Story: Football

Football formations

This interactive shows four of the better-known formations of football players on the field.

In contrast to many team sports, playing positions in football are fluid and flexible. The goalkeeper is the only player to have a fixed position – the other 10 players are simply ‘outfielders’, all theoretically able to defend, win the ball, attack and score goals. Over the years, however, teams have normally lined up formations such as 2/3/5 or 4/4/2, as shown in the first game here. (Those numbers refer to, in order, defenders, the midfield and the attack. The goalkeeper is excluded.) The 2/3/5 formation is a highly attacking arrangement of players, and was popular from about the 1880s to the 1930s.

Since the 1960s the most common formations have been 4/4/2 and 4/3/3, although there is considerable variation within each, depending on the players and tactics. Team formations frequently change from game to game, or even during games. Coaches often make adjustments (sometimes through player substitutions) to counteract the opposing team’s formation or to adopt a more attacking or defensive approach.

The 3/4/3 formation shown in the second game is less common, but was the one used, with surprising success, by the New Zealand team in the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

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How to cite this page:

Neill Atkinson and Steve Watters, 'Football - Football in New Zealand', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/interactive/40911/football-formations (accessed 19 September 2018)

Story by Neill Atkinson and Steve Watters, published 5 Sep 2013, reviewed & revised 15 Jul 2016, updated 15 Sep 2016