World Cup 2014 – Possession with Purpose; What do the tea leaves show?

The brutal facts of World Cup results are beginning to take shape now that 2 games are completed in the Group Stage; some surprises on both ends of the pitch to be sure.

Is the most surprising of all seeing both Spain and England tossed out with the early morning rubbish? Or is it the complete surprise by many that Costa Rica have slid into the final 16?

How all that happened can probably be talked about for ages – for my Possession with Purpose team performance indicators I’ll try to keep it simple and straightforward…

To begin… most consider the attacking side of the pitch to be the most compelling side; given that here’s the Index after 2 full rounds of play in the Group Stage:

APWP After Game 2 Group Stages

APWP After Game 2 Group Stages

Bars green in color are those teams that have already qualified; while those red bars are those teams that have already been elimiated..

Pretty compelling APWP Index so far in the World Cup and tracking along with the general trends already shown with Major League Soccer.

So in peeling back the five teams who are toast – are there any attacking trends that are different from those who have already qualified and those that are eliminated?

Possession?  Hmmm…

Spain have possessed the ball (63.7%) 2nd most in the World Cup so far – and Argentina, who have already qualified are best at 70.15%.

England sits at 53% possession (13th best) while Cameroon has 39.24%, Bosnia-Herzgovina just above  39% and Australia at 41.76%

Other teams already qualified are Netherlands and Costa Rica, both have less that 43% possession while Belgium sits just below 60% and Columbia at ~47%.

So possession, in some cases, shows as an indicator and in other cases it doesn’t; just like MLS.

Passing Accuracy across the entire pitch?

The top ten teams with the best passing accuracy are Italy then Argentina, Germany, Portugal, England, Switzerland, Ivory Coast, France, Spain and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

So out of the top ten teams, in passing accuracy, three of them have already been eliminated with only one already qualified!

Others who have already qualified; Costa Rica, Chile, Netherlands, Columbia and Belguim, are all below 85% in passing accuracy – with Costa Rica being the lowest at 77.50%.

Cameroon has been 81.5% accurate while Australia is 79.5% accurate.

So no – Passing Accuracy, across the entire pitch, isn’t really a great trending indicator on it’s own.

On the other hand is there a balance that might be expected?

In other words, do some teams have so high of a passing accuracy percentage that it reflects a negative on their game?

Put differently – are they trying to play too simple?

Passing Accuracy within the Final Third?   

The team with the best passing accuracy in the final third is Bosnia-Herzegovina (77%); the third worst team is Costa Rica (48.50%).  Where does Argentina fit in – 7th best – while England are 3rd best and Spain 10th best.

Columbia is 9th best, Belgium 11th best, while Netherlands and Chile are 23rd and 26th best respectively…

So again, no particular trends but does the same question apply?

Does a higher passing accuracy indicate a simplicity in the attack that represents the passes are ‘too’ simple and not creative enough to cut the fine edge between brilliance and boring?

Moving on to penetrations into the final third based upon passes attempted/completed inside and outside the final third…

The teams moving on are as low as 29th and as high as 6th best; the teams that have already been eliminated are as low as 27th and as high as 7th – mostly this team performance indicator is spread throughout the entire group.

The real difference begins to take shape when Shots taken versus Completed Pass in the final third are reviewed; here’s the tale of the tape in this team performance indicator.

The two teams with the best passing accuracy and best possesssion (that are eliminated already) happen to be 3rd and 8th worst in creating shots taken per possession in the final third (Spain and England).

So where they have high levels of possession and even higher levels of passing accuracy they have a huge drop in team performance when it comes to generating shots taken from penetrations.

So yes… perhaps the simplicity of some team passing activities is translating to a simplistic approach in shots taken; i.e. those two teams were simply too cautious in taking shots.

As for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cameroon and Australia – all those team are in the top ten in shots taken per possession within the final third – so for those teams perhaps it’s more about them trying to over-perform and make up for weaker passing skills?

And as for the teams who have already qualified – well, Costa Rica and Netherlands (both low possession based teams) are on the higher side in this indicator – 32% and 26% respectively.

What is happening there is that those two teams have got the right balance and appropriate skill sets to ‘crush the opponent’ with minimal energy… balance…

On the other end Chile, Columbia, Argentina and Belgium are all in the bottom half of this indicator – again indicating that they two have the right balance of possession with the intent to penetrate and score…

By the way – just like Major League Soccer – teams that have won, or won and drawn, average fewer shots taken, per possession in the final third, than teams that have lost (18.77% to 20.14%).

Next up – Shots on goal versus shots taken… 

Like MLS, teams that have won or won ‘and’ drawn average 37.90% of those shots taken being on goal – whereas teams that have lost average 31.56% of those shots taken being on goal.

Leading the pack are Netherlands at 67.87%; while Cameroon is at the bottom – 9.73%.

The odd one here is Argentina – and that match against Iran didn’t help – they had 21 shots taken with just 4 on goal and one goal scored.

Otherwise the pack is spread about pretty equally.

Goals Scored versus Shots on Goal:

And… just like MLS, teams that have won or won ‘and’ drawn average 43.13% of their shots on goal as goals scored while teams that have lost average just 15.07% of their shots on goal as goals scored.

In Closing…

Below is the Defending PWP Index followed by the Composite PWP Index:  Same legend holds true; red bars = eliminated and green bars = qualified next round; Orange = undecided.

DPWP After Game 2 Group Stages

DPWP After Game 2 Group Stages

CPWP After Game 2 Group Stages

CPWP After Game 2 Group Stages

Pretty clear that the teams eliminated are coming out on the negative side of the CPWP (Attacking PWP – Defending PWP).

Teams doing well that (should?) advance – given the CPWP Index numbers (although) this is not a predictability model with goals scored included…

Group A  = Brazil with a slight edge to Mexico over Croatia?

Group B = sorted…

Group C = Ivory Coast over Japan?

Group D = Italy over Uruguay or does Suarez nail the Italians like he did England?

Group E = France and perhaps Switzerland given Hondurus probably don’t even belong to begin with?

Group F = Nigeria?

Group G = USA and Germany or does either Ghana/Portugal slide in?

Group H = Algeria or does Capello bring Russia back from the graveyard with a win?


Best, Chris







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