Finally, we have reached the last round of matchdays in the FIFA Women’s World Cup group stage. The last ten days have provided us with thrilling clashes and emotional moments from various hosting venues in France.
Up to now, every team in Group A still have their chance to qualify for the next stage. One of the teams that currently hold a big advantage is Norway, who currently places 2nd in the group. Their early 3-0 win against Nigeria in the competition pushes them a bit further than their competitor by goal differences although they have suffered a 2-1 lost against France.
For South Korea, two straight defeats narrowed their chance of making out of the group, still, it’s not over yet for the Taeguk Nangja. A goal-thrilling match at Reims while hoping that the host would secure three points in Rennes seems unrealistic. But they could still perform at their best and count on the third-placed teams ranking.
Coach Yoon Duk-yeo could fill his favoured 4-1-4-1 formation with the strongest players that he has. The defensive core remains unchanged, covered by Cho So-hyun, who also acts as the connection between the defenders and the midfielders. Dynamic midfielders Ji So-yun and Lee Mina are key players in Korea’s transitions as they both have the ability to drive forward with the ball.
Wingers Lee Geum-min and Kang Chae-rim would tuck in and occupy the half-spaces. They will open up the wide spaces for flying full-backs Jang Sel-gi and Kim Hye-ri to join the attack. This will be Korea’s main attacking method which we will dig deeper later in the article.
A draw is enough for Norway in case France could secure the same result or better against Nigeria. But no matter what, Martin Sjögren’s side will head to Reims trying to secure three points. Their usual 4-4-2 formation is a perfect combination of defensive solidity and fast counter-attacking play and it would help every individual to be at their very best.
This could be the third consecutive match that Norway stuck with their usual defensive back-four. Ahead of the defenders will be Ingrid Engen and Vilde Bøe Risa, whose responsibilities are linking the play and shielding for the defensive line. A combination of Isabell Herlovsen and Marie Karlseng-Utland is very interesting and with the support from Caroline Graham Hansen and Guro Reiten, Sjögren has a dangerous attacking threat in his hand.
South Korea and Norway are two of the teams that tend to build from the back. And both did it in a very similar way. Usually, the wingers would move into the half-space, allowing the full-backs to drive forward. At the back, they split the centre-backs and form a passing block with the midfielders.
The Asian side creates a passing triangle and circulates the ball between the involving players. If possible, either central midfielders Ji So-yun or Lee Mina could also join by dropping deep and receive the ball. They divide the number of players that on both sides of the pitch equally, creating a fluent and efficient transition. Also, with the high-positioned wing-backs and the wingers, they could easily create an overload inside the wide spaces and the half-spaces.
Meanwhile, most Norway players would drop deep and involve in a part of the build-up. Most noticeable are the central midfielders, who creates a passing block inside their own half with the centre-backs. Then, as shown in the shot below, the wingers tuck in and fill into the leftover spaces. Either striker could join them and the full-backs to create a new midfield line inside the middle third.
With at least four players involving in the build-up, they would be able to cope with an overload created by the opposition. Also, it would allow them to make short passes and retain the ball when needed.
Over their last two games, they held 57% and 50% of possession respectively. They have also made 431 and 391 passes against Nigeria and France, that’s an average of over 400 passes per two games. Another standout numbers are their passing accuracy, which stood at 78% and 72%. It shows how good they are when it comes to building attacks from the back and they will make the most out of their strongest advantage.
But that doesn’t mean it is unsolvable and France have shown us how to do it. Their front three pressed extremely high and aggressive, removing the connection between the centre-backs and the central midfielders. When the ball carrier attempted to make a line-breaking pass, the nearest France player would close down and force her to clear the ball into France’s half.
High press and flanks utilising are the keys for South Korea
The lack of creativity has hindered South Korea from finding their first goal of the tournament. But their style of play could be a major key for them in tonight’s match.
From what we have analysed, Norway’s build-up can be stopped using a high press. And this is one of South Korea’s strength that they have shown in their last two matches. The Taeguk Nangja usually form a pressing structure that consists of five midfielders and a striker. While the front three would press the opposition’s defenders, they also try to maintain the distance between the latter three and suffocate the ball carrier.
