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The week in numbers: w/e 18/7/10

England captain Andrew Strauss (image courtesy of HNM_1977)

250 – Second-wicket partnership by Andrew Strauss and Jonathan Trott in the third and final one-day international against Bangladesh. It established a new England record as the highest stand for any wicket in ODIs. Strauss scored 154, Trott 110.

2 – Days after the World Cup final before the UEFA Champions League programme started. 17 qualifying matches were played on Tuesday and Wednesday.

13Australia‘s victory in the first Test at Lord’s was their 13th successive win over Pakistan.

63Rory McIlroy‘s first round of 63 at The Open at St Andrews equalled the lowest-ever round at any of golf’s four majors.

7Louis Oosthuizen‘s winning margin as he claimed his first major title at The Open with a 16-under par total of 272.

48,200 – A ball used in the World Cup final was bought by Spanish fans in an online charity auction for $74,000 (equivalent to£48,200).

Cadel Evans

8:07 – Time lost by yellow jersey Cadel Evans on Tuesday’s stage nine at the Tour de France, as he slipped from first to 18th in one day. Evans rode the entire stage with a cracked bone in his elbow, sustained in a crash the previous Sunday.

3 – The yellow jersey changed hands on three consecutive stages in the mountains of the Jura and the Alps. Fabian Cancellara lost it to Sylvain Chavanel on stage seven, who in turn relinquished it to Cadel Evans and then Andy Schleck on stages eight and nine.

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What a wonderful World (Cup)

Here is another musical effort by Dave Henson – to the tune of Louis Armstrong‘s What A Wonderful World – produced as a retrospective on the 2010 World Cup. It was featured on BBC 5Live earlier this week, but if you haven’t heard it already it’s well worth four minutes of your time.

Here is a link to another of his songs, At Least We’re Not As Bas As France, and you can find Mr Henson’s other comedy musical stylings on his YouTube channel here.

England’s World Cup: A statistical analysis

Since England‘s exit from the World Cup in the round-of-16, much has been written and said by journalists, pundits and the players themselves about what went wrong. Much of this has been based on observation and opinion, and informed by a tabloid feeding frenzy which has been as much about sensationalist headlines and selling newspapers as it has been about any kind of truth or accuracy.

Now that the dust has settled, I have done a statistical analysis of England’s performances at the tournament, with the aid of the statistics section of the FIFA website. So here is my analysis of England’s 2010 World Cup, based purely on the numbers. (Any numerical errors are strictly my fault!)

Summary

Played 4. Won 1, drew 2, lost 1. Goals for 3 (Gerrard, Defoe, Upson), Goals against 5.

Group phase: USA 1-1, Algeria 0-0, Slovenia 1-0.

Round-of-16: Germany 1-4.

England’s group stage results exactly mirrored their games in 1990, when they opened with a 1-1 draw against Ireland, then drew 0-0 against Holland before finally beating Egypt 1-0. Crucially, though, their results in 1990 were sufficient to win their group; this time around, Landon Donovan‘s last-gasp goal against Algeria meant the USA pipped England to top spot.

The less said about England’s second round exit, the better.

Goals

In attack, England struggled to score late in games, and particularly from distance. All three of their goals were scored from inside the penalty area – they were one of only 12 teams not to score a goal from outside the box – and all came in the first half of games (between the 4th and 36th minute).

Until the Germany game, they had not conceded a goal in the second half of their matches either, so you could have been forgiven for switching off all the group games at half-time – you wouldn’t have missed anything. Switching the TV off at half-time against Germany would probably have saved some pain too.

None of the other teams who reached the last 16 scored fewer goals than England.

Only one of England’s three goals came from open play: Steven Gerrard‘s 4th-minute goal in the opening game against the USA. After that, they went 356 minutes without another goal from open play. (Or, at least, none that was allowed …)

Shooting

England did not have a problem creating chances. They had 65 shots in their four games, good enough for 9th overall. Their average of 16.25 shots per game was higher than all but six teams.

Frank Lampard - 16 shots, no goals

However, their goalscoring threat (such as it was) revolved primarily around three players. Frank Lampard (16), Gerrard (13) and Wayne Rooney (13) mustered 42 of England’s 65 shots between them – but only one goal. No other player had more than four efforts.

