World Cup group stage analysed: Japan love a line-breaking pass, Lewandowski walks more than Messi

After 13 chaotic days of football, the knockout stages of the 2022 World Cup are upon us.

Before we set foot on the road to the World Cup finals, let’s take a quick look at the group stage storylines and identify some interesting features and data trends that caught our eye.

Burnout starts in 50% of games? Which player hit the top gear? Historical number “reversed” result? Allow Athletes It takes you through it, starting with the setup…


Teams that prefer four rear doors

Now, it would be too simplistic to say that starting lineups are fixed for 90 – or rather, 100 – minutes of play. Teams are set up differently depending on their attacking or defensive formations, while game mode and opponent tactics mean formations can change significantly throughout the game. Just ask Japan

However, they still give us an idea of ​​what a manager is looking for when setting up his team. In the group stage, 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 were the most common starting formations used – both have been used 25 times in 48 games so far.

The 4-2-3-1 formation was interesting Witness the return of the role of number 10, as recently by AthletesLiam Tarme. At international level, there is simply a greater need to maximize the skill of your best player to get them into the most creative situations, which has understandably been the theme of the group stage.

Meanwhile, do not underestimate the use of the back three system. While many may associate this formation with a more cautious defensive approach reserved for so-called weaker nations, it can be very effective from an attacking perspective, allowing the full-backs to step up and provide extra pressure against stubborn defences. do

Just look at the joy Denzel Dumfries had at right back against the United States.


Half of the 48 games were 0-0 in the first half

If you missed the first few minutes of some group games – you didn’t miss much.

In 48 group games, 24 have been 0-0 at half-time – a pattern that may be due to a lack of team cohesion caused by the rapid turnover between club and international football.

There are many factors that can affect this result, but instead of focusing on the goals, we need to look a little deeper into the quality of the situations in the games. Dividing by the number of expected goals (xG) per period of play, we see a significant drop in the quality of chances in the first half hour of games – the underlying numbers support what you’ve been watching, not a lot of goal-scoring action.

The game state will probably lead to more shots as the game progresses, but the difference between the time periods is stark. The only odd thing about the extra 30-45 minutes is that the extra time provides a bigger window to rack up xG – otherwise, the result is simply that we’ve had more chances in the second half than in empty first halves. group stage

With regards to the xG, it really comes into its own in a wider sample. Three games per team means there are likely to be swings, bad luck and some shocks along the way.

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This year, relegated Germany was on the wrong side of such a swing.

Their expected goal difference – which takes into account the quality of chances created and conceded – was actually the best in the group stage, although it increased sharply in their final game against Costa Rica on Thursday. Their extravagance paid off in the end.


31% of teams reversed the result between the first and second games

The final group stage games were dramatic, but the first two games were just as noisy. In fact, if you feel like this World Cup hasn’t been the same, that’s because it is – the numbers simply back it up.

When we look at the first two games in each group, an interesting trend emerges – there have been many reversals this campaign.

What do we mean by reverses? This is simply reversing a team’s first result with its second result. A team loses its first game, then wins its next game, and vice versa. For example, Argentina started their group with a 2-1 loss against Saudi Arabia, followed by a 2-0 win against Mexico.

Looking at the return of the first two games for each World Cup competition since 1998 – the first year of the 32-team format – this year has the most, with a staggering 31% of teams recording the opposite result between games. . – First and second day

For context, the 2018 World Cup saw 18% change – flat, comfortable and relentless. The closest rate to this year was in 2010, when 25 teams swapped results between match days, with tournament winners Spain opening their campaign with a 1-0 loss to Switzerland before reversing the results with a 2-0 win over Honduras. .

What does this tell us about this group stage? No one is really convinced in all three games, with no team finishing with nine points in any of the eight groups.

It was messy and we loved it.


Seven wins for African teams

Following the Quirks tournament, this year has seen the most group stage wins by African teams (seven), having won a combined total of just three games in each of the previous six tournaments.

Meanwhile, we have three Asian teams in the knockout stages for the first time in World Cup history, with South Korea, Japan and Australia all making it through. A closer look reveals that eight of the countries that have qualified are non-European, compared to only six at the 2018 World Cup.

This figure is not unprecedented, as 10 non-European countries advanced to the knockout stage in 2014. .


32 team game style

Yes, these three games are played, but we can still get a hint of style from each country during that period. How? Well, we can look at a team’s ‘direct speed’, which is how fast they drive the ball towards the goal (in meters per second). A higher number indicates that a team is more inclined to advance the ball quickly.

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This pace of attack can be thought of as a parallel to how often a team likes to hold the ball when they have it, as measured by “passes in any order”. More passes per sequence is considered more practice, hitting the ball more during a given possession rather than a fastball upfield.

