The FIFA U20 World Cup has entered the latest phase of the tournament and the teams of both USA and Ecuador wanted to make an impact, and qualify for the semi-finals. This quarter-final proved to be a game between two equally strong teams which ended in a 1-2 win for Ecuador because of their counter-attacking football – as this tactical analysis will show.
In this tactical analysis supported by statistics, we will have a look at two tactical trends during this FIFA World Cup U20 game between USA and Ecuador. We will have a look at the attacking style of play of the USA using their 4-1-4-1 formation, and how Ecuador were successful with their counter-attacking football in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Tab Ramos, coach of the USA U20s, employed a 4-1-4-1 formation in this game against Ecuador, as he has done in the last few games. The role of Chris Durkin was important, as he played as the fifth defender in defensive mode, but also played in the five-man midfield during the attacking phase.
Ecuador‘s coach Jorge Célico had a slightly different approach. He played with a 4-2-3-1 formation with a low defensive block of Sergio Quintero and José Cifuentes, and a four-man defence. The attack was led by the sole striker Leonardo Campana who was joined by the attacking midfield with Jordan Rezabala playing behind Campana.
USA’s attacking style of play
The USA had an attacking style of play, and had eleven shots of which five were on target, (a conversation rate of 27.27%). They managed to score once via Timothy Weah, but their offensive style of play was what caused threatening situations on the opponents half. The USA not only attacked through the middle but also on both wings, as you can see in the image below.
Although the USA constructed ten attacks on the left flank and twelve attacks on the right flank, most threats came through the middle. As mentioned before, defensive midfielder Durkin was instrumental in their attacking setup alongside Paxton Pomykal. Durkin’s movement was vital in the attacking process by the USA.
As seen in the image above, Durkin dropped deep as the USA were building from the back. He joined the two central defenders and tried to build up an attack from there. In the process of dropping to the defence, the Ecuador striker Campana doesn’t mark him anymore.
Durkin switches from the defence to the midfield after he passes the ball to Chris Richards, and he makes sure that he’s in a position to receive the ball. This can be seen in the image below.
The movement of Durkin made him difficult to mark, especially because he switched from defence to midfield. Durkin was directly involved with the attacks on the opponent’s half as well. The ball often changed from team to team due to the high number of turnovers, but when the USA was on the ball and had time, Durkin started the attack.
Durkin chooses to play the ball side-ways to number 10 Pomykal. The number of passes that the USA played in this game was part of their attacking style of play, as they had a passing style of play as well. In this game, they played 495 passes of which 413 were successful (83.43%).
Pomykal received the ball five times from Durkin, and in the 58th minute of the game, you could see an example of how Pomykal sought to create an attacking opportunity for the USA.
The USA made two different options here. The first option was to pass the ball through the middle: when Pomykal gave enough weight on the pass, Soto would make a run into the box and try to get an attempt while beating the two central defenders.
The second option Pomykal had was to pass the ball to the upcoming full-backs. On this occasion in the 58th minute, Pomykal chose the latter and played the ball to the upcoming Dest on the right-flank as you can see below.
The intention was to give a cross, but the pass by Pomykal was too hard. The threat was not neutralised however, because the throw-in continued the attack. Again, it was Pomykal who was the start of the attack, as you can see in the image below.
As described above, most of the danger came through attacks through the middle. Such can be seen on the image above when Pomykal takes advantage of a throw-in. He passes the ball to Ulysses Llanez, who takes the ball to the right – drawing defenders to the right in the process. Llanez makes space for Sebastian Soto who makes a run in the opposite direction.
In the end, Soto has a great chance to score the equaliser but his attempt misses the target and Ecuador maintains their 1-2 lead in this quarter-final. Durkin and Pomykal were instrumental in building the attack from midfield.
Ecuador strong on the counter
The USA might have had a more attacking style of play, but the 4-2-3-1 employed by Ecuador was helping them create chances as well. The formation was especially successful on the break when recapturing the ball off the USA. An example from the 30th minute will show how Ecuador were effective on the counter.
USA attacked with all of their four midfielders and their full-backs, which left their wings exposed. Ecuador tried to exploit that with a swift counter-attack after getting the ball. This can be illustrated with the goal in the 30th minute.
After a USA attack, Ecuador cleared the ball and were in a duel to win the ball. Both full-backs were slowly making their way forward in case Ecuador started their swift counter-attack.
In the image above you can see that Cifuentes has the ball and that the four players on the image are the four attacking players in the formation. Because Ecuador came out quickly, only one USA midfielder (Durkin) could assist the defence, which left Ecuador with the advantage. Ecuador midfielder Cifuentes has different options going forward, but Campana on the right seems the hardest option as he is marked by three American defenders.
Eventually, Cifuentes doesn’t pass to his Ecuador teammates but goes for the attempt himself. He’s successful because his long-range shot makes sure that Ecuador takes the lead in the 30th minute of the game as a result of a well-played counter attack.
Ecuador would have eight counter-attacks in this game, of which three would end with a shot on goal, scoring one of them.
This quarter-final was a thrilling match between two equally equipped sides and, although being decided in the first half, it was an intense 90 minutes to watch. The USA had a strong attacking style of play, but their lack of big opportunities made it tough for them in this game. Ecuador, however, took most of their chances when they would break on the counter – and that saw them advance to the semi-final.