Their shooting accuracy was also excellent. Their 31 shots on target was joint-7th overall, and only Argentina achieved more shots on target per game. And they hit the target with 48% of their efforts – only Japan, Slovenia and Holland were more accurate.

Mind you, a few inches can make all the difference. England hit the woodwork three times – yes, one of them was that Lampard shot – the joint-highest total in the entire tournament.

In possession

English footballers are often accused of lacking technique compared to even relative minnows, but England were generally slightly better than average statistically. They were ninth overall in terms of passes attempted, passes successfully completed and completion percentage (73%).

Frank Lampard in particular was criticised for perceived poor performances, and the stats suggest there is some truth in that. From the centre of midfield, he attempted more passes (254) than any other England player and completed a decent 78% of his passes, but his passes were generally short and either sideways or backwards – he passed more to midfield colleagues Gerrard (36 times) and Gareth Barry (28) than any other, but notably also targeted Glen Johnson (23) more often than Wayne Rooney (20).

Steven Gerrard completed just 64% of his passes

By contrast, Gerrard made a similar number of passes (250), but completed only 64%, a poor ratio at first sight. But more of his passes were aimed forwards than Lampard’s – for instance, he passed to Rooney 29 times,versus just 17 for Ashley Cole. He also attempted more long passes (66) than anyone else, which helps explain his lower completion rate.

The highest pass completion rate for a non-defender belonged to Aaron Lennon (79%). By contrast Joe Cole, widely considered to be England’s most skilful user of the ball, completed just 50% of his 28 passes, the lowest rate in the team. By comparison, Spain’s average pass completion rate was 80%.

When in possession, they also averaged 14.8 solo runs per game to rank 13th (Spain led the way with 25.4 per game) and lost the ball 3.25 times per game in tackles, slightly worse than average (22nd). Arguably, this last number should be higher rather than lower, as teams which lost the ball more frequently than England tended to be among the most ambitious attacking sides: Spain, Brazil, Portugal and Chile, for instance. Both Lampard (12) and Gerrard (nine) made plenty of solo runs, with both full backs also offering support (Johnson six, Cole five).

Surprisingly, while England were the tournament leaders in terms of corners per game (8.75), they were only 10th-highest in terms of crosses per game (16.8). Whether this is a good or a bad thing is unclear – Spain and Germany were more prolific crossers of the ball, but so too were Italy, France, Greece and Algeria.

Our players were also proficient at getting the ball into the box, with 6.75 deliveries into the penalty area per game, the 7th-highest average. However, only one of the eight quarter-finalists (Spain) provided more penalty box deliveries per game, so perhaps patience rather than the direct approach is the way forward.

For a striker who leads the line, someone needs to teach Emile Heskey the offside rule. He was caught offside five times, versus just three for Rooney. Perhaps indicative of a lack of movement and ambition behind the strikers, no England midfielder or defender was caught offside during the tournament.

Overall, England mustered 62 attacks in their four games – at an average of 15.5 per game, only Spain and Italy were more prolific in this respect. Their attacks came from all over the pitch too: 19 from the left, 20 from the right and 23 centrally.

So the problem is not getting forward, or even creating chances, or even getting shots on target. It is about converting quantity into quality, turning attacks into goals.

Defence

England seemed to specialise in last-ditch defending, or at the very least an over-reliance on booting the ball clear from the back. As a team, they made 56 clearances, the 3rd-highest total in the entire tournament and the 5th-highest per game average behind four teams (Algeria, Slovenia, Nigeria and Switzerland), all of whom tellingly failed to survive the group phase.

Jamie Carragher won none of his five tackles

They are indisputably a much poorer team when they are not in possession. Despite a reputation for hard work and physicality, they were among the least effective tacklers at the World Cup. They attempted 30 tackles (joint-10th overall) but won the ball only seven times (joint-26th, and 15th among the 16 teams in the knockout stage).

Jamie Carragher attempted more tackles (five) than any other England player, but did not win possession once. Ashley Cole was the only player to win possession in a tackle more than once.

