Relieved at securing qualification for the second phase of the World Cup finals with a late winner against Russia, Belgium coach Marc Wilmots ventured to embark upon an age-old debate.
Is it enough to win, or must success be achieved in aesthetically pleasing fashion?
Brazil fans have asked the question for decades, demanding not just success – of which they have had plenty down the years – but glory embellished with style.
Any deviance from the path of O Jogo Bonito (the beautiful game) has been met with popular irritation and a nagging sense of unfulfilment.
Wilmots says he and other coaches will be judged above all by results, leading him to an inescapable conclusion liable to dismay the romantic.
“It’s not about being beautiful, but about being effective. Belgium are through to the next round and that is what counts,” said the 45-year-old, who appeared for the Red Devils at four World Cups including their last appearance at a major finals in 2002.
“We are tactically very disciplined and we needed to be patient,” added Wilmots, who famously had a goal unfairly chalked off against eventual champions Brazil in the round of 16 in 2002.
With so much at stake, flair was barely the order of the day until Eden Hazard jinked his way to the byline before finding teenage substitute Divock Origi for the only goal right at the death.
Wilmots is by no means alone in musing on whether teams should concentrate on winning with flair-filled football or in more functional fashion.
Ahead of the tournament, Brazil starlet Neymar insisted winning is what ultimately counts with style a distant second concern.
“Beautiful football is the last thing we are concerned about. What we want to do is to win,” insisted the Barcelona man.
“Our team’s mentality is always the same; always beat any adversary, whoever they are.”
It was therefore ironic that the hosts’ goalless draw against Mexico fueled loud grumbles from home fans when, had it not been for inspired goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, Brazil would have won by a handful.
Thereby hangs a tale – plenty of chances and attractive approach play.
Style aplenty, substance of result lacking, suggesting when it comes to a straight fight, even the home fans concede it’s really all about winning.
Despite some outbreaks of cagey behavior, this World Cup has seen attacking football flourish at least in terms of the goalscoring benchmark.
After 32 of the 64 games, 94 goals have been scored for an average of 2.94 per game.
The tournament average in 2010 was 2.27, the second all-time lowest after 1990.
While that does not compare with the 5.38 average for 16 teams who turned out in the 1954 finals, it is the highest average since Pele and company, the original purveyors of jogo bonito, carried off the Cup in 1970.
As coaches tread the fine line between the will to entertain and the will to succeed, United States’ coach and former World Cup winner Jurgen Klinsmann encapsulated before the event the problems Brazil in particular face in walking both sides of that line.
“Winning is not enough – you have to score lots of goals and play entertaining football,” said the man who lifted the trophy as a player with West Germany in 1990 but who was criticised by US media for playing down expectations with his American charges.
Brazil’s problem works the other way, with expectations played up to stratospheric levels.
Win or lose, the current goalfest – Brazil’s Mexican stalemate being an honourable exception – offers a riposte to those not yet enamoured of the ‘Beautiful Game.’
“Soccer doesn’t have much scoring. It always seems to be nil-nil in overtime,” one US commentator complained – though that was hours before an enthralling 2-2 draw between Team USA and Portugal.
Klinsmann says fans may want success, but first off, they demand to be entertained with ‘winning ugly’ best left to infamous tennis coaching manuals.
“They want to see goals,” said the German, who with his tally of 11 at World Cups is well qualified to comment.
So far, with few exceptions, fans have not been disappointed on that score.