When Shola Ameobi was summoned from the bench by an increasingly desperate Nigeria manager Stephen Keshi on Monday night, it was a moment that jarred with the general theme of these World Cup finals.
If that sounds harsh on poor Ameobi – who was agonisingly close to the holy grail of scoring at a World Cup finals with a pair of headed attempts – it shouldn’t. He acquitted himself admirably on his debut on the grandest stage but the sight of an increasingly desperate Nigeria side adopting route one tactics to try and break down a stubborn Iran hardly tallied with the general trend towards attacking swagger at these finals.
These World Cup finals have belonged to those that dare. Attack has been at the forefront, and teams that are prepared to take risks have reaped rewards for their daring.
A quick, counter-attacking Holland side took the game to world champions Spain and prospered. Germany pressed and pressed against Portugal and emerged easy winners from the biggest battle in the group of death and Chile, Costa Rica and Brazil flew the flag for South American bravado.
Hopefully it is not tempting fate to declare that cynicism has been checked in at the door. Honduras were well-beaten, Greece consigned to defeat and Uruguay’s dark arts came to no good either. They need to rethink their approaches or find themselves an irrelevance in the new attacking mood that has swept the tournament.
The statistics back up the gut feeling. After 13 games in South Africa, there had only been one game that had yielded more than two goals. This time there have been 11. The goals tally in Brazil has been 44 from the first 13, compared to just 20 by the same stage of a cagey tournament in 2010.
The World Cup can sometimes track trends in the game and the hope back here in the North East is that Newcastle’s kingmakers are taking notice of what is happening in Brazil.
Alan Pardew is penning a column for a national newspaper for the duration of the tournament and took time out to praise France’s young, mobile side on Sunday. “There’s a lot of talent, especially young talent, in the French squad,” he wrote over the weekend.
He wasn’t wrong, but there must be concerns when we consider Mathieu Debuchy’s pre-tournament comments about being told to rein in his attacking instincts when he first came to Newcastle. Pardew’s desire to make the Magpies a more compact and industrious side was understandable when the team were stalked by relegation fears in the season before last but United were far too functional and limited in the second half of last season.
However Pardew wants to spin it, there was a fundamental lack of trust and belief in the team’s attacking players – from Moussa Sissoko being tucked on the right to a midfield that saw Cheick Tiote occasionally handed the most offensive role in the engine room. Even when things were going well – such as before the Arsenal game at St James’ Park at Christmas – Newcastle seemed set up to contain.
The message so far from the World Cup is that football is beginning to leave that approach behind. Nigeria’s Ameobi-shaped Plan B was the thing most reminiscent of watching Newcastle last season and it was neither effective nor particularly pretty.
Let’s hope that the sentiment was heeded and that for Pardew and his coaching team, the inspiration is coming from elsewhere. After all, Louis van Gaal is bringing his approach to the Premier League next season, when attack will most certainly be back in fashion next term.
It is a sentiment that Roy Hodgson will appreciate as he ponders how to navigate England out of the tricky situation they find themselves in after defeat to Italy in their opening fixture.
Ironically, the Three Lions were one of the few teams that didn’t profit from their attacking endeavour but their progress in a few short weeks should give Hodgson some succour as they face a very difficult game against a Uruguay side that will surely be bolstered by the return of Luis Suarez.
The England manager must trust Raheem Sterling again, for he was the outstanding player of their 2-1 reverse against Italy.
Prolific striker Daniel Sturridge should also be given the nod to keep spearheading England’s attack while the debate over Wayne Rooney is an indication of how many compelling attacking options the Three Lions suddenly have.
Their defence, of course, still creaks from time to time but the mentality seems better – which is the biggest cause for optimism.
It said it all that when asked about Suarez and his potential impact, Sturridge said England should concentrate on the problems they can cause Uruguay rather the other way round.
The Three Lions have enough to get themselves through this test.