WC Round 2-3: Don’t keep the ball

We are now in the final 16 of the World Cup and my analysis and stats had a huge step up this past week as I went for my UEFA Pro license course in Copenhagen and had the pleasure to discuss and analyze football with good coaches and teachers. And I have some interesting stats to look at from round 2 and 3.

The penalty box is still the key
In my last World Cup column, I pointed out how difficult it is to score statistically outside the box. I have also done the stats for the last two rounds of the group stage and the picture is still the same. In round 2 the teams needed a few chances more inside the box per goal (the conversion rate), so the number was 5,8 chances per goal (4,5 in round 1). But the number for scoring outside the box went up from 32,3 in round 1 to 46,7 in round 2, so still a huge gap between the numbers.

In round 3 the same picture continue. The conversion rate inside the box is 5,6, while outside the box the number is now 44,2. So in general after 48 games and the group stage of the World Cup 2014, we can conclude that inside the box is the key to score goals.

I have since my last column had some very interesting discussions with football related people about the conversion rate data. And as mentioned before - we need to analyze each game to find out why and how the stats are made. For example Mexico vs Brazil in round 2 - the Mexican plan could be to finish every attack with a shot to avoid counter attacks against them, and therefore the Mexico conversion rate is high in this game, but their plan to shoot from the distance was on purpose.

Furthermore, some teams shooting outside the box are trying to make the opponent’s back 4 pushing up, so they create space in the depth. So shooting outside the box is not always to score, but can have a tactical perspective and be a part of the plan. And we need to remember this aspect looking at data and statistic.

Don’t keep the ball too long
A classic discussion in football is the use of possession. Spain was accused during this campaign for not changing their style keeping the ball in possession not always creating chances. I have found some interesting stats regarding this subject:

In round 1 - 70% of the teams having most possession during a game - also won the game. In round 2 and round 3 the picture changed completely. Now - the team having less possession win almost 70% of the games. So what has happened from round 1 to round 2 and 3?

I had a good talk with the assistant coach on the Danish national team, Peter Bonde, and we agreed that the climate and physical conditions are so difficult in Brazil that in round 1 the players were fresh and it was therefore a good idea to keep the ball.

But since round 1 the players got tired, physically and mentally stressed by flying, changing conditions and you have to let the ball go more, playing more direct, simple letting the opponent keep the ball to regain strength and control.

Interesting stats show that teams like Holland and Colombia, who both have 9 points for 3 games, had less possession during their games. While teams like Italy, England, Spain and Portugal did not change their style from the qualification to this World Cup and maybe therefore they are out before the final games. I would claim that Holland understood the tournament and the conditions, while a team like England forgot to read the cup tournament concept and how the handle the difficult parts.

Another one of my stats show that most goals in this World Cup campaign so far are scored after a possession phase.

Meaning: teams score most goals after having the ball in possession - building up from behind.

Therefore a conclusion can be that a team in this World Cup need the ball in possession to score - counter attacks and set pieces are not enough - but the team don’t need the ball too much as most possession during an entire game make a team physically tired, and statistically the team having most possession will lose.