Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Interesting World Cup Statistics - Fitness

Many coaches, managers and researchers love statistics and often rely on them to gauge performance. For those individuals, this past summer’s World Cup Finals was a statistical gold mine. FIFA has placed on their website, a variety of individual player and team statistics. Measures of fitness, passing, defending and goal scoring are all available. Anyone with a computer and an Excel spreadsheet can copy the data and perform a limitless number of calculations, correlations and comparisons. Here are a few statistics regarding player and team fitness. Some results are as to be expected but some are somewhat surprising.

Before examining the data, a few words of explanation. All teams in the 2010 Finals played at least three matches and half played four or more. Also, some players appeared in all of their team’s matches while some played sparingly. Given this, many of the statistics are adjusted by the number of matches played by the individual and by the team. Also, because players who played only a few minutes during a single match may skew some of the calculations, only players who appeared in at least three matches and played in at least 180 minutes are included.

On to the results…

Eight players played a total of 660 minutes. It’s not surprising that all were from Spain, the Netherlands or Germany and Uruguay as these teams played seven matches. Xavi (SPA) cover the greatest distance over the course of the tournament, 80.2 km in seven matches (49.7 mi). Bastian Schweinsteger (GER) wasn’t far behind covering 79.8 km (49.5 mi).

The award for the most distance covered per match goes to American Michael Bradley who averaged 12.9 km (8.0 mi / match). Landon Donovan (USA) and An Young Hak (PRK) followed, each covering 12.1 km (7.5 mi) per match. More than 100 players averaged more than 10 km per match (6.2 miles).

As a team, the United States covered the greatest distance at 118.4 km/match. Accounting for field players only, that’s an average of almost 12 km (7.4 mi) per player per match. Japan and Ghana finished in the next two positions averaging 116.1 and 115.4 km/match. Nigeria, Argentina and Honduras all covered less than 100 km/match. The difference between Nigerian and US players was more than 2.5 km (1.5 mi) covered per player in each match.

The fastest player on the pitch was Javier Hernandez who recorded a top speed of 32.15 km/hr. The data don’t indicate the distance of the run and it was probably a fairly short burst. However for a bit of perspective, that speed is equivalent to an 11.2 sec, 100m dash or 4.09 sec, 40 yard dash (for you American football fans). Avraam Papadopolous (GRE), Lukas Podolski (GER)  and Konstantinos Katasouranis (GRE) followed at 31.57, 31.50 and 31.50 km/hr.

It’s easy to see from these simple statistics that World Cup soccer is a sport that has a considerable fitness component but also requires sprinter-like speed. It’s also not surprising that midfielders cover the most distance and forwards tend to be fastest sprinters. It is somewhat surprising is that two defenders (Papadopoulus and Edson Braafheid, NED) were two of the fastest eight sprinters. It is also surprising that one team may “outrun” another by more than 20%.

It is a bit confusing as to the role fitness plays in determining individual and team success.
Working harder may or may not directly translate to success. There were strong to moderate correlations between the distance covered by individual players and the number of passes they attempted and completed. However, there was no correlation between distance covered each match and shots taken.

From a team standpoint, the distance covered per match by each team did not correlate with passing, shot attempts or goals scored per match. In fact, of the 8 teams that covered the most distance per match, half made the round of 16 and only two made the quarterfinals. Also, of the eight teams posting the top sprint speeds, three did not advance past the round of 16. Finally the distance covered by the four semifinalists was only slightly more than the average for all 32 teams. So, the relationship between fitness and team success at the World Cup Finals level is a bit muddled.

This is just the tip of the statistical iceberg. There is no doubt that over the next year, several research publications will examine data from the World Cup finals in much more depth.