The eighth UEFA Conference for European National Coaches opened on Monday in Vienna with UEFA Executive Committee member Per Ravn Omdal sounding a ringing endorsement of the strength of the international game. "UEFA EURO 2008™ showed us that national-team football is alive and well," he said. "Players represented their countries with commitment and pride, and supporters were fantastic inside and outside the stadium."
The three-day coaching conference, which is attended by national-team coaches and technical directors from all 53 UEFA member associations, is held every two years to consider trends in the game highlighted by the major international team competitions. It also provides coaches with an opportunity to exchange ideas, make proposals and, in the words of UEFA Technical Director Andy Roxburgh, "to meet old colleagues and make new friends".
With the Ernst-Happel-Stadion, where Spain defeated Germany in the final, a short drive away, UEFA EURO 2008™ was fresh in the mind as Friedrich Stickler, president of the Austrian Football Association (ÖFB), welcomed delegates to Vienna. "Just two and a half months since witnessing one of the outstanding finals of a UEFA European Championship, Vienna is again the centre of European football," he said. "We are privileged to host this meeting and take stock of EURO." Omdal, representing UEFA President Michel Platini at the opening ceremony, praised the ÖFB for "being an outstanding and wonderful co-host with Switzerland for EURO 2008™". "I am delighted this conference is taking place in Vienna where we can still hear the sounds of a great EURO 2008™," he added.
With that, Roxburgh took to the floor to present the findings of UEFA's Technical Team, which studied trends in the game during UEFA EURO 2008™ as well as in the UEFA Champions League last season. "Football is very dynamic on and off the pitch," Roxburgh said. "It is in a state of constant change, constant movement. You don't need to follow trends, but you do need to know about them." The Technical Director highlighted the importance of knowing in which direction the game was developing, in order to prepare young players and the next generation of coaches.
Among other themes, Roxburgh stressed the growing prevalence and influence of the counterattack during matches, and how the speed of transition from defence to attack was greater than ever. More than 40 per cent of goals scored in open play at EURO came from fast breaks, with Roxburgh concluding that UEFA EURO 2008™ was "a tournament of brilliant counterattacking". As a consequence "countering the counter" had become a key issue for coaches in preparing their teams. Just 20 per cent of goals at EURO, Roxburgh went on, had come from set-pieces (including penalties), suggesting, among other things, that the quality of defending was improving and becoming more sophisticated. On the other hand, combination play, both on the wings and through central areas, showed a distinct improvement.
UEFA's Technical Director also emphasised the value of positive possession football, as displayed by champions Spain, of team shape, of the changing nature of wing play and of the effects wrought by coaching decisions on matches. "There were some fantastic examples of taking tough decisions and going for it," he said. "We thought this tournament was well coached in every way – from preparation to coaching in matches." Special praise was reserved for winning coach Luis Aragonés, whom Omdal presented with a trophy on behalf of UEFA to pay tribute to his success. A film of Spain's triumph was played to the delegates, and Aragonés said: "Watching that, you get a strong feeling and your emotions run high. I don't show my emotions much, but inside I am full of great pride."
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