The wingers

A SALIENT feature of that remarkable game between Ireland and Spain in Suwon was the increasingly incisive wing play of the blond Irish winger Damien Duff of Blackburn Rovers. Beginning on the right, switching to the left and back again to right flank when big Niall Quinn came on as centre forward in the second half, Duff, with his pace, power and control, gave the Spanish defence a notable chasing. He procured a second half-penalty when notionally fouled by the Spanish left back, Juanfran, though in fact it looked suspiciously as if the Spaniard hadn't even touched him. No matter, that penalty was missed by left back Harte.

But Duff was not discouraged; he continued to take on the defenders and frequently did get past them, to shoot when he could and come very close to scoring. It was a reminder that wingers despite orthodox beliefs today, which deem them obsolescent, still emphatically live; and there was further evidence from the Irish left winger, Kevin Kilbane of Sunderland, who worked diligently and effectively all through the game, and frequently made inroads on the Spanish defence.

What a contrast, you might say, with Brazil, once the home of true wingers whose excellence was a major factor in their World Cup successes. In fact, one of the most dazzling of them didn't get close to a World Cup medal, though he established the pattern for the effervescent Garrincha and Jairzinho in the future. That was Julinho who had a glorious tournament in 1954 in Switzerland even though his team was eliminated shamefully by Hungary in the so called Battle of Berne in the quarterfinals, when so many Brazilians ran wild. Not the fast, strong, elusive Julinho, whose mighty right foot scored a spectacular goal; which would not prove enough.

In 1958, in Sweden there was Garrincha, brought into the team only for the third match at the insistence of his team-mates. Who can forget those two dynamic right wing bursts in the Stockholm Final, the goals laid on for Vava which changed the game? And on the left flank a very different type of winger, the tireless Mario Lobo Zagallo, now heading out from under his own crossbar, now scoring at the other end?

Then came the muscular, quick Jairzinho, a salient figure in the conquest of the Cup in Mexico in 1970, a player who could soar past opposing full backs and use a dynamic right foot. Today? As in 1994 and 1998, Brazil don't play with wingers and it is a pity. Something sparkling has gone out of their game.

The Spaniards themselves once had on the left wing, little, tremendously quick Francisco 'Paco' Gento, and against the Irish they used a natural left flank player in the shape of Francisco Javier De Pedro who wasn't initially expected to get into the team. I thought that while Spain were on top in the earlier stages he looked fast, clever and useful, but he was substituted in the end.

Which brings me in parenthesis to the astonishing caution, some might even have called it tactlessly cowardice, in that game of the Spanish coach, Juan Antonio Camacho. What possessed him with Spain 1-0 ahead and still largely in control to pull off the excellent, incisive Fernando Morientes, the striker who'd headed the first goal and combined so well with his Real Madrid colleague Raul, and put on a midfielder in the shape of inexperienced David Albelda? And Camacho would be well punished for his excessive caution since when Raul had limped off, Albelda himself was injured, all three substitutes had been used and the Spaniards had to play out extra time with only ten men. They survived on the penalty shoot out. Just.

Italy? In 1982 when they won the World Cup in Spain, Pele picked out their bright little right winger Bruno Conti of Roma as the best player of the tournament. There is no obvious successor to him, though I suppose you could call the right flanker Gianluca Zambrotta a winger of sorts, though not in the great tradition of fast ball players who can go outside the full back, get to the goal line and pull the ball back into the middle, football's most dangerous pass.

The same may be said of England's David Beckham who has of course a superb right foot with which he is adept at picking out colleagues in the penalty box, and scoring from free kicks or with long distance shots. But Beckham is in a sense unique; a player with little pace or ball brilliance, making super abundant use of the talents, notably that fine right foot which he has, No Stan Matthews, George Best, Tom Finney.

By the same token the Swedes, who had two wonderful little wingers when they reached the final of the 1958 World Cup. Kuree Hamrin and Lennart Skoglund, don't use them any more.

I still find that sad, still believe that even in these functional days wingers can win games. But then England's Alf Ramsey won the World Cup with his so called Wingless Wonders as far back as 1966 and they've never been as popular in England since then. Though there's still Wales' Ryan Giggs.