Updated: Oct 4, 2018
How Height and Strength Dominated the 2018 World Cup
Four years after the 7-1 fiasco, on the 14th of June 2018, the Russian World Cup began with a match between the hosts and Saudi Arabia. Brazil topped most polls regarding favorites to win the world cup. With an attacking force composed by Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus, Willian, and led by the previously elected third best player in the world, Neymar, Brazil was backed up by some of the main sports analysts to win their sixth cup. Despite clear favoritism, Brazil went on to lose 2x1 in the World Cup quarter finals to Belgium's "golden generation". While many could argue that Brazil had an upper hand over the Belgian side, multiple factors came into play that allowed Belgium to overcome Brazil. Similar factors led to the defeat of other teams, eventually leading to the conclusion that maybe, height and strength are actually surpassing skill in terms of importance in football matches.
The evolution of football has come about with an increase in physical presence on the field. Tactics have changed and football is heading towards favouring height and strength over skill and flair. Since Tite, the current Seleção head coach took over in 2016 Brazil suffered 6 goals, 5 originated from aerial plays. It is possible to argue that the inability to correct this mistake would lead towards Brazil's elimination. Despite Brazil's predicted superiority in flair and ability, they were easily defeated by two major aspects: luck and physical capacity. Brazil's team was majorly affected by lack of height. The nervousness brought about during every corner kick was a major theme leading to Brazil's downfall. 7 minutes into the game, Thiago Silva struck the ball with his head, hitting the post. Despite it being interpreted as a sign of Brazil's dominance, it could be said to be the beginning of Brazil's undoing, as what succeeded Thiago's failed attempt, was a Belgium corner minutes later. In the 12th minute of the first half, Gabriel Jesus and Fernandinho went up to head the ball away. As Fernandinho was barely able to head the ball, however he was close enough to head it into his own net. Within twelve minutes Brazil was down by one goal, a tragedy that would certainly be a main factor in Brazil's quarter finals fiasco. Belgium's average height topped Brazil's by a whopping 10cm. This would be one of the causes that led Brazil to lose the world cup.
The importance of physical capabilities were seen elsewhere in the 2018 world cup, illustrating the importance of height in football. Rightfully named, a Copa Da Bola Parada (The Set-piece World Cup, in English), 32 of the 108 goals scored were headers, out of which 23 came from corners. Teams such as Iceland or Russia were able to tie or defeat football giants such as Argentina or Spain. Iceland, with an average height of 185.3cm were able to hold themselves against Argentina's 178.7cm despite Argentina being considered one of the world's greatest attacking teams. With height and strength, Iceland, a team coached by a dentist and captained by real estate broker, were able to keep one of the fiercest attacks in the world, led by 5 time ballon d'Or Messi, at a 1-1 draw. 98% of the distance they run in a match is made without the ball. The amount of time spent without the ball indicates how physical presence may overcome flair and skill as players spend less time dribbling with the ball at their feet than sprinting to get in position.
The 2018 World Cup was a great example of how physical strength is becoming an important factor in football. The World Cup was once again unique and entertaining, with France deserving the win. However, at the same time, it was also interesting to notice how multiple teams, expected to win the cup were beaten by height and strength.