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PAUL KENNEDY: Logjam in the middle
April 30th, 1998 12AM

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It has been our position that Steve Sampson's task of picking the starting 11 for the World Cup is simpler than it appears. Instead of picking specialists at all 10 field positions, he should simply select the 10 best players. Where should they align themselves on the field? That question was answered during the Austria game. They're all, it seems, in midfield. Sampson went with the current trend of packing the midfield by finally installing a 3-6-1 formation he talked about months ago. Assuming Eric Wynalda returns up front and the rest of the players who started against Austria remain in the starting lineup, all but one field player, defender Eddie Pope, is comfortable in a midfield role. Sweeper Thomas Dooley plays in midfield for the Columbus Crew, and defender Mike Burns has played there throughout the early part of his career. Just about all the major teams in the world pack the midfield these days, or use converted midfielders in defensive roles. Germany will go with a 3-5-2 formation, using two "windshield wipers" to provide cover for the defense. Argentina's best success in qualifying came after Daniel Passarella added a fifth midfielder. Brazil fields a traditional 4-4-2 lineup, but it's more like a 2-6-2 with Roberto Carlos and Cafu attacking down the wings. The two British entrants, England and Scotland, both now employ a 3-5-2. France's backline features two outstanding midfielders playing in Italy, Marcel Desailly and Alain Boghossian. The big question is whether Aime Jacquet goes with one or two bloqueurs in midfield, at the expense of a second striker. Sampson's decision to reinforce the midfield comes in the wake of his decision to drop veteran John Harkes. All the pressure is on his two most inexperienced players, Brian Maisonneuve and Chad Deering, to hold the midfield together. Maisonneuve has just five caps, and Deering will probably end the German spring season having played a total of three minutes for Wolfsburg.


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