FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023: Key players’ unorthodox roles in Sundhage’s Brazil vs Panama – tactical analysis
This past Monday, Brazil’s women’s team started off their World Cup campaign with an assertive and electrifying 4-0 win against Panama. Having been knocked out of the previous two World Cups in the last 16, Brazil made their intentions clear in this opening match, with the side having piled on relentless waves of attacking pressure in their first game. Although the side were against tournament newcomers in Panama, other tournament-established sides have struggled against sides with less tournament pedigree.
What was, perhaps, the most exciting aspect of the game was how Pia Sundhage, the manager, deployed some of her players out of their “regular” positions. For Kansas City Current, Debinha predominantly plays on the left-hand side but does have a license to roam into central positions. However, she often starts in the frontline for Brazil.
Meanwhile, Kerolin plays for North Carolina Courage as a winger and a forward but has consistently started in the midfield for Brazil, and Ary Borges has been deployed in the midfield for several of Brazil’s games before the tournament as well as her club side Racing Louisville. However, in their game against Panama, she started as the side’s right winger.
This tactical analysis will first examine how these players are utilised by their club sides in the NWSL and which aspects of their respective games have allowed Sundhage to use them in alternative ways for the national side.
Debinha the dynamo
As stated previously, for her club side, Debinha is deployed mainly on the left-hand side of the pitch but does have the licences to roam into central areas and may occasionally switch to the right-hand side for periods of a game. This can be seen in her heatmap image below for the 2023 season of the NWSL.
Rather than hug the touchline, Debinha is more active in the inner channels and occasionally drops as deep as her own half. However, she is still able to be involved within the opposition box.
In KC Current’s game against the Chicago Red Stars, these aspects of Debinha’s positioning and where she tries to receive the ball could be seen. In the image below, Debinha can be seen in a regular position as a midfielder. In this instance, the Brazillian drops from a central position towards the wide areas and looks to provide a passing option for the full-back. However, after reading the body language of her teammate, Debinha begins to make a run forward into the space ahead.
This aspect of Debinha’s game is undoubtedly polished, with the forward using her speed to burst into the spaces left by the opposition players around her. The image below showcases this and a host of her other abilities. Here, we see Debinha now on the right-hand side, dropping deeper again to offer a passing option for her teammate. Once she receives the ball, she can showcase her excellent first touch before playing the ball and bursting forward.
The image below shows a similar action to the last, however, this time further up the pitch, with Debinha receiving the ball and looking to link up with the players ahead of her.
Although scoring five goals in 15 games, what becomes clear from these examples is that the goalscoring burden of the side is not placed on Debinha’s shoulders. For KC Current, she provides an option in all build-up stages, often helping the side progress the ball before making movements into the box.
The dynamism of Kerolin
Although able to play as a striker, Kerolin has featured chiefly on the left-hand side as a winger for North Carolina Courage in the NWSL this season. Unlike Debinha, Kerolin plays more as a conventional winger, with the forward looking to move towards and receive the ball near the touchline. Although drifting into central areas sometimes, the forward does not look to take part in the build-up phase in deeper regions, operating predominantly in the attacking half.
One of the forward’s main strengths is progressing the ball further up the pitch. The ball progression visualisation below is evidence of this, with Kerolin able to complete several progressive runs, predominantly from the left-hand side of the pitch as well as from the right-hand side. From the left-hand side of the pitch, several of her progressive carries often lead to the forward penetrating the box. Despite playing in the forward line, another aspect that the forward excels in is her ability to play progressive passes, as seen in the image below.
The image below provides an example of Kerolin’s ability in both aspects and her athleticism that aids her in completing progressive carries. With NC courage regaining the ball in the midfield, Kerolin receives the ball before making a bursting run past an opposition player before playing a pass to her teammate, Tyler Lussi, ahead of her.
In deeper areas of the attacking half, Kerolin has also showcased her ability to switch play with the image below an example of this, with Kerolin playing a pass to the full-back Emily Fox.
However, Kerolin can also attack the last line with runs from the wide areas. This can be seen in the image below, with Kerollin moving towards the centre from the wing into a position where she can receive the long ball.
