Euro 2008 Formations German Experts Predict Offensive Football

At the World Cup two years ago, trainers were still focusing on defensive football. Now experts believe that, during Euro 2008, the national teams will play a fast and offensive game like the big international clubs in the Champions League.

By Christoph Biermann

The next generation of German football scouts is sitting in lecture hall 3 at the German Sport University Cologne, analyzing a scene from a football game they are watching on a screen.

They are being bombarded by questions: Is the scene they are watching important? How should one rate the way the midfielder took control of the ball? And does his dribbling really exhibit good ball control? The scene, which lasts only a few seconds, is played over and over many times before the students finally come up with an analysis that would meet Urs Siegenthaler's high standards.

Siegenthaler is the Swiss chief scout for the German national team. He initiated this match analysis project ahead of the 2006 World Cup. At that time, the students were able to find out, among other things, how Argentinean strikers prefer to take penalty shootouts.

Now the 36 students under football lecturer Jürgen Buschmann have analyzed the 15 other teams participating in the Euro 2008. In addition to counting how many times each player has possession of the ball, they have also evaluated the situations based on Siegenthaler's criteria. They have put together a roughly 80-page handbook for each team, providing German national team trainer Joachim Löw with information about their strengths and weaknesses. DVDs with match scenes are included.

The dossiers also include information about which injuries Poland's center forward had, whether an Austrian defender will be keen to shine at Euro 2008 because he is on the lookout for a new club, and what expectations Croatians have of their national side.

The goal is to discover what the German team can expect in this European Championship. Which players can it expect to be matched up against? Which playing systems are preferred? And who is playing offensively or defensively?

Based on their research, the Cologne analysts can also make predictions about what audiences can expect at this year's championship. "Most of the teams are so strong that they are focusing on their own capabilities," says Buschmann. In other words, they will not attempt to disrupt their opponents' games, but instead will concentrate on their own game.

State of Play

The current status of the game is determined at the major tournaments, which take place every two years. Modern football, the way it is played in the Champions League or in England's Premier League, is a fast-paced game. In these matches, players run an average of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) during a match, sprinting for up to two kilometers of the total. The ball is constantly traveling at higher and higher speeds, because the time between receiving and passing the ball is getting shorter and shorter.

At Manchester United, the winner of the Champions League, the players whose job it is to stop the opposing team's attacks are in possession of the ball for an average of less than one second per contact. The faster the ball circulates, the better, goes the thinking. German national team trainer Löw has also spent the last two years trying to increase his team's playing speed. Although such innovations and trends always begin in the clubs, they don't become standard practice until the national teams compete in the World Cup and European Championship.

Fans can hope to see offensive football at Euro 2008, as there is often a switch between offensive and defensive strategies from one tournament to the next. The last European Championship, with its many goals, was followed by the World Cup, in which the teams withdrew into defense. That was the way it was in 2006, which suggests that fans could see plenty of goals being shot this summer.

The tournaments also set tactical standards. At the 1972 European Championship, the sweeper, or the free man behind the defense, took center stage in the form of Franz Beckenbauer. Then at the 1998 World Cup, the sweeper left the stage once again, because the defensive game was flexibly oriented toward the ball from then on. At the 2006 World Cup, the defensive center received a partner from the defense, traditionally the player with the number six on his jersey. This position is now called "double six" in Germany.

Professionals like Volker Finke, a trainer with the German team SC Freiburg for many years and now an expert for Swiss television, are convinced that an arrangement with one double six in midfield and two offensive players on the sides behind the two strikers is ideal. "This makes it possible to play very well both offensively and defensively," he says.

It is important, however, says Finke, that the two players in front of the defense are not at the same level, but are staggered. Incidentally, this is precisely the way midfielders Michael Ballack and Torsten Frings play in the German national side's midfield.

The Dutch team, on the other hand, has undergone a remarkable transformation. For decades, it considered itself the keepers of the three-striker formation, with two of them classic wingers. But now the team's trainer, Marco van Basten, has successfully switched to a 4-2-3-1 system. A trio, which supports the lone center forward Ruud van Nistelrooy, is now positioned in midfield in front of the double six. "This is less demanding in terms of team tactics, because it's easier for the players," says Finke. It is also interesting that Italy has now adopted the old Dutch system: In a 4-3-3 system, center forward Luca Toni is supported by two genuine wingers.


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