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The Triumph of Strategy: Germany's 2014 World Cup Victory Shows How Shrewd Planning Can Sharpen Competitiveness

Christopher Colford's picture

The great-power G8 have been bickering about geopolitics, the economic G20 have been fretting about growth, and the aspiring G24 have been jostling for policy influence. But this summer’s ultimate contest in international relations has focused instead on the elite G32: the group of 32 countries that sent the world’s top-performing soccer teams to the final brackets of the World Cup tournament.

Global rivalries based on fine-tuned football finesse – not dominance in diplomacy or brute force on the battlefield – framed this summer’s highest-profile competition for international supremacy.

Amid the lengthening late-summer shadows that herald the final days before the September rentrée, thoughts of the midsummer marathon surely warm the memories of World Cup-watchers who recall the thrills of the June and July festivities before the JumboTron – with throngs packing city squares worldwide, as well as filling the World Bank Group's vast Atrium (and television hideaways all around the Bank) on game days.

By the time of the final match, even many committed fans of other national teams seemed to admit that, in the end, Germany deserved its hard-earned victory – winning 1-0 in overtime against resilient Argentina – thanks to the team's technical skills and tightly coordinated teamwork.

The tournament’s most dramatic highlights – the agility of goalkeepers Guillermo Ochoa of Mexico and Tim Howard of the United States; the spirited hustle of underdogs like Ghana and Croatia; the epic 7-1 shellacking suffered by humbled host-country Brazil; the heart-stopping offside call against Argentina that nullified an apparent final-match goal – will deservedly dominate fans’ conversations as they await the next World Cup spectacular. And videos of the overtime heroics of two substitute players – André Schürrle, who made a picture-perfect cross to Mario Götze, who seamlessly slid the ball from his chest-trap downward for a left-footed volley past Argentina’s goalie Sergio Romero – are destined to be replayed forever.

But before the fine details of Germany’s triumph recede in fans’ hazy memory, it’s worth recalling the long-range strategies it required for the new champions to envision winning the crown. The success of the Nationalmannschaft required even more than the midfield mastery of Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger, the exuberant playmaking of Sami Khedira, and the goal-scoring prowess of Thomas Müller. Along with disciplined precision on the field, Germany’s success was also driven by organizational skill on national planners’ drawing board.

A decade in the making, victory was patiently built through the Deutscher Fussball-Bund’s national plan that reportedly cost a billion euros or more – creating a coordinated national system of youth leagues, sports facilities, training regimens and individualized skill-building for players selected to advance toward the Bundesliga. Insightful long-range planning, born of adversity, paved the way to success: Germany’s football establishment realized that its system needed a sweeping overhaul after being soundly defeated in 2000, when Germany was knocked out of the European Championship without winning a single game. Germany had not won the World Cup since 1990, but the newly refocused German football system marshalled its long-term resources. After years of sharpening its competitive edge, Germany's hyper-efficient system has now earned the sport’s ultimate prize.

If You’re Watching the World Cup, You Don’t Want to Miss This

Michelle Pabalan's picture
Team Burundi, Great Lakes Peace Cup
“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does.”
- Nelson Mandela

Even though I didn’t grow up watching football, admittedly I’ve developed an interest in the sport during this month-long emotional World Cup soap opera. And like me, millions of people will be glued to their television sets for this Sunday’s finals match between Argentina and Germany. 
 
Above and beyond the superstars, the fans and controversies, I learned more about how this beautiful game is used to build communities, overcome social and cultural divides and advance peace. It seems sports have a way of changing the lives of people around the world - but what does this exactly look like?

Football helps to heal the scars of war

Chantal Rigaud's picture
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Young men from four formerly war-torn African countries put years of conflict and hardship behind them last weekend as they played each other in the finals of the Great Lakes Peace Cup.

I did not expect Burundi to win, but they did! And what a beautiful victory it was. The team came from Bubanza, a small town about an hour north of Burundi’s capital Bujumbura. The players had journeyed more than 18 hours by bus, including about three hours to cross the border into Uganda.

The Great Lakes Peace Cup

Ian Bannon's picture
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Football players from across East and Central Africa will gather in the Ugandan capital of Kampala on September 21 and 22 to take part in the finals of the Great Lakes Peace Cup, a tournament organized to help former combatants – many of them abducted child soldiers – become part of their communities through the healing power of sport.
 
