EURO 2016 technical report 2: Long passing

In the second extract from the new UEFA EURO 2016 technical report, the expert panel look at which teams relied on long passing and when it proved effective.

Northern Ireland played the highest proportion of long passes
Northern Ireland played the highest proportion of long passes ©Getty Images

What proportion of passes for each team was long?
Northern Ireland 28%
Iceland 22%
Republic of Ireland 21%
Czech Republic 20%
Wales 18%
Albania 17%
Turkey 17%
Hungary 16%
Romania 16%
Russia 16%
Slovakia 16%
Sweden 16%
Croatia 15%
Italy 15%
Poland 15%
Ukraine 15%
Austria 14%
Belgium 14%
Portugal 13%
England 12%
Germany 12%
Switzerland 12%
France 11%
Spain 10%

"There were the odd exceptions," said former Aalborg, Aarhus and Viborg coach Peter Rudbak, "but, in the matches I saw, most teams wanted to play out from the back."

David Moyes, technical observer for a different set of games, countered: "On the other hand, not many successfully played out from the back."

Mixu Paatelainen added: "In many games the opponent was able to dictate whether teams could play out from the back or not."

Italy v Spain highlights
Italy v Spain highlights

The Spain v Italy encounter in the first knockout round provided a graphic illustration. During the first half, Antonio Conte's team exerted high collective pressing, successfully disrupting Spain's construction from the back.

Goalkeeper David de Gea, after totalling 20 long passes in the entire group stage, was obliged to play long on 19 occasions against the Italians. The technical observers' overview was that most teams engaged in energetic pressure on the opposition ball carrier with sufficient physical presence to disturb, unbalance or otherwise blur the opportunities for accurate passing from the back.

Moyes and Gareth Southgate agreed that "the level of pressure was enough to persuade opponents to go for low-risk solutions". That was frequently the long pass from back to front. At the same time, they were anxious not to equate long passing with bad passing.

"It was incredible to see how quickly Germany reached their opponents' area," said Southgate, "and in such a variety of ways – quick passing, good crosses, combinations, through balls. They were possession-oriented but, in my opinion, they penetrated more than any other team."

The observers' general impression was that, after years of focusing on the possession play of Spain, of Barcelona or of Pep Guardiola's Bayern München, deep defensive blocks are currently encouraging teams to revert to more direct attacking solutions.

This is borne out by statistics. At UEFA EURO 2012, five of the 16 teams – in other words, 31% – could argue that long passes accounted for less than 10% of their total. In France: none.

France v Iceland highlights
France v Iceland highlights

In 2012, the Republic of Ireland (19%) and Ukraine (18%) had the most frequent recourse to long passing. In 2016, four teams exceeded those totals. In 2012, long passes accounted for 12.8% of the total made over the entire tournament. In France, the average across the 24 teams was 15.88%.

In other words, the use of long passes increased by 24%, underlining the countertrend towards the use of direct back-to-front play as a method of surprising defensive blocks before they have time to assemble. Goalkeepers evidently had a role to play in the use of long distribution.

The above article appears in the official UEFA EURO 2016 technical report: DOWNLOAD NOW