They also attempt to lock the midfielders up and forcing the opposition to make long passes. Most of those situations will be cleared by South Korea’s high defensive line and they could capitalise that to start a counter-attack. Entering the final third, South Korea distribute the ball wide and rely on the occupation of wing-backs and wingers inside both flanks.
Norway struggled to defend against this strategy in their match against France. They defended with a narrow 4-4-2 structure with two discipline defensive line but it opened spaces out wide for Marion Torrent and Kadidiatou Diani to utilise. The French players threatened Norway’s goal in many occasions using crosses or moving inside with the ball, one of those situations had turned into the opening goal of the game.
Norway’s intelligent movement and wide attacks
After the build-up, Norway tends to move the ball at a fast pace in the final third. It usually makes defenders confused as they have to change their marking target several times during a short period of time.
They usually turn their focus into wide spaces, where South Korea found as their weakness. Norway’s full-backs and wingers also switch their places occasionally, one would make inverted runs into the half-spaces and the other would drift wide into the wide spaces. The aim is to create an overload inside the flanks, forcing the opposition’s defensive structure to stretch out.
Furthermore, a striker, usually Herlovsen, could also move into areas out wide to receive the ball like the shot below. She attracted both Wendie Renard and Torrent’s attention and they have to close her down. This created spaces for Sævik to move in and ready for a pass from Herlovsen.
This strategy not only benefits Norway’s attack but also their defence. If the opposition managed to recover the ball, they could retain the overload created earlier and use the byline to create a pressing trap. In the shot below, Sævik remained the active player and try to win the ball back. The other three created a wall just outside the area, preventing the ball from moving out.
Norway are also extremely dangerous in counter-attacks. With the wingers tuck in between the lines and provide a passing option, it leaves spaces for the full-back to overlap and drive into the space behind the defensive line. Using quick one-two passes, through balls and movements, the ball could be circulated from the middle third into the 16-yard box in just a matter of time.
On the opposite side, South Korea’s defensive structure has similar principles to what we have analysed about Norway’s. They also played with a 4-4-2 defensive structure, with a view of turning into a 4-1-4-1 or a 5-4-1 depend on the situation. Below are my words quoted from the France versus South Korea analysis I did earlier and it remained the same when South Korea played against Nigeria:
“As seen in the friendlies and the Cup of Nations, usually Cho So-hyun would play in between the lines. Sometimes, she even drops in between the centre-backs. This would create an overload outside and inside the box when they retreated. The wingers and strikers also dropped deep and formed the first and second defensive lines. Their responsibility was to prevent any through balls or one-two passes that come towards the box.
The last defensive line was more flexible because they have to stretch out and prevent crosses from out wide. Usually, the nearest full-back would step out and mark the wide striker or the opposite overlapping full-backs. The winger in front of her could provide support and create a 2v2 situation in the flank.”
One major problem that I also mentioned in the same article was South Korea’s poor positioning. They usually left unnecessary spaces inside the final third and it leads to opposition’s players exploiting it to create chances. We have seen Norway’s intelligent movement and how they made the most out of their spaces in France vs Norway analysis by Ryan McCready and from above.
If they could not limit the number of spaces inside their own half and be more disciplined in positioning, there is a high chance that this might be South Korea’s last match of the competition.
When South Korea attack, they attempt to overload the opposition’s half using high-positioned full-backs and movements from other players. They only leave three players, two centre-backs and Cho So-hyun, behind and this is extremely vulnerable. France have threatened them on several occasions using counter-attacks and so do Nigeria.
As analysed by Harshal Patel and was demonstrated in the shot below, although Korea did have numerical superiority, they couldn’t cope with Nigerian players because of their pace. The African side managed to reach the 16-yard box but the chance was stopped by goalkeeper Kim Jung-min.
Norway is no stranger to the Stade Auguste-Delaune, having beaten Nigeria three goals to nil in their first match. They came close to a draw against France, it would push them further and hand them a bigger advantage. Nonetheless, they have provided a tough class for the host and can be proud of what they achieved. Tonight, the Scandinavian girls returned to Reims with high confidence of making out of the group and will make sure it happens.
It’s not over yet for South Korea but they need to be at their very best and count on luck if they want to match their last entry’s record. There are problems that need to be fixed and changes that need to be made, but for now, a win is what matters. In three matches that were played in Reims, there have been plenty of goals so far. We can expect the same happened tonight, but the question is, who will come out as the winner of that goalfest?
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!