Tactical efficacy and offensive game processes adopted by Italian and Brazilian youth soccer players

Paulo Henrique Borges Júlio Garganta José Guilherme Matheus de Oliveira Jaime Vanessa Menezes Menegassi Leandro Rechenchosky Dourivaldo Teixeira Wilson Rinaldi About the authors

Abstract

Aim:

To analyze success and failure of offensive sequences and the adopted offensive method in under-15 (U-15) and under-17 (U-17) soccer players.

Methods:

The sample was composed of 218 offensive sequences performed by U-15 and U-17 players selected from 28 matches, being 18 matches of an Italian team and 10 matches of a Brazilian team. All offensive sequences which ended in finalization were selected for the analysis. Using observational methodology, an adapted ad hoc observational instrument was built with the variables “number of players involved”, “ball touches”, “passing”, “duration”, and “corridor changes”. Next, offensive actions were classified into three offensive game methods: counter-attack, quick attack, and positional attack.

Results:

Results revealed that teams which use positional attack expend more time constructing an offensive play, involve extra players, and change the ball corridor more often during offensive actions when compared to counter-attack and quick attack (p<0.01). Moreover, offensive efficacy did not present an association with the offensive method employed (X2=0.47; p=0.78). Sequences that finished in success presented significantly higher values of the number of touches (p=0.02), passes (p=0.003), and duration (p=0.01) in comparison to failure.

Conclusion:

The findings suggest that all offensive methods adopted can be used to reach success during a game of U-15 and U-17 soccer players.

Keywords:
youth sports; tactical efficacy; performance indicators

Introduction

Football is known as a team sport characterized by alternation between offensive and defensive phases of the game, where players are required to interact with their teammates to manage the constraints offered by opponents11. Barreira D, Garganta J, Guimarães P, Machado J, Anguera MT. Ball recovery patterns as a performance indicator in elite soccer. J Sports Engineering and Technology. 2014; 228(1): 61-72.. Given the relevance of the management of game space to achieve success, a series of studies have recently been developed, trying to understand the complex dynamics of football. Interaction between players in different situations22. Grund TU. Network structure and team performance: The case of English Premier League soccer teams. Soc Networks. 2012; 34(4): 682-690.)- (44. Praça GM, Clemente F, Andrade AG, Morales JC, Greco PJ. Network analysis in small-sided and conditioned soccer games: the influence of additional players and playing position. Kinesiology. 2017; 49(2): 185-193., metrics that discriminate winning, drawing and losing teams55. Carvalho FM, Scaglia AJ, Teoldo I. Influence of tactical performance over the final score of small-sided soccer matches. J Phys Educ. 2013; 24(3): 393-400.), (66. Winter C, Pfeiffer M. Tactical metrics that discriminate winning, drawing and losing teams in UEFA Euro 2012(r). J Sport Sci. 2015; 34(6): 1-7., comparison between possession and direct play77. Kempe M, Vogelbein M, Memmert D, Nopp S. Possession vs. Direct Play: Evaluating Tactical Behavior in Elite Soccer. Int J Sports Science. 2014; 4(6): 35-41., collective dynamics evolution over the last three decades88. Barreira D, Garganta J, Castellano J, Machado J, Anguera MT. How elite-level soccer dynamics has evolved over the last three decades? Input from generalizability theory. Cuadernos de Psicología del Deporte. 2015; 15(1): 51-62., and core tactical principle execution99. Castelão D, Garganta J, Santos R, Teoldo I. Comparison of tactical behaviour and performance of youth soccer players in 3v3 and 5v5 small-sided games. Int J Perf Anal Spor. 2014; 14(3): 801-813.)- (1212. Rechenchosky L, Borges PH, Menegassi VM, Jaime MO, Guilherme J, Teoldo I, Rinaldi W. Comparison of tactical principles efficiency among soccer players from different game positions. Hum Mov. 2017; 18(5): 31-38. are examples of information suggested by different authors to clarify the tactical domain in football.

