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This blog reflects on soccer qua football all over the world. The blog has a specific investment in attractive, attacking football and, as such, focuses on Brazil, the most emphatic historical exponent of the beautiful game.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Deadly Striker Partnerships: Romario and Bebeto (Part 1 of 2)

The evolution of modern soccer increasingly features a 4-3-2-1 formation marked by 4 defenders, 3 midfielders, 2 wingers and a sole target striker. Brazil used this formation at the World Cup 2010 with Kaka and Robinho playing behind Luis Fabiano. World Champions Spain similarly relied on a 4-3-2-1 formation in the World Cup final match as it became clear that Fernando Torres was struggling to find his form. In the final against the Netherlands, Vincent Del Bosque positioned David Villa as the lone striker behind Xavi, Iniesta and Pedro. Argentina’s Maradona fielded a 4-3-2-1 with Messi and Tevez behind Higuain while Germany opted for a 4-2-3-1 with Ozil, Muller and Podolski behind Miroslav Klose.

Even at the club level, the 4-3-2-1 formation is increasingly supplanting the traditional 4-4-2 formation that we see most commonly in the British Premier League. AC Milan now features Ibrahimovic in front of Ronaldinho and either Inzaghi, Pato or Robinho, while Inter Milan typically plays a 4-3-2-1 with Samuel Eto and Wesley Sneijder playing deep behind Diego Milito.

All this is to say that memorable strike partnerships, as we used to know them, are increasingly rare in modern soccer. Some of the more deadly strike partnerships in recent memory include the following:

Club teams

Drogba and Anelka: Chelsea, 2009-2010
Morientes and Raul: Real Madrid, 1998-2002
Del Piero and Inzaghi: Juventus, 1997-1998
Rush and Dalglish: Liverpool, 1982-1983

National teams

Rivaldo and Ronaldo: Brazil, 1998-2002
Zamorano and Salas: Chile, 1997-2002
Romario and Ronaldo: Brazil, 1995-1998
Romario and Bebeto: Brazil, 1993-1994

But Romario and Bebeto are, without any question, the most accomplished and lethal strike partnership soccer has witnessed in the last 20 years. Within the tiny space of 3 group matches at World Cup 1994, they created the stage on which World Cup 1994 revolved despite rumors of rivalry and ill will that involved their confrontations in Spain's La Liga. Romario scored 30 goals for Barcelona in 1993-1994 in comparison to the 29 scored by Bebeto for Deportiva La Coruna the season before. Prior to the 1994 World Cup, Romario famously called a press conference prior to Brazil’s departing flight to the U.S. in which he insisted he would not sit next to Bebeto on the plane. And it was Romario who nicknamed Bebeto “crybaby” for his tendency to pout to referees after calls had not gone as Bebeto had wished. But as the World Cup unfolded, like lovers, Romario and Bebeto displayed both an inherent and cultivated understanding of their partner’s moods, position on the pitch and likely mode of play in any given situation.

For more on Romario and Bebeto, see:
Bringing Back the Beautiful Game. Deadly Striker Partnerships: Romario and Bebeto (Part 2 of 2)

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