Home > Scouting Opponents, Tournament Statistics > Let’s Talk Ball Possession — US v. Brazil (Group Stage)

Let’s Talk Ball Possession — US v. Brazil (Group Stage)

Post-Final Note:  We are working to prepare a similar analysis of the Final but the necessary statistics have not yet been released.  In the interim, we can advise that the U.S. possessed the ball only 41% of the time (the exact same percentage as in its group-stage loss to Brazil).

Before getting into the promised position analyses for the U.S. team, it seems like a good idea to go back to the group stage and dig into the ball possession numbers from the U.S. – Brazil match.  As with the Spain match, we will use the Ball Possession Heat Map that is included in FIFA’s Match Report.

As a reminder, here is how it works:  The basic possession statistic that you see during matches is “Possession %” which tells you what percentage of the match (90 min) each team controlled the ball.  In the Brazil match, the US had the ball 41% of the time (36.9 minutes) and Brazil had the ball 59% of the time (53.1 minutes).  The Ball Possession Heat Map breaks each of those totals down and describes where the ball was on the field while each team had it.

In response to the popularity of this feature, the calculations are now done automatically.  We’ll provide the numbers and can clarify how we reached them if requested.

The Ball in the U.S. Back Third:  23.31 Minutes

The U.S. spent 20% of its time in possession of the ball in its own back third.  15% of its time in front of its goal.  Brazil spent 30% of its possession in our third, but only 9% in front of our goal.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Total Minutes in U.S. back third: 23.31
  • U.S. in Possession:  7.38 minutes
  • Brazil in Possession: 15.93 minutes
  • Brazil in Possession on Wings:  11.151 min.
  • On U.S. left:  6.948 minutes
  • In U.S. center: 10.314 minutes
  • On U.S. right: 6.048 minutes

The Ball in the Midfield:  49.617 min.

The U.S. spent 51% of its possession in the middle of the field.  Spain spent 58% of its possession in the middle of the field (19% on left; 23% in center; 16% on right).

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Total minutes in midfield: 49.617 min.
  • U.S. in Possession:  18.819 min.
  • Brazil in Possession: 30.798 min.
  • On the U.S.’s Left:  13.293 min.
  • In the Center of the field:  19.224 min.
  • On the U.S.’s Right:  17.1 min.

The Ball in Brazil’s Back Third:  17.073 min.

The U.S. spent 29% of its possession in Brazil’s back third.  Brazil spent only 12% of its possession in its own back third.  17% of the U.S.’s possession (6.273 min.) was in front of the Brazil goal.  6% of Brazil’s possession (3.186 min) was in front of its goal.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Total minutes in Brazil’s back third: 17.073 min.
  • U.S. in Possession:  10.701 min.
  • U.S. in Possession on Wings:  4.428 min.
  • Brazil in Possession: 6.372 min.
  • On the U.S.’s Left:  3.807 min.
  • In the Center of the field:  9.459 min.
  • On the U.S.’s Right:  3.807 min.

Attacking Summary for U.S.

If we add up the numbers for the front and the middle and sort them by side of the field, we can see how much time the U.S. spent in possession ostensibly on the offensive.

  • Total time:  29.52 min.
  • Total % of ball possession: 80%
  • On the Left:  7.011 min. (19% of possession)
  • In the Center:  13.284 min. (36% of possession)
  • On the Right:  9.225 min. (25% of possession)
  • Shots (on goal):  9(2)

Attacking Summary for Brazil

  • Total time:  46.728 min.
  • Total % of ball possession: 88%
  • On the Left:  15.399 min. (29% of possession)
  • In the Center:  16.992 min. (32% of possession)
  • On the Right:  14.337 min. (27% of possession)
  • Shots (on goal):  23(11)

Comparing Brazil v. South Africa and Brazil v. U.S.

Against South Africa, Brazil put only 6 of 17 shots on goal and had possession for 54% of the match.

Brazil had the ball in the midfield for 57% of their possession (17% on left; 24% in center; 16% on right).  Only 14% of its possession was in its own back third and 29% was in the attacking third.

South Africa had the ball in the midfield for 52% of its possession (17% on left; 18% in center; 17% on right).  19% of its possession was in its own back third and 29% was in the attacking third.

Findings:

  • South Africa had slightly more ball possession than the U.S. (46% to 41%)
  • South Africa only had one more shot on goal than the U.S. (3 to 2)
  • Brazil spent about the same amount of time in the midfield (57% to 58%)
  • Brazil spent about the same amount of time in its opponents’ back third (29% to 30%)
  • Brazil really wants to be in the middle of the field:  23% of its time against the U.S. and 24% of its time against South Africa.

In both of the U.S. victories in the tournament, the U.S. has kept its opponents from possessing the ball in the midfield more than 50% of the time — Egypt had it in the midfield only 48% of the time and Spain had it there only 47% of the time.

In both of the U.S. losses, the U.S. allowed its opponents to set up in the midfield:  54% Italy (a close match until the end) and 58% Brazil.

Elite teams may not need to force their opponents to keep the ball out of the middle, but it appears that the U.S. does.  Nevertheless, South Africa demonstrated that Brazil could be beaten, even if it were permitted to do what it wanted, so long as the team played with energy and got a few lucky breaks.

For the U.S. game plan, Bob Bradley may elect to follow the strategy of keeping the opponent from hanging out in the midfield.  But he may be able to let Brazil keep the ball in the middle of the field a little more (~52-54% of its possession) and trust that his improved defense will be able to keep Brazil from making up the difference.  I expect we’ll see the same strategy as before:  using Davies and a newly energized attack to put some bite into the U.S. offensive and then bunkering down with his solid back line to keep the middle clogged.  And with Bocanegra back, we now have three defenders who are very solid in the air.  We should see Brazil a little less threatening on headers in the box.

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