A great (partly accidental) build-up!

Watch this clip from the last European Championship final between Netherlands and Belgium:


This is a personal favorite because it is very effective and enjoyable attacking play with enough tactical and technical content worth taking a deeper observation.

I will try to break it down in simple stages and explain why this is such a refreshing and innovative collective manoeuvre from Max Caldas team.

Bear in mind that Netherlands (team in possession) is facing Belgium, a team with a very well structured zonal defense that have been improving their zonal system for some years.

Ok, let’s go.

1st Stage


  • This is the 1st and main part of the build-up.
    In the previous clip you see that Netherlands restarts the ball. Then, the Belgian players reposition themselves into their zonal press.

  • Whilst the majority of the Dutch players quickly set themselves into a positional attacking display, Billy Bakker is calmly walking into a position that will turn absolutely fundamental in the way Netherlands (partly accidentally) manipulate, create a defensive conflict on the opponent and successfully break the Belgian ‘box’.
    To this situation I will call ‘horizontal box overload’, which is opposite to the common coaching guidelines that ask for vertical overloads and a positional display where players should look for receiving areas at the ‘exact center point of the box’
  • Joep de Mol (player that restarts the ball) puts himself almost in a situation of ‘1 man build-up’ – if you consider that no other team mate is at or below ball height or below the 1st opponent press line.
    This is really refreshing and hopefully we will see teams ‘daring’ to use this kind of attacking dynamics during the World Cup. For the most conservative coaches; the ‘risk’ of having less numbers on the ‘counter control’ is directly related with the ball trajectory and receiving area – on this specific footage if the ball receiver would lose the ball, Billy Bakker and Joep de Mol would still be in ‘counter control’ positions.

  • Meanwhile, Seve van Ass places himself at the vertical axis of the ‘help side box’ challenging, stretching and holding the opponent zone. Would Seve be at the center of the help side box, the right midfielder had a much easier defensive task.
  • The 2 Dutch players positioned on the sidelines (let’s refer to them as Right and Left Back) intend to create an extreme stretching of the Belgian press (consequently creating bigger boxes) and simultaneously a defensive positioning conflict for the Belgian right and left midfielder.

2nd Stage


  • The collective manipulated the space and the individual genius from Jonas de Geus pre-scanned and recognized the opportunity. Then a world-class receiving and turn (elbow, wrists, grip, hips but mostly brains work) ruined the 1st and 2nd line of opponent press while creating a lot of space without imminent pressure on the ball.
    To the specific behaviour in this receiving area, check the article Effective Play‘.

3rd Stage


After Jonas breaking action, Netherlands created a privileged situation as the attacking play was carried through the center without sufficient defensive pressure on the ball. A clear unbalance on the Belgian players individual and collective defensive tasks.
The good Dutch attacking dynamics follow…

  • Again, we see 2 orange attackers starting from a situation where they are overloading one opponent box.
  • Mirco Pruyser leads and creates a receiving situation into (inside) space – ‘arrives’ instead of ‘standing’.

  • As a result of another great collective dynamic, Netherlands create some hard problems for Belgium to solve.
  • When Pruyser receives the ball we have 2 Belgian defenders with a conflict of priorities ( Ball / Player(s) / Zone)

4th Stage


  • Take a look at the Belgian left defender – he is tempted to move slightly inside and put pressure on the bal but still respect the collective zonal strategy to avoid the ball to be played outside without any immediate pressure on the outside (sideline) channel. It is important to note that zonal systems and the Belgian one in particular have as one of their objectives to avoid being outplayed (outnumbered) in the sideline space.
  • Yes, that’s right… Mirco Pruyser has a receiving and inside turn similar to the previous one from Jonas de Geus.

5th Stage


  • The ball carrier (Mirco Pruyser) engages and create a 1v1 with the Belgian defender that becomes 2v1 due to the great back lead from Bjorn Kellerman. Unfortunately Kellerman couldn’t trap the ball for what could be the last stage of this great collective play and eventually a scoring opportunity.

Here’s the full clip again, enjoy it:


Final Notes

  • There were only 3 vertical passes on this continuous play situation
  • Only pushing passing technique was used – Check the article ‘Push it’
  • Unpredictable and unconventional  – the art of attacking lays on deceiving and ultimately ‘fooling’ your opponent.
  • Fresh and innovative concepts:a) ‘1 man build-up’ – Refreshing and modern!
    b) ‘Inside Dynamic Receivings’ – If the manuals and/or your coaches are telling you that receivings need to be always ‘open’, they are wrong. However, as you can see with more detail in the examples from Jonas and Mirco, they are not simply ‘pulling/dragging’ the ball inside, they are rotating (Jonas in a more accentuated way) their body (mostly arms and hips) along following the movement of their stick. Very important skill on the modern game.
    c) Box ‘horizontal’ overloads – How to manipulate the space and create conflicts on the opponent defensive responsibilities.
  • We conventionally talk about one ball side and one help side…Some thoughts for you:
    What is the help side on this footage?
    Is there only one help side…?
    What if the ball always travels on the central channel?


Good luck to the Netherlands, their coach Max Caldas and all the other teams on the World Cup!

Make it an exciting one for the participants and for the fans because if you do, this might not be the last 11v11 hockey World Cup ever!


Bernardo Fernandes

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