Tactical Breakdown – The modern full-back to be catalyst for World Cup success?

In the past, the fullback position was less than glamorous. It was the position where players were put to make up the numbers or were too small to play elsewhere. Alternatively if you were left-footed, you were either selected at left-back or left-midfield. Now however all has changed and full-backs are arguably the most active player in the team, and becoming one of the most important. It is almost becoming as oddly attractive to young players as being a ‘sitting’ midfield player has become in recent years.

Coaches, in particular those of the bigger nations, are now choosing full-backs that can rampage forward, in addition to their more traditional defensive duties. In past World Cups, people drooled over Brazil as they had the brave flair to play with Cafu on one side and Roberto Carlos on the other, but now this is more common. Philipp Lahm, Germany’s Mr. Consistency and captain in the absence of Michael Ballack, has been the pick of the 2010 tournament at full-back so far, showing extraordinary energy to in their 4-0 victory over Australia. A man of the match performance was capped by an assist for Miroslav Klose’s header to make it 2-0.

Against Nigeria, Argentina Head Coach Maradona selected winger Jonas Gutierrez to play at right-back. It will be interesting to see if he sticks with him in this position against the bigger nations that are more capable of taking advantage of his defensive frailties. Likewise Denmark utilised winger-come-defender Simon Poulsen at left-back against the Dutch and he was responsible for a farcical own goal that allowed Holland to break the deadlock, when it appeared that they might struggle. More attack-minded full-backs can cause defensive problems, such as the case with Gutierrez and Poulsen. Therefore the balance between attacking flair and defensive astuteness needs to be maintained.

The Netherlands used Gregory van der Wiel, the Eredivisie Young Player of the Year, against the Danes and is seen as the natural successor to Michael Reiziger. The French, as expected, also went with the forward thinking Patrice Evra and Bacary Sagna against Uruguay. On Monday night, Gianluca Zambrotta showed an ageless desire to attack for Italy from right-back, even completing a last minute nutmeg as Italy played out a 1-1 draw against Paraguay. Tactically however, these attacking full-backs must be deployed carefully or the system used must balance defensive security with this extra attacking option. It was noticeable that none of the teams mentioned above played a traditional 442 in their opening game (Italy apart who reverted to it when chasing the game in the last half an hour). Most teams that use two attacking full-backs simultaneously often include one, if not two defensive midfield players (e.g. Javier Mascherano for Argentina and J


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