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World Cup 2014: Opposite side with strong foot is on the rise

Inside-out wingers are the outside lefts whose preferred foot is their right, and vice versa, writes Ian Hawkey. In elite club football the tendency for them has become pronounced over the past four of five years.

Netherlands' Arjen Robben controls the ball during a training session ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, June 10, 2014.  REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes
Netherlands' Arjen Robben controls the ball during a training session ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, June 10, 2014. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

As the Netherlands squad gathered to begin their World Cup preparations, their coach, Louis van Gaal, made an announcement that stimulated a great deal of interest among his compatriots.

He would, he said, be working on his team’s comfort with a 3-5-2 formation. By way of endorsement, he said the scheme harked back to national tradition.

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It remains to be seen whether Van Gaal starts with his players lined up that way against Spain tomorrow. Italy used 3-5-2 to combat the Spaniards’ abundance of passing ability in midfield at the beginning of Euro 2012 and there is a school of thought that thinks three across the back and extra width across the middle is a tactic that has increasing relevance in the modern game. Partly, the theory goes, that is because so many teams now use “inside-out” wingers, who need a different sort of marking.

Inside-out wingers are the outside lefts whose preferred foot is their right, and vice versa. In elite club football the tendency for them has become pronounced over the past four of five years. Draw up a list of the wide players who are expected to excite spectators over the next month and many of the best of them appear in action down the flank opposite to their strong foot: Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, streaking inside from Real Madrid’s left to score with his right foot; Netherland’s Arjen Robben cutting inside a marker for Bayern Munich.

Robben’s role for his national team is not the same. He sometimes switches flanks during a match for Bayern; with his national side he often can be found playing more centrally. For Bayern, Robben can be predictable, far more likely to try to beat an opponent who is facing him by veering left, not right. Predictable need not mean ineffective, but the idea Robben may be harder to police in a new formation would please Van Gaal.

Another reason for the rise in the inside-out winger is the increased stamina and adventure full-backs are required to offer.

When a team such as Brazil have the hyperactive Dani Alves at right-back, it has a flyer able to speed past defenders. Put a player like Hulk ahead of him and the pair form a menacing combination, wproducing a variety of threats.

Hulk is conspicuously left-footed and Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari knows some of his most effective use of that left foot’s power is from the right edge of the opposition penalty area.

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