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EURO 2016 technical report 1: Counterattacks blunted

In this first extract from the new UEFA EURO 2016 technical report, the expert panel reflect on the decreasing proportion of goals scored from counterattacks.

Graziano Pellè finishes off the counterattack that put Italy 2-0 up against Spain
Graziano Pellè finishes off the counterattack that put Italy 2-0 up against Spain ©AFP/Getty Images
Highlights: Germany v Ukraine
Highlights: Germany v Ukraine

At UEFA EURO 2008, 46% of the open-play goals stemmed from counterattacks.

Since then, awareness of the damaging potential of fast transitions has reshaped match strategies among the coaching fraternity. By UEFA EURO 2012, the effectiveness of fast breaks had been halved to 23% and, this summer in France, this lower level was consolidated.

What is more, the statistics are somewhat deceptive in that a high percentage of the counterattacks that actually did bear fruit, occurred while the clock was ticking down.

Italy v Spain
Italy v Spain

Late counterattacking goals:

  • Mesut Özil's break that allowed Bastian Schweinsteiger to seal Germany's 2-0 victory over Ukraine.
  • The cross from the right and the Graziano Pellè finishes that gave Italy identical added-time outcomes against Belgium and Spain.
  • The 87th-minute through-pass goal by Zoltán Stieber that clinched Hungary's 2-0 win against Austria, and the added-time break on the right and cross to the far post that earned Iceland second spot in Group F and a chance to make history.
  • Portugal's 117th-minute decider against Croatia.
  • The two late counters that sealed Belgium's 4-0 triumph over Hungary.
Belgium v Ireland
Belgium v Ireland

In other words, most of the successful counterattacks can be traced back to late-game scenarios where opponents were pushing forward in search of a result. Very few broke the deadlock, though there were earlier examples that did precisely that: Turkey's opener against the Czech Republic, Poland's against Switzerland and one by Belgium, which riled Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill: "It came from our attack. It was our free-kick, the ball's played in the penalty area, they've broken on us and scored. That goal was very, very important because then, as we started to chase the game, we were caught a few times."

In general, risk-management strategies focused on pre-empting opposition counters.

Croatia coach Ante Čačić observed after his team's round of 16 tie: "As expected, Portugal played on the counterattack. But we controlled it and didn't allow them a chance until almost the end of the 120 minutes,"

Croatia v Portugal
Croatia v Portugal

"We were ready for them," said his opponent, Portugal's Fernando Santos, "and we set up to resist their strengths. We didn't allow them to counterattack."

After a Group C match, Poland coach Adam Nawałka remarked: "There were times when Germany took the initiative but we gave it to them consciously to allow ourselves space to hit them on the counterattack."

"We didn't allow Poland to play to their strengths, to hurt us on the counterattack," Joachim Löw responded.

In France, most of the contestants had counterattacking as an important weapon in their armoury – but wounds were usually inflicted only when a game situation obliged the opposition to open up.

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