#033 - The World Cup Diaries - Day 23 (Part 2)
We are the bumblebees!
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This is the second part of the previous newsletter tackling the game between Japan and Sweden. You can read my analysis for Spain vs Netherlands, here!
The 2011 winners and the only previous winner remaining, Japan, were up against “always the bridesmaid but never the bride” of international football, Sweden. Knockout football is a different beast and Sweden have tamed that beast for large parts whereas this Nadeshiko side were bending fire this tournament.
Let’s dissect this game between two of the brightest managers in WoSo!
Match 58: Japan 1-2 Sweden
This was a matchup between the most impressive side at the World Cup and a side who understands knockout football better than most. Japan had outplayed every single team they had come up against so far but they were about to face the bumblebees.
This was a truly brilliant game involving an astute gameplan and an even better counter-plan. Let’s begin with the lineups selections and what they suggested.
Japan stuck with their 3-4-3 formation but made a key tweak on the left wingback position as Hina Sugita replaced Jun Endo. The seemed like a defensive tweak in order to deal with Sweden’s right sided combinations. Sugita has a defensive edge to her while retaining a very high technical proficiency.
Sweden went with an unchanged lineup in their typical 4-2-3-1. The ideas for Sweden were the same as always, a very well organized 4-4-2 block against the block coupled with a high press. One of the main reasons for Sweden’s consistency at major tournaments is that Blagut have a very solid floor thanks to their defensive acumen.
A quick glance at the numbers and we see the ball was shared evenly between the two sides as both generated similar number of shots as well but this doesn’t tell the whole story.
The reason for Sweden’s successful gameplan was multifold. Peter Gerhardsson’s side utilized a high press and narrow positioning of the left winger to stifle Japan’s buildup play.
Look at this screenshot to better understand what Sweden were doing during Japan’s buildup. Sweden tried to make the pitch small by using numbers to force the issue once the ball went out wide. They forced the ball wide by closely marking the central options.
Focus on how narrow Rolfo (#18) is in the screenshot above, despite being the left winger, she is closely stuck to Hasegawa (#14). Sweden have used six players to apply pressure and force a turnover from Japan. The front two for Sweden have done an excellent job here with their angled runs to half the pitch.
The collective effort of the ‘bumblebees’ to hunt in packs caused Japan so many problems.
An example of this pressing approach can be seen in this sequence of play. Focus on Sweden’s #18 (Rolfo) and how closely she follows Japan’s #14 (Hasegawa). We can see the swarm of bumblebees as the ball moves towards the left hand side for Japan.
Gerhardsson’s side moved with rhyme and reason and intensity and it made it extremely difficult for Futoshi Ikeda’s side. Sweden were able to generate 107 forced turnovers in the game thanks to this approach and didn’t allow Japan any shots until the 63rd minute in the game.
While Japan struggled they didn’t submit. Although the approach was sound and suffocated Japan there were ways to beat it.
Committing as many as six players to one side would leave Sweden a little thin on the weak side. Japan understood this and had the tools to exploit it.
Japan solved this situation in-game by having their wide center-backs exploit the space in the wide areas by ball carrying or using a switch of play to the weak side to regain territory and push the Swedish bumblebees back to create chances.
However, some of it came a little too late for Japan.
While Sweden’s off-the-ball gameplan was sound and worked, they knew what to do when they did have the ball as well. Japan sat off in their 5-4-1 midblock and Sweden found a way to attack the space left in behind their backline on a consistent basis.
If we look at the deep completion map for Sweden, we can notice this trend. A lot of Sweden’s box entries originated deep into their own half or close to the halfway line. The majority of their entries came from Bjorn on the right hand side.
Here is a compilation of Sweden using the run of their striker (Stina Blackstenius) or right winger (Kaneryd) to attack the wide channel between the wide centerback and the wingback. Nadeshiko didn’t have the best of times dealing with these balls. Sweden attempted the most linebreaks going over the defensive line (49) compared to playing through (36) or around it (39) in the game.
Sweden’s success with their gameplan is evident in the pass network as well. We see no significant connections from Japan’s midfielders (#14 and #10) to other players and we notice very strong connections out wide, especially on the right. The Sugita change as the left wingback didn’t work as intended as they lost the offensive explosiveness of Endo as well and they quickly made the change at the start of the second half.
For Sweden we see the right sided combinations very distinctly. They used four players, moving around in harmony to create good passing triangles out in the wide area to try and penetrate into the final third.
Japan’s resurgence began after the 71st minute, which is also exactly the time Sweden made their first subs. It was always going to be impossible for Sweden to maintain the level throughout the 90 minutes without getting leggy. It showed as Japan chased the game, they threw bodies forward and moved the ball quicker but also Sweden got slower.
The result was a penalty, which Ueki unfortunately crashed into the crossbar and an 87th minute goal after multiple penalty box entries and the double whammy of a freekick hitting the crossbar and the inside of the post and still keeping out.
In the end, it was a goal from the second phase of a freekick and a penalty from corner situation that gave Sweden the lead on the scoreboard. Japan’s initial tweak didn’t work as intended and they were already trailing the Swedes by two goal by the time they fixed it.
Sweden’s performance was a very big collective effort. Rubensson was probably the standout player for the Swedes with her excellent positional discipline and tidy nature on the ball. She kept the midfield together and was the fulcrum around whom the Swedish press pivoted.
There was one player however who grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and imposed herself on it. The 19-year-old Aoba Fujino.
Fujino absolutely ascended in the second half and caused so many problems with her pace, directness and exceptional skills on the ball. She was a menace when carrying the ball and showed good composure in tight spaces as well. She helped contribute massively in Japan’s off-the-ball scheme as well. At 19, she is only going to get better and might even turn out to be a complete forward with her skillset.
Margins are tiny in knockout football and Sweden understand it better than most. This performance was their best of the tournament and they got the result they needed. Japan still played the best football and almost overcame this deficit, from Ikeda’s perspective this team can only go in one direction and get more threatening as another great generation of youth players are incorporated in the side.
The Swedes haved conquered
The reigning defending champions: USA
The footballing chameleons and the only other remaining World Cup winner: Japan
Next up on the menu is Spain.
Highlight of the day
How did this stay out is still unclear to me but Fujino is going to be a menace!