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FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 Tactical Analysis: South Africa vs China

FIFA’s Women’s World Cup Tactical Preview: South Africa vs China

The FIFA Women World Cup’s first round of fixtures is now over. Of course, there is little time for rest and preparation in such a tough tournament. Though, teams who did not have a great time in their first match needs to hold-up and look for a fresh start. This is what both South Africa and China needs today. The Banyana Banyana had lost their first match against Spain after leading the game for more than an hour.

Their Asian rivals of the day had lost against Germany despite having some good opportunities. Thus, it seems quite interesting to figure out both teams’ strengths and weaknesses to get an idea about the possible scenarios of this Group B match. I will try in this tactical analysis to show some of the two team’s characteristics and to put the stress on what can make the difference in favour of either South Africa or China.

Line-ups and general dispositions

South Africa’s manager Desiree Ellis, generally, put on place a 5-midfielders structure with one single attacker. On paper, this did not change a lot in their first FIFA Women’s World Cup match. The unique difference is that Ellis made the choice to put both Thembi Kgatlana and Amanda Mthandi in her starting line-up. Both of them generally played as the team’s main strikers in the preparation matches. Against Spain, they occupied respectively left and right flank.

Independently from the nature of the opponent and his strategy, South Africa does rarely change their global structure. We can assume that the manager will maintain the 5-midfielders structure against China. However, the team will tend to have more ball possession and try to manage more ball-circulation sequences. They will maybe need more play-making midfielders who are able to drop out of position and combine with team-mates. They will have also to bring a new left-back as Nothando Vilakazi got a red card in the opening match.

In the opposite side of the pitch, the Chinese team play often on a 4-4-2 structure with their two main attackers Shanshan Wang and Yang Li. They also, like their rivals, rarely change their formation. The team has a compact structure with clear and defined roles for each player. The 4-women midfield permits to close paths defensively and can be reinforced with one of the attackers. Having two attackers does allow some offensive mobility and guarantees a support player who comes to create numerical superiority while still having a presence at the penalty box.

South Africa Build-up and China’s pressing

The Banyana Banyana is maybe not the best team in terms of technical abilities and tactical disposition. However, the team does try at multiple times to build from the back and initiate short combinations especially against ‘medium-size teams’. At the first steps of the build-up phase, under pressure or not, South Africa tends to get the ball forward through short passes.

Every player including the goalkeeper, full-backs, defensive and central midfielders participate in the phase. Kaylin Swart tended to look for short pass opportunities especially towards the flanks. Both of central defenders did also look to combine with defensive and central midfielders. However, the latter even when trying to propose pass solutions to their team-mates did not put occupy the right positions and were often cover-shadowed or man-marked.

South Africa-China-Fifa Women's World Cup-Tactical Analysis

Thus, this first part of the build-up can cause much damage to the team especially if the Chinese decided to move forward and press a bit higher than they do. The Steel Roses does press in general around the midfield line as they did in their first match against Germany. This is not a high-intensity pressure on opponents. Instead, the Chinese tried to close any passing channel to the centre for the ball holder and then oblige the opponent and play horizontal and dangerous passes. The pictures below show how they managed to block the opponent’s vertical advancement and recover balls at the heart of the field.


This strategy can provide them with good chances if South Africa try to play their usual short passing combinations. There will be spaces at the centre lane as the team needs players to spread all over the pitch to have more passing options. This is quite-known to be something risky, and if in addition to that it is not done the correct way as mentioned before the Chinese will just need a little dose of courage to go and make a profit of it.

South Africa’s defensive organisation and China’s offensive strategy

One noticeable thing while looking at Banyana Banyana’s defensive phase is their inexplicable tendency to go after the ball. This can seem inappropriate or even ridiculous while speaking of a professional national team. It remains, sadly, true in many cases for the African team. The players tend to get out of position to chase the ball holder or the zone near to him. Against Spain, for example, Jane moved too often to the penalty box to help team-mates intercept crosses and long balls.

This can be effective if your opponent has little opportunity for combination or does not dispose of excellent passers. You try to close down the ball holder as fast as you can and recover the ball. Though, if your rivals have an adequate player’s positioning to move into the spaces you left this can be crucial. This left large spaces and long seconds for Spain’s midfielders to conceive and realise some astonishingly accurate passes.

China has, in fact, the possibility to hurt their opponent by doing so. Their second striker is on constant mobility looking for passes either in free space or in a crowded zone. She can create the danger herself in the first case or attract defenders to let her midfielders jump on it. Due to the South African attitude, this could work pretty well and provoke some disorder. A situation like the one below could end in a ball call at the back of the right centre back of the white team. It is enough that she drops out of position to cover the pass receiver.

South Africa-China-Fifa Women's World Cup-Tactical Analysis-Analysis

This ball-focus can appear through a different but still threatening way if Eliss tries to promote the defensive aspect. As they did against Spain, the last defensive line can remain very close to the keeper and include from four to six players. It will be then a bit harder to find space behind central defenders as there will be always someone to cover the one who goes out of position. Yet, numerical superiorities can arise in the zones around full backs through triangles. Crosses could also create opportunities. This will work especially if the crossers dispose of enough time to adjust crosses and find targets.


In order to survive in group B, a win is vital for the two teams. Otherwise, the situation will be soon quite complicated. I’ve shown some during the article some points where the Chinese team could hurt their opponents. However, this will need much tactical discipline and consciousness of the cited points. If this is not done with high success rate it can turn into a complete fail for the Asian team. South Africans will then find ways to progress through their defence and obtain real chances through crosses and medium-range shots.

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!