By Sam Polak
United Soccer Coaches member Sam Polak has written for several soccer publications including, MLSsoccer.comand FourFourTwo, and is currently an opposition analyst for the USL side Oklahoma City Energy FC. The majority of his work focuses on the underlying tactical and technical concepts of soccer that run consistent through all levels of the game.
Not a lot of people may have expected Croatia to come away with such a lopsided victory over Argentina. But one guy who probably had a funny feeling that a 3-0 rout was in fact possible, if not likely, is Romeo Jozak.
Jozak, the former Technical Director for the Croatian Football Federation, has presented at a couple United Soccer Coaches conventions and can be seen facilitating a particularly phenomenal session below.
Titled “Dynamic and Functional Technique – Phases and Progression”, the session is all about offensive 1 v 1 movement off the ball in preparation for receiving a pass (If you have time, I highly recommend you watch the footage above in full, but I’ll mention key moments from the video below that you can jump to directly).
There are two key overarching principles that really lie at the root of the session. When a player is marked by a defender away from the action and the ball is soon to be played forward to him, he can:
- Stay facing the direction the ball came from and then make a pass based on his view of the field with his back to goal.
- Try and create the opportunity to receive the ball facing forward so the next decision can be made based on a wider view of the options up field.
These two ideas are not revolutionary.
That’s exactly why the training session is so useful though; the two themes are inescapably apparent within the context of the game. They are in fact so ubiquitous that the quintessential examples from the Croatia v. Argentina match below come from both teams— not just Croatia.
The first principle from the video above begins to become evident at 31:44. Jozak works with a group of teenagers on how lose their marker before the ball arrives, but if unable to, how to then shield the ball and play the next pass within their current field of view.
This is exactly what Mario Mandzukic demonstrates below.
Ivan Perisic creates space in a 1 v 1 off the ball in a similar instance below as well. The Croatian is put under pressure promptly enough that he does not have the ability to adjust the angle of his body and he has an even narrower choice for his next pass, which requires he play the ball almost directly back where it came from.
Seeing the live examples from the World Cup match, there is an inarguable link between the training exercises and actual gameplay.
The second principle mentioned above also happened numerous times and is initially brought up in the training session above at 28:24. This time it’s Sergio Aguero of Argentina who most clearly executes this skill during the game.
In a 1 v 1 battle off the ball, Aguero establishes enough daylight between he and his marker that he can receive a pass at an angle that allows him to look forward. Consequently, he has different, more threatening options for his next pass than in the previous two examples.
Similarly, Argentina’s Maximiliano Meza receives the ball facing forward in the next sequence. But this time, as seen at 34:14 in the session above, he deceptively creates the space to receive the ball behind his defender while still being able to look up field. Even though it was Croatia’s opposition in this moment, I bet Jozak would have been proud of Meza’s movement here — keeping his defender off balance and putting himself in a position with a wide variety of options.
Both teams showed how the simplified exercises outlined in Jozak’s session can be successfully applied in game. In this specific match, though the application of the tools Jozak goes through were not exclusively what separated the teams, the fact that the Croatian team likely had their attention focused on these ideas more intensively and deliberately in years past, certainly gave them a leg up.
What’s more interesting and important yet still is that profoundly useful training sessions don’t have to be flashy or complicated. This session’s strength lies in how simply it reduces an unavoidable part of the game that players will inevitable encounter in any given match they play. Even better, as seen, players can continue to carry these skills with them as far as their competitive careers go, even if that’s the World Cup.