Coach lost game for Uruguay
By GARETH WHEELER, QMI Agency
CAPE TOWN - I regularly argue with my colleagues and soccer minds how important coaching really is. Most believe coaches can't win or lose games. It's all about the players, they tell me.
Yet Tuesday night in Cape Town was a case of a coach losing a game.
Don't get me wrong, up until the first semifinal, I would have agreed Uruguay's Oscar Tabarez was the best coach and brightest tactician in South Africa. But against The Netherlands, he threw it all away.
It was never going to be easy fielding a lineup sans captain Diego Lugano, fellow defender Jorge Fucile and maligned striker Luis Suarez, especially against a Dutch team that refuses to lose. Thirteen straight competitive Dutch wins going into the match speaks volumes.
But the Dutch didn't win convincingly (yet again); Uruguay lost.
Spare me the Uruguay is the underdog story. Or they were lucky to be there. Uruguay could have won that match with proper tactics and a little ingenuity from its manager.
Without the three aforementioned players available, Tabarez made the tactical change, reverting back to the dire, ineffective 4-4-2 lineup Uruguay deployed the first game of the tournament; a 0-0 tie with France.
Let it be told; the 4-4-2 system is dead. When coaches use it, it's a crutch. It's unimaginative. It lacks flow and attacking originality. So when Tabarez decided without Lugano, Fucile and Suarez he was best to go back to it, it was a death sentence.
Tabarez essentially sent his team to the slaughter. Instead of playing to win, Uruguay played not to lose. It sat back, failing to take the initiative in a match begging for it.
What did the Dutch do in the game to garner such respect? Nothing. They sat back, were complacent and looked completely disjointed. Sure, beating Brazil last round was impressive.
But that was then. And this night, The Netherlands possessed zero will to attack from the back with Gregory van der Weil out through suspension, and fell far too deep in the centre of the midfield without Nigel de Jong.
And aside from 45 game-changing minutes against Brazil, the Dutch have putted along with efficiency but failing to wow. Yet they are one of two teams after Wednesday that will have a chance at ultimate glory. It's too bad nobody as of yet has decided to attack them in the jugular.
It was never going to be easy going a goal down in the 18th minute for Uruguay. But the blue did fight back.
Diego Forlan playing in a lesser role as the high striker in the tandem upfront, not suited to showing his dominance finding attacking positions, made something out of nothing on his goal. His creation of space, making room between himself and defender Joris Methijsen, was clinical. And his finish was to match.
Where other players in the tournament have failed to make themselves relevant in uncomfortable or ill-suited roles, Forlan once again answered the call.
But it's a shame Tabarez put his star player in such a position to begin with. Forlan as a recess striker was always the way to go, particularly with Dutch midfielder de Jong out of the line-up.
So instead of taking the game to a weakened Netherlands back-line, with van der Weil out too, Uruguay tried to contain. And by the time the Dutch sat back content on their two-goal cushion, it was too late. A late Maximiliano Pereira goal made for an edge-of-your-seat kind of finish, but the damage was done.
The decision to play such a "safe" game will be one that will keep Tabarez up at night. Nobody claims a coach's job is easy, but in the biggest game his team played, Tabarez let his side down.
And if tactics weren't enough, taking out Forlan in the 84th minute was salt in the wound. Down 3-1, it was almost as though Tabarez decided to give another player a run-out, conceding defeat.
After the game, Tabarez made the claim Forlan could not go on, playing through injury through the entire match. But surely Forlan could have last another six minutes.
And once the deficit was cut to one, it sure would have been nice having Forlan on to pluck another. If the Dutch conceded a free kick in a tasty area, there would have been no better option than Forlan. Instead, he was on the bench.
Of course, we're playing with hypothetical, but such is the case. And that what-if just about became a what-was.
As for the Netherlands, the Orange must be much better at Soccer City on Sunday. Wesley Sneijder may score goals, but is completely overrated in terms of his actual influence. For all his work, Dirk Kuyt is the leader of the Dutch.
And a lot more Dutch players will have to make like Dirk if they expect to compete with either the Spanish of the Germans in the final. Just barely being good enough to win may have been suffice to this point, but it certainly won't be Sunday.