Headline: Mixed picture continues
Somehow our first image goes on and on. Is it going through until the end now? Probably. Because in the latter stages often teams tend to be even more cautious and the players are no more quite as fresh as at the beginning.
Ghana – USA 1:1
The USPugh express is still rolling. And Ghana was the expected difficult opponent. However. Relatively well organised in the defense again as like against France their offense lacked team play nearly totally. It was a wonderful example how it doesnt help at all when you have powerful individuals who are trying each for herself but are not trained to use interacting with each other. Thus they could be prevented nearly any chances in the whole game apart from the lucky long distance goal. We have seen nothing from their game against NewZealand. But we would be rather sure that lack of combination play was their problem too in this game together with the fact that they might have been not as well prepared for the first game. However they have been the most unlucky team of the tournament. They were far the better side against France and not the worse against USA and still have been eliminated. Maybe they would have even been first in other groups.
Also we were happy to see they played very fair against USA. They even lacked a little bit more “nastiness” given the importance of the game. The ref however wanted to do too much to keep the game fair and whistled on every contact. Even foul throw ins she whistled twice for dubious reasons where in other matches horrible throw in fouls are not punished at all.
On the other end understandably you saw the USA do not too much because they were right to be happy with a draw risking getting close to a possible elimination if Ghana had scored another. A fault their U17 was guilty of in their game against Ghana a few weeks ago. However. They couldnt control the game very much by having long spells of possession but instead were happy to focus on preventing Ghana from scoring when they had the ball. So that was rather a well fought draw than a controlled one for them.
So a game with great fairness. With a smart team USA but not very much in control. Defensively well organised team play but not at all offensively by Ghana.
Spain – Nigeria 1:2
And the mixed picture continued. We dont know. We dont know how to understand the Spanish team. Respectively their management. Which always includes the whole group. But the fault is probably our oudated understanding. They had seen the African teams growing into the tournament at U17 level. And they cannot have overseen the problems of France against Ghana a few days ago. You hardly will ever get a pre-match analysis as easy as that with an example a few days ago and so much identical circumstances with one team the individual athletes and the other the usually technical better side.
And yet they seemed totally unprepared for playing Nigeria. They even needed their time to calculate that 6+0 = 6 and Japan had the better goal differential. All of a sudden when they got it and – a few minutes after they fell behind – exactly the same hectic broke out as in the French team against Ghana. Oops. It might be not good to lose. As if that possibility had never before found a way into their brains.
As a consequence they kind of deserved now to play North Korea DPR instead of Brazil who are facing now-group-winners Japan.
Brazil – Sweden 1:1
The next thing that was difficult to understand was how Sweden played Brazil in the last 15 minutes of their WC adventure before it was going to be over. Knowing a draw wouldnt be enough they still kept their shape sitting back deep in their own half. You can see how much these players are trained to or do not listen to any natural instinct. Usually in this scenario everyone is pushing forward and you want to hold players back from running blindly up front all together often straight into a counter attack with game over. But the Swedes just didnt come out of their defensive shape. But now the European U19 champions from last year are and as we expected are now – one year later – the worst of the European sides despite being drawn in an easy group.
Work on defensive improvement
And the mixed picture continues tactically as well. We once again mention the increased tempo in many actions on the field. Pressure on the players is growing once they get closer to the opposite goal and more speed and accuracy are required to get through. There has been a major shift towards defending that is now also getting into the minds of the U20 coaches. The discipline to always start defending as soon as you have lost the ball – or should we better say even prior to this – the discipline to think of defending even if you have just won the ball from your opponent is the major tactical principle.
The speed of the teams getting into a defensive shape and always having bodies back is first class. Might be even better than at senior level because you can sense every moment that this is what the girls are taught. Even teams like Spain are either not able or not fully committed to take much of a risk going forward. Everyone is having bodies back trying to get something out of quick outbursts into the opposite half but be ready to defend immediately as soon as the ball is lost.
Sometimes that is pretty obviously the best choice – especially when you are the weaker team. But it is also often preferred by the stronger team. Which is reducing their offensive strength a lot. Thus results are often coming random and to who ever is the luckier side with that one successful moment – not necessarily the better. This development was increasingly visible at the WC 2015. But has now come even more evident since the Olympics and also at the U17 WC. It is – as most things – a copy from the mens side and – as often – now sometimes even better visible from the copies than the original.
