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Technical topics

Technical topics

"The overall impression of the 2014 tournament," commented UEFA technical observer Hope Powell, "is that it was extremely competitive and very demanding in the sense that teams really needed strength in depth. I think that, if the Dutch team performed so well, it was in part because they could find players of equal quality on the bench."

Being at the finals was new to us and the important thing was to prove that we can compete
Kristiaan Van Der Haegen
We are going for gold. We want to play well, win games and win the trophy
André Koolhof
Goalkeeping was at the highest level I've ever seen
Hope Powell

"The tournament also demonstrated," added the other half of UEFA's technical team, Jarmo Matikainen, "that girls' football in this age group is edging closer and closer to the senior game. This was illustrated by the quantity and the quality of backroom staff. I would say the football was tactically more astute because there were greater resources dedicated to analysis. The coaches and their staff were really working hard."

Tournaments in this age bracket generally provoke 'development v results' dilemmas and the event in Norway was no exception. Performances were coloured by expectations. Gareth Evans remarked: "We were just trying to win a game at a European championship" – something Scotland had never done before at this level. Belgium's Kristiaan Van Der Haegen admitted: "Being at the finals was new to us and the important thing was to prove that we can compete". David Connell, coach of the Irish debutantes, said: "It's a big step for the girls and we'll have to see how they go". England's Brent Hills, in circumstances discussed elsewhere in this report, maintained that his young, experimental side would "try to win every game but also try to gain as much valuable experience as possible". Netherlands coach André Koolhof was among those who advocated a more results-orientated approach. "We are going for gold. We want to play well, win games and win the trophy," he said before the ball started rolling in Norway. He later explained: "This is the age when you should be learning how to play just to get a result. We're talking about young, enthusiastic girls who are used to attacking. This is when they should learn that there are moments when it's better to slow down and play a less attacking game than we usually do. This is an important part of education in this age group."


Hope Powell at the finals

Starting at the back
"Goalkeeping was at the highest level I've ever seen," Hope Powell commented. "We talked about it from the first day till the last because it was an eye-catching feature of the tournament. In the games I saw, there were no bad performances or game-changing errors." This put UEFA's technical observers in a quandary when it came to selecting a goalkeeper for the team of the tournament, in that choosing two ran the risk of being interpreted as a lack of recognition for the other six. Of the two who appeared between the posts at the final, the technical team emphasised the quality and intelligence of the distribution by the Dutch goalkeeper Jennifer Vreugdenhil and the agility and alertness of her Spanish counterpart, Sara Serrat. There was similar praise for the attack-building qualities of Sweden's Zecira Musovic, the "fantastic hands" of Belgium's Justein Odeurs and the seamless alternating between Aurora Mikalsen and Cecilie Fiskerstrand in the well protected Norway goal. It might seem an anomaly to salute Scotland keeper Megan Cunningham (who conceded seven in three games), but the technical team was anxious to recognise her contribution to the team's performance and to highlight that the clean sheet against Belgium was due in great part to her ability to deal with a series of one-on-one situations.

The work done in recent times by specialised goalkeeper coaches was apparent on the pitches of Norway. "It wasn't that long ago when we were seeing outfielders taking goal kicks because the keeper didn't have enough power," Powell reflected. "At this tournament, we've seen goalkeeping of real professional quality." Statistical support for this theory was provided by the fact that, whereas long-range shooting had provided 20% of the open-play goals in 2013, the success rate from outside the box dropped dramatically in Norway, as illustrated by the goalscoring chart which appears later in this report. 


Sara Serrat was quiet before the final

The praise for keepers was not inspired exclusively by shot-stopping abilities. In point of fact, the goal attempts chart in this report indicates that on-target goal attempts provided only a percentage of the keepers' workloads. The Spanish keeper was a case in point, with statistics claiming that she had only six on-target shots to deal with during the four games en route to the final. Instead, she and the other keepers found that the bulk of their activities were of the sweeper-keeper variety. The general trend was towards reading the game intelligently, to be alert to what was likely to happen, and to be quick and courageous in coming off the line and, if needed, outside the penalty area to pre-empt a dangerous situation.

"This has given defensive play a new complexion," Powell remarked, "because it was noticeable that defenders had greater confidence in their goalkeeper and were unafraid to bring her into play as an extra defensive resource. The keeper's ability to initiate attacks or counterattacks with good distribution of the ball from the back also made a difference in terms of how teams were setting themselves up when the keeper had possession."

