The Road to Brazil 2014: Who is Leading the Way?

The series of international friendlies before the World Cup won’t tell us exactly what will unfold in Brazil – but they do give us some indicators. Looking at our data at Sports Matrix, we can see how the teams are shaping up.

It was a bad night for the participating African sides on Saturday night, with Ivory Coast going down 2-1 to Bosnia-Hercegovina and Ghana losing out to Holland 1-0. Despite the result in St Louis, Ivory Coast – who will face off against Colombia, Greece and Japan in Group C – showed more promise than their West African neighbours, creating 13 scoring chances compared to Ghana’s two.

Although credit must be handed to Holland’s promising young central defence, Feyenoord pair Stefan de Vrij and Bruno Martins Indi, Ghana coach James Kwesi Appiah might be worried at his team’s lack of creativity. Only 4% of their moves in the final third resulted in scoring chances, and none of their five set pieces led to a ‘dangerous situation’, while Ivory Coast caused problems for Bosnia-Hercegovina six times from dead ball situations.

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Elsewhere, Group G’s Portugal, missing Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo, played out a 0-0 draw against Greece. The indicators are that Ronaldo left a huge hole in the Portugal side, making it clear how heavily reliant they are on the Champions League-winning forward.

Portugal managed five more goals in their last game with Ronaldo in the team – a 5-1 victory over Cameroon in which Ronaldo scored two – and achieved a 27% conversion rate of possession in the final third to scoring chances, compared to just 19% without Ronaldo.

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The data suggests Portugal’s ability to hurt teams on the counter-attack – as exemplified by Real Madrid in their Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich – is hugely diminished without Ronaldo. Only 9% of their 11 counter attacks against Greece led to opportunities, compared to 33% of 12 against Cameroon. Portugal actually enjoyed more possession against Greece (58%) compared to 42% against the Africans, but they failed to penetrate without their key player.

Italy and Uruguay, two former winners of the World Cup, were also in action at the weekend. They will contest Group D with the 1966 champions, England, and both had trouble finding the back of the net.

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While Italy played the Republic of Ireland in London, Uruguay hosted Northern Ireland in Montevideo – both teams were probably hoping their opponents would offer practice against a style similar to England’s. While Italy (59%) and Uruguay (55%) both dominated ‘live ball possession’ – their shooting left much to be desired.

Despite winning 1-0 thanks to a Christian Stuani goal, over half of Uruguay’s attempts on goal were blocked or failed to find the target, with Italy’s share of wasted opportunities even higher (83%) in their 0-0 stalemate.

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Although they scored the most goals in their qualifying group, Italy will be anxious that frontmen such as Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano can find their shooting boots in time for the opener against the English on 14th June. Meanwhile Uruguay will look to a potentially lethal combination of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, with 74 international goals between them.

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