Sunday 26 May 2019

Dignified and clean, Godin has become a rock for imposing Uruguay

Godin: In superb form. Photo: Getty Images
Godin: In superb form. Photo: Getty Images

Jim White

This has been the World Cup of shattered assumptions. Everywhere you look, what you think will happen has not: England won a penalty shoot-out, Germany went out at the group stage, Russia are still in it. But the most astonishing undermining of the norm comes in this statistic: the team with the fewest yellow cards are Uruguay.

What makes that fact all the more unexpected is that needle, nark and nastiness have been in the ascendant. Colombia, Panama and Argentina have excelled in the underhand, moaning at referees, tumbling and diving, snarking and sniding. Uruguay have got on with defending.

And they have done it cleanly, accruing one booking and conceding one goal along the way to a quarter-final against France tomorrow. But their coach, Oscar Tabarez, would argue that, while this may be the national team who once redefined the term cynical with their kick-and-hassle performances against Scotland and Denmark at the 1986 World Cup, at this tournament they are not behaving entirely against type.

He points out that when they won the World Cup in 1950, they conceded 11 fouls in the final. What became the default national style was based on an incorrect reading of what made them good in the first place. It was not filth that took them to victory in Brazil that year, the coach points out, it was proper organisation and defending.

And in Diego Godin, his rock of a centre-back, Tabarez has proof of his theory. Godin has been the standout defender, outshining Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos and Pepe. Unlike Pique, or John Stones or Nicolas Otamendi, he has not done so by the manner in which he has brought the ball out from the back. Godin does not do dribbles. What he does is defend.

At 32, after eight seasons with Atletico Madrid, Godin is the master of stopping. He stands at the pinnacle of his trade not by underhand means, but by reading the game, by getting in between opponent and ball, by relentless concentration. Plus, by being prepared to throw his body in the way of danger.

This is the player who lost most of his front teeth after a clash with the Valencia goalkeeper this year (he probably remembers it more for the 1-0 victory, his ideal scoreline).

Godin orchestrates the Uruguay back-line. He talks, he points, he organises.

And he takes it as a personal slight when a goal is conceded, which is not often - one goal in seven successive victories in 2018. That was against Portugal in the previous round, when Godin, momentarily distracted by Cristiano Ronaldo, allowed Pepe to better him at a corner.

His look of self-disgust suggests Antoine Griezmann and France will be up against a determined obstacle. Griezmann will find his friend and Atletico colleague (Godin is godfather to Griezmann's daughter) less willing to concede space than the shambles of an Argentine defence in the last round.

This is a side who know how to defend properly.

And while Godin has largely escaped wider attention (he has been nominated for the Ballon d'Or once, in 2014, receiving no votes), his brilliance at this tournament will have alerted English clubs. And with a buy-out clause on his contract of just €20 million we will surely be hearing more of this calm, dignified, clean-tackling defender. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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