Overall, this suggests that England need to focus more on better positional and team defending and rely less on the blood-and-thunder glory of spectacular tackles.

Discipline

England were not particularly ill-disciplined. Their six yellow cards ranked below the tournament average, and they were one of 20 teams not to have a man sent off.

They also committed just 51 fouls, which at an average of 12.75 per game was bettered by only four teams.

However, the perception that Glen Johnson has poor positional sense and tactical judgement seems justified. The right back committed 11 fouls – no one else had more than five – and was booked twice (Carragher was the only other player to see yellow twice).

Emile Heskey, the 335th-best player at the World Cup

Overall performance

According to the Castrol Index used to quantify overall player performance, Steven Gerrard was England’s best individual, ranking 39th. Only two others – Lampard (64th) and Johnson (78th) – featured in the top 100. Wayne Rooney was 130th; Emile Heskey 335th.

It is clear that England under-performed at the World Cup, both individually and collectively. But the fact they ranked as average or above average in many key statistical categories suggests that maybe things are not quite as bad as they seem. The challenge Fabio Capello and his coaching staff face is how to convert these largely encouraging – or, at least, not discouraging – stats into improvements in the only numbers that matter: the ones on the scoreboard. Over to you, Fabio.

World Cup final review: Spain deserving winners of a disappointing tournament

Of course, there is no reason that a World Cup final should be the best game of the tournament. Quite the opposite, in fact, with so much at stake. But all football fans hope for at least a good and fair match, one befitting of the showpiece game of the biggest event in world sport. For a variety of reasons history suggest we rarely get much of a spectacle. The right team – Spain – won on the night, but it was for long periods a grim match in keeping with a tournament which has disappointed far more often than it has thrilled.

Yellow is the colour, but Spain deserved to win

Goal-scorer Andrés Iniesta

In a game which featured as many bookings – Holland‘s John Heitinga sent off, twelve others cautioned – as it did genuine chances, Andrés Iniesta provided the decisive intervention four minutes from the end of extra time. Substitute Fernando Torres‘ cross was half-cleared to fellow sub Cesc Fabregas, who turned a neat ball directly into the path of Iniesta, who finished smartly with his right foot.

Although both sides had chances to clinch the game in the second half of normal time and in extra time, few neutrals would dispute that Spain were the more deserving winners. While never quite at their fluid, Euro 2008-winning best in this tournament, they have consistently sought to play good football combined with an obdurate defence and the ability to eke out wins in tight matches – they won all four knockout games 1-0.

The best tackle of the World Cup final?

This 2010 Holland side, on the other hand, is as workmanlike and physical as their 1974/1978 ‘Total Football’ forebears were skilful and elegant. Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel might on another night have seen red for challenges which scarred both the match itself and the recipient of the foul. And while I have nothing against a side looking to physically impose themselves within the rules of the game, what Holland sought to do to Spain last night did not make for an edifying spectacle, as they repeatedly tested both the laws of the game and referee Howard Webb‘s patience.

In fact, the best and cleanest tackle seen last night was probably the one made before kickoff, when a ‘fan’ ran onto the pitch towards the World Cup trophy itself, only to be collared at the last moment by a security guard. It was a great tackle: well-timed, controlled and he stayed on his feet …

Holland coach Bert van Marwijk heavily criticised Webb after the game, largely on the basis of missing what should clearly have been a Dutch corner in the build-up to the winning goal (although he did concede Spain had been the better side):

I don’t think the referee controlled the match well. Both sides committed fouls. That may be regrettable for a final. But the best team won the match.

Actually, Bert, from what I saw one team set out with a deliberate policy of roughing up the opposition to disrupt their rhythm, and the other team simply reacted in kind almost out of self-defence.

In reality, Webb did not make any bookings which weren’t thoroughly warranted, and on another day the game could easily have finished ten versus eight, with van Bommel, de Jong and Iniesta all somewhat fortunate not to see red. Arguably, an early sending off might have quelled a game which started out niggly and deteriorated further as it progressed, but this was one of those situations where a referee is damned if does (ruining the game by sending a player off) and damned if he doesn’t (too lenient, losing control).

