The 2011 Women's World Cup Final
On national tactical identities, American mentality, and what the world thinks of Japan
“A nation’s footballing style is reflected in various ways. It’s not simply about the national side’s characteristics, but about the approach of its dominant clubs, the nature of its star players and the philosophy of its coaches. It’s about how referees officiate and what the supporters cheer.”1
What defines a national football style? Debates over the best way to play football are intrinsic to any level of the game but World Cups are the prime opportunity for nations to demonstrate their belief in the best way to win matches. That might be down to the kind of players they produce, the sort of formations they prefer, or even less tangible concepts like attitude or mentality.
Sometimes these defining principles come from inside the nation; sometimes they come from outside it where stereotypes can often be too quickly invoked. As Ashleigh Plumptre said after Nigeria’s elimination on penalties against England: “I'm tired of people just saying that African teams are just strong and just fast, and count us out of being technical or tactical.”
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Certain countries with long footballing histories have clearly defined and accepted principles. Take, for example, the surprise at this World Cup that the Dutch are playing a 3-5-2 instead of a 4-3-3, or the feeling that the rigid 4-4-2 Pia Sundhage used with Brazil contributed to their early elimination.
Within the women’s game, these national identities can come in all shapes and sizes. For example, the US Women’s National Team rose to become the world’s most successful international side off the back of not a tactical identity but the more nebulous concept of ‘mentality’. Without a serious ‘soccer’ tradition to follow domestically, they embraced a cultural notion about what it means to be American, and applied it to football.
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