Team players and team shapes
The trend towards a 4-3-3 team structure continued to be visible at the tournament in Norway. Every team, including Sweden, set itself up in this formation at some stage. Calle Barrling's Swedish team operated – with great efficiency – a classic 4-4-2 structure with two flat lines of four defending compactly enough for opponents to find little room for manoeuvre between the two lines. They were among the teams which the coaches rated as "difficult to break down" in recognition of solid training ground work on defensive systems. But even Sweden switched to a 4-3-3 structure for the final 10 minutes of the group game against the Irish, when trailing 2-1 and needing to win. England, similarly, switched from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 for the closing minutes of their opening fixture (when trailing Sweden 2-0), sending left-back Rosella Ayane forward to operate as a second striker.

UEFA's technical observer Jarmo Matikainen (right) discusses the final tournament

There were many other shades of meaning to be drawn. Scotland alternated between 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 according to match situations – starting with a switch from the former to the latter after half an hour in response to a disastrous start against the Netherlands. Belgium's structure could variously be described as 4-1-3-2 or 4-4-2 (with a midfield diamond), transforming to 4-3-3 when mirroring the opponents' structure during the final game against the Dutch.

The Dutch champions, along with Sweden, operated with two screening midfielders, while Scotland and Belgium oscillated between single and twin controlling players according to their switches of team structure. Spain opened the tournament with a twin screen and a support striker, only for Jorge Vilda to invert his triangle in the wake of the defeat against the Irish and field Maitane López as a 'midfield sweeper'. The other teams preferred to operate with a single screen in front of the back four, although England and Belgium fielded more than one player in this pivotal role.

Player analysis confirmed the trend away from the traditional playmaker, even though Dutch midfielder Inessa Kaagman was outstanding in spotting and delivering the decisive pass. UEFA's technical observers remarked that, instead of a playmaker, the most impressive teams were the ones with leaders in each line and that, with technical standards rising, leadership qualities are acquiring even greater relevance.


Sweden's Calle Barrling

The national DNA
Sweden coach Calle Barrling, backed by 10 seasons of experience at this level, commented: "We've all seen a fast development in women's football, especially in terms of professional standards of preparation and increased tactical awareness. But it's interesting to see that national identities are still visible. We might see similar concepts or similar philosophies, but they are interpreted and implemented in different ways according to each country's national DNA."

One of the notable features of the 2014 tournament was that it showcased a variety of styles and characteristics. Barrling himself commented: "We might be too accustomed to playing Norway, for example, so it was good to face, in a single group, three different styles and three different challenges."

The challenges to Sweden were posed by an England team equipped to play a quick passing game with positional interchanging, a Spain side which respected the national philosophy in terms of possession and combination play, and a Republic of Ireland team which, in the words of its coach, David Connell, displayed "the competitive spirit which is part of our culture". The Irish side's commitment and work ethic laid the foundations for a creditworthy debut, during which they were alone in (twice) fighting back from a 1-0 deficit to win the game – until running out of fuel in the semi-final against the Netherlands.


The Dutch scored from a cross

Set play successes
Four of the five goals scored by the Republic of Ireland stemmed from deadball situations: a corner and three free-kicks, one of them direct (the winner against Sweden struck by Megan Connolly). The Irish successes highlighted the potential of training ground work on deadball situations. On the other hand, their four goals represented almost half the total of set-play goals for the entire tournament. Scotland, Spain and the Netherlands were the only other teams to give life to the dead ball, with the latter joining the Irish in succeeding from a direct free-kick (Inessa Kaagman v Belgium).  A total of 105 corners yielded four goals, two of them materialised by Spain, almost alone in using the short corner option. Given their physical stature, Spain's ability to create danger from corners was generally derived from their expertise in reacting to the second ball rather than the original delivery. The number of corners, incidentally, was 20% down on the total of 131 at the previous two tournaments.

Having said that, the success rate of one goal per 26 corners in Norway compared favourably with ratios of around one in 40 in other UEFA competitions. The debating point for coaches of youth development teams is how much time can be productively devoted to rehearsals of deadball situations.