Team USA astonishingly is amongst those who switched styles the most. They obviously seem to look for new ways and develop a lot of things further on whereas all other remaining teams represent their very “traditional” style of football. Brazil U20 girls are playing more “Brazil” style because the girls simply learned that way to play football when developing their skills. As do the Asians represent very much their Asian style. As the Swedish theirs. And so on. Often the U20s seem to do it even more than the senior teams who are more adapting to key players and different styles over time where the U-teams often are changing their individuals much more often.
We dont know what is going on there. We remember the times when they always relied on their better athleticism not so much looking for their opponents but powering on and find a way through. They were rarely very successful at U17s. But at U20s. Albeit not that much in the last event. Maybe that made them think it over or these are just years where they lack extraordinary players? Unfortunately we couldnt see too much of the U17 but the game against Japan. But like the U17 in this game the U20 also switched into a tactically well organised group who are now very much looking for what their opponents have to offer and like the trend defending very disciplined and well organised.
For the moment this is what they can do with this roster. Staying organised defensively and wait for Pugh or Sanchez making things happen. Most of the other girls need to push on to get through to the very top level. Playing with this tactics anything can happen. Out in the quarters or the title. It depends on what happens first. Their opponents able to prevent Pugh and Sanchez for the complete game or the US defense to concede despite their mass defending approach.
A lot of teams can win. Rather impossible only is a title win for Mexico. But well done to once again be amongst the final eight.
Apart from that we hope that any team now is emerging in the ko-stages who held back during the group phase and we can see more offensive quality.
Preview Quarter Finals:
France – Germany
Kind of the standout game. Favorites against defending champions. You never know with Germany and they are usually never easy to beat.
However the fact that they got off to a perfect 3 wins out of 3 start probably sees their capabilities overestimated. They might be not much better than Germanys U17 for example. Why? Actually 4 players of the U17s have started for their (good) teams in the Bundesliga this weekend. But there is actually not a single clear Bundesliga team starter playing here in the U20.
Apart from that the “real” U20 could be much better. There are several Bundesliga strters there in this age group but all are missing for injury or other reasons with Pauline Bremer from Olympique Lyon and one of the best players in last years Champions League final probably the best known.
And this team here didnt proceed out of the group phase of the U19 ! European Championships this summer. There were mostly the same players playing and arguably this was even a better team there than here at the WC. There would be more German specials to tell about. Like Schueller only in the roster because of the injury of Ehegoetz. Like Sanders not playing initially. Like Gier playing initially.
So this is heavily on France to lose. But with France you never know. They are able to lose all sorts of games. It will be really interesting to see how this inferior German team will do against them. Key will be whether Germans defense will be strong enough to hold the French offense. If France is cautious – what might well be – and not committing enough going forward then the German defense might be able to keep them at bay. And the German offense is good enough to score a goal. But that would be quite something should France lose.
Mexico – USA
Is Mexico better than NewZealand? Probably not. However they were beaten by the USA mainly or even only because of their sloppy start. It will be interesting in this match up how much the other US-players can contribute. Probably they should be self confident to be better than their Mexican counterparts and make things happen on their own without Pu/San. We havent seen too much from Mexico and they are difficult to rate because they played a weak group. Seemed though their defending has to be better to have a chance here.
Japan – Brazil
We would so much like to see some Brazil youngsters to follow the steps of Marta. But again. There are good players in their team. But we missed an outstanding talent against Sweden. And their style isnt very suited to play Japan as well. Usually neither in offense where individuals who are technically strong but not very speedy and direct give Japan time to gather around them. Nor in defense where tactical discipline is needed to keep your lines closed for their passing style.
So Japan should be hot favorites but lets see what Brazil can do. We havent seen why they conceded four against Korea and the defense in the own box wasnt always on top against Sweden but apart from that they could manage to keep them far away from goal quite well.
North Korea DPR – Spain
Havent yet seen North Korea. Pity but we will see not much of these players probably in the future so it will be not possible to follow their way thus making it less of a point to watch here. Spain as we said is very much a U19 team and especially their offense has let much room for improvements so far. No goals from their convincing combination play through the midfield areas at all. But moreover: nearly no chances created as well. It all ends in front of the box. Will that give them a chance against North Korea? Hopefully it would not. Hopefully in the sense that they hopefully need to improve attacking the opposite goal to reach a semi final of a U20 WC and hopefully they will be able to improve.