‘Never underestimate the Germans’ : A phrase commonly used in the run-up to World Cups which has grown from Germany’s remarkable consistency in reaching the late stages of major tournaments, often walking away with top honours, as they have done in 1954, 1974, and 1990.
Germany may be the best team in Group G – they completed qualifying undefeated with 36 goals from ten games – but they don’t have the best player. Portugal are often tagged as a ‘one man team’ due to their reliance on Cristiano Ronaldo, nevertheless they are still favourites to progress with Germany in a group also featuring Ghana and the United States. What does our data analysis tell us?
In a squad with only one out-and-out striker – record scorer Miroslav Klose – Germany will rely heavily on their midfield weaponry in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The pair of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mesut Osil looks to be key – Schweinsteiger delivers an average 69.9 passes per game, over 25 more than any opposition player in Group G. Ozil is the top pass receiver in the group, with 79.3 per game and he is also one of four players to average over ten dribbles per game, with nearly half (48%) threatening the opposition.
Breaking the Germans’ stranglehold on possession looks to be a torrid task for any team in the tournament. During qualifying they never averaged less than a formidable 62% possession in any game scenario (winning, drawing, losing), and enjoyed more of the ball in any time period of the match.
Captain Phillip Lahm is accepted to have been the best right-back in the world over the last decade, but has been used in a midfield role this season at his club Bayern Munich. He is more likely to be played in defence for Germany, from where he is still an unbelievably dynamic presence: Lahm delivers more passes per games (61.7), receives more passes per game (69.1), is involved in more effective attacks (14.8), and attempts to create more chances (4.6 – joint most with Portugal’s João Pereira) than any Group G defender.
Ghana have been viewed as the most likely African side to end the continent’s wait for World Cup glory, having reached the quarter-finals in 2010. They will look to livewire striker Asamoah Gyan – with 39 international goals from 77 games – to provide a goal threat, from crosses and long balls over the top. Ghana have the highest long ball percentage when building attacks of any Group G side and of the teams’ top scorers Gyan has the highest header percentage (23%) from his attempts on goal.
Portugal’s reliance on Cristiano Ronaldo is evident throughout their data, and is most clearly shown in their results. Ronaldo’s last match for his country was a 5-1 win over Cameroon in which he scored two, in the next match, without him, they drew 0-0 against Greece.
So which other Portuguese players will stand up and be counted in Brazil? João Moutinho the Monaco playmaker – top pass deliverer (43.7) and receiver (46.4) – will keep things ticking over in midfield. Nani is the most frequent (10.3 per game) and effective (50%) dribbler and Helder Postiga will aim to supplement Ronaldo as the 2nd highest goal scorer (8) and shot taker (4.5 per game) behind the Real Madrid forward.
The United States’ best showing on football’s biggest stage goes all the way back to a 3rd place finish at the 1st World Cup in 1930. That achievement looks unlikely to be matched anytime soon, but Jurgen Klinsmann’s men do have enough ability to cause an upset or two.
Influential forward Landon Donovan was a surprise exclusion from the US squad picked by Klinsmann. In his absence they will rely heavily on the attacking outlet of ex-Tottenham Hotspur man Clint Dempsey to instigate attacks from midfield. Dempsey has the highest shot average per game of any US player (3.4) and the highest number of attempts per game to create chances of any US midfielder (8.4).
Jermaine Jones of Schalke has proven himself in one of Europe’s toughest leagues, but his athleticism in midfield may disguise a lack of comfort with the ball. He has a group-low of 33 successfully delivered passes per game for any midfielder that played in over 10 qualifying games, he also hands advantage to the opposition by giving the ball away in a dangerous area at least once (1.1) per match.
Aside from the uncompromising Germans, who are likely to suck the life out of teams with their mastery of the ball, Group G’s teams are far from perfect. While anything less than 1st place for Germany would be a major shock, who takes 2nd spot is certainly not predictable.