U17 Women’s World Cup: Spain v Brazil goal analysis

I’ll preface this by saying that, as the name of the blog suggests, it’s very easy to be an armchair critic and dissect what went wrong after the fact. Still, I’m going to do it because I think from a youth soccer coaching point of view it’s very interesting that a quarter final at the U17 Women’s World Cup between two countries with such a rich history in the game (nouveau riche in Spain’s case really) could serve up so many examples of how to give up bad goals.

Have a look at the highlights on the FIFA.com site

At 42 seconds in Brazil’s keeper goes to take a goal kick and at the last second decides to play it short to her right back who’s gone right out to the sideline. Here’s the relevant coaching points from there on:

1. Don’t play that pass unless you know your right back has the ability to take a touch, ideally facing forward, without being under immediate pressure. As you’ll see she is under immediate pressure but still opens up with her first touch to face a Spanish striker who immediately strips her of the ball. Bad decision to play the pass; equally bad decision by the right back to take that type of first touch.

2. Don’t play that pass if your centre backs have gone considerably further up the field and are in no position to quickly get into recovery mode on a turnover. While one Brazilian centre back does well to get back, she is still beaten by a perfectly weighted pass to the Spanish striker who finishes clinically with her first touch.

To her credit, the Brazilian keeper makes one of the best saves you’re going to ever see a 16 year old girl make off a header in the next highlight but then goes back to being the (partial) goat on the second Spanish goal.

Again, it’s from a goal kick. We tell our coaches that, up to at least U13, goal kicks, especially for girls, are a bigger liability than corner kicks. Until you have the leg strength to consistently flight a ball at least 30 yards, really all a goal kick is is a clearance from near your goalmouth that you allow your opponents to prepare and position themselves for. But at a U17 World Cup, surely you shouldn’t still be worried about conceding goals from goal kicks?

At 1:20 into the video the keeper again plays short off a goal kick. This time right up the middle to a centre back and the Spanish give a second clinic on pressure. They’ve sat off just enough to encourage the pass and then both strikers have gone in 100% from either side. Yes, the centre back is clearly fouled but you are asking for this kind of goal by playing her the ball at the top of the box with no support (except going back to the keeper which is what she might have done had the ball not been delivered with pace a skipping in at shin height; very difficult ball to play back to your keeper safely in that situation). If you’re hanging your hopes on a ref to save you in that situation…

Brazil’s goal comes from a free kick about 32 yards out and on the right flank. Spain set their line just inside the penalty spot (about 10-11 yards out). They start back peddling on the kick and by the time there is contact the ball is inside the six and the Spanish defender, under pressure from the Brazilian attacker, heads the ball awkwardly into her own goal with the keeper on the line.

This is something that I do not understand at any level of youth soccer.

From a free kick that far out, given the level of play, that line should have been held at 16 yards. They do not have the technique and pace yet to drop a ball between what the keeper should be able to come for and what the defenders should be able to reach and have a late, deep run from a teammate get there first and score.

So push up and give your keeper that additional five yards of space and make the attackers cover that extra five yards of space to get to the ball. If you do that one of two things will happen:

1. The person taking the free kick will calibrate based on where the line is and swing it in to a space that she knows her teammates will be able to reach it. That will now be about 11-12 yards out and not 5-6 yards. This is considerably less dangerous at this level than allowing contact inside your six.

2. The person taking the free kick won’t calibrate and will still knock the same ball that was played in. In this case, the striker won’t get it to in time and the keeper should be able to scoop it up uncontested.

If you also teach the defenders to block out the initial surge forward from the attackers you buy another yard and second of space and time. Not grabbing and hauling to the ground but through establishing goal side positioning and getting a forearm across them to slow them down. Don’t let strikers make exactly the run they want to in your box without some kind of impediment to slow them down. As mentioned it doesn’t just throw them off but it buys your keeper a bit more room to come for these balls without getting clattered. It’s such a simple thing to defuse but just as Brazil don’t learn from a dodgy goal kick, Spain don’t learn to hold a high line on deep free kicks and the next highlight almost sees Brazil tie it up from a very similar play.

At 2:18, Brazil get another free kick from almost 30 yards out and this time there is no discernible line from Spain’s defenders at all. One starts on the edge of her six and the other three are scattered at different depths. Fortunately, for Spain, the free kick is overhit a bit and the keeper punches it away. The reason she punches it away, and not convincingly, is because by allowing the Brazilian striker to have a starting point on the six yard box she is now able to be right in the keeper’s grill when she goes for the cross. If they held a line out beyond the penalty spot, the keeper takes that ball cleanly without being jostled by a yellow jersey.

Personally, if I’m the Spanish coach and I’ve already seen one goal from poor defending on a free kick and you give up another one late in the game, I’m out of the technical area and running down to where I want the defenders to hold the line, screaming at them to push up and hold that line. It’s worth the yellow card.

Amazing to me that a quarter final at a U17 World Cup can still contain this many examples of schoolyard defending.

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