With the group stage now over, two members of the FIFA Technical Study Group (TSG) have outlined their initial reflections on the action at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013. Analysing the games up close, the expert duo have been able to cast light on the emerging trends and dominant tactics.
For Muhsin Ertugral, the quality of the football has been particularly pleasing, and the Ajax Cape Town manager has also enjoyed watching the divergent styles of play on show. "Youth football improves from year to year – in physical, technical and tactical terms – but what's really pleased me is that cultural influence has been playing a huge role," explained the former Kaizer Chiefs and Congo DR coach. "The South Americans continue to produce excellent No10s, and African sides also have a special type of player in midfield, whose function is tied up with a concept that's almost naive, and which I'd call: 'Express yourself.'"
As for Finland coach Mixu Paatelainen, the former striker with the likes of Bolton Wanderers, Aberdeen and Dundee United has been keeping a close eye on the pre-eminent strategic approaches. "The formation that's been used the most is 4-2-3-1," he said. "That's undoubtedly because it's a flexible system that allows teams to protect their defence with two holding midfielders while also spreading the play wide by using wingers. Lots of sides have also changed their system during games in response to the scoreline, with most switching to 4-4-2. Uruguay, for example, have done that to great effect. But it's important to point out that the key isn't the system but the movement of the players around the system."
In addition, the two experts have noted a split between teams defending zonally and those opting for man marking, plus a general trend of building attacks from the back. They have nonetheless been struck by the observation that the transition to attacking play is less effective in U-20 sides than in their senior counterparts. "That's linked to the fact that the teams, particularly in the group stage, are concerned above all with not losing the ball in midfield," said Paatelainen. "Quick transitions can be risky on that score, but that could all change in the knockout phase."
Originally from Turkey, Ertugral has been paying special attention to the hosts, and he feels that they have plenty of room for improvement. "We need to train our players younger and for a longer period of time," he explained. "Having this tournament here has been crucial in terms of realising the standard of other teams at this age level elsewhere in the world. When you look at Spain, whose players are already playing like their elders, the similarity is impressive. And that's the road Turkey have yet to take."
More than anything, though, Ertugral and Paatelainen – who will continue their work until the end of the tournament – have both been savouring the overall quality so far, with a raft of statistics lending credence to their point of view. In particular, no fewer than 101 goals have been scored at an average of 2.81 per game, while two sides – Uruguay and Colombia – have conceded just once and Portugal have hit the back of the net ten times.
The only stats still lagging behind are the attendance figures at games, and Ertugral took the opportunity to pass on a message to supporters: "We've seen lots of talented players and thrilling matches, and I hope we'll see more people in the stadiums to watch the entertainment in the knockout stage."