Home > Uncategorized > Let’s Talk Ball Possession — US v. Spain

Let’s Talk Ball Possession — US v. Spain

The basis for this discussion is the Ball Possession Heat Map supplied by FIFA as part of its match report.

So, here’s how it works:  The US had the ball 44% of the time (roughly 40 minutes… 39.6) and Spain had the ball 56% of the time (roughly 50 minutes. . . 50.4)

The Ball in the U.S. Back Third: 29.6 minutes

During the time that the US had the ball, it spent 29% of that time in its back third (and 17% right in front of its own goal).  In the victory over Egypt, the US spent only 19% of its possession in the back third, but still 13% in front of our goal.  Spain had the ball 36% of its time in our back third (10% in front of our goal.)

So, (29% of 39.6) + (36% of 50.4) = 29.628 minutes in our back third (roughly 1/3 of the entire match).

And (17% of 39.6) + (10% of 50.4) = 11.772 minutes in front of our goal.

The Ball in the Midfield: 41.112 minutes

The U.S. spent 44% of its possession in the midfield.  Spain spent 47% of its possession in the midfield.

So, (44% of 39.6) + (47% of 50.4) = 41.112 minutes in the midfield.

The Ball in Spain’s Back Third:

The U.S. spent 32% of its possession in the attacking third, with an impressive 19% in front of Spain’s goal.  Spain spent only 17% of its possession in its back third (8% in front of its goal).

So, (32% of 39.6) + (19% of 50.4) = 22.248 minutes in their back third (roughly 1/3 of the entire match).

And (19% of 39.6) + (8% of 50.4) = 11.556 minutes in front of their goal.

Conclusions

Although it might not have seemed like it, the ball was directly in front of the U.S. goal almost exactly as long as it was in front of Spain’s goal (11.556 to 11.772).

Whereas Spain only had the ball for 47% of its time (23.6 minutes) in the midfield against the U.S.,

  • It possessed the ball for 60% of its time – over 31 minutes – against South Africa, the other finalist from its group.
  • It possessed the ball for 59% of its time – also over 31 minutes – against New Zealand.
  • It possessed the ball for 56% of its time – 30.24 minutes – against Iraq (a 1-0 victory [Spain’s goal came in the second half]).

This suggests that part of the American plan was to compact things — to push Spain back into its third and then to allow Spain to come closer than other teams had and into the impressive American defense.  In so doing, it kept Spain from having time in the midfield to set up offensively and allowed the U.S. to put numbers into defending every Spanish attack.

UPDATE:  After posting our article and renewing my search for Ives’ player ratings for the match, I discovered an article on ESPN in which Coach Bradley confirms our analysis, i.e., that the goal was to either pressure or pull back and defend, but to keep the ball away from the midfield.  We’re on a roll.

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