How World Cup Soccer Teams Can Score on Packed In Defenses
Advice for the Coach of England's World Cup Team
6 Tips for Attacking a Packed In Soccer Defense
Lessons from the 1998 World Cup, Paraguay vs. France
Play Your 11 Best, Not Your Best 11

Note From David. England (and other teams such as Spain and Brazil) are having a hard time scoring on Packed In defenses. This article discusses strategies and 6 tips for scoring against a Packed In Defense. Also, I have some impertinent advice for the coach of England's World Cup team. This was written on the morning of June 20.

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This is written on the morning of June 20, 2010 after England tied Algeria 0-0 the day before and New Zealand tied Italy.

England (and other teams such as Spain and Brazil) are having a hard time scoring on packed-in defenses. This article discusses strategies for scoring against a packed-in defense.

England's World Cup problems have been attributed to poor strategy. I agree with that. If you face an underdog who is going to pack-in their defense, you must adjust your strategy and your personnel. This is discussed below.

England's problems have also been attributed to poor team chemistry. That reminded me of 2 of my favorite coaching quotes from

"The secret is to work less as individuals and more as a team. As a coach, I play not my eleven best, but my best eleven." Knute Rockne

"The best teams have chemistry. They communicate with each other and they sacrifice personal glory for the common goal." Dave DeBusschere

Packed In Defenses and How to Score on Them. "Packing In" the Defense means to bring 7 or more players (plus the Goalkeeper) to defend inside your Defensive Third when your goal is under attack (some teams will bring all but one Striker in the Defensive Third). The idea is to prevent your opponent from scoring and hope to score on a counterattack, a lucky break, or an act of individual brilliance. In the N. Korea vs. Brazil match, for example, there were times when N. Korea had all 11 players in their Defensive Third (the third of the field that includes the goal they defend).

I'm surprised that the coaches haven't adjusted better against Packed In Defenses. The England coach, for example, was criticized for sticking with a 4-4-2 soccer formation (Argentina by comparison played a 4-1-2-1-2 with Messi at the Offensive Mid spot to create opportunities, and he created 3 in their victory over South Korea) and for sticking with Emile Heskey at one of the 2 Striker spots. Heskey is 6'2" and 184 and is a powerful guy, but he is described as erratic and as not having the best touch. When playing against a Packed In Defense it is critical to have up-front players who are quick, have great dribbling skill and touch, and can take a quick shot and score using any part of the foot. Messi (5'6", 147 pounds and very quick) is a perfect example. I think a better soccer formation for England against a Packed In Defense would be the one Anson Dorrance plays, a 3-1-2-1-3, which allows you to bring as many as 7 into the attack. You don't need 4 Fullbacks if the opponent is only leaving one attacker at the Halfway Line when their goal is under attack.

Normally I would be very reluctant to give advice to the coach of England's World Cup team, but I'm rooting for England and I'm sure the English fans agree that their coach can use some new ideas. If England doesn't beat Slovenia on June 23 they are probably out. Slovenia has 4 points and might be happy with a tie.

Below is from SoccerHelp Premium:

In the 1998 World Cup, Paraguay almost beat France using a Packed In Defense with 10 or 11 players in their Defensive Third. France finally won 1-0 by chipping the ball softly into the middle of Paraguay's packed-in defense. Paraguay's great goalkeeper Jose Chilavert was superb in that game.

A Packed In Defense is the best strategy for an underdog who could lose by 3 or more goals. There are 2 ways an underdog can hope to win by using a Packed In Defense:

  1. Don't give up any goals
  2. Score on a defensive error by the opponent, a lucky break (such as a ball falling your way) or by a single act of individual brilliance. In the example above, the "B" team's score was due to a small error and individual brilliance, but they only needed one goal to win.

