Teams attempt to limit distractions

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:07 AM ET

Despite the hours of discussion, hundreds of opinion pieces and surgeon-like dissection of everything teams do before a World Cup, the reality is much simpler.

It is virtually impossible to win or lose a World Cup before the event begins.

But teams can make the road they will travel during the tournament either smoother or a great deal bumpier depending on what they do now.

Spain breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday with the move by striker David Villa from Valencia to Barcelona.

Not that Spain particularly cared where Villa landed on the club level. What they cared about were avoiding distractions.

With the number of injuries the Spanish have, the pressure they face as tournament favourites and the questions that will be surrounding midfielder Cesc Fabregas and his eventual destination post Arsenal, the last thing the Spanish needed was something else to worry about.

They didn't need any more examples of what distractions can do than the 2006 European championship and what happened to their neighbours.

Portugal was going along swimmingly in the event until the focus switched from what was happening on the pitch to what was happening off.

Going into the tournament, the future of then Manchester United player Cristiano Ronaldo was under scrutiny. Whether the winger would leave United for Real Madrid or not seemed more important than the team's title ambitions.

Then Chelsea opted to announce in the middle of the tournament that Portuguese coach Luiz Felipe Scolari would become Chelsea's coach at tournament's end.

Both pledged not to talk about their situations until the tournament ended. They didn't have to wait long. The European media (especially Spanish) had some issues to sink their teeth into. Spain was doing well and Ronaldo was heading to Real Madrid.

One of the main reasons for the flameout in the tournament, according to some team members, was the distraction of off-field issues.

A month of dealing with Villa rumours would not have been pleasant. Barcelona signed Villa in a 40-million euro deal and could be introduced at Barcelona on Friday. The Portuguese lesson has been noted.

When it comes to listening, could Italian coach Marcello Lippi be listening to the caterwauling about his team selections?

He might be since he opted to delete one of the senior citizen's from his roster of 30.

Li ppi cut fullback Fabio Grosso, the man who scored the winning goal against Germany in the semifinal and scored the decisive kick from the penalty spot to give the Italians the win in the final against France.

He is 32 and hasn't had a good domestic campaign but was named to the 30-man roster anyway.

Lippi has come under sharp criticism for selecting so many of the old guard. He also cut Antonio Candreva and is now down to 28 players. He has five more to cut.

"I don't do an Italy with debts of gratitude," Lippi told a news conference after announcing the cuts. "Twenty-eight? I have given myself 10 more days to reflect."

Everyone will get a pretty good idea of whether he really doesn't "do an Italy with debts of gratitude," after those final cuts.

We'll all know he's truly serious if Gennaro Gattuso bites the dust. Bad decisions are just as prevalent as good ones in the lead up to the World Cup.

Villa signing is good. Lippi's decision is good.

But what is the French soccer federation thinking by naming a successor to national team coach Raymond Domenech, three weeks before the tournament starts.

It's no secret that Domenech was a goner after the tournament. Everyone knew that.

So what's the rush with the announcement about Laurent Blanc's hiring? Why undercut what little authority and respect the guy has left by telling the world he was being guillotined even if he won the World Cup?

The French burned the baguette on this one.


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