What Went Wrong in Indonesia's WCQ 2022 Campaign? A Tactical Analysis
The campaign was a frustrated one, but some ideas were promising
Like many football nations, any defeat on an international stage can be a disaster. But for many Indonesians, disappointment towards their national team runs well in their blood. Their failure in the 2022 World Cup Qualification might be another one to the collections.
The draw placed Indonesia Group G in Second Preliminary Round along with Southeast Asian rivals Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam, and Asian Cup semifinalist, United Arab Emirates. After five back-to-back losses in the first five matches, Stefano Lilipaly & co. are now sitting at the bottom of the table without a single point. Indonesia are mathematically out of the qualification.
“Victory has a thousand of fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” — JFK
This defeat is no different. Many condemn the federation, and some criticize the coach and players; even the fans were blaming each other. However, I will discuss what went wrong from the campaign in the tactical aspect from this Indonesia team, focusing on the squad and line-up selections also how they play on the pitch.
Squad and line-up: Inconsistency in selections
The majority of the squad members have been squad members for the national team for the last two years, including Beto and Lilipaly duo up front. During the qualification, head coach Simon McMenemy (and caretaker Yeyen Tumena) used 36 different players for five matches. The number is way higher than any other Group G competitors. Thailand and UAE both deployed 24 players, followed by Malaysia (21), and Vietnam, who only used 18 different players.
Those numbers reflected what Indonesia lack (in terms of squad and line-up selections): consistency. Using 36 different players in 5 games is not a sign of depth in the squad. In the national team context, where the players rarely play and train together, it will be hard to get the optimum cohesion between players. Using a few but a close-knit-bunch of players can help the team to get cohesion at the highest level. With only 18 players, Vietnam are now top of the table, unbeaten, and only conceded once from a penalty (which ironically occurred in the match against Indonesia).
Also, from those 36 names, only six have completed more than half of the minutes available: Yanto Basna, Hansamu Yama, Ricky Fajrin, Evan Dimas, Lilipaly, and Beto. Also, 13 players only showed up for one match. In other words, it was less than half of the Starting XI who could guarantee their spot in the team.
In the line-up aspects, McMenemy was more consistent. Indonesia used 1–4–2–3–1 or 1–4–4–2 formations in all matches, except in the last 21 minutes at UAE and the last game at Malaysia. At the beginning of his tenure, McMenemy lined-up his side in 1–3–4–3 or 1–3–4–2–1. But after a 1–4 defeat against Jordan, McMenemy began to use the 1–4–4–2 in the next friendly game against Vanuatu and stick to that policy ever since.
Indonesia 1–4–4–2 under McMenemy seems like a classic 4–4–2. Both wingers and fullbacks are playing on the touchline, and two central midfielders are occupying central areas. However, there are dynamic rotations between both of the number 9s. One of them could be dropping deep to the midfield or spaces between the lines, while the other occupying the opposition’s backline and aiming for a run-in-behind.
On the ball: verticality in attack
Since his 3–4–3 days, McMenemy favors playing vertically rather than side-to-side. Ball progressed line to line quickly to jump opposition press. In the 4–4–2 system, the verticality is implemented in direct long balls to their forwards.
Indonesia’s structure with the ball was a kind of 2–4–4. Both fullbacks are pretty high and wide. Both number 9s and winger manage to occupy the backline of the opponents. The structure seems like Indonesia intended to attack the opposition backline or space behind it directly. Most of those long balls were planned. It showed from the team’s whole structure that already in a certain shape to benefit from those situations.
In many cases, the main target was Beto. As natural forwards, the Brazillian-born forward has the ability to win the first ball and flick it into the space behind the backline. At the same time, the other forward (Lilipaly or Irfan Bachdim) and both wingers ready to win the second balls. Ideally, they made run-in-behind to receive the second balls behind the opposition backline and having a clear run through the goal.
Those situations could give some advantages to Indonesia. First, it would bypass the opposition press quickly. Their forwards could have space in a dangerous area and increase the chance to score a goal. Second, if they fail, they could re-organize their shape closer to the opposition goal; reduce the time needed for an attacking progression.
In addition, Indonesian forwards and wingers had a relatively better pace than most rivals’ defenders. They are also willing to constantly make run-in-behind to terrorize the backline and make them uncomfortable maintaining the high line.
However, the idea of long balls also contains several limitations. Several things are required to make sure the execution could give promised advantages.
From the server's perspective (player with the ball), they accurately delivered the ball. For this point, they mostly took advantage of dead balls situation on their own half, such as goal kicks or freekicks. In those situations, the server can’t be pressed; thus, it would give them time and space to increase their distribution accuracy. It also lets their mates upfront to get into their shape for following actions.
