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WHY?

International teams choosing friendly opponents because of geography is utterly ridiculous

Been drawn with Japan in the group stages? Arrange a friendly with South Korea...

Oh great, more international friendlies…

With the World Cup just 85 days away, the qualified nations have been making sure they are fully prepared for what faces them in the group stage and beyond.

Or have they?

The holy grail

AFP
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The holy grail

A familiar pattern has emerged from the friendlies in the build-up to Russia.

Countries have based their opponents on geographical proximity to their group stage opponents.

Because that’s how football works, apparently.


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Take England’s group of Belgium, Tunisia and Panama for example.

England have been left picking their brains for the best way to prepare for the unknown quantity of Panama.

Instead of performing a detailed and meticulous analysis of the Panama side, and choosing an opponent of similar standing and tactics, the FA have dusted off their globe and spotted that Costa Rica is next to Panama.

Giving us the pulse-racing friendly of England v Costa Rica to look forward to at Elland Road in June.

England have been handed a favourable group… at least in theory

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England have been handed a favourable group… at least in theory

However, England weren’t the only side in the group to have this game-changing idea.

Friendlies between Belgium v Costa Rica and Tunisia v Costa Rica will also be taking place before the World Cup.

Because obviously neighbouring counties play in the exact same way…

Jack Wilshere being cuddled during a dreadful 0-0 between England and Costa Rica in 2014

Getty - Contributor
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Jack Wilshere being cuddled during a dreadful 0-0 between England and Costa Rica in 2014

Now let’s take a look at Group H.

Poland, Colombia, Senegal and Japan are set to duke it out for the right to beat England in the round of 16.

Japan, that’s near South Korea, right? Both Poland and Senegal have followed this tried and tested logic and arranged friendlies with South Korea prior to their group stage clashes.

Colombia have decided to be the smart-arses of the group and are playing Australia, who are, of course, now in the same confederation as Japan.

Son Heung-Min will put Poland and Senegal through their paces

AFP or licensors
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Son Heung-Min will put Poland and Senegal through their paces

So why exactly have teams decided to do this?

Yes, there is a case to be had for different regions having their own unique footballing styles.

South America is known for its fast attacking football and Europe known for a more possession based approach.

However, surely it is best to test yourself in friendly matches against teams who play a similar system and share distinct characteristics with your upcoming opponents.

You would hope that England wouldn’t require much preparation for a team of Panama’s level, but why take the risk?

“Oh no, that’s a terrible mistake by Phil Jones and Panama take the lead…”

AFP
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“Oh no, that’s a terrible mistake by Phil Jones and Panama take the lead…”

To avoid a repeat of the Iceland disaster from Euro 2016, England should be analysing their opposition in more detail rather than just playing the country next to them.

Here’s a breakdown of how all the other groups have also used this logic to decide on their friendly opponents.

Get your head around this!

 


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