Regarding the offensive phase of the game, teams can basically play three offensive methods: a counter-attack, quick attack, and positional attack1313. Castelo J. Futebol - Organização Dinâmica do Jogo. Lisboa, Edições FMH, 2004.. Counter-attack refers to an offensive situation with the following characteristics: i) transition from defense to attack occurs quickly in a reduced period; ii) the opposing team’s defense is unbalanced; iii) actions are performed with high intensity and lower passes - especially depth passes. Quick-attack is also characterized by an intense transition from defense to attack but the opponent’s defensive system is more organized than in counter-attack, and passes are performed with depth and width. The positional attack is an offensive method often used by teams with high technical and tactical qualities, where players spend more time building offensive play and collective team behavior is guided by a homogenous and compact block77. Kempe M, Vogelbein M, Memmert D, Nopp S. Possession vs. Direct Play: Evaluating Tactical Behavior in Elite Soccer. Int J Sports Science. 2014; 4(6): 35-41.), (1313. Castelo J. Futebol - Organização Dinâmica do Jogo. Lisboa, Edições FMH, 2004.)- (1515. Hewitt A, Greenham G, Norton K. Game style in soccer: what is it and can we quantify it? Int J Perf Anal Spor. 2016; 16(1): 355-372..

The choice of one method over another may consider many types of information, such as the ideas of coaches, player skills, and the objectives and structure of the club, among others1616. Maciel J. Não o deixes matar: o bom futebol e quem o joga. Lisboa, Chiado Editora, 2011.), (1717. Casarin RV, Silva RR, Greboggy D, Afonso CA, Scaglia AJ. Modelo de jogo e processo de ensino no futebol: princípios globais e específicos. Movimento. 2011; 17(3): 133-152.. Furthermore, clubs need to constantly evaluate their tactical performance to understand whether the methods adopted are adjusted to the characteristics of the team77. Kempe M, Vogelbein M, Memmert D, Nopp S. Possession vs. Direct Play: Evaluating Tactical Behavior in Elite Soccer. Int J Sports Science. 2014; 4(6): 35-41.. Match analysis has been used for this purpose through observational methodology1818. Fernandez J, Camerino O, Anguera MT, Jonsson G. Identifying and analyzing the construction and effectiveness of offensive plays in basketball by using systematic observation. Behav Res Methods. 2009; 41(3): 719-730.)- (2222. Anguera MT, Camerino O, Castañer M, Sánchez-Algarra P, Onwuegbuzie A. The Specificity of Observational Studies in Physical Activity and Sports Sciences: Moving Forward in Mixed Methods Research and Proposals for Achieving Quantitative and Qualitative Symmetry. Front psychol. 2017; 19(8): 1-14..

Although the number of studies related to observational analysis in football has increased over the last few years, it remains unclear whether the offensive methods and behaviors adopted are related to offensive efficiency. Tenga, Ronglan L, Bahr2323. Tenga A, Ronglan L, Bahr R. Measuring the effectiveness of offensive match-play in professional soccer. Eur J Sport Sci. 2010; 10(4): 269-277. reported that offensive sequences with fewer passes increase the chances of producing opportunities for scoring goals compared to elaborate attacks. In contrast, Lago-Peñas, Lago-Ballesteros and Rey2424. Lago-Peñas C, Lago-Ballesteros J, Rey E. Differences in performance indicators between winning and losing teams in the UEFA Champions League. J Hum Kinet. 2011; 27(1): 135-146. found that winning teams had significantly higher average values of passes and ball possession than loser teams. Besides these controversial findings, the majority of studies published in the literature were conducted with adult football players and not youth footballers77. Kempe M, Vogelbein M, Memmert D, Nopp S. Possession vs. Direct Play: Evaluating Tactical Behavior in Elite Soccer. Int J Sports Science. 2014; 4(6): 35-41.), (2525. Lago-Peñas C, Martin R. Determinants of possession of the ball in soccer. J Sport Sci. 2007; 25(9): 969-974.. Therefore, new studies investigating offensive sequences in youth players may reveal which offensive method is more efficient at these ages. This information might help coaches to identify patterns and indicators that could be used as references during training2626. Garganta J, Maia J, Basto F. Analysis of Goal-Scoring Patterns in European Top Level Soccer Teams. In: Science and Football III. London; 1997, p. 246-250..

Thus, the aim of this study is to analyze the success and failure of offensive sequences and the adopted offensive method in U-15 and U-17 soccer players.

