Sunday 04 December 2022, 14:00

Wenger and Klinsmann analyse the group phase

The FIFA Technical Study Group (TSG) held its third press conference of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ in Doha on Sunday 4 December. In providing a comprehensive analysis of the group phase, they offered up their learnings from the competition’s first 48 matches. Joining FIFA Chief of Global Football Development Arsene Wenger at the press conference was ex-Germany striker and former Nationalmannschaft and USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann, and Chris Loxston, FIFA Group Leader Football Performance Analysis and Insights.

The former French coach began by expressing his overall satisfaction at the general quality of the tournament, achieved despite the relatively short preparation time that teams have had. “I was very keen to see how a World Cup would go without any preparation time, how the teams [would] adapt [to] having no time to prepare, because we know a World Cup is won and decided by how quickly the teams learn,” he said. “In a competition, that can make a difference, and how quickly the coaches find their best balanced XI, their most efficient XI, and that is a very interesting observation for us. “And I had some other questions: how well will it be organised? What will the experience of the fans be? Will it be possible to watch more than one game per day? And, I must say, this experience has been unique. I have seen the feedback we have from the fans is exceptional, and the TV audiences have never been higher. That means this World Cup has created a huge interest.”

TSG End of Group Stage Goal Attempts graphic

Drawing on their vast experience and the thousands of items of data gathered at each match, the TSG members picked out several trends. We take a closer look at their four key observations from Qatar 2022 so far.

The importance of taking chances

No team had more shots in the group phase than Germany’s 67, which did not prevent them from going out of the competition. In contrast, Netherlands and Poland both won through to the last 16 despite figuring among the sides with the fewest shots. The reason for this was their effectiveness in front of goal. The Dutch have so far scored a goal every 1.6 shots on target and Poland every two, figures that compare favourably to the four Germany took on average to score each of their goals and the 11 needed by Belgium, who are also out. Arsene Wenger: “The teams who have the lowest number of shots on goal have qualified. We have two kinds: the high number of shots [on] goal shows the teams who dominate their game, and the low number of shots [on goal] shows a team that plays from a defensive point of view and played more on the counter-attack. That means there’s more efficiency for them. Approximately, you need two shots on goal. If you need too many shots on goal to be efficient, it doesn’t make you a World Cup winner.” Jurgen Klinsmann: “Unfortunately for us, one thing was we weren’t clinical enough in the finishing of the chances, those attempts that we created. The other discussion is about the number nine role, the finisher role. Because when you play with the “false” No. 9s, they always have the excuse they are not real No. 9s, so they’re not always expected to score the goals. We struggle right now in Germany to have a No. 9 that we had before. The last known one was obviously Miroslav Klose. So, the one thing is we’re not finishing things precisely enough, and the other thing is they’re lacking a real goalscorer to [translate] those attempts at goal into real goals.”

Goals scored in stoppage time

A clear aim of the FIFA Referees Committee at Qatar 2022 is to bring about an increase in effective playing time, which explains why more added time is being played in games, as the committee's chairperson, Pierluigi Collina, explained. This has not led to an increase in the number of goals scored after the 90th minute, however. At Russia 2018, for example, 21 injury-time goals were scored in the group phase, against only 12 at Qatar 2022. Wenger: “Because we have much more added time, we should have more goals scored in this competition than in 2018 – and it’s the reverse. I think there are two reasons: one, the games are decided and that the team who has led does not have anything to go for. Or, two, the five substitutions add some possibility to defend better in the final minutes of the game.”

Increase in the number of goals from crosses

At their second press conference of the tournament, held after the second round of group matches, the TSG experts highlighted the fact there were fewer incursions into the final third and more attacks down the wings rather than the middle. This trend continued through to the end of the group phase, yielding a significant rise in the number of goals scored from crosses: 83% up on Russia 2018. Wenger: “Teams block the centre of the pitch and are more open on the flanks. So, this is characteristic for the competition: one of the consequences is that the teams who have the best wide players are the teams who have the best chance to win the World Cup. That will be interesting to see. The capacity, the timing to create the tandem on the flanks, was efficient. And when I speak about the best wide players, it’s not only the offensive players. It’s the full-backs as well. France, on the left side especially, the fact they have [Theo] Hernandez and [Kylian] Mbappe means they created many chances.” Klinsmann: “We see a trend that the compactness of all teams in a defensive block, in a defensive shape, is so focused on the middle area that it is really, really difficult for teams to break through the middle and also to get shots at goal from 20, 25 yards, which we’ve seen in previous World Cups. It’s very difficult at this World Cup because they keep their two lines, the defensive line and the midfield line, so close together that there’s almost no chance to pull the trigger. Usually now most of the teams try to come over the wings and try to create, and they’re not shy about already crossing the ball in early, making their runs early. Then it depends on your forward players, if they read the situation ahead of time, if they can make the runs behind the defensive line then… A beautiful goal was from [Cody] Gakpo with his header, when he kind of faked two defenders with his run. We see this here very, very often that the solution by the coaches is coming over the wings.”

One-on-one situations

Another of the trends revealed by the TSG at its second press conference was the drop in one-on-ones. In making their third appearance before the media, the FIFA experts looked at this development in detail and found that the level of risk-taking also depends on which culture teams come from. South American teams have attempted an average of 3.6 one-on-ones per match at Qatar 2022, as opposed to only 2.1 for European teams. Wenger: “It may be a bit more South American style and, of course, we have great examples from CONMEBOL. I believe all the great players in history had that capacity and, certainly, CONMEBOL has more players like Neymar and [Lionel] Messi who are capable of taking on people. We have to analyse a little bit deeper. I think it’s a little bit more natural in South America to try to take on people than to pass.” Klinsmann: “I think in Europe, there was a trend over the last ten years to educate our young players in a very fast, one-two touch philosophy. Pass the ball around quickly, movement off the ball, keep possession. All these focuses kind of take away a little bit the capability of players going one against one. When games get really compact and tight, you rely on players having this capability to take people on. This is an educational topic. CONMEBOL, South America, stands out on this because it’s in their way of doing things. So, it’s not surprising that they’re leading this statistic there.”

The press conference is available in full in the video below: