FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 Tactical Analysis: Nigeria vs South Korea
Artwork by @chapulana

For matchday two of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, Nigeria take on South Korea at the Stade des Alpes in Grenoble. Both South Korea and Nigeria are point-less after having thoroughly lost their opening ties against Group favourites France and Norway respectively. Although the tie might seem like one of the more underwhelming ones of Group A, neither team will feel that way as they’ll be eager to open their points tally and hopefully stun Norway and France in the latter matches. In this tactical analysis, we’ll preview the line-ups, and key tactics to be employed by both teams.

Predicted line-ups

Nigeria Women(4-3-3): Oluehi, Okeke, Ohale, Ebi, Ebere, Ayinde, Okobi, Chikwelu, Oshoala, Oparanozie, Ordega

South Korea (4-2-3-1): Kim Jung-min; Jang Sel-gi, Kim Do-yeon, Hwang Bo-ram, Kim Hye-ri; Cho So-hyun, Lee Young-ju; Lee Geum-min, Ji So-yun, Kang Yu-mi; Jung Seol-bin

Tactical similarity

In many ways, both the African and the Asian side are very similar. Both the coaches first prefer defensive solidity and then aim to build their offence on that. Both teams play a direct brand of football, which is not necessarily possession-hogging. Against teams of higher quality, neither team gets the ball much or can hold the ball for long periods. This prompts the need for employing counter-attacking elements to their offensive style. Although the inner mechanisms of both teams might be different, they’re all due to the need to reinvent their style in order to compete with the bigger teams. That’s one of the reasons why we believe that both teams will share possession equally.

South Korea

South Korea line up in either a 4-4-1-1 or a 4-1-4-1 with minor tweaks between either of the formations. It sees one of the midfielders dropping in between the lines to protect the back four – usually their captain Cho So-Hyun, and one of the forwards dropping to play in between the defensive and midfield lines of the opposition.

In-possession

South Korea play a hybrid of direct football with patient passing out of the back. They like to build out from the back during goal-kicks. The centre-backs split and the full-backs move up high and wide as normal teams do according to the principles of Salida Lavolpiano.

However, they usually depend on Cho So-hyun to drop and collect the ball from the centre-backs. She’s technically brilliant and able to single-handedly bear the load of the build-up.

As is seen below, if she’s pressed heavily, she finds solutions by passing to the wingers (who also stay wide) or the full-backs who adjust their positions relative to the pivot’s.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 Tactical Analysis: Nigeria vs South Korea
Cho for West Ham. She receives the ball from her centre-backs, invites pressure, and then releases the ball to her striker

The midfielders move high up the pitch in the half-spaces. However, if the pivot is swarmed by too many opposition players, one of the midfielders drops to provide an outlet.

Most of the times, however, if the opposition is pressing high, South Korea don’t force the issue; they instead go directly to the strikers. The midfielders and the wingers strategically position themselves in close proximity so as to win the second ball and quickly release the striker behind the lines via a through-ball.

Out-of-possession

South Korea are versatile out of possession. They usually sit deep in a medium 4-4-2 block in their own half. However, against less-dominant teams, they’re also capable of pressing higher up the pitch and taking the initiative.

When pressing, they usually go with their forwards leading the line and the wingers moving inside so as to create a narrow focal point of the press. The two interior midfielders stay close to the fullbacks and the deepest midfielder zonally protects the area in front of the back-four. This ensures that the back-four don’t have to move up to press the wingers and leave spaces maintaining the structure.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 Tactical Analysis: Nigeria vs South Korea
Korea pressing with narrow wingers. Notice how the Argentine full-back is covered by the Korean midfielder

Although this is an innovative style of pressing, it does leave certain gaps in midfield. Against weaker teams, they go unpunished but on a stage as great as the World Cup, nothing can be taken for granted. The best solution is to improve the vertical compactness so that the midfielders can press whoever receives the ball.

They could also try a more man-oriented pressing scheme or move into a medium block pressing only when the situation demands so.

Nigeria

Thomas Dennerby has experimented with quite a few formations so Nigeria don’t have any one go-to structure. Nigeria lined up in a 4-3-3 against Norway and hence it’s expected that they might do so again.

Offensive and defensive structures

Nigeria play a very direct brand of football. They do build out from the back but don’t have any specific automatisms. The interesting bits happen after they’ve built out and moved to the final third. Generally, they use the width of the pitch very well as they look to carry the ball from the wider areas. They play an asymmetrical version of 4-3-3 in which they push up one full-back very high and on the other side, the winger, as well as the full-back, are deployed in a withdrawn role.

Sometimes they switch formations to a 4-2-3-1 which has been their most successful formation. The reason behind its effectiveness is that the double pivot provides a versatile base for the team to build upon. If the opposition is under-loaded centrally, one of the midfielders from the double pivot acts as a ball carrier.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 Tactical Analysis: Nigeria vs South Korea
Nigeria’s 4-2-3-1

Off-the-ball, Nigeria are renowned for their pressing. They also press using narrow wingers and an even narrower midfield trio. This is because they use the by-line in their favour and force the opposition’s passes to a direction where they can react to it. Once the opposition full-back has the ball, the Nigerian full-back moves up to press her and ensure she can’t turn. The back-passing options are also cover-shadowed by the forwards. The full-back is left with no option but to either pass back to the goal-keeper or hit a long ball in-field.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 Tactical Analysis: Nigeria vs South Korea
Nigeria pressing with their full-backs and forcing a back-pass

Structural considerations

Although this match-up won’t be the most anticipated one for neutrals, there will certainly be enough aspects to feel excited about for the tactically inclined.

Firstly, Nigeria’s 4-3-3 might be the perfect formation to counter South Korea’s 4-1-4-1. The single pivot in the centre of the Korean midfield will be numerically out-numbered by her Nigerian counterparts. This will also be a worrying detail for Yoon Deok-yeo as his pressing system also creates even greater gaps in the midfield. These spaces will be very vital for Nigeria – especially Asisat Oshoala who drops in between lines to receive the ball and then play it off to the wingers.

The match-up will also be interesting as Nigeria are exceptional at pressing and South Korea might decide to try out their luck building out from the back. Korea split their centre-backs and try to play vertical passes to their full-backs. However, this is exactly the type of situation Nigeria’s pressing system thrives in.

FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 Tactical Analysis: Nigeria vs South Korea
Korea splitting their centre-backs to build out of the back

For South Korea, there’s also some good news. Nigeria, while pressing, are susceptible to switches of play since they press using very narrow midfield and forward lines. Furthermore, they also might trouble the Nigerian women’s high-line with their own pace. South Korea attempt a lot of through-balls and lofted balls over the defence and the lack of experience in the Nigerian back-line will be a concerning factor for Dennerby.

Conclusion

This match has the potential to turn into an intricate chess battle. It could just as easily turn into a direct long-ball affair, however. Neither of the teams has scored any goals yet and both of them were the underdogs in their first matches. The chances of this match turning into a goal-fest are minimal; instead, we may see some gritty defensive battle being fought out. Our prediction for the match is 2-0 to the Nigerian Women.


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!