Methods

Participants

This is an observational study, with an extensive-point-idiographic-unidimensional design. According to Anguera2727. Anguera MT, Hernández-Mendo A. Metodología observacional y psicologia del deporte: estado de la cuestión. Rev Psicol Deporte. 2014; 23(1): 103-109. and Portell, Anguera, Chacón-Moscoso, Chaves2828. Portell M, Anguera MT, Chacón-Moscoso S, Chaves SS. Guidelines for reporting evaluations based on observational methodology. Psicothema. 2015; 27(3): 283-289., the observational methodology allows monitoring the behaviour in the context where it happens, prioritizing contextual representativeness of the data with quality in a context without standardized evaluation tools. The present study shows a single level of response expressed by a unidimensional design, with a group of users, in a specific moment of observation, focusing on static behavioural indicators.

The sample consisted of 218 offensive actions selected from 28 matches, including 18 matches of the Italian team U-15 in dispute for the Italian championship, season 2015/2016, and 10 matches of the Brazilian team - 5 matches U-15 and 5 matches U-17 - in dispute for the national and state championship, season 2016. Matches were randomly selected along the season. The Brazilian and Italian teams were selected as they represent traditional soccer-playing countries, which usually produce good young players. The Brazilian club included athletes selected from many states of the country and a weekly routine composed of five training sessions, whereas the Italian club presented a weekly routine composed of three training sessions, and generally included players selected from nearby towns.

The clubs were duly informed about the procedures to be adopted and signed the free and informed consent term. The study was included in the institutional research project titled "Tactical behavior in football: Evaluation of offensive tactical actions and their implications in the process of sports training of young soccer players", approved by the Ethics Committee of the State University of Maringá (Proc. 1.627.516).

The following inclusion criteria were adopted: (1) Offensive sequences that finished in shooting towards opponent's goal; (2) Free and informed consent term signed by the responsible clubs, and as exclusion criteria: (1) Free kick with direct shooting towards the opponent’s goal; (2) Offensive sequences that did not present the criteria for characterizing the offensive methods proposed by Garganta2929. Garganta, J. Modelação táctica do jogo de futebol: estudo da organização da fase ofensiva em equipas de alto rendimento. Porto. Tese [Doutorado em Ciências do Desporto] - Universidade do Porto; 1997..

Procedures

To obtain the videos, the cameras were located on a high plane in relation to the game plan to facilitate a topographic view of the playing field. Data collection was performed through observational analysis using Match Vision Studio Premium® software3030. Castellano J, Perea A, Alday L, Hernández-Mendo A. The measuring and observation tool in sports. Behav Res Methods. 2008; 40(3): 898-905.)- (3232. Almeida CH, Duarte R, Volossovitch A, Ferreira AP. Scoring mode and age-related effects on youth soccer team's defensive performance during small-sided games. J Sport Sci. 2016; 34(14): 1355-1362.. This software enables the researcher to create a categorical matrix according to the variables to be analyzed (Figure 1).

Figure 1
Screen capture from Match Vision Studio Premium® software with the categorical matrix used in the study.

Only the offensive actions which ended in finalization were selected, as suggested by Almeida3333. Almeida C. Caracterização das sequências ofensivas no futebol juvenil: Efeitos da experiência e de variantes reduzidas do jogo. Lisboa. Dissertação [Treino do jovem atleta] - Universidade Técnica de Lisboa; 2010.. The variables used to create the categorical matrix were proposed by Garganta2929. Garganta, J. Modelação táctica do jogo de futebol: estudo da organização da fase ofensiva em equipas de alto rendimento. Porto. Tese [Doutorado em Ciências do Desporto] - Universidade do Porto; 1997. and Almeida3333. Almeida C. Caracterização das sequências ofensivas no futebol juvenil: Efeitos da experiência e de variantes reduzidas do jogo. Lisboa. Dissertação [Treino do jovem atleta] - Universidade Técnica de Lisboa; 2010., and are presented in Table 1.

Table 1
Categories of offensive actions and results of the offensive actions.

All sequences where players scored a goal were considered as successful sequences, and those sequences which finished with kick out or goalkeeper’s defense were classified as a failure. The characterization of the offensive game method proposed by Garganta2929. Garganta, J. Modelação táctica do jogo de futebol: estudo da organização da fase ofensiva em equipas de alto rendimento. Porto. Tese [Doutorado em Ciências do Desporto] - Universidade do Porto; 1997., and presented in Table 2 was used to identify the different playing styles during the offensive actions: counter-attack (CA), quick attack (QA), and positional attack (PA).

