Sunday, 25 June 2006

Football Is All About Teamwork, Michael - My World Cup 2006 Journal (Part 7)

While I was delighted to see that Germany has marched into the quarter-finals with two goals against Sweden last night, I couldn't help grunting a bit over the repeated losses of scoring chances on the German side.

Just like what I said earlier, I know I should accept the fact that the German team is no longer the Germans I first came to know, but I still couldn't help wondering how many more goals would have been made should Jurgen Klinsmann be still playing.

Simply put, I just want to make a point to Michael Ballack, the German captain. He shared the biggest blame for the losses of chance for the sake of his individual glory.

Football is all about teamwork, Michael. Remember that you are wearing the black, red and golden stripes on your shirt with three stars that symbolise the football achievements of your country, not yourself.

Don't take me wrong though. There is nothing wrong to play for personal interests, but at the World Cup tournament, there is something more important and should be given priority over personal pursuits.

If you agree with me, please make sure you don't shoot the ball in the middle of the pitch with an aspiration for personal scoring unless you are absolutely sure about an opportunity there. Your team mates are around you, and they may be in a much better position to put the ball in the net.

If you don't agree with me, tell me why you wasted at least two opportunities of shooting the ball way far and high when the Swede defenders were apparently in your way, instead of passing the ball to your team mates inside the penalty box? Don't you think it is your job as a midfielder to think strategically during the match and set up scoring chances for your team? It doesn't really matter who finally kicks the ball into the net, Michael. Excellent midfielders who help their teams win will never be forgotten even if they have no personal goals.

See what happened to your team mate Miroslav Klose. He is a striker. He is supposed to shoot and kill. But he passed two fatal chances to his colleague Lukas Podolski, simply because Lukas was in a better position to shoot than himself. Then Miroslav was elected and recognised as the Most Valuable Player of the match. And I'm sure he will be remembered for his impartial judgment and selflessness.

Before I close the chapter of the day, I would also like to add a few words on the ouster of all Asian teams in the group games this year, marked by Korea's 0-2 defeat by the Swiss on Saturday.

While it is a bit disappointing to see that the Asian miracle could not sustain, this harsh fact also provides football fans and players in this part of the world an opportunity for reflection. At a time when African teams are making really excellent progress, either in terms of national team spirit and personal skills, I have to admit with some reluctance that there is still to be a long way for the Asian teams to catch up. Indeed, we also have Asian players playing in the world-class European leagues, but they are often left on the bench. For those few like Bak Ji-seong who manage to secure their foothold in the leading European leagues, they also fail to promote a significant upgrade in football skills and strategy for their homeland. Just like the top football stars in Brazil and England and many others, they fail to play as well as they are expected in the leagues.

This is painfully disappointing. In the case of China, Korea and Japan, the strategy of employing foreign coaches with highly successful football careers does not seem to work. Even for Korea, since the departure of Guus Hiddink, the Dutch coach who led Korea into the semi-final in the last World Cup, there has not been any sustainable progress in its football team. The success of Bak Ji-seong at Manchester United seems to be a personal achievement rather than a case study for the benefit of Korean football at large.

With the lessons of this World Cup in mind, perhaps it is now time to work out another strategy to promote the progressive and sustainable development of football in Asia.

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