But, as BBC commentator Jacqui Oatley so succinctly tweeted:

Holland slating Howard Webb is like having a go at a policeman who books you for speeding when he could’ve done you for drink driving.

And BBC pundit Lee Dixon added that,one way or another, justice had been done:

In the cold light of day we might find that Howard Webb has made a mistake in allowing the winning goal. But let’s be honest, the right team won and the best player on the pitch scored it. That’s got to be justice, hasn’t it?

Holland were unarguably the technically inferior side, and the brand of football they played throughout this tournament has been predominantly negative. Last night, Robin van Persie cut a lonely, frustrated figure up front, while Dirk Kuyt and top scorer Wesley Sneijder were peripheral figures. Only Arjen Robben made an impression, but he wasted Holland’s best chances of the game, and continued to frustrate with his histrionics.

Spain, despite benching Arsenal captain Fabregas and the clearly-injured Torres, were the better, deeper squad. It was somehow fitting that both these players, frustrated by their limited playing time at this World Cup, should combine to set up Iniesta’s winner. It was the one moment in the entire match where class was truly brought to bear.

A disappointing tournament

And so a largely disappointing World Cup has come to an end. South Africa have been good hosts, adding a splash of welcome colour – and a lot of less welcome noise! – to proceedings. Ticketing arrangements have been shambolic – and that’s before we even consider the Robbie Earle fiasco – with many games no more than two-thirds full. And while there was something to cheer in the triumph of new faces (Ghana, Slovakia) succeeding at the expense of some of the game’s traditional powers (Italy, France), it was a tournament where, as a rule, the bigger the game – and the higher the expectation – the worse it was, with Brazil versus Portugal being the most glaring and abject example.

Oh, and England were every bit as bad as we feared they might be. But that’s nothing new.

It has been a poor tournament for many of the mega-stars of the global game – Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Kaká, even Lionel Messi to a degree – and for attacking players in general, with just 31% of all shots being on target. Goalkeepers too will wake up screaming with nightmares after having had to face the unpredictable wobbling, dipping and swerving of the Jabulani ball. And we have had too many clear-cut incidents where the application of simple technology would have prevented miscarriages of justice (or, in the case of Frank Lampard‘s ghost goal, merely prolonged the agony).

The World Cup remains an amazing global gathering and a celebration of the most popular sport on the planet, and I still have high hopes for Brazil 2014. But to me the last month feels a little like FIFA organised the world’s biggest party, then forgot to bring any presents. A shame. A real shame.

The final in numbers:

0-0 – This was only the second World Cup final to finish goalless after 90 minutes (1994: Brazil beat Italy on penalties).

35.5% – Only 11 of 31 shots in the final were on target, reflecting the difficulties attacking players have faced from the combination of high altitude and the controversial Jabulani ball.

13 – Thirteen players were cautioned during the game – eight Dutchmen (including John Heitinga, who was sent off for a second yellow card) and five Spaniards.

4Holland have committed the most fouls in four of the last seven World Cups in which they have played, including 2010.

23 – Holland earned 23 yellow cards during the tournament, the joint-highest ever at a World Cup (Argentina, 1990).

1-0Spain won all four of their games in the knockout phase of the tournament with the only goal of the game. None of these four goals came in the first half of matches.

3 – Spain have become the third side to be champions of both Europe and the world (after West Germany and France).

8 – Number of goals scored by Spain, the lowest total ever by a World Cup winner.

1 – Spain are the first team to win the World Cup having lost their opening game …

1 – … And also the first European team to win the World Cup outside Europe.

44 – Spain became the first country to win the World Cup final while wearing their change strip since England in 1966.

54 – Although Spain’s Carlos Marchena did not play in the final, he has set a new world record during the tournament by going undefeated in his last 54 international appearances.

1Howard Webb is the first referee ever to take charge of a Champions League final and a World Cup final in the same year.

(Some statistics courtesy of @optajean, @optajoao, @optajoe and @castrolfootball.)

World Cup 3rd/4th place play-off: a rant, not a review

Honestly, I was going to do a proper write-up of last night’s World Cup 3rd/4th place playoff match. Really, I was. But, seriously, who cares?

