On 6 July we were treated to a great round of 16 clash between host nation Egypt and South Africa. The runners up from 2017 were tournament favourites from the beginning. Their rich history in the competition and the fact that they were the host nation shifted the odds in their favour. However, the tournament’s most successful side with seven titles bowed out of the tournament to underdogs South Africa.
This loss, however, did come with repercussions, besides a bruised ego for the home team. After the loss, it was confirmed that the Egyptian FA president had resigned and head coach and his staff Javier Aguirre had been sacked following the shock exit from the African Cup of Nations 2019 tournament. This tactical analysis will show you how the South Africans managed to beat the host nation Egypt.
Following a 100%-win record at the tournament, Aguirre looked to line up his team featuring the same personnel and tactics. A significant relief must be the inclusion of star man Salah who had missed midweek training due to a cold. However, the man from Mexico did have a squad well prepared for South Africa.
Egypt boasts a formidable attack as well as a solid defence. Prior to the tournament the Egyptians had conceded zero goals and scored five on their way on topping their group
Knowing the attacking threat of Salah and co, Stuart Baxter had to carefully study their opponents for this one. With Hegazy and Alaa holding a tight ship at the back, the Bafana Bafana attack had a lot to do in this game. To the relief of the fans must be the inclusion of the Premier Soccer League players player of the season in the first eleven. Thembikosi Lorch was the man on every fans lip after not featuring during the group stages.
Both teams set up in a similar fashion with a 4-3-3 formation but differed in their approach on the night. South Africa is a team that looks to defend first while Egypt prides themselves on their attack – providing for some fascinating analysis.
On the night, Stuart’s men were splendid with their defensive organisation. Their defensive formation dictated the game for Egypt which disrupted the way the hosts are used to playing. Bafana Bafana’s fluidity in defensive shapes worked well for them, often leaving the Aguirre’s men shocked and being reactive to the opponent’s press. Much credit must be given to the midfield trio of Bongani Zungu, Kamogelo Mokotjo and Dean Furman in providing stability for South Africa. Furman sat in front of the back four, stopping the fast break of Egypt with well-timed tackles. Zungu was instrumental in linking up the attack on and off the ball, while Mokotjo helped keep possession with clever passing.
Fluid defensive formation
When required, South Africa would drop deep and look to defend from their own half. Knowing that Egypt is a side who normally uses wingers that cut inside, they would tend to close the middle and force Egypt out wide. In the above picture, man on the ball Salah looks to force the ball inside trying to break the shape of Bafana. This results in a loss of possession for the home team and a quick counter for Bafana Bafana.
In other cases, South Africa would look to press high up in order to prevent Egypt from building the play. Zungu did well to provide support behind striker Lebo Motiba in high pressing situations. Such intelligent pressing often catches the opponents by surprise and forces them to play riskier passes. This can result in a low percentage pass, losing the ball as they did in the above picture.
South Africa was also happy to allow the Egyptians to play the ball at the back but just look to close passing channels. As in the above picture, Bafana Bafana are sitting back while the player on the ball, Hegazi, is starved from passing options. This often forced Egypt to play the long ball up the field resulting in more balls being lost for the 2017 runners up.
Use of triangles
South Africa used triangles superbly in both attack and in defence. A triangle is a shape associated with good football fundamentals because it provides structure and stability. In attack it is beneficial because of the angles it creates for the player on the ball. Defensively it ensures that you have the adequate amount of cover and support.
In defence, Bafana Bafana would open channels and then look to quickly close the man on the ball using triangles. This defensive tactic looked to trap the man on the ball by offering him a “safe” channel and later closing it up through clever and aggressive pressing.
After opening a channel for Egypt to play into, South Africa quickly press the man on the ball while closing off the passing options. Again, Bafana Bafana successfully uses the triangle shape here to provide structure and support while pressing. Zungu was instrumental at being the centrepiece in the press of South Africa. This proves the football intelligence he possesses.
In attack Bafana Bafana successfully used triangles to either build up from the back or unlock the Egyptian defence in the last third. In the above picture, Thembikosi Lorch plays the ball out because of the pressure applied. The effect of triangles offering support and different angles works well here as Zungu provides support for South Africa to play out. The ball is played between three men before it is played out wide, initiating an attack.
Another by-product of interplay and passing is the option of the third man running. Something very close to South African football is the use of quick passing between teammates to create attacking opportunities. After a series of passes including the centre forward Motiba, winger Lorch makes a clever run behind the defence resulting in a South Africa scoring opportunity.
A trait that both coaches instilled in their teams was the concept of counter-attacking. With full-backs normally pushing up for both teams, it was the customary thing to do to try and exploit the spaces left by these players.
Following a swift counter-attack, Salah is presented with three opportunities in front of him. Instead of taking a shot Salah chooses to pass to the right where Trezeguet shoots straight at the keeper. Credit should be given to the South African defence for not committing too early. This was also accompanied by narrowing the shooting angle, forcing the attacker to pass sideways.
From the get-go, as we see in the above picture, South Africa left their front three up most of the time. They did this to limit the range of motion of the full backs and to have quick transitions going forward. The man on the ball, Zungu, has three options in front of him as South Africa look to attack after winning possession.
What a finish-ing…
After winning a throw in South Africa play a series of passes before putting Motiba through off a Zungu pass. This series of passing left Egypt stunned and helpless because it was simply too difficult to defend. Each player made no more the than two touches on the ball in this attacking phase – it was like the iconic opening goal of the 2010 World Cup by the way it is played.
In the above picture, we see a two-on-one situation favouring South Africa. Motiba eventually plays the pass through for Lorch who calmly finishes past Egypt goalkeeper Mohammed El Shanawy for the win.
The loss was a bitter pill to swallow for Egypt who saw the loss as a shocker. However, South Africa came into the game with a better game plan. They also executed it to perfection which was key in giving them the historic win. Baxter and his men now shift their focus to the quarterfinals where they will face Nigeria. This too will be an interesting game as these teams both qualified in the same group for the tournament. They also share the same fate in eliminating 2017 finalists.
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