Van Basten critical of Neymar's World Cup theatrics
By GRAHAM DUNBAR
MOSCOW (AP) Neymar's play-acting at the World Cup made him the butt of plenty of jokes, and also earned the Brazil striker some criticism from FIFA technical director Marco van Basten.
Van Basten, himself one of greatest forwards in the history of the game, said Thursday diving and faking injury is "not a good attitude" and works against Neymar and his team.
"If you are acting too much I think everybody will understand that it's not going to help you," the Netherlands great said. "I think he (Neymar) personally should understand his situation."
Van Basten was asked about Neymar's theatrics at a briefing with experts appointed by FIFA to analyze tactics and technical trends at the 64-game tournament. One factor they agreed could help explain Neymar's frustration in Russia: Playmakers face more well-organized defensive lines which are better than ever at denying them space to work.
"The amount of square meters to play in is unbelievably difficult," Van Basten said.
Neymar was calculated to have spent almost 14 minutes on the turf injured or simulating injury during Brazil's five games at the tournament.
Some dramatic rolling falls before coming to a stop started a trend in online videos of youth soccer teams practicing faking injury when their coach called out Neymar's name.
Asked if Neymar had become a joke, Van Basten said "he makes people laugh so also I think that's a positive thing. It's always nice if we have some humor in the game."
Once the world's best center forward with AC Milan and the Dutch national team, Van Basten has sympathy for players in his old position at this year's World Cup.
Tight and compact defenses like Sweden and Iceland made it "very, very difficult for the No. 9 to get the ball, to make goals, to influence the game," he said.
"Normally we say you can play between the lines," Van Basten said. "But today it's nearly impossible to get in between the lines. So coaches will have to find solutions. These things go in waves."
He singled out Croatia playmaker Luka Modric for "reading the game, guiding the game" and leading his team to Sunday's final against France.
FIFA panel member Andy Roxburgh said an "incredible variety" of national styles were seen despite most stars playing in Europe.
"Yes, we've got globalization. Yes, the influence of the Champions League on players," the former Scotland coach said. "But all of these players have been brought up within their own country so they have a certain mentality about them."
Still, the influence of Pep Guardiola's coaching philosophy was seen across the tournament, Roxburgh said.
Teams favored "high intensity pressing" with players showing "speed of action and speed of thought."
Guardiola's belief in goalkeepers expertly passing the ball with both feet is also shared at the World Cup.
"They are not only there to save the ball and catch the ball," FIFA goalkeeping adviser Pascal Zuberbuehler said. "They make a lot of decisions from behind, and they know and feel when they have to make the game faster."
Zuberbuehler, Switzerland's goalkeeper at the 2006 World Cup, noted England's Jordan Pickford made more than 50 passes - "a massive high quality from him"- in the semifinal match against Croatia.
It's an evolution of the "sweeper keeper" role Manuel Neuer showcased in Germany's 2014 title-winning team.
With goals from open play at a premium, set pieces from corners and free kicks became more important.
Roxburgh praised England as "kings of the corner kick" at a tournament where teams were rewarded for attention to detail, and delivery of high-quality crosses.
Video review also helped set-piece teams by acting as a deterrent against wrestling and shirt-pulling opponents.
"People now have the freedom to move a little bit more," Roxburgh said.
Belgium outwitting Brazil in the quarterfinals was perhaps the best tactical game plan.
Praising Belgium's tactical flexibility, Roxburgh said "the way (coach) Roberto Martinez set them up was fantastic."
A 2-1 win in Kazan was built on midfielder Kevin De Bruyne being given a more attacking and central role, and forward Romelu Lukaku playing wider to the right.
A player in Nigeria's 1994 World Cup team, Emmanuel Amunike, sees African soccer failing to keep pace. All five teams failed to advance from the group stage in Russia.
"The reality is that dreams without a plan is just an illusion," the FIFA technical panel member said.
Amunike said Africa's talent lacks a structure to teach coaches who can develop young players.
"What are the materials we have provided for the African coaches to grow in their knowledge?" he asked.
More AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/WorldCup
Updated July 12, 2018