Modern trends change in Women’s Under-20 football

The inaugural COSAFA Under-20 Women’s Championship will be played in Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality from August 1-11 and will showcase the talent of Southern African players in this age-group.

Women’s football in general has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years and is the biggest growth area in the sport, with African teams starting to embrace further the popularity of the game.

The 2018 FIFA Women’s Under-20 World Cup in France brought together the best on the planet in the age-group and FIFA’s Technical Study Group (TSG), that assesses trends at major tournaments, closely monitored the action.

They came up with some fascinating insights into changes in the game and put these into their post-tournament report.

We have compiled a list of the most pertinent of these to show how the women’s game is changing at the Under-20 level.      For all coaches who work at this level, it is essential reading to see how they can improve their teams and maintain modern standards in football.

* A total of 98 goals were scored at the FIFA Women’s U-20 World Cup France 2018, at a rate of 3.09 per game. This represented the lowest tally since the competition was expanded to a 16-team tournament in 2006. A possible explanation for this decline is a general improvement in defensive organisation and goalkeeping, as discussed later.

* Only 19 goals came from set pieces, representing a rather low ratio and underlining the paramount importance of creativity, combination play and speed, with better scoring opportunities being fashioned from open play.

* There were only three headed goals among the total of 98. Goalkeepers commanding their areas well and the strong aerial ability of central defenders could be seen as contributing factors to this number being so low.

* A key difference was noticeable between the European nations, which predominantly favoured a 4-3-3 formation, with minor variations, and the Asian nations, whose approach was a 4-4-2. Haiti, Paraguay and the USA also preferred 4-3-3, while Brazil, New Zealand, Nigeria and Mexico played with a four-player midfield. Another particularly noteworthy trend was how all the teams switched shape when they defended.

* The overall quality of defending was very high, with the low number of goals scored compared to previous Under-20 Women’s World Cups at least partly attributable to improved defensive organisation, which was evident across the board.

* An ability to regain their defensive shape very quickly was one of the defining characteristics of the sides that reached the quarter-finals. All of the teams dropped their wingers into midfield when defending, showing great discipline and bearing out the amount of defensive work carried out in training.

* Whereas in the past, two holding midfielders may have been more common, with many considering it too risky to entrust just one player with this responsibility, the quality of these players appears to be rising. Indeed, coaches now seem more open to employing just one midfielder in this position, as evidenced by the number of sides playing in a 4-3-3 formation.

* Speed – not limited to jet-heeled runs or slick passing, but also taking in the ability to read the game and react to situations as they develop – was a significant contributing factor to (champions) Japan’s success in France. It was also a trend observed among many of the other teams, with the elevated tempo of the games standing out.

* One of the main trends observed at the tournament was the effectiveness of the wing play, with many of the participating nations – and notably those who progressed to the knockout stage – ensuring width was used to incisive effect.

* Japan’s wingers often drifted infield and Brazil used their two centre-forwards to create width, consequently leaving a large gap in the middle that their wide midfielders exploited by making diagonal runs inside.

* Equally eye-catching were the ability and willingness to take risks, in what was a departure from certain tendencies previously associated with women’s football. In the past, finding a better-placed team-mate may have been preferred to attempting a defence-splitting pass that could carry a degree of risk. In France, however, the first thought when in the final third was not necessarily “who is better positioned than me?” but rather “what is the most decisive pass to play?”

To read the full TSG report, click here.