Understanding Soccer and Its Fundamentals

I knew very little about soccer, as a kid.  But for a kid like me who grew up in a neighborhood that was more into basketball; I always had a burning curiosity about other sports and soccer, and wanted to see what all the fuss is about.  As far as I remember my younger-self seeing, soccer was just a bunch of people running on perfectly trimmed grass, and kicking around a ball.

Seeing The World Cup for the first time just further ignited my curiosity of the game. Aside from the popular personalities in the game, what’s interesting about it is that it’s like one big chessboard.  Knowing who to place where, and having countless strategies both offensive and defensive are keys to succeeding in the game.

Soccer can be very confusing especially to people like me who are in the early stages of learning and appreciating the game. It may take a while to figure out what defenders, midfielders, forwards, and goalkeepers do on the field. So for those who are new to the sport, Here’ are a few things to help you understand the game better:

The players

In total, the team has 11 players on the field. They have 1 goalkeeper and 10 field players. The goalkeeper is the only member allowed to use his hands. However, he’s restricted to an 18 yard rectangular area on each side of the goal. His main role is to block the ball of the opponent from reaching the goal. Other members include; defenders who prevent the main player of the opponent from scoring, midfielders whose focus are on defense and attack. Usually, midfielders or “wingers” (as they are fondly called) require good dribbling, passing, and running ability.  Lastly, we have the forwards or strikers whose job is to score goals for the team.

It is important that a team has a good set of players. However, as mentioned earlier, no matter how good they are it still won’t come as a success without a good strategy. Game formation plays a major role in determining the team strategy. Defenders are listed first, midfielders in the middle, and then strikers take front.  Below are some of the most popular formations used on the game.

The classic 4-4-2

One of the most commonly used formations in the game is the classic 4-4-2. It can either be an offensive or defensive tactic against an opponent. This formation bottles up the opposition in the midfield before they can get to the goal. It is an organized structure of defenders and midfielders which promises a good attack through the middle or on the wings. Also, there are 2 strikers that pose a threat to the opponent.  The disadvantage of this formation is that it may result to a crowded midfield. It may be easier to maintain possession of the ball but harder to do anything with it. Some midfielders might be set to low defense work rate.

The popular 3-5-2

This formation gives more offense because of the presence of five midfielders.   But bear in mind that the three in the back should have an equal and/or matching pace with the five.  Midfielders should be able to communicate and play defense well and not get caught up field.  Failure to do so could spell a quick and easy goal for the offense.

The 4-4-1-1

This formation is a simple variation of the 4-4-2. The second forward is situated behind the main striker but ahead of the midfielders. The advantage of this formation is that the second forward has more options including bearing down a goal and freedom to operate. Aside from himself, he can also create goal opportunities for the other members of the team. He can also arrive late in the box to join an attack. Since this is a variation of the 4-4-2, its disadvantage is that, the midfielders may be set to low work rate and not defend.

The 4-5-1

Often seen on the European games is the 4-5-1 formation. This provides a good and solid base because of the presence of five midfielders. Although effective in keeping possession of the ball, this formation limits the offense of the team. Unless provided with a strong front man, this formation produces a few goal scoring chances.

The 3-4-3

If you are looking for an attack, the 3-4-3 is a good option. Although this requires very good players, this formation is good for going for goals. With three forwards, this increases the chances of creating opportunities for a goal. It is important that the players watch out for big spaces at the back where they could be exploited and good opponents may drop the ball.

There are a lot of points to consider in making a formation produce a successful result. Careful planning and analysis that includes understanding the opponent, the players and even the venue should be considered. Formations should not be used just based on whether it worked the game before or not. At the end of the day, the winner will always be the one who played harder and smarter than the rest.

