World Cup Thoughts – Day Four
Morocco vs Croatia, Germany vs Japan, Spain vs Costa Rica and Canada vs Belgium
Hi again. I’m writing heavily about these four games, so if you’re avoiding the scores for some reason, stop reading this email now.
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Morocco 0-0 Croatia
I’m jealous of people in the Americas who got to sleep through this one.
There are good 0-0s and bad 0-0s. This was a bad one. Neither side created much of anything, and the second half especially saw almost nothing happen. There were just three shots after half time. This was just a stinker.
Croatia, being Croatia, wanted to dominate the ball with a patient possession game.
You can see that things stopped working as soon as they reached the forward line. With Luka Modrić at the heart of things, Croatia will always work the ball through midfield nicely, but things did not click in front of that. Ivan Perisić, the one attacker reasonably involved today, received the joint-most progressive passes in the team (7). The other high receivers were full backs Josip Juranović (7) and Borna Sosa (5). What they struggled to do was get the ball into Nikola Vlasić and Andrej Kramarić in dangerous areas. (Progressive passes and touches from FBRef)
Morocco hardly brought the entertainment. Most of their touches in the attacking third came down the same flank, from Achraf Hakimi and Hakim Ziyech. Those are almost certainly the two Morocco players you’ve most likely heard of, so this isn’t shocking. But they turned it into so little. There’s a version of Morocco that really causes problems down the right, but we just didn’t see it.
Germany 1-2 Japan
Ok, now onto the games that were actually interesting.
How much of this result was down to luck? That’s certainly the obvious question, and there are a few ways of looking at it. In terms of xG, Germany hammered Japan. They created far more chances and, at least according to Between the Posts’ model, should win that game 78% of the time based on the chances created. I don’t think these numbers are “wrong”, exactly. At least, I don’t think the xG is getting the quality of chances particularly wrong. But there’s more to the story, and we have to break it down a bit.
In an attacking sense, Germany were excellent today. I thought Joshua Kimmich and Ilkay Gündoğan were both brilliant playmakers pulling the strings. Gündoğan in particular just helped move the ball through midfield with clever passes delightfully. Serge Gnabry was an excellent outlet, while Jamal Musiala was brilliant as both an outlet and playmaker. They carved Japan open a number of times. When putting the xG values (from FBRef) into Danny Page’s simulator, we can see that they score one goal or less only 10% of the time from those chances. They were more likely to score five goals than just the one.
They should have arguably been 3-0 up after 75 minutes. Once they got to the 75-minute mark, however, take a look at what happened.
Long before Japan got their big chances, it felt like Germany were open on the counter. That midfield might have been delightful at creating chances, but you wonder whether they could’ve dialed it back a bit by adding in Leon Goretzka alongside Kimmich and Gündoğan. There’s obviously a risk there that they would create even less and not even get the one goal, but if that’s a serious calculation to make against Japan then they simply have to be better than this.
Spain 7-0 Costa Rica
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