The 7th UEFA European Under-19 Championship in the Czech Republic is drawing to a close and the technical observers - Zdeněk Sivek of the Czech Republic and Northern Ireland's Roy Millar - are gathering their conclusions from an enthralling tournament.
'Two big surprises'
"I've really enjoyed it," Millar told uefa.com. "The two big surprises have been Bulgaria and Hungary qualifying and then Spain not reaching the semi-finals. Tactically and technically they were a very good side with some outstanding players, particularly Aarón Ñíguez and Emilio Nsue, but they didn't score enough goals and full credit to Hungary for knocking them out. The Hungarians were very well organised, very strong defensively, although the only criticism you would make is that they didn't have enough of a cutting edge."
Group B assessed
While Millar has been based in Prague and covered the Group A games, Sivek spent the group stage in Liberec and studied the four teams who competed in Group B. "The Czech Republic were very strong in the middle of the pitch, tactically very disciplined and hard workers," he told uefa.com. "The Italy coach Francesco Rocca has a very good philosophy. He's taught his players to be able to vary their system during a game and the changes they made in the semi-final against Hungary won them the game. England were very fast, aggressive and liked to get the ball forward quickly. They worked so hard. Greece finished fourth but they had some talented players, were technically very good and played well together."
Millar was full of praise for Group A winners Germany, explaining: "They played in a traditional German way, physically very strong and well organised. The big advantage they had was the depth in their squad; they've been able to rotate their players without losing any efficiency and that's been key. Hungary operated with a back four, two screening midfielders and three very interchangeable players further forward behind a lone striker. Spain played the same way. Technically the Spanish players were very good while Bulgaria had already achieved their target by getting to these finals and just couldn't score a goal here."
Both technical observers have noticed different trends at these finals, Sivek explaining: "This has been very interesting from a defensive point of view, as has the transfer from defence to attack and vice versa and also dribbling - we've seen lots of players who have been brave enough to drive into the box to get the chance of a shot on goal or drawing a foul." Millar also pointed out that most teams operate a largely - or, in the case of finalists Germany and Italy, exclusively - zonal defence and the tendency of teams to defend deeper, and believes the use of two deep-lying players in central midfield is another key development.
"Everyone now plays with a back four; gone are the days when you had three at the back or man-marking and the back four gives you more solutions whether the opposition play with one or two strikers," he said. "Having two screening midfielders who don't go beyond the ball allows the full-backs to attack wide yet still leaves you secure at the back. Most sides will now play with a lone striker, which is very effective, and usually three interchangeable players behind him. We've seen the importance of wingers coming back into the game in that position, so it's been very interesting."
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