Pele, The World’s Greatest Soccer Player

There are many famous soccer players in the world such as Ronaldo and Garrincha from France, Maradona and Di Stefano from Argentina, Zidane from France, Eusebio from Portugal, Puskas from Hungary, Cruyff from Netherlands, and Beckenbauer from Germany. Of all these names, there is one player that stands out from the rest – Edison Arantes do Nascimento. Known by many as Pele, he is considered by many as the greatest soccer player in the history of soccer.


It seems that God brought me to Earth with a mission to play soccer” – Pele


The Early Years

Edison Arantes do Nascimento, aka Dico, was born on October 23, 1940 in Tres Coracoes, Brazil to Joao Ramos and Dona Celeste. His father, Joao Ramos also known as Dondinho, was a local professional soccer player. Like most people, Dico grew up in poverty, but this did not hinder him from exemplifying his talent for soccer. Growing up, he would play by kicking rolled-up socks filled with rags. His friends gave his nickname, “Pele” – a name he despised and did not know why he was called as such.

In his adolescent years, Valdemar de Brito, a youth squad coach and former World Cup player, discovered his talent and convinced him to try out for Santos, a midlevel club team in Brazil. During his time at Santos, he scored 32 goals in his first full season. Because of this, he was selected for Brazil’s 1958 World Cup at the age of 17.

He made his debut in the match against Sweden in 1958. It was Pele’s goal that helped Brazil win past Wales, and made him the youngest player to score a goal in the history of World Cup. 


A National Treasure

Pele received enormous amounts of offers from European teams. He also received a million dollar offer from Inter Milan of Italy. This prompted Brazil’s president, Janio Quadros, to declare Pele as a “National Treasure” to make it hard for him to join other teams.

In his 22 years of playing professional soccer, he scored 1,281 goals in 1,363 games. He was also the highest paid team-sport athlete with an estimated annual income of $150,000. He was the most famous soccer player in his time, even the Shah of Iran waited three hours to speak with him. His name also came in the list of the most popular brands in Europe, just one rank behind Coca-Cola.

Like most players, his entire soccer career wasn’t smooth. There were bumps along the road, and he suffered massive injuries while playing soccer. In the 1962 tournament in Chile, he sustained a groin injury, but still managed to score a goal in a 2-0 win against Mexico. He tried to hide his injury; however, during the second match against Czechoslovakia, his injury got worse and he was forced to sit out in the final rounds. In his return to the world stage in England, he sustained leg injuries from attacks by defenders of the opposing team, which forced him to be side lined for the rest of the tournament.

Despite his injuries, his legacy continued to grow. In the 1960’s, a two-day truce was declared between Nigeria and Biafra’s war so they could watch him play. In the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, Pele scored 4 goals in the tournament, and Brazil won over Italy. This tournament marked Pele and Brazil’s triumphant return.


New York Cosmos

In 1974, Pele announced his retirement from soccer. However, Clive Toye, Cosmos’ general manager encouraged him to go back to the field. He said, “I told him don’t go to Italy, don’t go to Spain, all you can do is win a championship. Come to the U.S. and you can win a country.” He signed a 2.8 million dollar, 3-year contract with the Cosmos. His presence in the Cosmos helped make NASL an attraction. In 1977, he played his final game in an exhibition game between Cosmos and Santos. In a speech he made before the fans, Pele asked the crowd to pay more attention to the children of the world.


The Legacy Continues

Despite his retirement, Pele’s legacy continues. Pele is considered an inspiration to most people, especially the poor. Journalist Joao Luiz de Albuquerque said, “He was the light at the end of the tunnel. All the poor said, hey, this guy made it, I can make it. He brought the rest of Brazil with him.” In 1978, he was awarded the International Peace Award from UNICEF because of his extensive work in advancing children’s causes. In 1999, he was given the title, “Hero of the Century” by Time Magazine. FIFA named him as the “Player of the Century” in 2000. The title, “O Rei de Futbol” (The King of Football) was given to him by the International Olympic Committee, and last January 2014, he received the FIFA Ballon d’Or Prix d’Honneur award.