Few people will be surprised to find that Spain’s possession-heavy style alone claims an average of 6.2 passes per sequence above England, Argentina and the Netherlands.

Spain’s average of 77 percent possession over the three games dwarfs any other nation, with their 81.3 percent possession against Costa Rica the highest share in a World Cup game since 1966.

At the other end of the scale, the direct style of play between Iran and Saudi Arabia was refreshing, as both nations were the fastest forwards when they had the ball – both at 1.8m/s. For Iran in particular, their targeted counter-attacks almost got them over the line and they missed out on second place for the USMNT in their final Group B game.

There is no right or wrong way to play football, it’s just different.


From which regions did the teams create?

For anyone looking to scout their opponents in the playoffs, let’s look at where the odds are going among the teams that have made it to the last 16.

It’s interesting to see the nuances between each side – who relies more on creativity than the faction? Who has created their share of corner situations?

You can find out on your own, but some interesting case studies include Spain, whose front line is largely made up of players who want to move inwards to create. As you can see, their chance creation is mainly concentrated in the “Zone 14” in the central space outside the penalty area, especially with less natural width on the right.

For England, their best chances are on the right, with Harry Kane moving to the right to pass to Raheem Sterling (vs Iran) or Phil Foden (vs Wales). The sides have been particularly profitable for Gareth Southgate’s side.

Elsewhere, Argentina have had plenty of success creating chances from the left, but the healthiest chances have come from the right half – splitting into two nets in What we can only describe as the ‘Lionel Messi Zone’.

Brazil? Well, just… good luck defending them.


Lewandowski just gives Messi the trophy

Continuing with the data walk, let’s discuss the walk itself.

Athletes Recently, art has analyzed Messi’s tendency to walk Around the earth while others rush – he finds peace in the chaos that occurs around him.

This has been a hallmark of Messi’s career in recent years, where he assesses where to exploit space and allows the opposition to move while he maintains his position before springing to life. Do you need a certificate? Just play his flower to Mexico movie.

Using FIFA data, we can see that Messi remains at the top when calculating the average distance covered in the three games played.

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Normally you’d expect to see goalkeepers and central defenders at the top of this list – as evidenced by the USA goalkeeper. Matt Turner and Dutch centre-back Virgil van Dijk round out the top 20 – but there are plenty of creative attacking forces out there…

Poland’s Robert Lewandowski leads the list with an average of 4,832 meters in three games and will likely be on standby until he feels a chance to start life.

Unfortunately for Lewandowski, he hasn’t been able to impose his playmaker on the game like Messi – but don’t underestimate his ability to sniff something out, just like he did against Saudi Arabia.


Soleimana and Williams reached maximum speed

Sticking to physical data, a fairly meaningless but very enjoyable metric to scrutinize is which players posted the fastest numbers in the group stage.

The usual suspects Alphonso Davies, Kylian Mbappe and Ashraf Hakimi are in there, but FIFA data shows Ghana’s Kamaldine Soleimana was the fastest, clocking 35.7km/h during his brief 57-minute stint at the tournament.

Admittedly, it’s impossible to choose between the blistering speeds available in the top 20, but it’s no surprise to see that the fastest players are those who play in wide roles.

Now you see them, now you don’t.


Japan loves the pass breaker

In the end, a lot of hearts were broken for players in the group stage as they were eliminated from the tournament, but tactically it’s more fun to talk about lines being broken.

That’s right, using FIFA data, we can look at the number of line-breaking passes a player makes behind the backline – that is, taking the ball forward and breaking through the opposing team’s last line.

For visual learners, it looks something like this…

Simply put, who is looking for that killer ball in the back for their teammate? To Consider the opportunity to make such passeslet’s look at the players’ attempts to break the line behind the opposition’s defense in every 10 passes to see who comes out on top.

Interestingly, Japan’s Takuma Asano is leading the way, chasing 3.1 passes behind the line. That appeared to be the theme of Japan’s play in the group stage, with no fewer than four players in the top 20 – more than any other nation, as their direct and efficient attacking play overcame Spain and Germany.

Elsewhere, you can see Costa Rican Joyson Bennett’s exciting attacking intent when given the chance, with Tottenham Hotspur duo Harry Kane and Son Heung-min also providing the creative mantle of line-breaking passes for England and South Korea respectively. they got.

Pay more attention to this when the match is over, with players’ ability to play line-breaking passes and receive the ball in space.

In the meantime, sit back, try to relax and enjoy the dangers of playoff football.

(Additional collaborator: Maram Al-Baharna)

(Photos: Getty Images/Design: Sam Richardson)



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