Strikers clinch games but great defences win the titles

There is an adage that runs across American sports. Defence wins championships. Individual games can be won by offensive players, but, whether pitchers or defensive tackles, the men who stop others scoring are deemed decisive in the destination of the major prizes.

It may seem a strange concept in football - certainly in the era of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi - but the perhaps prosaic truth is that World Cups tend to be won by the best defensive side.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 15, 2018, with the headline 'Strikers clinch games but great defences win the titles'. Print Edition | Subscribe