Table 2
Characteristics of Offensive Game Methods.

Quality control of data

Regarding data control, 42 offensive sequences were randomly selected to be analysed by an independent evaluator and reanalysed by the main evaluator, aiming to get the agreement between intra and inter rates. In this sense, The Kappa index was applied for qualitative variables of the study and intraclass correlation coefficient for quantitative variables, according to recommendations exposed in the literature3535. Barros MVG, Reis RS, Hallal PC, Florindo AA, Junior JCF. Análise de dados em saúde. Londrina: Midiograf, 2012.. All variables presented k>0.81 and r>.91, indicating a reliability “near perfect” (3636. Maroco J. Análise estatística com o SPSS Statistics. Lisboa: ReportNumber, 2014..

Statistical analysis

Non-parametric analysis was employed and data are presented as median, and first and third quartiles (Q1-Q3). To compare offensive methods and tactical-technical variables, the Kruskal-Wallis and Mann Whitney U tests were adopted. Afterward, Eta Squared test (η2) was used to verify effect size. The Chi-Squared test through the Pearson method was employed to verify the association between the offensive method and sequence outcome (p<0.05).

To verify the level of relationship between variables, Correlation Network Analysis was executed among tactical-technical variables in offensive sequences that finished in success. The variables "players involved", "ball touches", "passing", "duration", and "corridor changes" were analyzed and correlated using the Spearman method. Each node represents a variable and the edges that connect the nodes represent the correlation value. The thickness of the edges and colors are related to the correlation strength (as shown in figure 3). Only correlations equal to or above r=0.3 were inserted in the analysis. Social Network Analysis (SNA) has been used to investigate individual and collective behavior in team sports3737. Lusher D, Robins G, Kremer P. The Application of Social Network Analysis to Team Sports. Measurement in Physical Education and Exercise Science. 2010; 14(4): 211-224..

The programs Statistical Package for the Social Sciences - SPSS (v. 22.0), R (v. 3.5.1) and RStudio (v. 1.1.456) were used. The “R” packages adopted were “tidyverse”, “corrr”, “igraph”, and “ggraph”.

Results

Table 3 presents the comparisons of tactical-technical indicators among the offensive methods evaluated: counter-attack, quick attack, and positional attack. The results showed that positional attack differed significantly from the other sequences (p<0.01), is structured with a higher number of “players involved”, “passes”, “ball touches”, and “ball corridor changes”. In addition, positional attack sequences presented longer duration, considering the time of execution in seconds.

Table 3
Comparison of tactical-technical indicators between different offensive methods.

Table 4 presents the association between offensive methods according to the sequences that ended in success (goal) or failure. The findings show that the three methods were similarly efficient when considering the achievement of success in the offensive sequence. However, quick attack sequences were more frequently adopted by teams when trying to progress offensively.

Table 4
Association between different offensive methods and sequence outcome.

Figure 2 shows the comparisons of tactical-technical indicators according to sequence outcome efficiency (success or failure). The results demonstrate that the number of players involved and ball corridor changes was similar in both situations (p>0.05). Sequences that ended in success presented significantly higher values of “number of touches” (p=0.02), “passes” (p=0.03), and “duration” (p=0.01) in comparison to failure.

Figure 2
Comparison of tactical-technical indicators according to sequence outcome.

With regard to Figure 3, correlation network analysis among tactical and technical variables executed in offensive sequences that finished in success presented an important centrality of the variables “passing”, “ball touches”, and “duration”.

Figure 3
Correlation network analysis among tactical and technical variables in offensive sequences that finished in success (goal).

This means that in offensive sequences, these variables are central components to achieve the goal, as well as which, these variables are related to each other and presented strong correlations with the other tactical-technical indicators.