From the perspective of the receiver, the structure for second balls is the most critical. Indonesia had no ideal structure for the second ball in the midfield area, with all the attackers occupying the defense line. This could lead to Indonesia’s midfielders being outnumbered by the opponents in the middle of the park.
Sometimes, if possible, Indonesia tried to do build-up in a more constructive approach. The idea was still the same: play the ball vertically with quickly jump the line. But within this approach, they retained ball possession longer to attract press and get opposition players out of their zone. Indonesia would have many forward players to attack the vulnerable opposition backline with acres of space available if successfully executed.
But the problems were inadequate structure and connections to support the progression. This was because Indonesia’s overall structure (particularly after the first two matches) didn’t change much from the initial flat 2–4–4 shape that didn't help create a more secure connection.
The initial shape actually was good enough to expand the playing area and stretch the opposition’s blocks. With the midfield and forward line were too flat without enough presence between the lines, Indonesia often found themselves without good connections to attack. The build-up was primarily ‘U-Shape’ circulation outside the opposition line and made the opponent more comfortable to defend their areas.
At several moments, Indonesia made some good structure for a constructive approach. The rotations and good positioning between players made the structure provided the connection needed for a clean ball progression. Against Malaysia, Evan Dimas constantly dropped to the first line, while forward players, such as Lilipaly, Beto, or Saddil, also took their turns to occupy spaces between the lines. These movements made a clean progression is possible due to the availability of passing options.
Here the illustration before Indonesia’s first goal against Malaysia. Evan Dimas’ with his pressure resistance ability drop to deeper areas and made a combination with Zulfiandi. Later, he dribbled past two Malaysian midfielders and capitalized 2v2 situation at the opposition backline where Lilipaly and Saddil were ready to make a run-in-behind. Notice how Beto dropped to occupy Malaysian #6 and prevented him from press Evan.
However, this event didn't happen regularly. Consistency for doing this was another key point missed. To overcome this problem, individual quality often became an escape plan. This might work against an opponent at the same level. Still, when the opposition had a more resilient structure or higher individual quality, this issue became a bigger problem that could expose Indonesia in the end.
In creating chances, Indonesia often relied upon the early crosses from both flanks. Forwards and far side winger attacking box in numbers. However, due to the aforementioned structural issues, wingers often being isolated in 1v1/1v2 situations. That was not ideal for the wingers as they will have a limited area and made the opponent easier to contain the attack. Even if wingers managed to make a cross, it would be far from a good delivery or the backline already in fine shape to intercept.
There are few mechanisms to overloading flanks and create space and time required for wingers to make some good crosses peacefully, but they need to be done on a more consistent basis. On the other side, the receiver at the box also had insufficient mechanism or combination to manipulate the opponent's marking.
Without the ball: Defending half-space and wide areas
Without the ball, Indonesia often defend in a medium 4–4–2 block with a more zonal-oriented defending. Indonesia prioritized to block access through central areas and force the opposition to play in wide areas where the playing area is limited.
Basically, the shape was quite stable. The players could maintain the shape when the opponent made circulations. Two forwards often made some backward presses to make the opponent playing field became smaller.
However, there are some issues with the shape and the executions. Naturally, within ‘two banks of four,’ some areas could be exploited due to their natural shape. Besides spaces outside and behind the lines, there are spaces between the lines that existed naturally.
Those spaces were the main point to the opponent to attack, either directly launching the attack into it by naturally placed player(s) there or creating overload at areas with less pressure before and attracting a press before switching the direction to the other space.
Mostly, the opponents tend to start their attack at spaces besides two Indonesian forwards. Teams usually took advantage of their natural numerical superiority at midfield. Simultaneously, the other players pinned the Indonesian midfield pair; those free-men went into the vacant space to make attacking progression.
For example, Thailand used a 1-2–3–5 structure with deep and narrow fullbacks to overloading forwards at build-up. Having 3v2 at midfield, they could easily overload flanks/halfspace to make progress and create chances from the flanks.
UAE used their nearest central midfielders to drop outside the strikers. They often made some circulation to destabilize Indonesia’s block or overload before switching the ball to the underloaded areas where they were ready to attack Indonesia's vulnerable defense. The positioning between their wingers and strikers often opened space between Indonesia’s FB and CB to exploit.
Malaysia directly utilized both their #8s to attack pocket of spaces between midfielders. They made some triangular combinations (like Thailand’s) with FB and wingers and got some half-space overloads.
While Vietnam mainly used the dynamic of their front three. Within the 3–4–3 formation, their wingbacks or nearest wingers kept the width and spread Indonesian wingers out wide. Both of their central midfielders occupied Indonesia’s midfield duo. While their back three had a natural advantage against Indonesian forwards, this structure made a possibility of diagonal passes to the front three between the lines.
Another issue from the execution is limitations: opposition could circulate the ball, then destabilizing the pressing blocks. Oppositions may take advantage of Indonesia’s lack of intensity when doing the press.
At this point, Indonesia need to maintain shape after those circulations or create pressing traps by channeling the opponent to certain areas and forced them to lose the ball.
Transition: The importance of collective actions, rather than Individual penetration
In some transitional moments, Indonesia sought to get the ball to the other side quickly. Either to launch a quick counter-attack or aggressively doing a counter-press.
In a positive transition, Indonesia was very counter-attack oriented. When a player wins the ball, he will target the deepest player (vertically), usually Beto as a number nine. After that, they quickly aim to create chances.
They preferred to use the individual ability, such as dribble or 1v1, rather than a more collective, planned attacking sequence. This caused problems when facing opposition with higher-level like UAE. With the inferiority of individual qualities, rivals could easily win the ball back.
This approach also had another side effect: it drains the players’ stamina quickly. The players who were used at the target were required to run a considerable amount of distance. The side effect is getting bigger when Indonesia started their counter from deeper areas. The distance would be getting longer, and the effort needed would get bigger. Let’s say the player managed to run past his opponents; the level of concentration to finish the chance would decline after a long trip to get there.
In negative transitions, Indonesia were very active in winning the ball back quickly. They aggressively cut passing lanes and attack the ball carrier within a compact shape.
The general mechanism is a bit like a ball-oriented press approach: Using the ball as the main target, the nearest players will keep the distance or, if possible, close the short passing options. Forward players or players who lost the ball before will either attack the ball carrier or did a backward press. Players on the far side will remain close within the shape and anticipate diagonal or switch balls. The backline will anticipate long ball aerial duels or oppositions’ run-in-behinds.
Indonesia’s verticality on the ball played a part in these moments. With many players were deployed on the front line, the team would have an adequate number of players to push back.
This collective action was proved as one of the most positive signs from this side throughout the campaign. Many oppositions would hardly make a quick counter progression or circulate the ball, particularly when Indonesia counter-pressed in higher areas. This usually ended with some forced diagonal balls, which difficult to receive from the opposition receivers’ point of view.
The main issue within this phase is how the backline remains discipline to deal with opposition penetration to their territory. It’s all about how to close down the opponent without greatly sacrificing your own defensive shape. This aspect was probably the most prominent issue as oppositions could steal chances or goals from these moments several times.
Conclusion: The Idea wasn’t that bad. The result was
When it concludes, I see that the overall idea wasn’t that bad. Some ideas were even more promising from what they seem. The results, on the other hand, were disappointing. With some bad records: played five losses out of five, a -12 goal difference, with more than half of the games were held on home soil, those were some guaranteed points of criticism.
Individual mistakes played some parts that significantly changed the games—displaced simple passes, miscalculations in anticipating crosses, or several late tackles that gave away cheap penalties. They definitely had a massive impact.
However, I don't emphasize those individual errors in a larger piece because they are not down to one person or one aspect of the game. Those were part of multidimensional factors; training, fatigue, communication, or maybe the ability itself. Consequently, judge a team with only these situations without having a clear view of the bigger picture is not a fair assessment.
Despite underperforming, this team showed some progress. Two of the most stand-out aspects for me are the compact shape during the defensive phase and always intend to win the ball back. Both were done in a more organizational approach, something our players have been lack of.
Overall, it’s been pretty hard to analyze a national team within some period of time. They used different players for each international break, so it’s getting tricky to make some separate analysis on a specific player. Furthermore, as I mentioned earlier, Indonesia used a large pool of players for this campaign. I made these sheets to identify the pattern on these line-ups differences during the campaign and get insights about the changes.
Finally, I want to mention the same old problem of a never-ending dispute between a league schedule and national team games. On October 16th, Riko Simanjuntak and Andritany Ardhiyasa were featured on Persija’s bench in a league match against Semen Padang. The day before, both are on the national team squad against Vietnam.
This kind of problem happened regularly, years after years, and made our football left way behind other countries. The stakeholders need to resolve this obstacle to give players more time to recover, coaches more time to train the players, and both clubs and the national team more opportunity to grow.