by Jim Riggio - 06/28/2006
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Although no one is mentioning this pairing as a possible World Cup final, I believe it will be Brazil and Italy playing for the Cup on July 9.
Brazil will enter that game as the favorite and probably will win. However, Italy has a chance, as it will more-than-likely play just as it did in Pasadena in 1994 - playing its trademark catenaccio defense.
The catenaccio or chain defense is something the Italians have been perfecting for decades. To some it's boring, because Italy is very conservative in its way of defending.
Very few goals are scored when catenaccio is played correctly, and thus, that is the reason for some to dislike it. However, I think it's a bad idea for someone to criticize the completely legitimate tactics of another team that is simply trying to do what all teams in sports do - and that is win.
Whether it's baseball, basketball, football or any other sport, you can't win without defense. The catenaccio first gained notoriety in the 1960s with the success of clubs Inter Milan and AC Milan under the direction of coaches Helenio Herrera and Nereo Rocco, respectively.
While some suggest catenaccio is very complicated, I see similarities in it to that used in NCAA basketball. Yes, catenaccio in some ways has been molded after basketball.
Unlike the NBA, which is more wide open and, up until a few years ago, didn't allow zone defense - catenaccio is simply zone defense. The reason why I compare it to college basketball is because in my opinion college basketball is where the real basketball is played, as teams really focus on execution, rather than on one's individual skills. I don't think anyone would argue with me if I said the basketball knowledge of college coaches like Bob Knight, Jim Calhoun, Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams is second to none.
Many teams in soccer have developed somewhat of a zone defense, but none as organized as the one Italy plays with.
With a number of players generally behind the ball, the Italian defenders and midfielders generally shift to form triangles around the player with the ball.
Brazil has a lethal lineup and perhaps no catenaccio setup can stop the Selecao. But Italy's catenaccio and Brazil's setup could provide for a surprise result.
Brazil has lined up with two forwards -Ronaldo and Adriano - both are outstanding players, but both are not known for returning to play defense.
Attacking midfielders Kaka and Ronaldinho are two of the world's best players, but they too are not known for their defensive abilities.
That leaves Brazil with Emerson and Ze Roberto to do much of the dirty work in the midfield. I will not suggest they are not capable of getting the job done, because both are excellent players. However, there is certainly lots of pressure on the pair.
Brazil's defense includes 36-year-old Cafu as the right back and Real Madrid veteran Roberto Carlos as the left back. Cafu is coming off an injury-plagued season with AC Milan and has lost a step or two. Roberto Carlos has never been one know for his defense skills.
If Italy's defense, which includes three of the world's best in Alessandro Nesta, Fabio Cannavaro and Gianluca Zambrotta, can hold off Brazil's attack, Italy may be able to expose Brazil's softer spots. Brazilian goalie Dida is also coming off of a poor season with AC Milan and rumors have suggested he may be replaced by none other than Italian starting goalie Gianluigi Buffon.
In playing catenaccio, Italy doesn't go forward too often, but tries to be patient with the ball when on the offensive, and with no 24-second shot clock, using the clock and not growing impatient when an angle is covered is how the team operates.
Andrea Pirlo is Italy's regista, which is basically like a point guard. He plays right in front of the defense and from a deep midfield position, he generally goes and gets the ball from the defenders and wing midfielders to set up the next attack. Pirlo's play and perhaps his long, thick hair, make you think of Steve Nash.
Perhaps the differences between the two are that Pirlo doesn't fast break like Nash. But he controls the offense, while playing generally a long way from the goal.
I believe the World Cup is Brazil's to lose. But I think attempting to play catenaccio is the only way Brazil can be beat, because any other team trying to play an 11-on-11 open street game will lose.