Dos & Don’ts When Up A Goal Or Down A Goal – By The Coach Development Department

Reaching the final moments of a match can be a team’s relief… or its worst nightmare. Whether winning or losing by a goal, there are aspects of the game that are essential to face the last minutes and succeed.

As you know, it is part of the Rush curriculum to coach our players on adopting different behaviors when the game is coming to its end and the team is up a goal or down a goal. In this article we are going to cover some of the aspects that could help a team kill the game, manage a heroic comeback, or all the opposite…


Dos When Winning & Some Good Examples:

The objective is NOT to waste time, but to not letting the opponent get into a rhythm or flow.  Team sports often have patterns, so we want to recognize when the opponent is ‘in the zone’, and try to disrupt their rhythm.

Tip #1: Always sustain a +1 situation in the back. This does not necessarily mean defending next to the goalkeeper but making sure we are outnumbering the opponent in dangerous spaces.

Tip #2: It’s an obvious statement, but we want to keep possession, preferably in the opponent’s half. 

Tip #3: If you lose the ball far from your goal, try to kill the counter right away. If the counterpress works, that’s great. If it doesn’t, consider a tactical foul. 

Tip #4: Sense the rival’s desperation and use it on your favor. At times, the final minutes might find you defending deeper, protecting the lead, and your team’s transition to attack might translate onto you or a teammate  dribbling the ball forward with little support. Smart players recognize this immediately and try to make the most out of it. Going to the corner flag with the ball and shielding (especially in the last five minutes), can be worth gold for your team. The defenders’ will possibly find this obnoxious and as they get desperate commit a goofy foul. That’s the best thing that can happen to you. Stay on the ground for longer than usual and take your time to restart play. Those seconds are priceless for your team.

See how Belgium made a perfect sum up of these concepts and others (start watching on minute 1:06:00): keeping possession, accumulating players behind the ball line, playing set pieces slowly, taking the ball to the corner, kicking it onto the defenders legs on purpose to get the corner, and then playing it short. You can also see how they made an early foul to stop the counter right away (De Bruyne – minute 1:13:40), or how they tried to get fouled on the offensive transition (Hazard – minute 1:11:00), all of it to hold the score and defeat Brazil (2-1) in the last World Cup.



Tip #5: When injured, please do not struggle to get up, stay on the ground. The same applies for substitutions, don’t rush yourself.

Tip #6: As a Goalkeeper, use your feet on weak shots to save 6 sec. and avoid an early distribution.

Let’s travel to Argentina for a good example of this and watch the ‘Superclásico’ from last year’s Semifinal in Copa Libertadores. River Plate won 2-0 the first leg and was losing 0-1 the second leg, so they needed to hold the score as it was (a 1 goal lead overall).

In only 8 minutes you can see how Franco Armani, River Plate’s GK, stays a long time on the floor twice after easy headers. You can also see how Lucas Pratto, River’s striker, smartly let’s himself fall as soon as he feels a defender touch him, knowing the Ref would call the foul. His teammates took almost a minute to restart play and did the same a few seconds later.



Don’ts When Winning & Some Bad Examples:

Rushing set pieces, such as throw ins, corners, goal kicks, free kicks, etc, will allow the rival getting in a direct, fast rhythm that may decide the match. When killing the game, you need an organized defense, that prevents quick kicks, and protects dangerous spaces. Safety first.

As you’ll see in the next example, it seems like Panama did not attend the Up A Goal, Down A Goal practice…

Just 5 minutes away from qualifying to 2014 World Cup, they managed to blow up a 2-1 lead over the USA. Disorganized in defense, they never killed the US rhythm nor protected dangerous spaces, and paid for it.  USA scored twice after the ninetieth minute and won 3-2 (watch from minute 32):



Dos when losing & Some Good Examples:

Tip #1: Mentality is key, it is imperative that you stay focused. The opponent will do everything in its power to disrupt your rhythm. Stay in tune with the game. All you can do is control the controllable – yourself. Focus on how you can help your team get a goal back. When scoring is your dominant thought, the opposition’s antics become meaningless.

