Successful Counter Attacks

By Waleed Zaghloul

Counter attacks are a great weapon in football and have been used by numerous teams over the years to great effect. This weapon is not utilized effectively by many youth teams in the US, possibly because it is difficult to teach. As coaches, before we can coach counter attacks, it might be useful to analyze the components of most successful counter attacks. In this article, we will dissect counter attacks and attempt to identify their main components and how they are carried out.

This article references this video clip made up of various examples of classic counter attack situations.

First, players (and coaches of course) need to identify when counter attacks are possible. There are two main scenarios, one from open play and one from set-pieces. From open play, it is usually a bad or an intercepted pass from a team that is attacking in numbers. From set-pieces, it is usually a cleared cross.

Please note that these steps are not exhaustive and counter attacks could possibly include other steps, but these are some of the most common components of counter attacks.

Step #1 Identification
After the defending team identifies a counter attacking opportunity, they need to act quickly. Speed is critical in moving the ball forward before the opponents get a chance to react and recover. Speed here could be in different forms; one touch passes, penetrating passes, pacey runs with the ball or a combination of any of these forms! These different possible combinations are part of the beauty of counter attacking goals; they could come in a variety of different scripts.

Step #2 Speed
All it took was three successive one-touch passes! This is how Landon Donovan scored against the mighty Brazilians in the final of the Confederations Cup a few years ago (first goal in video). This goal remains one of the best counter attacking goals in recent memory. Also, take a close look at Mohammed Zidan’s goal (second goal in video) for Egypt in the Cup of African Nations (CAN) a year before Donovan’s goal. These two goals were scored after very fast set up play.

Step #3 Switching Play
Note, that the set up play for Donovan’s goal ended with a switch of play from Charlie Davis to Donovan. This switch of play, in many counter attack goals, is the most critical step of the whole process. The reason could very well be the fact that when the retreating defenders try to recover they attempt to catch up to the ball and a switch at that point could catch them before they successfully retreat.

Step #4 The Finish
The success of the first three steps of a counter attack should result in a high probability scoring opportunity (which is the goal of any attack). As with any scoring chance, a good finish is essential and that is the last step here.

Waleed Zaghloul is an NSCAA Premier Diploma coach. He has been coaching on the youth soccer scene for about 15 years. He has coached a variety of youth club, High School and all-star teams in Nebraska, Utah, Colorado and now the Northern Virginia area.

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