1996 European Championships
Semi Final 1
France 0 – 0 Czech Republic (Czech Republic win 6-5 on Penalties)
Old Trafford, Manchester
Wednesday 26th June 1996
By Alistair Bain (@allybain)
To give us some context on the data here is a quick overview of each team:
France Attacking Structure
- France would set up in a similar 4321 system, however with the suspensions of both Deschamps and Karembeu it would impact the roles and responsibilities within their set up.
- Both full backs would continue to be used as the attacking width in the match, driving forward in possession to carry the ball into the opponents half, but also moving forward off the ball to support the attacks and even enter the final third as the widest point in which to deliver crosses into the box.
- Desailly would play a more dynamic role than Deschamps typically would, using players close by and in front of him in which to combine, using give and go passes to progress forward and attack the space behind his direct opponent.
- As a means of covering for Desailly Lamouchi was more conservative in his positioning, but would also at times pull into wide areas if Thuram was unable to get forward.
- Djorkaeff and Zidane again worked between the lines, this time receiving the ball as it came inside from wide areas, and then using each other to combine to goal.
- Loko worked tirelessly to pull wide into the channels, not only to receive a pass and pull out a Czech defender, but also to allow space for Djorkaeff to advance forward into with a penetrating run.
Czech Republic Attacking Structure
- Czech Republic altered their shape very slightly, moving into what in many phases looked like a 3421 (343).
- Drulak looked to peel wide and run the channels, thus pulling his opposition center back out of pocket, and allowing his teammates to penetrate into the central space.
- Nemec and Nemecek covered the central spaces, but were also assisted with Kadlec who would at times step into midfield.
- Nedved and Novotny would start as the wide players/wing backs in this system, however Nedved was given license to move inside, whereas Novotny covered the wide areas very well on the left. Infront of them both was their inside forwards, Smicer and Poborsky respectively. Both worked extremely hard in transition to carry the ball into the central spaces, pull France out of their defensive shape, but were also able to combine well with their outside mids/wing backs, giving them the support they required to break down France’s ball side press.
WHAT DO THE NUMBERS TELL US?
Value of Chances
From a purely competitive perspective this match was a dog fight right from the start. Each team would trade blows fairly regularly, with the only major dip in form coming from France in the latter part of the second half. The French would rally in Extra Time to make a comeback, but a goal was always going to be hard to come by with both sides boasting such a strong defense structure.
Its perhaps unsurprising that there wasn’t a single “Big Chance” in this match, (Opta Def: A situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score, usually in a one on one scenario or from very close range when the ball has a clear path to goal) with either side unlikely to offer their opponent an unopposed opportunity in the box. We saw small upticks on a few occasions from both sides later in regulation, and 1 a piece in extra time, but the deadlock proved too tough to break on this occasion.
Type of Chances Created
If we study the French key pass map first we can see there was a high volume of central chance creation, which of course stacks up with their formation, but also speaks to the frequency of their combination play with Desailly, Zidane & Djorkaeff. While Lizarazu and Thuram stretched play well, they lacked a target striker that can dominate in crossing situations, so quite often with the ball in wide areas we saw cut backs to central players or square passes inside to Djorkaeff or Zidane to attempt to advance the ball from the top of the box.
It’s surprising that the French would only create 2 counter attacks in the match, as they had ranked as one of the highest at the tournament in counter attacks created overall (17 in total prior to the start of play) however given they were without the dynamic movements of Karembeu and the hold up play of Dugarry, then perhaps build up play was a more viable option for a team with so many technical ball players. Lamouchi and Guerin moved the ball well but failed to penetrate into the final third, Desailly combined well but was playing in front of the Czech’s press and was tracked heavily whenever he picked up the ball. The Czech’s are also a side that are well organized in defensive transition, so finding space was naturally hard to come by. The only threat France had in behind was from the runs of Loko, who France found in behind once with any real degree of success, but it’s the lack of stretching play that will become more evident when we see their shot locations map in a moment.
The Czech’s once again showed their willingness to use counter attacking situations to progress forward in attack. In Smicer and Poborsky they have players who are able to carry the ball at pace very effectively, and with their inside positioning it often isolated them 1v1 with the French center backs. Its surprising they weren’t able to register more shots on target from the counter (1 out of 6 hitting the target) however we’d see a much larger upsurge in conversion from Build up Play. 5 of their 6 attacks hit the target from this pattern of play, which again speaks to how direct Smicer and Poborsky were in the first half, aided and abetted by Berger and Nedved in the second. Their key pass of choice would be 60/40 between short passes and through passes respectively, which speaks to the positive forward passing movements of this Czech side who are forceful in playing forward quickly.
Where Chances are Created
Given where France’s shots on goal take place, in terms of placement, I think their chance creation has brought them a solid selection of attacks in and around the area that most teams would be happy with. Where the cracks appear in that argument is in fact what France do with these chances. To secure only 1 shot on target out of 13 is well below par for any France team, but given the context of the situation and what was at stake it makes it all the more baffling. All 5 attacks that fall to them inside the box are missed completely, and what would underline all of these facets as a poor performance lays squarely in their xG on target. Of their 0.97 xG only 0.05 would come from attacks on target, which equates to just 5% of their attack play actually turning into an effort the keeper would have to save. I accept that France could and probably should have performed better in their creation of chances, however from what they actually did create they have been wholly below par in turning those chances into credible attacks. What we know about how they’d restructure their attack moving forward was to be the addition of pace and power, in both the 98 and 2000 international tournaments, then it’s clear for everyone to see that the loss in this game served as the genesis for this taking place, certainly if it hadnt been already. France do have elite quality in Djorkaeff and Zidane, but beyond that their blunted forward play just didn’t trouble the Czechs anywhere near enough.
The volume of attacks from the Czech Republic in the last match was a real worry for the staff, with them only registering 4 in total against Portugal. Today they would treble that count and some, with it came the advent of a new strategy and some additional help in the midfield/outside spaces, all of which helped the Czech’s going forward. I do think however that they will be looking to create more opportunities inside the box, if anything form set plays and corners moving forward. We’d see 9 shots in total come from outside the box, with only 5 inside, and from the 5 only 2 were inside the “golden zone” (central portion of the 18), therefore it shows that their attack play that comes from deep or from wide that advances central on a diagonal plain, is doing so on their own and not able to play a killer ball into the box for someone to finish from closer range. Almost 50% of their xG would come from attacks on target, which from 14 attacks is a solid return given how they’ve performed in previous matches.
Who Created Chances
Zinedine Zidane would finish as France’s best statistical attacker, with 3 shots on goal himself, one of which hitting the target and accumulating a personal xG of 15%. He’d also create 2 more attacks for his teammates.
Pavel Nedved was the best statistical attacker for the Czech Republic, leading the table with an involvement in 6 attacks overall. From his own shots on goal he’d hit 0.29 xG from 3 shots on goal, and would play a hand with 3 attacks for his teammates, providing a key pass in each attack that would result in a shot on target.
Using our very own Retro Football Analysis Match Simulator, we use the probability rating of each attack to calculate the odds of the matches outcome. Here are the results we got back.
Very close margins at this stage in the tournament, with most teams now entering a pragmatic version of themselves as a means of reducing the overall risk while balancing the reward. A 6% swing is almost minute in this context, so I have to say on the balance of play I agree with the predictor, with the tipping point for me the Czech’s marginal lead being accentuated by their ability to keep the opposition at bay for long periods of a match. While they aren’t the most free flowing they are extremely well organized, and are now starting to accumulate the scalps of elite level opponents, all of which can be put down to simple buy in to the strategy and executing it efficiently.