Below are more 6 tips about how to attack a Packed In Defense:

  1. Alter your formation to best achieve your objective against the opponent. If the opponent only has 1 Target Forward, do you need to leave out 3 or 4 defenders to defend that one? Well, you certainly don't want to give up a goal on a counterattack, which is exactly what the opponent will try to do, so you must be cautious, giving up even one goal can be disastrous when the opponent is Defending Deep and Packed In. You will have to decide how many defenders it will take to safely cover the opposing Forward(s), but remember, you can't give up a goal. A safe strategy is to leave adequate Defenders and push up the Midfielders into the attack so you get more players in scoring range.
  2. Get lots of attackers into the Penalty Box. You need to try to get as many attackers as possible into the Penalty Box and then try to get the ball into the Box. It will be very tough to score if the opponent has 2 or 3 more defenders in the Penalty Box than you have attackers inside the Penalty Box. Obviously, your attackers must stay onside. The objective ISN"T to try to get as close as possible to the goal, -'s to get in scoring position, it is better to stay 5-12 steps from the goal than to be so close you won't ever get a rebound. This way you have a good view of the goal, and are in good position for crossed and chipped balls, and will have a chance to score on rebounds or goalie errors.
  3. Be sure to put some quick players in scoring position.
  4. Choose a line-up that has some quick players like Messi at Forward or Offensive Mid, get them close to the goal and get the ball into the Penalty Box. Against a Packed In defense, quickness and touch are more important than power. You want players who are quick, have great dribbling skill and touch, and can take a quick shot and score using any part of the foot.

  5. Use soft chips with backspin to get the ball into the Penalty Box. It will be too tough to try to pass the ball in and hard airballs are easier for the defender's to clear (the pace of the ball allows the defender to clear it easier). Simply get as many attackers as possible in front of the goal and send the ball in using soft, high chips with lots of backspin. France beat Paraguay 1-0 in the 1998 World Cup at the very end of the game using this strategy. The advantages of this approach are that it is easier for your scorers to judge the ball and move to it and that it's harder for packed in defenders to clear because it lacks pace. Tell your attackers to try to score on headers, rebounds and one-touch shots. There will be rebounds, poorly cleared balls, lucky breaks, balls that bounce off a defender and balls that fall to the ground. Your attackers MUST be alert, aggressive and one-touch shoot. They MUST take the shot and not try to pass, there are so many defenders that they won't get a second chance. Put your most aggressive players on about the 12 yard line (where the Penalty Spot is), this is far enough out that the Goalie won't get the ball but close enough to still get a good shot. Obviously, your attackers MUST stay onside. A good example of how to score against a Packed In Defense was how New Zealand scored on June 20 against Italy to take the lead (the match ended in a 1-1 draw). It was on a free kick and, of course, everyone was packed in the Penalty Box. New Zealand sent a long, high floating ball to the goal front that bounced off an Italian player, dropped to the ground and a New Zealand player immediately poked it into the goal from about 5 yards out. That wasn�t a match where the teams �Packed In� the defense except on set plays, but the concept is the same. The reason that goal occurred was because it was a high, floating ball without a lot of pace. If the ball had had a lot of pace it would have been easier for Italy to clear the ball.
  6. If you get behind, pull everyone up on your attack except for 1 or 2 defenders. As an example, I watched a game where the superior team got behind 1-0. In the last 5 minutes of the game, the winning team only left 1 Forward pushed up and everyone else was packed in the Penalty Box to defend. The losing team still left 3 Defenders back and eventually lost. They could have improved their chances of scoring by just leaving the Sweeper back to mark the opposing Forward and pushing everyone else up into the attack.
  7. When your Defense is Packed in your Defensive Third, be sure you leave a Target Forward Pushed Up. In the 1998 World Cup France vs. Paraguay match mentioned above, Paraguay�s Forward started dropping back to try to help defend. That was a mistake, because it allowed the French Fullbacks to push up and there weren�t any Paraguay players in position to win cleared balls. The coach MUST force at least one Forward to stay pushed up to the half line. This Forward should shift with the ball so he has the best chance to win the balls his teammates try to clear. This will usually keep 2-3 of the opposing defenders off your half of the field and the Forward has a chance to win the cleared balls.

    Update: On June 21, North Korea played Portugal. North Korea had kept the score close with Brazil (2-1) by Packing In their Defense. But vs. Portugal, North Korea came out attacking. The score was 0-0 until the 29th minute when Portugal scored and it was 1-0 at the half, but the second half was a disaster for North Korea and they gave up 6 more goals. The final score was 7-0. The commentators mentioned that the difference in the Brazil and Portugal matches was North Korea�s defensive Style of Play. The only chance North Korea had was to Pack In their Defense and hope for a goal on a breakaway, luck or individual brilliance. I had hoped they would Pack In their Defense because it would have been very interesting to see if Portugal could score against it.