How the goals were scored
The tournament in Norway produced 36 goals, compared with 40 in 2013. The goalscoring pattern revealed sharp variations, among them the return of the diagonal pass into the penalty area, which in 2012 had been the most fertile source of goals, but which in 2013 had produced none. Two other salient features emerged. In 2013, over 20% of the goals had stemmed from crosses whereas, in Norway, only one goal (by the Dutch against the Irish) could be directly attributed to a cross. Again, there are shades of meaning to be drawn, as Spain's second goal against Sweden was a lofted pass from the left. But, given the point of delivery by left-back Nuria Garrote, it was strictly classed as a diagonal ball. It could also be pointed out that the two own goals were provoked by crosses from the right and left respectively for Sweden against England and the Netherlands against Scotland.

On the other hand, the 'success story' from Norway was the through pass, which accounted for one third of all the goals scored in open play. This provided statistical confirmation of the UEFA observers' view that the quality of middle-to-front supply registered significant improvement.

Improvement was also noted in athletic condition at a tournament in which, as Jarmo Matikainen remarked, "the physical demands are getting bigger and bigger". The log of when the goals were scored confirms that there was no noticeable sign of flagging in the closing stages, with goals remarkably evenly shared over the 90 minutes. However, physical preparation remains a concern for coaches, partly because of the timing of the final tournament and partly as a result of doubts about the parameters of fitness coaching at club level. These issues are addressed as a talking point elsewhere in this report.

Goalscoring table
Set playCornerDirect from or following a corner4
Set playFree-kick (direct)Direct from a free-kick2
Set playFree-kick (indirect)Following a free-kick3
Set playPenaltySpot kick (or follow-up)0
Set playThrow-inFollowing a throw-in0
Open playCombinationWall pass or three-player (or more) combination2
Open playCrossCross from the wing1
Open playCutbackPass back from the byline4
Open playDiagonalDiagonal pass into the penalty box5
Open playRun with the ballDribble and close-range shot or dribble and pass2
Open playLong-range shotDirect shot or shot and rebound1
Open playForward passThrough pass or pass over the defence9
Open playDefensive errorBad back-pass or mistake by the goalkeeper1
Open playOwn goalGoal by the opponent2

Goalscoring year by year

 2003 45 8 53 3.53
 2004 44 12 56 3.73
 2005 48 12 60 3.75
 2006 31 8 39 2.60
 2007 34 11 45 3.00
 2008 34 7 41 2.73
 2009 38 12 50 3.33
 2010 52 5 57 3.80
 2011 36 18 54 3.60
 2012 20 6 26 1.73
 2013 31 9 40 2.67
 2014 297 36 2.40

Goal times


Exploiting the wide areas
In accordance with the trend towards 4-3-3, most of the teams in Norway fielded wingers – with both finalists providing clear examples. Indeed, three of the five forwards selected for the UEFA team of the tournament operated on the flanks. Many more were shortlisted, including the likes of Scotland's Elizabeth Arnot, whose dribbling skills posed constant threats on the left, Norway's Marie Markusson, or Belgium's Lola Wijnblum, fielded in wide or central positions according to the playing formation. The tournament underscored the importance of developing players able to make the breakthrough via one-on-one situations in the wide areas. 

The striking difference
The final in Oslo offered an invitation to compare two 'strikers' of very different complexion: the powerful Dutch No9, Vivianne Miedema, and Spain's diminutive, elusive talent, Nahikari García. In Norway, Miedema provided an exception to the rule by hitting six goals in three-and-a-half matches. The other 30 goals were shared by 23 different scorers. The question facing coaches at player development levels is whether the trend towards 4-3-3 is reducing the quantity of – or the need for – specialised strikers in the traditional mould. Is the notable improvement in players' individual technique being matched by improvements in the creation of an end product or the art of finishing? The tables below indicate how the 1,350 minutes of football in Norway translated into attempts on goal.


OpponentOn targetOff targetBlockedWoodworkTotal


OpponentOn targetOff targetBlockedWoodworkTotal
Republic of Ireland676119


OpponentOn targetOff targetBlockedWoodworkTotal
Republic of Ireland923014


OpponentOn targetOff targetBlockedWoodworkTotal

Republic of Ireland

OpponentOn targetOff targetBlockedWoodworkTotal


OpponentOn targetOff targetBlockedWoodworkTotal


OpponentOn targetOff targetBlockedWoodworkTotal
Republic of Ireland791117


OpponentOn targetOff targetBlockedWoodworkTotal
Republic of Ireland456015

Note: attempts striking the woodwork are included in the on-target total if deflected by a goalkeeper or a defender and in the off-target total if the attempt strikes the woodwork directly.