As a player, I loved the pressure of the big time moments that occur during the World Cup’s knockout rounds. You feel more butterflies, a bit more stress and a little bit more excitement. Training sessions are more intense. Everything goes up a few more notches. You think you have given it your all during the group-stage games but then you learn that there’s another level to reach for in the knockout stages. You know that if you lose, you go home. The intensity goes up and those who embrace that pressure can find it to be fun.
It’s different for coaches. We’d see the stress build up in them months before the tournament even began. They would scout other teams and start to worry if opponents played well in pre-tournament friendlies. They’d play around with our tactics and try new things, especially defensively and work on gamesmanship like wasting time. Doubt starts to creep in for the coaching staff. I’ve seen every coach go through this stage. They have to figure out how to hide their own nerves from the players. We all live in hotels and travel together so many of the players – especially the veterans – are aware of and tune in with every little thing that goes on while younger players perhaps remain oblivious entrenched in television and on their phones.