Many national squads will play their final friendlies this weekend and next week in preparation for the World Cup of soccer in South Africa. These matches give the coaches a last chance to figure out their rosters.
With the deadline for the final roster-cuts being June 1, managers will have the opportunity to test players that are on the brink and see who will step up. It is more of an individual evaluation than it is a way to gauge a team’s chances at the World Cup. With the oft-quoted “form” of players being a big factor in the coaches’ decision of who to sit and who to start, friendlies offer a great chance to see who on the roster is “in form” and who isn’t.
One of the many sayings in association football is: “Form is temporary; class is permanent”. In a short tournament like the World Cup, form playing “in form” players could be crucial to success. Managers will use the remaining friendlies to see who could have an impact during the tournament.
Getting closer to the start of the tournament, many set starters will get some playing time. However, the substitution rule in international friendlies – according to FIFA rules, teams can substitute six players instead of the three that are allowed in the tournament – allows coaches to try out more players.
In the US squad’s 4-2 loss against the Czech Republic, most starters sat out or were replaced at half-time. US coach Bob Bradley used five of his six substitutions to give players he wanted to try out ample playing time to show their skills. World Cup fixtures Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore and Tim Howard didn’t receive any playing time. In fact, they weren’t even nominated as substitutes for the match.
Striker Hercules Gomez used his 45 minutes of playing time to impress Bob Bradley. His goal in the 66th minute arguably punched his ticket to South Africa. Brian Ching, who came into the match at halftime as well, didn’t use his chance to make an impression on Bradley and missed out on a chance to make the team.
Bradley has made his final roster cuts already, so we might see more of the US starters in the remaining two friendlies. Bradley will likely give players who haven’t clinched a spot on the starting XI some time to prove themselves in Saturday’s match against Turkey. When the squad plays its final friendly against Australia’s “Socceroos” on June 5, he will likely play his starters more to allow them to log some minutes on the pitch together.
Ghana’s manager Milan Rajevac will need all the time he can get to try out midfielders. The squad was one of the most hopeful African teams in the tournament, before they announced that their star-midfielder Michael Essien will not make the World Cup roster because of a lingering knee injury. Now, Rajevac will have to find someone to replace the best player on the team and he will need the squad’s two remaining against the Netherlands (June 1) and Latvia (June 5).
While the friendlies provide coaches with a great opportunity to evaluate their players, they are a nightmare for gamblers. There are some friendlies that have clear-cut favorites who will dominate the match no matter who is playing. Then there are others that could have a completely different outcome than expected, due to the brink players that receive more playing time than the starters.
If you want to bet on the remaining friendlies before the World Cup, I would advise to research the squads and see which coaches have already made their final roster cuts. Those teams will most likely play some of their substitutes, but they will give their starters some significant time.
Your best bet will be to go with friendlies that are played after June 1, when the final rosters for all teams are set. At that time coaches will give their start players some time on the pitch together to gel before the tournament starts.