Discussion

The study aimed to analyze success and failure of offensive sequences and the adopted offensive method in U-15 and U-17 soccer players. The findings showed that there was no greater efficiency in achieving success in the offensive sequence, according to the method adopted (Table 2). These indications corroborate with several studies3838. Hughes M, Franks I. Analysis of passing sequences, shots and goals in soccer. J Sport Sci. 2005; 23(5): 509-514.)- (4141. Vogelbein M, Nopp S, Hökelmann A. Defensive transition in soccer - are prompt possession regains a measure of success? A quantitative analysis of German Fußball-Bundesliga 2010/2011. J Sport Sci. 2014; 32(11): 1076-1083. which report that different styles of offensive construction can be equally effective as long as they are well executed and disciplined. Top-performing teams are able to impose and maintain their game standard, regardless of their opponent, the location of the game, or possible situational changes throughout the game4242. Lago-Peñas C, Gómez-Ruano M, Yang, G. Styles of play in professional soccer: an approach of the Chinese Soccer Super League. Int J Perf Anal Spor. 2018; 17(6): 1073-1084..

In relation to the contributions of the tactical-technical characteristics of the adopted offensive method (Table 3), it was found that the construction positional attack showed a significant difference in corridor changes (p<0.01), ball touches (p<0.01), passes (p<0.01), duration (p<0.01), and players involved (p<0.01) when compared to the other methods adopted. It is believed that teams that seek an offensive construction with the positional attack are technically superior4242. Lago-Peñas C, Gómez-Ruano M, Yang, G. Styles of play in professional soccer: an approach of the Chinese Soccer Super League. Int J Perf Anal Spor. 2018; 17(6): 1073-1084., preferring to control the game, dictating the rhythm instead of giving the initiative to the opponent4040. Collet C. The possession game? A comparative analysis of ball retention and team success in European and international football, 2007-2010. J Sport Sci. 2013; 31(2): 123-136., thus being more conservative, with a greater tendency to maintain ball possession, practicing an indirect game. Some studies indicated that these behaviours could help teams to win the game4343. Lago-Peñas C, Lago-Ballesteros J, Dellal A, Gomes M. Game-related statistics that discriminated winning, drawing and losing teams from the Spanish soccer league. J Sports Sci. 2010; 9(2): 288-293.), (4444. Liu H, Gomez MA, Lago-Peñas C, Sampaio J. Match statistics related to winning in the group of 2014 Brazil FIFA World Cup. J Sports Sci. 2015; 33(12): 1205-1213..

On the other hand, two explanations may help to explain why counter-attack and quick attack presented less “players involved”, “passing”, “duration”, “ball touches”, and “corridor changes” than positional attack (Table 3). Firstly, both methods are characterized by a fast transition from defense to attack, where teams make deep passes to reach the opposing goal quickly. Given the risks associated with sending the ball to areas that are occupied mainly by opposing teams, the loss of ball possession is often observed. Secondly, even when playing with high rhythm and fast offensive transitions77. Kempe M, Vogelbein M, Memmert D, Nopp S. Possession vs. Direct Play: Evaluating Tactical Behavior in Elite Soccer. Int J Sports Science. 2014; 4(6): 35-41., teams organize their offensive phase of the game with a low quantity of passes and players involved.

To control the match while maintaining ball possession may be an important strategy to prevent the team from being attacked, as it maintains the balance of the team, with advanced positioning on the field, facilitating ball possession recovery in the most offensive half of the field. The place where the ball is recovered may be a preponderant factor to obtain success2727. Anguera MT, Hernández-Mendo A. Metodología observacional y psicologia del deporte: estado de la cuestión. Rev Psicol Deporte. 2014; 23(1): 103-109., since constructions with characteristics of fast attack usually occur after recovering ball possession in the offensive field which generates shots on goal4141. Vogelbein M, Nopp S, Hökelmann A. Defensive transition in soccer - are prompt possession regains a measure of success? A quantitative analysis of German Fußball-Bundesliga 2010/2011. J Sport Sci. 2014; 32(11): 1076-1083., while also leaving the opposing defensive system unorganized. In the present study, we found a higher frequency of finishing with fast attack characteristics (Table 4).

