In the last round of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 group stage, China and Spain met in the direct duel that decided which of the two selections will secure the place in the knockout stage. Both teams had the same success in the first two matches recording the win against South Africa and losing to the group favourites Germany.
Due to their weightier win against the African women, since they beat them 3:1, Jorge Vilda’s team was in the second spot with the possibility to go in the next stage with a draw from this game, unlike the Chinese who won for just one goal difference and needed to win it if they wanted to go through.
This tactical analysis will show you how Spain managed to get in the round-of-16 for sure, being the better team in this match although they didn’t succeed to score a goal.
Jia Xiuquan set his team in their usual 4-4-2 formation with Shuang Wang and Shanshan Wang as their key attacking threats. They tried to get to their chances out of the dense semi-low block and focused more on defence that was held by the captain Haiyan Wu and Lin Yuping who were playing in the centre of the defensive line with Pen Hang and Shanshan Liu as their support next to the sidelines.
Spain started the game in the not clear 4-2-3-1 since their main catalyst Jennifer Hermoso had a free roam in searching for the ball and has often joined Nahikari Garcia who was the single striker. The flow of the ball was secured by the midfield duo made of Patri and Virginia Torrecilla who were secure on the ball in the most parts of the game and also provided great attacking support to their more offensive team-mates.
Spain’s half-space game
La Roja dominated the game right from the first minute trying to secure their second spot and to show why they deserve it. Defensively oriented China let them the ball and tended to narrow the playing space, but Spanish attackers successfully managed to find the space between the opponent’s lines and allowed for their attacks to progress.
Every girl out of the four forwards of Vilda’s team wasn’t as strict in positioning and tended to occupy free room in the half-spaces. Players from the lower lines of the team tried to find them in deep with penetrating passes through the gaps in the defensive setup of the opposition.
Hermoso played a huge part in their half-space game being free to move wherever she wanted and attacked spaces in every zone of the pitch. He both positioned herself higher and lower on the field but focused on the empty room that was left behind China’s midfielders’ backs in which she got many balls which she could exploit into good chances.
Spain’s number ten was always near the action providing the always-open passing option for her team-mates. She had a great understanding with her wide players and often provided them with a good through balls which they used for crosses, which was also the result of the situation shown in the picture.
Another note to the Spanish midfield control was secured with their midfield duo playing in the very high level through the whole game, especially Patri who was very good in both defensive and offensive tasks. She was the main player for them to accomplish their idea of winning the battle in the centre of the pitch, positioning often very high and getting the ball in the dangerous zones which she used to threaten the opposition’s goal.
As we can see, Spanish striker is positioned very good in the half-space which enabled her to get the ball which she fastly passed through Patri who sensed the free space and ran into it after which she attempted to score but was stopped by the confident Peng Shimeng who was between the posts.
Vilda’s girls got better of their opponent in the middle zones of the pitch which enabled them to dominate them although they didn’t succeed in scoring. The half-space battle was hugely won by them and it brought them to a lot of good opportunities in the final third.
Attacking the centre-backs as the weakest links
One of the key Spanish ideas was to attack spaces between the opposition’s fullbacks and centre-backs who were marked as the players that weren’t as secure in decisions making and that are not that sure with the ball in their feet. La Roja often tried to go with longer passes directed to Haiyan Wu or Lin Yuping who had issues with them and in many times went them into making a mistake.
China’s centre-back pair also had problems with the freedom of their opponents’ movement freedom in offence and they struggled to guard them in the right way. If they went higher to help their midfielders, the space behind their backs went free which was highly exploited by the Spaniards.
In the picture, there is the situation when Vilda’s girls try to skip the play out of the back and to use the space between the wide and central defender. Mapi Leon played an important role in those cases providing good long balls to her attackers from her own half.
Spain hasn’t done it only with the long passes. They also tried to utilize the bad movement of the opposition’s defenders to go with the through ground passes aimed to the same zones. Strikers sensed those spaces very well and got a lot of balls in them when the centre-backs were pulled out of the position.
Essential influence to playing it this way was in the hands and feet of Patri who provided good attacking support and went higher to overwhelm the opponent’s defensive line. Her run-ins were crucial since she got a lot of passes when he got near the edge of the box which she used for creating chances for her team.
The midfielder also had great communication with her striker and one of them was the target of the attempted long balls their team-mates sent them in most of the situations. Patri’s high positioning confused China’s defenders which resulted in one free attacker in almost every case when the ball was sent to the box.
Those passes were oriented to one of the centre-backs who were marked as the weakest links of the Asian team by the Jorge Vilda. Spain got to their chances both with open players getting the ball in those situations and after winning the second balls after the poor reactions of the defenders.
The Spanish pressing
The game was fully controlled by the Europeans and that was also because of the high pressing they forced as soon as they lost the ball. China wasn’t sure on the ball, they had a lot of troubles making a continuous attack and that was because they were always under pressure from their opponents.
Xiuquan’s team was slow in decision making and that often brought them to cope with difficult situations near their own goal. Spain defended very well-organised on the opposition’s half and managed to win the ball in the zones from which they could endanger the goal again and again.
In the picture above we can see, there are four Spanish players near the action surrounding one player which lead them to recover the ball easily and to threaten the opponent’s seconds after that since they were very close to the goal.
Vilda organised his team to press the centre-backs, the same as he asked them to overwhelm them with the long passes. The ball in their feet was the pressing trigger for his team and many times resulted with them winning back the possession.
Even though they didn’t manage, China also didn’t tend to play it through the ground and tried to get to the attacking zones with the long balls, but Spanish orchestrated defending constantly cut them in the beginning.
When the Asians got the ball closer to the half-way line, they struggled to play it faster and that called their opponent’s to press them and win the ball and start transitional attacks.
Players of Spain were always positioned very well and near the action which enabled them to get better of their opponent in situations like the one in the image. They narrowed the room for the Chinese and controlled the pitch allowing them to attempt only one shot in the 90-minute match.
Spain deservedly went through the knockout stage, being the better opponent than the team from China. They fully dominated the game both with possession and with their chances, but it was clear from the start that Xiuquan’s team can’t compete with them.
Besides the fact they didn’t score the goal, Vilda’s girls had a greater individual and organisational qualities than their opponents and managed to show that they should go in the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 round-of-16. There they will play against the best team in the group F which would be decided between the United States and Sweden.
China will also go into the next round since they are the best third-placed team in the standings. For the final playing order they will need to wait for the other group matches to finish so they could see from which position they will enter the bracket and who will they play against.
If you are following the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 then you will find our FREE tactical preview magazine the perfect compliment to the tournament. You can download it HERE – each nation is previewed and we also profile their key player and young player to watch. Enjoy!