The dependable Ary Borges
From her heat map in the NSWL, it is clear that Ary is involved in all aspects of her side’s build-up, from the first third to the final third. What can also be seen is how the Brazillian predominantly operates on the right-hand side in slightly interior positions, with Ary operating in central spaces in the final third but not entering the box often.
Ary for Racing Louisville positions herself in deeper positions when the side plays out of the back, but it is apparent when watching her that her first instinct is not to hold her position in these areas or drop deeper to provide support for her teammates ahead of her. Instead, Ary looks to advance into the space ahead of her. This can be seen in the image below.
This is the case mainly when the ball is in wider areas which can be seen in the example below, with Ary keeping her central position until the ball is played out wide.
However, this does change when the ball is in more advanced areas, as rather than make runs into the box, Ary looks to hold her position and provide cover for the attackers in case of an opposition counter.
How they were utilised against Panama
When looking at the teamsheet before the match, for regular viewers of the Brazilian women’s national team, Kerolin’s deployment in the midfield and Debinha’s in the frontline would not have been a surprise. However, with Ary Borges having been utilised as a midfielder as recently as the She Believes Cup in February, her starting on the left-hand side would have raised a few eyebrows.
However, when watching these three players in this particular game, we can see that their positions on the side still allow them to utilise many of their most dangerous attributes. The scenario underneath shows this example, with Kerolin in a slightly more advanced position but still a part of the midfield.
From these positions, Kerolin would look to make runs into the box from the midfield. These runs from midfield can be challenging for opposition defenders to track due to the defenders’ focus predominantly concentrated on the two forwards in the side, Beatriz and Debinha.
Kerolin did not only look to make these runs in the final third but would also make these runs in the middle third, particularly when the ball was in wider areas. The example below shows the effects of this, with Kerolin’s run forward stretching the lines between the midfield and defence, creating space as well as alleviating potential pressure from behind for Beatriz Zaneratto.
Kerolin often finds herself in positions in the opposition box, where she can work to create shooting opportunities of her own or for others, with her athleticism allowing her to cover the space ahead of her relatively quickly.
With players in the side such as Luana Bertolucci and Adriana Leal, Debinha does not have to be involved in the build-up in deeper areas, which frees her up to sit on the shoulder of the opposition right-back and right centre-back. An example of this can be seen below, with Beatriz dropping deeper and Debinha looking to attack the last line.
Although appearing as a winger on the team sheet, Ary Borges would still largely opoerate from central areas for most of the game. Due to Brazil’s full-backs advancing high, the responsibility of keeping the width in the side falls on their shoulders, and as a result of this, Ary could push into more central areas.
The image below shows the effects of this; with both Adriana as well as Ary in central positions, more space is created in the wide areas, with both players positioning preventing the opposing defender’s left and right wing-backs from being able to press Brazil’s full-backs, allowing both Adriana and Ary to receive the ball from the full-back’s between the lines.
Debinha’s runs from central areas and the left-hand side were vital for three of Brazil’s four goals. The image below shows Debinha moving from a central location to the space in the wide area, looking to make a forward run. The image also shows Ary in a prominent position moments before she would begin to run into the box, an aspect of her game that is not highly prevalent for her club side. However, this allows Brazil to enable Debinha to run into channels of space and still have more than one player to cross to in the upper areas of the opposition; ‘s box.
From her run, Ary would look to move towards the far post and meet the cross of Debinha .
Brazil’s third goal was almost an exact carbon copy of their first, with Debinha receiving the ball after a run attacking the last line and Ary making a run into the box from the central areas.
Ary would receive the cross before playing a backheel to Debinha. What also should be noted is the position of Kerolin for the first and second goals, with Kerolin running from deep to enter the box unmarked.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this analysis is how different managers interpret the abilities of certain players and the profile of the players in the squad as a whole to allow players to utilise certain aspects of their attributes to find solutions.
Although the tournament is still in its early stages, opposition teams need to be weary of Debinha’s runs in the final third as well as the runs of Ary into the box from central areas.