#Individuality behind the collective

Part 2: Offensive transitions

Tony Colbert, 05 Apr 2022


We kick off the series with the first article focusing on a display of technical and tactical cohesion that combines breakneck speed with technical precision resulting in an exhilarating example of a textbook counter-attack.

The video footage we examine is from the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ round-of-16 encounter between Belgium and Japan. We pick things up in the 48th minute, when the contest was goalless. We will take a step-by-step look at a fabulous counter-attack from Japan, before exploring the individual contributions from the team's number 7, 8 and 14, highlighting the individual qualities within their contribution to the collective.

Japan's lead in minute 48

Key qualities

Seizing opportunity: offensive opportunism displayed by individual players and collective cohesion between players.

Game understanding: technical and tactical awareness displayed by individual players and collective cohesion between players.

Technical coordination: technical ability and quality of execution displayed by individual players and collective cohesion between players.

Dissection number 14

The action begins with a Belgium player in possession on the right side of the final third. The player spots the opportunity to play a short give-and-go between two Japan players to a team-mate, who is positioned near to the right edge of the penalty box. The next sequence of action is the catalyst for the great counter-attack that is the subject of our analysis.

Japan's number 14 makes a strong recovery run and regains possession, before playing an infield pass that travels approximately ten metres to the team's number 7. That is the extent (simplicity) of number 14's contribution, which is certainly not as insignificant (or simplistic) as it may initially appear. Indeed, if we take a closer look at the sequence of his actions, we identify a host of key player qualities that are pivotal to the outcome.

Key qualities

At this stage of the action, number 14 has already showcased a number of key qualities, as outlined below.

  • Tactical awareness: displayed by his body positioning at the start of the sequence, which enables him to challenge for the ball.

  • Spatial awareness: the quick over-the-shoulder glance provides him with sensory information and means that he is well placed to intercept the pass.

  • Tactical alertness: demonstrates the speed of thought to cut across the runner’s path.

  • Tactical discipline: the sprint completed during the recovery displays full commitment and uncompromising discipline.

Had that been the extent of number 14's contribution and even had he not touched the ball, he would certainly still have deserved warm applause from the stands for an inspired piece of danger-averting defensive play. However, his contribution extended much further, with defensive intent occupying only a part of his thought process.

Indeed, he possessed the mental agility and audacity to see offensive opportunism in the midst of defensive adversity. Not content with simply diverting the ball from danger with a toe-poked interception, he recognised that Belgium may have been slightly exposed to a counter-attack, given that no fewer than five of the Red Devils' players were positioned in and around Japan's penalty box. Within the next split second, the whole action switched from a defensive recovery to a counter-attack.

We now have a line of Belgium players who are out of the action, a Japanese trident who have space in front of them and are poised, ready to spring into action, with a game-intelligent player on the ball and orchestrating the play. These ingredients combine to make the perfect recipe for a counter-attack. It is worth noting the impact made by number 14, who, at this stage, has had just one touch of the ball.

Before the number 14 makes the infield pass, the three Japan players involved in the move would all appear to be tactically aligned and have a similar game picture.

Key qualities

That concludes our analysis of number 14's involvement in the move, but before moving on, we want to summarise the key qualities displayed in the second part of his contribution.

  • Tactical awareness: aware of his team's potential attacking threat against a possibly vulnerable backline.

  • Tactical alertness: displays the speed of thought to seize the opportunity.

  • Technical awareness: demonstrates the technical understanding and know-how to lead a quick transition from defence into attack.

  • Spatial awareness: evidenced by the look up to see peripherally beyond the number 7 to identify number 8’s intention to accelerate in behind, while also recognising the need to buy some precious seconds to allow the number 8 to advance a little higher up the pitch. Coming inside and taking an extra touch serves to gain extra seconds and reduce the tempo of the move before playing a weighted pass into the number 7.
Focus on Japan's number 14

Dissection number 7

Our focus in the following video clip turns to Japan's number 7, the middle man in our telepathic trio, as we examine his involvement in the move and highlight the individual qualities and subtleties within his overall contribution.

Key qualities

Having analysed number 7's individual contribution, it is now time to summarise the key qualities he displayed during the move.

  • Spatial awareness: before receiving the pass from the number 14, the quick scan across the line of players to spot the number 8 preparing for full offensive acceleration provided the number 7 with valuable spatial information that enabled him to make an instant decision and clearly visualise his intended pass.

  • Tactical awareness: the fact that the number 7 had a clear game picture before receiving the ball, instead of having to formulate a picture after receiving the pass, offered him an advantage that bought him some time and allowed him to focus solely on his technical quality, which ultimately served to enhance the quality of the pass.

  • Technical awareness: he clearly demonstrated this quality with the deft touches that allowed him to set himself up to play the intended pass.

  • Technical coordination: the pass was perfectly timed, weighted and placed to meet the number 8's run and succeeded in moving the play to the very area where it would cause most damage.
Focus on Japan's number 7

Dissection number 8

We are now going to move on to discuss the last player in our trident, the number 8. Although his technical contribution was minimal with just one touch, his actions produced the maximum contribution to the outcome. The player, who is active throughout the move, delivers an end product that is worthy of gracing any game on any stage.

We pick the action up with the number 8 advancing towards the penalty area as the ball rolls into his path and he prepares to grab hold of the baton in this metaphorical relay race.

Key qualities

Having studied number 8's contribution, it is time to highlight the key qualities demonstrated during his involvement in the move.

  • Tactical awareness: scanning infield when the number 14 was on the ball allowed him to update his sensory information and focus on his objective.

  • Spatial awareness: the intermittent over-the-shoulder scans towards the number 7 while moving at pace enabled him to align his angle of movement and tempo with the timing, weight and trajectory of the pass from the number 7.

  • Technical awareness: allowing the ball to run a little wider offered him a better shooting position.

  • Technical composure: he displayed real poise when it mattered most in a high-pressure situation on the greatest stage of them all.

  • Technical coordination: the execution and accuracy of his shot evidenced a high level of coordination in his technique.
Focus on Japan's number 8


The move under analysis offered an example of football of the highest standard from start to finish, featuring opportunism, tactical communication and technical execution of the very highest order.

Our in-depth analysis highlighted the individual qualities moulded together to deliver a superlative display of technical and tactical cohesion between three players in what represented a fine demonstration of complex simplicity.

The sequence comprised at least 12 individual actions, eight of which involved no contact with the ball. These were game facilitators, the nuts and bolts of the move or the subtle nuances that despite being minor in their own right, were highly significant in terms of their individual impact. Indeed, if just one of these was removed from the collective sequence, the outcome would almost certainly have been very different.

Full counter-attack with telestrations

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