Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk was first to take the floor on the second day of the UEFA Conference for European National Team Coaches in Madrid as the spotlight returned to last summer's FIFA World Cup.
Vicente Del Bosque had explained his role in Spain's historic first title the previous evening, and on Tuesday it was the turn of two men who enjoyed successful World Cups of their own, Van Marwijk and Germany's Joachim Löw, to take centre stage.
In South Africa, the Netherlands reached the final for the first time since 1978, and Van Marwijk said that striking the right psychological note before the tournament had been key to success. "I told my players we had a mission," he said. "You have to dare to set targets and goals.
From day one I said we were going for the cup. They really started to believe in their goal. You could see after every match the players were happy, but that there was the feeling we were not there yet, that there was more to come. The mental preparation helped us really believe that we could achieve something." Reflecting on the final defeat by Spain, Van Marwijk said: "It is only later that you realise how close you came to a world title."
Germany's enterprising, attack-minded football based around a core of young players caught the eye as they advanced to the semi-finals. Coach Löw revealed how a long-term plan had come to fruition. "For the 2006 [World Cup] we needed to create a style of play more focused on attack because we were playing on home soil," he said.
"Before 2006 we felt we were unable to dominate a match, that we did not play well without the ball, so we started a process of changing our style of play and including younger players. We wanted to set the rhythm, have possession and force our opponents to make mistakes."
After watching Germany win the 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship, Löw realised the time had come to give the next generation their chance. "Younger players such as Mesut Özil were playing a different type of football.
At the Under-21s in Sweden we realised these players were not only talented, but also mature and were able to assume responsibility."
A common theme linking the day's discussions was the pressure national team coaches are under, and, with the focus now on the UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying competition, the issue of having limited time with their players. England manager Fabio Capello and his Switzerland counterpart Ottmar Hitzfeld were asked to give advice to new national team coaches. The Italian stressed the need to be "flexible" and develop the resources at your disposal. "
Be true to yourself, be authentic," added Hitzfeld. Reflect, but "don't constantly question yourself".
As a coach accustomed to lifting trophies at club level, Hitzfeld has had to adjust his objectives with Switzerland, but expectations among supporters remain immense. That is not to say smaller footballing nations cannot enjoy their own highlights, as Matjaž Kek proved with his highly competitive Slovenia outfit that came within a whisker of the last 16 at the World Cup.
"It was a great honour for a small country like Slovenia to be at the World Cup, but this honour comes with pride and the sense of a challenge," he said. "We didn't just want to be the nice little team. I'm very proud we were able to compete with bigger teams – not just be there.
The example set by Slovenia is that if you work hard you can achieve something."
In the afternoon, the coaches split into discussion groups before reconvening with a contribution from the head of the FIFA technical study group, Jean-Paul Brigger. He identified some of the statistical differences between the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. Among these were the increasingly influential role played by defenders in attacks, with assists from defenders rising from 12% in 2006 to 19% in 2010.
Also notable was the increased bearing that scoring the first goal had on the outcome. In 46 of the 64 games at the 2010 World Cup, the team that opened the scoring went on to win. "There were only four matches in which a team came back to win after conceding the first goal," Brigger said. "It is vital to score that first goal."
The late session concluded with UEFA technical director Andy Roxburgh interviewing former Italy and Juventus coach Marcello Lippi who, like Vicente Del Bosque, has won both the World Cup and UEFA Champions League.
Fittingly, Lippi left the conference in no doubt as to the continued vitality of national team football. "I don't see it as being under threat," he said. "
This type of football is so beautiful. I think international football is growing, it's on the rise. In any country it is hard to take victory for granted, even if it's not a country with a great tradition. You have to go out on all those pitches and really sweat to win."
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