Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Analyzing the World Cup in Brazil with Azkals coach Thomas Dooley

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Analyzing the World Cup in Brazil with Azkals coach Thomas Dooley
by rick olivares

With the AFC Challenge Cup over, we sat down with Philippine head coach Thomas Dooley to talk about the upcoming World Cup in Brazil. Dooley is a two-time World Cup veteran having played for the United States in the 1994 and 1998 editions in which he was named team captain in his last stint in football’s biggest and grandest stage.

When Dooley was playing, there were 24 countries from five confederations participating in the World Cup. This year there are 32 teams vying to win that coveted trophy.

“I’ve been so focused on the Philippines that I haven’t had time to really follow the other countries as they prepare for the World Cup,” confessed the Azkals coach. “But now, there’s times to take a look at what’s happening. For sure, this is going to be an exciting World Cup.”

Rick: In 19 World Cup Finals thus far, no European team has won in the southern hemisphere. In your opinion, does the weather, humidity in particular, have something to do with that? If not, what factors?

Coach Thomas: There are many factors -- there is the climate, the fans, and the fields that make use of the different types of grass. Time zones change, the culture, it is played at the end of the European season where teams are generally tired. Even when you play another country for example that is not Brazil, but because they are from South America, it is like they have home field advantage because of the fans. It is difficult.

Rick: Brazil has a win streak of 57 home games dating back to 1975, how big a factor is that for any team playing against them? Will there be pressure as the home side? In 1994, was there pressure on the US team to go far in the World Cup?

Coach Thomas: As a player there is always pressure. Every game you play there is pressure. It varies depending on the circumstances. It could be bigger or less. When I was playing, everything would be cool before the game. But on match day when I wake up and I am a little more nervous and I am telling jokes. I tell myself, “We have to win.” Before

But when you get to the stadium things become different. You become more focused. All of a sudden you step on the field and everything is like tunnel vision. You only see and hear what is in front and immediately around you. Now you’re locked in.

There is pressure on Brazil for sure but they have players who are used to this pressure. The qualifiers also prepare you for that. The World Cup is a different stage of course but they have big game players. I don’t think it will much unless of course, they lose a game here and there. Now the pressure is on. But Brazil has the talent to win. And what talent they have.

Rick: Mexico and Australia are a few countries that have changed coaches midway through the qualifiers. Should that be a cause for concern for a team heading into the World Cup?

Coach Thomas: Mexico could be one of the first teams going off. When I was playing, Mexico was so different. They were so organized, technically sound, dangerous, and with a great style of play. Now they are different. They don’t place too much pressure anymore. I don’t think they are the same team of a few years ago. Yes, it is a cause for concern because you need players to understand why you have to play a certain way.

Rick: Countries like Croatia have some top players but their young teams haven’t done well in the past 10 years; they haven’t done well internationally and didn’t even qualify in the last World Cup. Does not having BIG GAME experience hurt?

Coach Thomas: It is important to have a kind of experience. When you gain experience you know better. But it is not a given. You can have player who has no experience playing an incredible game because they don’t look at it that way and they just say, ‘Let me do my job.’ The important thing for a coach is to try and find out how a player will respond. Croatia could surprise some teams.

Rick: So it could be the same situation for Cameroon with Sam Eto’o and Alex Song didn’t get much playing time with Chelsea and Barcelona respectively. Their lack of playing time on club level could or could not dampen their competitive edge come kick off.

Coach Thomas: Right. Coaching isn’t all about technique or strategy. There’s also the mental aspect of preparing a player. But that also depends on how mentally tough a player is.

Any time you play for your country it is different. You run quicker. There is a purpose to you since you represent a whole lot more people. If you’re a part of Chelsea or some top sides, you’re better than those other sides that play in Cameroon. You have that knowledge and quality playing for top coaches in top leagues. But at the same time, there are players who are hungry and want to show who they are as opposed to a big shot so you might get a little more from them. It is up to the coach to decide and balance things. He has to be skillful and smart enough to understand everything.

Rick: In the last World Cup, Spain kept possession of the ball, 75-80% of the time. That’s a lot. And they had seven of the Top 10 passers in the tournament. Are other teams wiser to their strategy?

Coach Thomas: Spain is the class of football and they are the favorites until someone takes it from them. I have yet to see a team really outplay them. They found a system they are comfortable with. They have the players to run the system. And more importantly, the belief in sticking to the system. You keep possession and want to move the ball and tire out the other team.

