Friday 09 February 2024, 11:30

Faster, more compact, better goalkeeping: FIFA Women's World Cup reflected huge rise in technical standards

  • Players’ physical preparation “totally different” to ten years ago

  • Dead ball specialists likely to grow and evolve in the future

  • FIFA Technical Study Group had a team of 52 analysts who reviewed every player, every match

The FIFA Women's World Cup 2023™ received positive reviews all round – from the players, coaches, fans and media. With the number of participating teams expanding from 24 to 32 for the first time, there were pre-tournament fears from some that the ‘gap’ between more experienced nations, and those making their debut – which totalled eight in Australia and New Zealand – may be too wide.

Conversely however, the tournament saw a nine percent reduction in the number of goals per game from 2.81 in both 2015 and 2019 to 2.56 in 2023. Meanwhile, the number of clean sheets increased by 14 per cent over 2015 and there were ten 0-0 draws compared to four in 2015 and 2019 combined.

Goalless draws are not usually a reason for tournament organisers to celebrate but, in the case of the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023™, for FIFA's Technical Study Group and the coaches, the reduced scoring rate reflected the increased competitiveness and the growth of the game globally.

“The game is faster, the spaces are less, it’s more compact defensively, [fewer] goals are given up, goalkeepers are better,” said Jill Ellis, who won the FIFA Women's World Cup twice as United States coach in 2015 and 2019 and is now a TSG member. "Gone are the days (when) it’s just three or four teams that have really special players; almost every team at that tournament had a very special player, a world-class player.” Tactics had also evolved, she said: “We saw much more flexibility from teams.......There was rotation of players, there was flexibility in systems, coaches making more and more adjustments which, again, speaks to the depth of the players they have and how well they’re coached, but also our coaches and their growth and evolution in the game."

Gemma Grainger, previously coach of Wales and now in charge of Norway, said the improvements reflected the invested that FIFA has made in women's football around the world under the Women’s Football Strategy, drawn up in 2018.

"When I played, I could never have imagined the infrastructure that’s in place today. For me as a player, if I was 15 years’ old now, the route would be so different," she said. "I think it’s down to the investment: the investment from FIFA, the investment across the world into the game and that professionalisation. The women’s game is on a journey to professionalism can be a full-time professional player but not only at club level but also at national level.”

Jitka Klimková, who led the co-hosts to a first-ever win by an Oceania team at the FIFA Women's World Cup, explained that there had been an all-round improvement, and the players were now under the spotlight.

"It’s about much quicker decisions on the ball, it’s about different conditioning," added Klimková. “Players’ [physical preparation] is totally different to 10 years ago. The demands of the games are different. The pressure is much more influential because the players are now really seen.

"We are happy to be seen, we are happy to have crowds in the stadium, we are happy to have people who really follow our players, so they are [on] the radar, under the camera all the time.......I see, really, in each pillar of the game an incredible improvement."

Tony Gustavsson, who led Australia to their first semi-final, added that psychology was also playing an important role. "At the end of the day, it’s the mental game – when you’re in that moment to win or lose the games. That one moment that can win or lose you the game and, normally, that comes down to the mental side."

As for the future, Jill Ellis said there was room for more dead ball specialists. "I wouldn’t say every single team has that world class set-piece taker and that’s a difference sometimes: the margin at the top level in terms of scoring goals. So, I think we will continue to see that dead-ball specialist evolve and grow," she said.

"And I think just the overall intelligence of players, the sophistication of movement, the interplay you see, the rotation of positions. I think that is certainly an area where we will continue to see massive growth."

Did you know?

The FIFA Football Performance Insights team work together to collect data during a tournament and work with the Technical Study Group to analyse and interpret it. The same detail and level of data collection is applied equally, whether it be the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™, FIFA World Cup Qatar 2023™ or U-17 and U-20 FIFA men’s and women’s youth tournaments.

The data allows the teams to make comparisons across tournaments and across different age groups to understand where the development of the game is happening.

A team of 52 analysts worked on data collection for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, with one analyst watching each individual player for the entirety of the match, collecting data on every single thing that that player does.

The FIFA team collects around 15,000 points per match which is enriched with tracking data; both what happens on the ball, as well as the tracking data of all player movements.

More information and analysis can be found on the FIFA Training Centre.

FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™