Other studies indicate that offensive sequences constructed with counter-attack characteristics are more effective than elaborate sequences2323. Tenga A, Ronglan L, Bahr R. Measuring the effectiveness of offensive match-play in professional soccer. Eur J Sport Sci. 2010; 10(4): 269-277.), (4545. Lago-Ballesteros J, Lago-Peñas C, Rey E. The effect of playing tactics and situational variables on achieving score-box possessions in a professional soccer team. J Sport Sci. 2012; 30(14): 1455-1461.), (4646. Gonzales-Rodenas J, Lopez-Bondia I, Calabuig F, James N, Aranda R. Association between playing tactics and creating scoring opportunities in elite football: A case study in Spanish Football National Team. J Hum Sport Exercise. 2015; 10(1): 65-80.. However, the effectiveness of counter-attack actions is strictly related to the capabilities and organization of the opposing team; counter-attacks are more effective than other methods when the opponent presents an unbalanced and unorganized defense2323. Tenga A, Ronglan L, Bahr R. Measuring the effectiveness of offensive match-play in professional soccer. Eur J Sport Sci. 2010; 10(4): 269-277.), (4545. Lago-Ballesteros J, Lago-Peñas C, Rey E. The effect of playing tactics and situational variables on achieving score-box possessions in a professional soccer team. J Sport Sci. 2012; 30(14): 1455-1461.), (4646. Gonzales-Rodenas J, Lopez-Bondia I, Calabuig F, James N, Aranda R. Association between playing tactics and creating scoring opportunities in elite football: A case study in Spanish Football National Team. J Hum Sport Exercise. 2015; 10(1): 65-80..

Regarding the contributions in Figure 2, the study identified that all the successful offensive sequences differed significantly in “touches” (p=0.02), “passes” (p<0.01), and “duration” (p=0.01) compared to failure. In addition, the correlation network analysis in Figure 3 also presented the importance of these three variables (“ball touches”, “passes”, and “duration”) in offensive sequences that finished in success (goal), showing that they are related to each other and presented moderate to strong (r>0.30) correlations with the other tactical-technical indicators. These results reinforce the indications of Liu, Gomez, Gonçalves, Sampaio4747. Liu H, Gomez M, Gonçalves B, Sampaio J. Technical performance and match-to-match variation in elite football teams. J Sport Sci. 2016; 34(6): 509-518. and Kite and Nevill4848. Kite C, Nevill A. The Predictors and Determinants of Inter-Seasonal Success in a Professional Soccer Team. J Hum Kinet. 2017; 58(1): 157-167. who infer that successful teams make more ball touches and more passes in a shorter time during offensive sequences, indicating the greater success of the actions with high speed of ball transmission. Moreover, failure actions are interrupted before their conclusion, while successful sequences are those where players develop their tactical and technical intentions.

According to Garganta, Guilherme, Barreira, Brito, Rebelo4949. Garganta J, Guilherme J, Barreira D, Brito J, Rebelo A. Fundamentos e Praticas para o Ensino e Treino do Futebol. In: Jogos Desportivos Coletivos: Ensinar a jogar. Porto, Faculdade de Desporto da Universidade do Porto; 2013. p. 199-263., in order to achieve effectiveness the fundamental objective in the transition from the defensive moment to the offensive moment, must be to progress towards the adversary crossings, in a fast and effective way, taking advantage of the opponent’s momentary positional disorganization, although in many cases greater efficiency is achieved when the players opt for paths that, although theoretically more time-consuming, are more accessible as they do not present so many obstacles. This behavior should be encouraged from the initial categories, as it prevents the player from losing sight of the main objective of the game (goal), seeking to prevent an exacerbated indirect game5050. Garganta J. Competências no ensino e treino de jovens futebolistas. EF Deportes. 2002; 8(45): 1-6..

As a possible limitation of the study, we consider the use of only two national teams from two countries, by this way, limiting the possibilities of assuming similar results for other contexts. However, the results proved relevant to better fill the existing gap in relation to studies on the success, failure, and offensive methods used in actions performed by young players, U-15 and U-17.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we identified that all offensive methods may be used to reach success during a game of U-15 and U-17 soccer players. Therefore, coaches involved with training youth players should consider that there is not only one way to manage offensive movements during a game. All the offensive methods adopted can provide efficient outcomes. It is possible that player characteristics, the ideas of coaches, game model, training methods, and cultural aspects are factors that affect game performance.

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the Coritiba Football Club and Associazione Calcio Pisa for permission to perform this study with their youth soccer players. We are also grateful to the Coordination of Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (CAPES/Brazil) for the Master Scholarship conceded to M.O.J and V.M.M.

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Publication Dates

  • Publication in this collection
    12 Aug 2019
  • Date of issue
    2019

History

  • Received
    18 Nov 2018
  • Accepted
    17 Mar 2019
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