Finishing from inside the box: 'In it to win it'

Finishing from inside the box: 'In it to win it'

9 out of 10 (90%) open play goals at the 2023 Women’s World Cup were scored from inside the box.  In this blog Game Insights Analyst Dan Simpson explores the data and implications for how coaches can incorporate this into their coaching practice.  Showing that when it comes to the penalty box you really do have to be ‘in it to win it’.   

67% of all goals at the tournament were scored from open play, and although we all enjoy a screamer like Sam Kerr’s long-range strike in the semi-final (we can appreciate it more now given the result!), the numbers suggest that to be effective at scoring goals the penalty box really is the place to be.

At the FIFA Women’s World Cup we have seen an increase in goals being scored from inside the box and when we compare this to previous tournaments, we can see a seven percent increase from the 2015 Women’s World Cup (83%) and a two percent increase from the 2019 tournament (88%), indicating that teams are perhaps working the ball into better areas, and maximising their goalscoring opportunities when in the box. And this isn’t just the case in the female game! This current Premier League season has seen 86% of all open play goals come from inside the box, a number which is 3% higher than the previous five seasons average of 83%.

Given that 82 open play goals were scored from inside the box, a conversion rate of one goal for every eight shots, compared to one in every 27 outside the box, it’s no surprise we are now seeing teams opting to work the ball into better goalscoring positions than shooting from outside the box.  The 2015 tournament saw just 59% of shots come from inside the box, this was even lower in 2019 (52%) but the recent 2023 tournament saw teams take 64% of their shots from inside the box, an average of 7 per game.  This figure was far surpassed by tournament winners Spain who averaged 13 shots per game from inside the box (67% of total shots).

So, we are seeing that to create better goalscoring opportunities it’s important to get the ball into the box. But how can we work on this with our players?

Get the ball in the box as much as possible

Finishing the attack, or scoring goals is possibly the most difficult game phase to coach. However, it is also the phase which brings the greatest reward. A good starting place for your coaching would be to set up your practice in and around the penalty area. Goals are scored in a wide variety of ways, whether it’s from a cut back cross, a dribble, or rebound, so it’s important to ensure your players can receive and finish from different angles and situations. 

Consider your practice set up

Given the nature of a fast paced and fun finishing practice, footballs are likely to be flying everywhere. The ideal set up is finishing into a goal which may have a fence behind it to stop any wayward shots. You could also create a competition where each attacking team has ten shots or phases of play before swapping around. 

Make your practice opposed

Unopposed practices provide a great opportunity for players to work on their technique, but to replicate the demands of the game making your practice opposed you create an environment where your players get to practice where their ability to recognise space and predict where the ball and their opponents will be, in order to time their movements and get a shot on goal.

Recognise the needs of your players

Ensure you are matching your practice design to the needs and capabilities of your players.  If working with younger players, they may need more time to manipulate the ball to get a shot on goal, compared to more technically developed and senior players who thrive on ‘one-touch’ finishing.

If you enjoyed this blog, check out the following resources for some further reading:

Finishing session: Overloads, underloads and matched up numbers

Finishing in the Euros: How do different techniques impact working with younger players