match.
He shuffled his tactics and personnel against Marc Wilmot’s Red Devils, yet still displayed the same tentativeness and mental stumbles that were so apparent in the first game.
The result? Another apprehensive, stymied showing from the Russians. No sign of improvement from the first game humbling, especially when they needed points to keep fighting for another day.
Their best chance all night came just before half-time against a sub-par, but talented Belgium when Aleksandr Kokorin headed just over unmarked inside the box.
A huge let-off for the opponents really, but the miss deflated them more psychologically. And while the highly-reputed Belgians continued to sleepwalk at the Maracana, they did little better, insulting the Beautiful Game at the Brazilian shrine.
Capello appeared comfortable, too comfortable actually, to content himself with picking up another scrappy point until Wilmots decided to tactically outwit him by ringing the changes.
Cue Belgian substitute Divock Origi smashing home the winner off an Eden Hazard assist two minutes from time. In came Kerzhakov, but lightning doesn’t strike twice and Belgium sealed their progress into the knockout rounds.
With that knockout punch, pre-tournament expectations of reaching the round of 16 are fading faster than Vladimir Putin turning on the gas pipes to Europe. After such tepid displays, questions will be asked as to whether the elderly Italian is still up to the rigours of international football.
At the moment, he has a new contract extension that will see him through until the next edition of the finals in 2018, which his adopted country will host. Will the Russian public have the same confidence that he will still be the right man to bring them joy just as Guus Hiddink did six years ago in the Euros?
When all is done and dusted at the sunset of Capello’s career, football history will undeniably judge him as a club success – and an international flop, alongside the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, Giovanni Trappattoni and Gerard Houllier.
This is a warning to coaches like Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti, who might be taking note should they want to try their luck in international management after they are tired of their club adventures. Not every successful club manager will end up following the likes of Marcelo Lippi and Vincente Del Bosque as more have – and more will – end up in the sticky international doldrums Capello is currently wallowing in.
Halilhodzic’s Tactical Genius Sends Fennec Foxes Soaring After Korean Demolition
If Capello is the hallmark of conservative football coaching, his next managerial adversary this Thursday is the antithesis of everything that he stands for. With nothing to lose after their narrow 1-2 defeat to Belgium, Vahid Halilhodzic rang in five personnel switches and tactical shifts for Algeria’s match against South Korea.
The 61-year-old Bosnian tactician was richly rewarded for his adventure with a swashbuckling display, particularly in the first half, that left the Koreans dazzled and wondering what had hit them.
Utilising the players’ individual strengths and experiences, he moulded the Fennec Foxes into a fearsome unit where they feared no one, a stark contrast to their cautious display in the opening setback.
His overall gameplan was such a masterstroke of intent and cunning that no South Korean saw it coming prior to kickoff. It was an overwhelming statement from the North Africans that the East Asians only dissected and configured 45 minutes too late.
Their individual potential, especially from those playing in the elite European clubs and schooled in the French football system in their youth, was never in doubt. What the former Yugoslavian World Cupper had done in the biggest test of his three-year tenure was to shape them into an effective unit.
With their tactical and mental strength in annihilating the Koreans, the Algerians have deservedly and belatedly showed why they are presently ranked among the top 25 in the world and are worthy of standing shoulder to shoulder with the elite teams at the world stage.
Buoyed by this result that put them in pole position to qualify alongside Belgium from Group H, they will come into the final game against Russia with nothing to lose. Defensive frailties notwithstanding, they know they can count on Halilhodzic to conjure another stroke of tactical genius to push them into the knockout rounds.
What about Russia and Fabio Capello then? Your guess is as good as mine.
A football scribe with his heartbeat on the local and Asian pulse, Gary Koh desires to follow the footsteps of the Special One to become the Ultimate One. He is certainly hoping his Football Manager game experience makes him more Halilhodzic than Capello in his imaginary world of football management.