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Jun 29, 2014

Tactics Board: Dutch play long; Greek bombardment

Bruno Martins
This shows where Bruno Martins Indi was passing, with long, diagonal balls.

Netherlands 2-1 Mexico

The Netherlands have played different forms of direct football in this World Cup. For the group-stage games against Spain and Chile, they relied on swift counterattacking. When they were 1-0 down to Mexico, that wasn't an option, so they took more of an aerial route. You could call it a long-ball game.

Bruno Martins Indi's passing map in the final 40 minutes demonstrates their approach. The substitute came on as one of the centre-backs in a 5-3-2 system but ended up at left-back, aiming diagonal balls toward Dirk Kuyt and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar so Arjen Robben could play off them. The dots in and just outside the Mexico box in the centre or on the right indicate long passes, aimed from the left.

Kuyt's role was also revealing. He started off as a left wing-back, moved to right-back and then spent a spell in attack. It produced one of the odder touch maps, showing the versatility of the man who made his 100th appearance.

His game is based on running, and it was telling that Mexico had more of the possession -- 56 percent to 44 percent -- and a much higher pass completion rate, 87 percent to 77 percent, as the Netherlands played far more long passes. What Mexico did from distance was simple: shoot. It has been a ploy of theirs throughout the tournament and brought their goal.

Greece
Greece piled on the shots, but found Keylor Navas in the way.

Greece 1-1 Costa Rica (Costa Rica win on pens)

Greece aren't often described as attacking, and with good reason: they only scored three goals in 390 minutes of football in this World Cup. But with Costa Rica down to 10 men and Greece first needing an equaliser and then chasing a winner, they were uncharacteristically offensive.

After Fernando Santos made his substitutions, he had four forwards on the pitch, with replacements Fanis Gekas and Kostas Mitroglu playing as strikers and Georgios Samaras and Lazaros Christodopoulos operating as wingers, plus a very attacking left-back, Jose Holebas, who delivered 16 crosses, more than the entire Costa Rica team. There were five Greeks within 12 yards of Los Ticos' goal when Sokratis Papastathopoulos levelled.

Greece's shot map in that period shows that, by their standards, it was a bombardment and also indicates how well Keylor Navas played -- in particular with his extra-time saves from Christodopoulos and Mitroglu -- to take the game to a penalty shootout, when he made an outstanding save to deny Gekas and help send Costa Rica through to the quarterfinals for the first time. All in all, it was a performance to enhance Navas' case to be named the best goalkeeper of this World Cup.

Chile
Chile's pressing game allowed them to make interceptions, especially on the wings.

Brazil 1-1 Chile (Brazil win on pens)

Chile's pressing game has disturbed every opponent they have encountered this World Cup, and Brazil were no exception. They tackle high up the field, and just as significantly, the way they commit men forward when they don't have the ball gives them a chance to intercept passes. The wing-backs lead the way, with Eugenio Mena and Mauricio Isla recording three interceptions apiece. As the diagram above shows, Chile often regain possession in the opposition's half in wide areas. While it wasn't strictly counted as an interception, when Eduardo Vargas met Hulk's misplaced pass near the touchline, it led to Alexis Sanchez's goal.

There are different ways to respond to Chile's approach. The Netherlands decided they couldn't play them at their own game and opted to sit back and play on the counterattack. Brazil chose to take Chile on, playing a high-tempo pressing game themselves.

Luiz Gustavo had been a disciplined holding midfielder in the group games. His first-half touch map shows how he was operating like a Chile central midfielder, advancing in the style of Charles Aranguiz or Marcelo Diaz to play in the other half. Brazil played a more restrained game thereafter, sitting deeper -- perhaps because of fatigue in a match that lasted 120 minutes -- but they surprised at the start.

James Rodriguez
Oscar Tabarez tried many formations, but none could contain James Rodriguez.

Colombia 2-0 Uruguay

Oscar Tabarez has proved to be one of the tournament's most flexible tacticians. He began the World Cup playing an orthodox and rather rigid 4-4-2 then brought in Nicolas Lodeiro and switched to a diamond midfield in 4-3-1-2. Against Colombia, he opted for a third system, 3-5-2, only to abandon the plan and revert to 4-3-1-2 when Uruguay were two goals down. When Abel Hernandez came on, they went to 4-3-3.

The new shape backfired, however, partly because of the movement of the Colombians. James Rodriguez scored twice, and his first, a spectacular volley, showed his ability to elude opponents. The Monaco man was in a perfect definition of the area described as "between the lines" -- around halfway between the Uruguay defenders and midfielders -- when he struck.

It poses a question: Does a centre-back come out to mark him or a midfielder drop in? On this occasion, neither provided the correct answer.

Rodriguez started the tournament as a No. 10, appeared in the No. 10 position to open the scoring and took his second from a striker's spot on the edge of the six-yard box, but he actually played wide in a 4-4-2 shape. But as his touch map indicates, he swapped flanks.

The other main reason for Colombia's fluidity was Juan Cuadrado. The Fiorentina player had operated more as a right winger in their group games -- perhaps persuading Tabarez to bring in specialist left-back Alvaro Pereira -- but proved capable of interchanging positions with Rodriguez. He spent much of the match on Colombia's left, and it was indicative of the way Uruguay's plans failed that Pereira was substituted in their first change of shape.