World Cup Thoughts – Day Three
Argentina vs Saudi Arabia, Denmark vs Tunisia, Mexico vs Poland, France vs Australia
Ok, another day at this World Cup. Again, these are my quicker and free-flowing thoughts on all the matches. I’m just writing this sentence in case, for any reason, you didn’t want to see the scores, at which point I’d encourage you to stop reading this email. Now, onto the games.
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Argentina 1-2 Saudi Arabia
For simplicity, we’ve all sort of conflated “low block” with defensive and “high line” with attacking. But that’s not really how football works. You can play an aggressive line far from your own goal with the intent of simply stifling the opposition in the most negative and cynical fashion.
I do think Argentina got a lot right in the first half. If you look at the xG models, the only serious chance registered was the penalty, but the several offsides are discarded entirely from the data. I understand why the models have to do this, but with such marginal decisions I don’t think it’s fair to say Argentina created nothing in open play. They had their chances, but they mistimed runs by a matter of centimetres. I don’t think there’s a substantive difference between not scoring because you were a 2cm offside rather than because you kicked the ball 2cm wide of the post. Saudi Arabia’s gameplan was to hold a line and force offsides, against the greatest player at floating passes into runners of all time. It did pay off, obviously, but just marginally mistiming any movement would have led to disaster.
I think Argentina were worse in open play in the second half, though Saudi Arabia can count themselves lucky to score from a tight angle and a long range screamer. Saudi Arabia sat a little deeper while Argentina were just throwing everything at it without much care for structure. As J.J. Bull of Tifo Football pointed out, they had all their attackers on the same line without a more thought out way of opening up space. It was just a bit flat.
Still, though, I reject the notion I’ve seen online that Saudi Arabia were good value for their win. They took three shots, none of them great chances, and scored two goals. Dropping three points obviously has big implications for the group, but I don’t think I’ve really changed my view on Argentina. As long as they don’t mess up again in the group stages, I’d still back them to go far.
Denmark 0-0 Tunisia
I should say that I was having internet issues for much of this game and thus missed pieces of it, but I’ll try my best to find the story of what happened.
Denmark were really bad for long periods of this match. For the first hour, they had been outshot 13-3 despite dominating possession. As the passmap below shows, they were good at working the ball until things got to the attackers, who were barely on the same wavelength.
What changed is that they went to a back four and became more direct with Andreas Cornelius upfront. Tunisia didn’t take another shot after that game. Denmark were surprisingly passive for most of this match and surprisingly patient. With France coming up next, I think they’d be well advised to go more direct from the off. Tunisia found most luck from Ali Abdi at left wing-back, which feels counter intuitive when Denmark also played a back three.
86% of Denmark’s xG came from set pieces. Christian Eriksen is good at them, and Danish football in particular took a hard turn towards set plays during the 2010s. Is this a positive or negative? It’s obviously not ideal to rely on any source of chance creation that much. They’ll need to find more variation, but it’s something that could definitely help them out if they put in any more stinkers like this.
Mexico 0-0 Poland
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