UEFA Women's Futsal EURO 2023: Tactical trends from the finals
Thursday, March 23, 2023
UEFA's technical team dissect the moves and tactics that made the difference at Women's Futsal EURO 2023
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Spain secured a third UEFA Women's Futsal EURO title with a display of controlled intensity and game intelligence started and finished by Player of the Tournament Peque.
It took just 13 seconds for Spain's inspirational captain to make her mark in the final, converting a penalty awarded after Ukraine's Iryna Dubytska was judged to have fouled Dany.
A little over 100 minutes later (in real time), Peque was at it again. Hogging the ball with the sole of the same right foot used to sweep home from six metres, she seized control of proceedings to see out the final seconds of a historic 5-1 victory in Debrecen's Fönix Arena.
As well as claiming the Player of the Tournament award, 35-year-old Peque also set the record for fastest tournament finals goal – eclipsing Portugal pivot Carla Vanessa's effort after 21 seconds in the semi-final clash between the Iberian rivals 48 hours earlier.
In this repeat encounter of the previous two finals, Spain again triumphed – this time 3-2 – in a contest defined by concussive high-pressing, urgent counterpressing and the flexible use of 3-1 and 4-0 formations in possession to overcome player-to-player marking.
Spain and Portugal both impressed UEFA Technical Observer, Pierre Jacky, in and out of possession. He noted their high-pressing cohesion, but Spain's reactions and decision-making in the crucial transitions stood out. "Peque is a real captain," said Jacky, who noted how her "fighting spirit" seemed to inspire Clàudia Pons' younger players.
Led by the 39-year-old Yuliya Tytova, Ukraine arrived in the final after beating hosts Hungary 2-1. Impressive winger Anna Shulha got both goals. Their semi-final success came from clever passing and movement in positional attacks (usually in a 4-0 formation) and canny 'three in a line' combinations at set plays.
Meanwhile, Hungary adopted an effective half-court defence to restrict space for Ukraine to exploit. Although conceding only twice, the Hungary goalkeeper Lilla Torma faced 45 shots on goal. In possession, 21-year-old left-footed winger Viktória Horváth hit an outstanding opening solo goal.
Hungary's defensive wall crumbled in the third-place match, however, as Portugal racked up 12 goals without reply, Carla Vanessa's hat-trick sealing a new tournament scoring record of five goals.
For Oleg Shaytanov's Ukraine, the final proved to be very difficult as Spain's robust player-to-player marking and clever positioning on defensive set pieces snuffed out their attacking threat.
The precise toe-poke finish by Spain's Ale de Paz after a lightning counterattack (see clip 1 below) sent Ukraine in at half-time 3-0 down after an own goal had doubled Spain's lead. Yet still Ukraine tried to find solutions to disable Spain's high-pressing machine, a task made harder by the absence of a pivot with the required technical and physical prowess.
Spain effectively ended the contest when Irene Samper toe-poked home just 26 seconds after the restart. Shulha's deflected effort after 35 minutes pulled one back, but Dany had made it 5-1 a minute later, rolling into an empty net after stealing the ball with Ukraine in flying goalkeeper mode. "Spain simply had more solutions in and out of possession than the other teams," concluded Jacky.
The Technical Observer team noted five themes to emerge over the four games:
1 Low transition to counter
This clip, from the final, exposes the huge risk of failing to finish the action when shooting. Within seven seconds of Kseniia Hyrtsenko's shot, Spain's Ale de Paz toe-pokes home at the other end. It's the brutality of futsal in all its glory. Technical points to note include the forward kick-through save by Spain's veteran stopper Silvia. This action launches the counterattack. Irene Córdoba passes forward and Ale de Paz attacks centrally to finish.
Hyrtsenko's slip after shooting gives Spain a crucial extra advantage. It's also worth noting that Ukraine actually counterpress well initially to regain the ball high after an unsuccessful long throw by goalkeeper Viktoriia Kyslova. The key detail that sets Spain's players apart is readiness for the next transition: the mark of champions.
2 High press, high transition
This clip shows a great example of Spain's player-for-player high-press in the semi-final against a Portugal team playing in a 4-0 formation. Ana Azevedo's slow pass – backwards and across court – acts as a trigger for Spain's Luci to sprint to apply pressure on the ball to prevent a forward pass. Her team-mates react by getting tight to direct opponents while offering cover and support and protecting the middle.
All three Spain players nearest the ball are ready to lock on tight. All four Spain players can see both opponent and ball. Spain's Laura Córdoba (No 4) attacks the passing line of Portugal No14 Lidia's pass and deflects the ball towards Spain’s Luci (No6), who turns and fires the ball low and hard, giving goalkeeper Ana Catarina no time to react.
3 Counterpress to score
Portugal beat Spain at their own game in this video. Player of the Tournament in 2022, Ana Azevedo (Portugal's No7), pounces to dispossess Spain's Noelia (No2), who is trying to launch a counterattack of her own. With Spain's two highest players, Maria Sanz and Irene Córdoba, temporarily heading forward on the counter, Portugal exploit the sudden 2v1 overload and Carla Vanessa finishes smartly.
Constant transitions define futsal. In this example, within ten seconds of Irene Córdoba's initial shot at Portugal's goal (which, crucially, fails to finish the action), Portugal score at the other end. But in between those two moments, Spain manage to regain the ball only to lose it immediately – a moment of high vulnerability.
4 Beating the press
This footage shows one example of how to beat the press: quick forward passes into the pivot. Ana Azevedo's awareness to pass first time and offer immediate support to Portugal pivot Janice Silva creates the space for a shot on goal. The key to success here is how the speed of the cross-court pass into Azevedo (No7) and her first-time pass forward prevent Spain's Melli (No3) getting close enough to shut off the passing line. Another technical detail is the way Azevedo passes to Melli's right and sprints to her left, gaining crucial separation from her marker.
5 Positional attack
This clip shows a good example of Spain playing through an organised Ukraine player-for-player press using a 3-1 formation. Watch how Peque feigns to offer indirect support to Irene Samper (Spain's No14) before exploiting the moment of hesitation when Oleksandra Skybina (No11) and Alona Kyrylchuk (No8) react to her movement towards the centre by changing direct opponents.
'Attacking the changes' in this way can be potent. Irene Samper, a left-footed player on the right, finds the pivot with a diagonal forward pass before racing forward to support with Peque. Ukraine's defenders recover well but Spain manage a shot on target. Watch how Peque remains vigilant, hunting the ball again after the shot is taken.