The Great Lakes Peace Cup is being organised by the World Bank’s Transitional Development and Reintegration Program (TDRP), and the government amnesty and reintegration commissions of the four competing countries.

The Nairobi Mini World Cup

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

Imagine you are a poor child from Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum, and have a dream to become a soccer star. Some young players come close to this dream when the International School (ISK) in Nairobi hosts its annual “Nairobi Mini World Cup”.

The Mini World Cup started after ISK’s Principal of the Elementary School, Patricia Salleh Matta, introduced a Saturday sports program three years ago and opened the school not just to its own students but to many communities around the school. 

My 11-year-old son Marco and I have a passion for soccer (we call it football). In order to advance the game at ISK, where he goes, I got involved in coaching and eventually became the school’s “Soccer Commissioner.” As such, my main task is to organize soccer tournaments. The highlight of our year is the annual "Nairobi Mini World Cup," which has become a fixture for many schools and soccer clubs in the city.

Bring in the Hooligans - Lessons in Coalition Building

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

A lesson in coalition building comes to us from Egypt via the New York Times. In an analysis of the build-up to the Egyptian Revolution, two NYT reporters show us how careful planning of events and allies led to one of the most important political events of our time in the region. The coalition that made such an impact consists of young people from Serbia, Tunisia, and Egypt, American and Russian intellectuals (some of them dead), Facebook groups, marketing specialists - and hooligans.

Media Events for Development Campaigns

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

Using large international events to get attention for a development objective is a pretty good idea. Events like the Soccer World Cup are so called media events - events that capture the attention of a large audience, that break our routines, and unify a large scattered audience. Whatever team you were cheering for, you weren't the only one cheering for it, and didn't you feel like your team's friends were also your friends? This kind of mood - attention and a feeling of community - provides a great environment for campaigns that want to raise awareness about certain issues or that want to change norms and behaviors.

The Goal is Sacred Space

Naniette Coleman's picture

When Siphiwe Tshabalala scored the first goal of the World Cup, that beautiful, upper right hand corner net buster, just minutes into the second half, I fell in love. I took to my suburban balcony, danced with wild abandon, and screamed “GOAL SOUTH AFRICA, GOAL BAFANA BAFANA” at the top of my lungs. I celebrated because during the 55th minute, of the first game, of the first World Cup on African soil, we all accomplished something great. No, I did not fall in love with Tshabala or South Africa or Bafana, Bafana per se in those moments. I actually fell in love with the idea of world collaboration all over again.   I fell in love with the idea that if we are all present in one room/stadium and devoted to the same initiative, magic can happen. It was ethereal, and I, I was committed and in love and on top of the world for about 24 hours before reality brought me and all that idealism back to earth. Actually, it was the words escaping the mouths of my fellow Americans during the US vs. England game.

Connectors: Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Naniette Coleman's picture

Trust me, your current business cards probably do not reflect how fearless, bold, and savvy you are. You, my friend, are an organizer-in-training and you probably do not even know it. It really is as simple as organizing a 5 versus 5 fútbol match. You have done that haven’t you? All you need is a small of group friends (reformists), a ball (common focus), agreed upon rules (consensus) and a goal (change). If you have friends, share common, action oriented plans with those friends and agree to do them together you have what many social scientists refer to as an “affinity group.”

 

An Unconventional Tactic for the Fight Against Poverty

Ben Safran's picture

Earlier this summer, Pakistan defeated Sri Lanka to win the Twenty20 Cricket World Cup. Like any triumph in an international competition, there was a great sense of national pride, this time coming in a country with great need for such a unifying force. But, as Tunku Varadarajan wrote,  the victory was much more than just a boost to national morale:

“As Pakistan fights for its survival against the barbarian Taliban…its people find themselves possessed of a weapon with which to vanquish the forces of darkness. I speak here not of drones or tanks or helicopter gunships, but of the glorious game of cricket.”

This is a powerful concept: that cricket is a key weapon needed to defeat the “darkness” imposed by extremism in Pakistan. But why limit ourselves to discussing the power cricket possess to fight the Taliban? What about the effects all sports have to instill happiness, empowerment, and hope in people? Could using sports for development be an unconventional tactic for the fight against poverty?