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On the fifth day of World Cup, South Africa gave to me: Maicon proves Jonathon Wilson’s prediction to be true

June 16, 2010

On the 56th minute of yesterday’s evening match, I expect Jonathon Wilson was sitting there feeling very happy with himself. In March last year, Wilson predicted that the full-back position may be the most important position on the pitch.

His rationale is logical and observable, full-backs are the players who have the most space in-front of them to run forward. Of course, this is a two-way street and the space full-backs have can be closed down to render them ineffective which is an advantage of playing a formation with wingers.

Yesterday’s match was made for a full-back like Maicon. Against a North Korean team playing a 5-3-2 system, he did not have any wingers to mark and there was no winger to stop him moving forward. This allowed him at his adventurous best, with him sprinting one-hundred and forty times in the match, running solo into the attacking third twenty times and 47% of all Brazil attacks taking place down his right side.

An interesting development in the second-half was the shift in North Korean’s average position. In the second half, Michel Bastos was passed to a lot more (the player the ball was most passed to), shifting the North Korean’s midfield and tight defence to the right. This gave Maicon a lot more space to attack, where his runs were not picked up by the Korean defence.

North Korean average position: First Half.


North Korean Average Position: Second Half.

Elano’s inside-right position manufactures space for Maicon to get forward and always gave the North Korean midfield someone to pick-up, further allowing Maicon more space to get forward.

Heatmap of Elano

Where Maicon has space and no direct opponent, there is an opportunity for him to run from deep, where he can pick up pace and be harder to stop. This makes the position of full-back such an important area on the pitch as they are often play the position that space is routinely available to them. They can routinely make up-numbers and over-man areas, which when football is reduced down to its core principles, is the reason why formations exist.

To get all thoughtful now, football, like chess, is about using space and timing. Systems exist to be able to break down your opponent defence whilst preventing the breakdown of yours. It’s simple, full-backs have the most space available to them, as well as having the ability from a deep position to time the breaking down of a defence.

It is when a defence is packed, like the North Korean’s last night, that these simple rules really shine through. An organised defence removes any extraneous reasons for a goal-scoring opportunity to appear, resulting in the need for a team to harness the importance of space and timing.

For Maicon’s goal, it is a great illustration of the full-backs ability to subsume these fundamental principles.

With the ball over to Elano, the left-sided wing back will go out and close down to Elano. There is space for Maicon, you cannot even see him on the screenshot at the time of the pass. His timing of his run is vital for him to exploit the space and pick up enough speed to by-pass any covering defenders.


Right now, it is two against two and Maicon and Elano still has a lot to do to keep Maicon still running at that pace to allow him enough time to make a goal scoring opportunity behind the two players who have come to close the both of them down.

The pass is successful and was one of the first times during the game that the Brazilians went beyond the Korean defence. With a quick shift of attack incorporated with the overloading of the right-side, Maicon have been able to get into the valuable space beyond a deep Korean defence.

Jonathon Wilson statement was verified last night, the position of full-back was the most dangerous and may make the biggest difference in a tight match. They may not individually be the players who cause the most damage throughout ninety minutes, but when playing against a tight, packed defence, it is the player at full-back who have the vision to understand space ahead and are able to time runs to penetrate defences from deep.

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