I know I really should be interested. After all, the game was an intriguing match-up between Germany and Uruguay, two countries who has overachieved at this World Cup. And it is also game 63 of 64 in this 2010 tournament; after tonight’s final, that’s it until we reconvene in Brazil four years hence (with a minor detour to Poland and Ukraine for Euro 2012).

But are we really that bothered about determining who finishes third and who finishes fourth in the tournament? FIFA certainly are. They talk about how this is a prestigious game and that third place is a significant prize in itself. And – here’s the clincher – there are ranking points available for the victor. (Woo hoo!)

If it is so important, why don’t we have a series of playoff games between the losing quarter-finalists to decide fifth to eighth place? That would give you three extra games which could be played in the otherwise ‘dead’ days either side of the semi-finals. Think of all the tickets FIFA could sell (or not, as the case may be) for those.

In fact, why not follow this argument all the way to its (il)logical conclusion and set up a format whereby we end up with a definitive ranking of all the participating teams from 1-32 – maybe some kind of league system which leads to qualification for a small knockout tournament at its end, as happens in rugby league and Aussie Rules. I bet FIFA would love that. (Yes, I know it would take an unfeasibly long time. It’s just an example to make a point.)

Okay, I’m getting silly. But the fundamental question stands: why bother?

My yardstick for judging excess in sporting competitions remains the cricket World Cup. Now I love this four-yearly event, but even I lost interest during the first half of a 2007 tournament between just 16 teams which took a seemingly interminable 47 days to determine that Australia – far and away the best team in the world at the time – were, in fact, the best team in the world. Paul the psychic octopus could have told them that and saved us all a month and a half.

Anyway, my point is that even the cricket World Cup didn’t bother with a third-place playoff match. They held every other kind of match to ensure they squeezed every last cent of commercial revenue out of the tournament, but not one between the losing semi-finalists. What does that say?

(Incidentally, after much criticism of the bloated format used in 2007, next year’s World Cup has been reduced to 14 teams, meaning the tournament will be slimmed down to a positively svelte 43 days. Well, that’s alright then.)

To be fair, the rugby union World Cup does also have a ‘bronze final’, but if you look at what happened at the 2007 tournament this only serves to underline the pointlessness of organising such a match. The game between Argentina and the hosts France should have been a passionate affair with real competitive bite, particularly given that the Pumas had created a huge upset in the tournament’s opening game, shocking France 17-12 in their own back yard. The result? A 34-10 romp for Argentina against a French team which rapidly grew disinterested in the game.

Hardly a glowing endorsement, wouldn’t you agree?

One final test. England is a country as passionate about its national team as any other in the world. We have played in a 3rd/4th match once at the World Cup, in Italy in 1990. Ask any average England fan of a certain age about the semi-final defeat to West Germany, and I guarantee you they will wax at length about the match: Andreas Brehme‘s deflected free kick which looped over the back-pedalling Peter Shilton, Gary Lineker‘s swivelling finish to force extra-time, Chris Waddle hitting the post and the agony of the penalty shootout in which Stuart Pearce and Waddle failed to convert their spot-kicks.

Now ask them what they remember of the third place match. I am willing to bet that not many will be able to instantly recall that we played Italy in that game. With a little prompting, some will remember Shilton’s howler to gift Roberto Baggio the opening goal, David Platt‘s headed equaliser and Salvatore ‘Toto’ Schillaci‘s late penalty which gave Italy a 2-1 victory. But none will remember this game in the vivid detail with which they can recall the semi-final.

The harsh reality is that a 3rd/4th place playoff is effectively an irrelevance to everyone concerned except the tournament organisers. Even if it ends up being the best game of the tournament, it is soon forgotten (assuming people watched it in the first place). It will be interesting to see how the viewing figures for tonight’s game compare with both the final and the two semi-finals. Not well, I suspect.

Oh, by the way, in a repeat of the 1970 third-place playoff (which the then West Germany won 1-0), an under-strength Germany beat Uruguay 3-2. It was actually a pretty good game, but I will have long forgotten about it by this time next week. Entertaining as it was, I’m just not that bothered.

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