Tip #2: Adjust system but carefully: You don’t want to be down in numbers for the rival’s counter. Consider the risk of modifying the +1 in the back to equal numbers. \

Tip #3: Play more direct (patient but urgent).

Tip #4: Quick set pieces in mid and back third’s, don’t waste them however, and get numbers forward on them.

Tip #5: Play the Offside Trap. DO NOT underestimate this item, strikers aren’t always as aware as you think. This can be the solution. The GK becomes almost a sweeper.

Tip #6: Ask for time to be added, please! Never in soccer history was a player sent off for this.

Of course, some of the actions mentioned are risky, that’s why it matters to train them.

Let’s move onto the examples. FC Barcelona made one of the most memorable comebacks in the 2017 Champions League against Paris Saint Germain. Just a goal down after recovering from a 0-4 on the first leg, midfielder Sergi Roberto went to the box as a striker and scored the winning goal in added time.

But before that, Barcelona did a lot. Watch the next video and notice set pieces did not lose time when the ball went out of bounds, while Luis Suárez tried to force the rival GK to hurry by counting the seconds he lost since he grabbed the ball.

Later, when PSG had a goal kick, Gerard Piqué took the ball and put it inside the box so no time was wasted. And Ter Stegen became a sweeper to recover possession and win the foul from which came the epic sixth goal.



Tip #7: Switch to High Pressure. Defenders are generally the weakest line in technical terms and when holding a 1 goal lead in the last couple of minutes, they’ll be nervous. Take advantage of that, force them to be scared of even receiving the ball!

Tip #8: If your team is fouled, stay up, play advantage.

Tip #9: When possession is lost get it back quick!

Tip #10: Keep ball in play, no fouls, and tackle in vs out. This last tip has the most perfect example in Wayne Rooney’s epic ball recovery for DC United’s victory against Orlando. He tackled his rival keeping in mind that the ball should stay inside the field and literally won the match because of this. Watch this masterpiece below.



Don’ts When Losing & Some Bad Examples:

First, desperation will not take you anywhere good. Remember to stay focus on the mission: scoring, that’s all that matters.

Your team will take some extra risks like we mentioned above, but careful, you don’t want the search of a goal into securing your team’s defeat. Below, a bad example from the great Germany, during the last World Cup.

Germany was down a goal against South Korea and their participation in Russia was almost over, so the 2014 World Champions took desperate measures: they sent eight players inside South Korea’s box and left two players plus Neuer in midfield to serve long balls. The team lost its focus, Neuer ended up pressing up high with his two teammates behind him, and none of them actually marked the Korean striker. What happened? One long clearance and the Asian team scored again, surprising Germany, and showing us what NOT to do when losing.



Last but not least, find below a great example of both ‘Up a Goal and Down a Goal’. Watch these 8-minute video on Argentina vs Brasil (American Cup 2004), in which we can see ‘two matches in one’:

– Argentina scores and leads 2-1, just 3 minutes before the end and triggers some good examples: The goalkeeper Abbondanzieri takes a few seconds on each move, keeping the ball on his feet. Carlos Tevez stays in the floor after a foul and protects the ball with Andrés D’Alessandro (meanwhile, a Brazilian journalist talks about Argentina’s proficiency to kill the game).

A confused Brazil wakes up when the ref shows the aggregate time.

– From that moment, both teams changed their tactics: Brazil stops fouling and starts attacking directly. Marcelo Bielsa’s team gets nervous, loses the ball easily, and the coach decides to make a defensive substitution – Tevez comes out, Quiroga comes in, a forward out in exchange of an additional center back. Right before the final whistle Adriano scores the equalizer for the Brazilian side and the final goes to a penalty shootout.

And guess what? Brazil won the American Cup. What a way to highlight the importance of coaching that Up A Goal, Down A Goal, wouldn’t you agree?