They do the simple things yet it is successful – pass, move the ball around, find a teammate, pass, assess the situation. They put teams to sleep. When a defender doesn’t make that run because they keep passing the ball that is when they hurt you. They should go deep in the tournament.

Rick: When Ivory Coast has many big stars like Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba, and Wilfried Bony, does a new coach let his team play or does he try and establish his own system?

Coach Thomas: Again, it is a tricky situation. It has to be a balance of both. If a coach does not assert control that is difficult because at the end of the day, the buck stops with him. But you also have to play to your strengths and not deviate from what has worked for you. If the coach and the players find that balance and respect they will do well. Cameroon has the athletes to compete. The weather will not be a problem for them so they might do better.

Rick: Does having a team with no big name players help? Do they believe they can win or will they be like Greece in Euro 2004 – giant killers?

Coach Thomas: There is no one system that says it is the best in the world. There are different reasons for a system’s success – having the right players, playing the right opponent where you can take advantage of that system, and some luck as well. They reached the World Cup on that strength so yes it still works. But I don’t think they will catch anyone by surprise.

Rick: Can they get past Spain with the memory of their flameout and terrible play during the last World Cup Finals? Is Rob Van Persie the key to the Dutch returning to the finals?

Coach Thomas: Spain was just like them until they started winning everything. They have the talent to win it and it is too much to put it on one man like Van Persie. But some times, one man can make a difference. Like Diego Maradona who inspired Argentina. There was Roberto Baggio during my time and he carried Italy to the Finals. After a poor season with Manchester United, he will want to end the year on a good note.

They are one of the favorites definitely.

Rick: Speaking of winning it all, Japan behind Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda, Ryoichi Maeda, and Shinji Okazaki placed ninth in the last World Cup and have won everything else in Asia. Is this the year where they make bigger strides in the World Cup?

Coach Thomas: The Japanese simply become good at everything they do. They break it down to a science. And play well. They have a very good domestic league and it is there where they become stars not in Europe. Then they move over and become even better players. They play for very good ballclubs in top leagues and that will only help their team and their country.

They could be a darkhorse team.

Rick: Do you think the element of surprise for Uruguay even with Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani is gone now that everyone knows about them?

Coach Thomas: Yes, they won’t catch teams by surprise now. There is also the question of Luis Suarez’ health. They have good players but are not that deep. It would be great to see them play Brazil in the finals. It’s like a rematch from a long time ago.

Rick: Paul Scholes recently said that England must make use of its Liverpool contingent to play more attacking football. One that brought them success during qualification. Does that place a lot of pressure on team captain Steven Gerrard? And Wayne Rooney for the matter.

Coach Thomas: England places massive pressure on themselves because of who they are. I think they have to look long and hard at their style of football because they just might not go far.

Rick: If there is a team that has made defense its calling card then it’s Italy. They didn’t qualify for the Round of 16 in 2010 but made the finals of Euro 2012 where they lost in devastating fashion to Spain. How do you see them performing in the WC?

Coach Thomas: They are always consistent. Some might say that after winning in 2006 they did not go far in South Africa. But they bounced back in the Euros. If Mario Balotelli plays well up front, Italy will be a threat.

Rick: Lastly, the Group of Death: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, and the United States. Someone has to go out.

Coach Thomas: Germany will always be a model of consistency. Injuries are key. Mesut Ozil didn’t have a very good year for Arsenal. A surprise there. But he is one of the top players in the world. If he can play well and find his form that is a plus for Germany. Of course, I hear things about some players but hopefully, they will come together in time for the World Cup.

Portugal? Who knows what you are getting from them? They are not getting any younger. They have to make a move now.

Ghana it is the same.

There is shared history among the teams in the group. As you know Ghana ousted the US in the last two World Cups. The US will want revenge. With Landon Donovan, the other teams were wary of his capabilities. Now he’s not there, you they won’t be as wary of some of the other players. But Jurgen achieved that trick in 2006 when he brought in all these new players who played so well.

Offhand, you’d say Germany and Portugal will advance but I don’t think anyone can take Ghana and the US lightly.

Rick: Having said that, when Germany and the US face each other whom will you root for?

Coach Thomas: I am so far from the game now that I can sit back and relax and just enjoy the show. I played for the US so I am rooting for them just a bit more. But it doesn’t matter. Whoever wins I will support.

Rick: So who will win the World Cup for you?

Coach Thomas: Oh, no doubt, Brazil. They will be in their element.


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