Congratulations to Germany – Why the Best Team Won

The World Cup is over. Germany have won their 4th World Cup title, beating Argentina via a 115th-minute goal from substitute Mario Goetze, 1-0. For me this has been one of the most exciting World Cups I can remember. It has featured lots of goals (140 in total, equal to the highest number ever at a World Cup tournament, a record which was originally set in France in 1998) impressive highlights, and even some surprising upsets. In the end, the Final match provided a thoroughly entertaining game, which seemed as though it could have gone either way until Goetze’s brilliant effort 5 minutes from the end of extra time.

This year the best team has won the World Cup. Before you read my explanation as to why I believe this fact to be true, please put aside any potential biases you may have towards your favorite national team and/or player(s), as well as any opinion you may have about whether any of the games were “fixed”. My explanation will focus only on statistical analysis, which cannot be influenced by anything other than what the players do on the pitch, and because I do not personally support Germany or Argentina, you can consider my explanation and analysis to be as neutral as possible. Below is a summary of why Germany was the best team in this World Cup, and why they deserve to be crowned World Champions.

Several different studies done on soccer using match analysis data, including an in-depth analysis of the previous World Cup in South Africa in 2010, identified the following performance measures as being the best predictors of success in soccer games (listed in order from highest to lowest predictive value):

1. Shots on target
2. Total number of shots
3. Pass completion percentage
4. Percentage of ball possession
5. Number of total passes completed

Using these metrics on German team in the 2014 World Cup, it is not very difficult to see why they did so well in this year’s tournament. Germany had the 2nd-highest number of shots on target (at 71 only one shot behind Brazil’s 72); the 3rd most total number of shots (at 98 behind Brazil’s 111, and Argentina’s 105); the highest pass completion percentage (82%); the highest ball possession percentage (63%, with a high of 67.5% versus the U.S.A.); and the 2nd-highest pass completion percentage (at 82% tied with Spain and behind only Italy at 85%). Taken together these statistics paint a picture of German dominance at the 2014 World Cup. Today’s World Cup Final was not much different. In the game, Germany had 7 shots on target to Argentina’s 2; 10 total shots to equal Argentina’s 10; they completed 80% of their passes compared to Argentina’s 72%; held 60% of the ball possession to Argentina’s 40%, and completed 915 total passes to Argentina’s 568.

What makes Germany so uniquely dominant is that, unlike other possession-oriented teams like Spain and Italy, the Germans are able to keep a lot of the ball, while at the same time also out-shoot/out-score their opponents. Germany’s 18 goals scored at this World Cup (many of which were taken by world class strikers such as Thomas Muller, Miroslav Klose, and the aforementioned Goetze) stands far above all others in the tournament (their closest rival was Holland with 15) and is a testament to their efficiency at both creating, and finishing, their scoring chances. This unique ability, combined with a solid defense and the man voted by FIFA as the tournament’s best goalkeeper in Manuel Neuer, made the 2014 German team the best in the world this year, and arguably one of the best of all time. The only question now is, what is the rest of the world going to do to stop them?

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.


Workout # 2 – Yes You Can




It took 6 days, but I finished Workout # 2 of the Strength Program – Semi-Pro Level today.  I’m still on-track with 2 workouts per week, just barely.  Next week will be tough to get the two workouts done (I’ve got a tough week at work); however, that’s the test:  can you make time for what’s important?  As Barak Obama said … you know.


Workout # 1 – No Better Time than Today!



Like many of you reading our blog, soccer was (and is) a big part of my life.  However, over the years, I’ve transitioned from competitive varsity / semi-pro athlete to a beer-league hopeful to a couch-potato fan.

Well, no more.  I’ve decided to take up what I’m calling the “Soccer Fitness Gols Challenge” and get back into shape so that I can once again enjoy the Beautiful Game as it was meant to be played, not watched!

Yesterday, I completed Workout # 1 of the Soccer Fitness Gols app’s strength program (semi-pro level).  The workout was a challenge, but now I have a good baseline of where I’m at and a plan to get where I want to be.

Over the next 8 weeks, I’ll be posting my progress here …

July 5, 2014:

– Squat hold:  120.8 seconds

– Front plank hold: 121.7 seconds

– Push-ups in 60 seconds:  40

– Crunches in 60 seconds:  60

I’d like to encourage all of you, regardless of what’s holding you back, to take up the Challenge and get started with your own fitness “gols” today as well!  Please send us your comments about your own fitness Challenge, including your baseline, your “gols”, and your progress / results.


Soccer Fitness – Brazil Trip Day 7

Yesterday was my last night in Brazil! As I was a bit occupied at night, I decided to do the blog this morning instead. I spent the day at Copacabana beach, and watched the Argentina-Belgium game at one of the many bars. I played some soccer-volleyball with some friends I met at the bar, then got into another pick-up game, with people from literally all over the world. In the game were people from Australia, Israel, United States, Ghana, Argentina, Mexico, and of course Brazil. It occurred to me that this beach, during the World Cup, is probably the only place in the world where you can have an experience like that. Pretty amazing when you think about it..

I got an email from my good friend Anthony Totera, who has a radio show in Toronto called ‘Red Card’. They were doing a series of interviews with Canadian soccer people who are in Brazil, and he did a short interview with me. We discussed some of the fitness and health related issues surrounding the World Cup, including how to deal with the heat and also pre- and post-game nutrition strategies. Here is the link to the audio of the interview:

At the end of the day I decided to stay in and watch the Holland-Costa Rica game at my hotel. Below are my thoughts about the game:

It seems that there are a lot of people on social media sites criticising Costa Rica for playing too defensively and ‘playing for penalties’. In my opinion this type of criticism is not warranted. Soccer at the highest level is not about entertainment – it’s about winning. The Costa Rican coach came up with a plan that gave his team the best possible chance to win. It almost worked, as they got themselves into a penalty shoot-out and might have won it if not for the clutch saves made by Holland’s substitute goalkeeper Krul.

Costa Rica has been a revelation at this World Cup. They are a tiny nation from CONCACAF, a region which has never had a team other than Mexico or the United States get into the knock-out round of the tournament. The team is basically devoid of star players, and other that midfielder Ruiz and forward Campbell, the rest of the players play either in the MLS or in the domestic Costa Rican league. They have proven that a team without great individual talent can succeed at the highest level through a collective group effort put towards a common goal. It is very impressive to see how well they did against teams like Italy, Uruguay, England, and even Holland, all of whom are comprised of millionaire players who play in the biggest leagues and for the best club teams in the world. I found their performance at the World Cup to be very inspiring, and it gives me hope that one day Canada may be able to compete at that level too.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.


Soccer Fitness – Brazil Trip Day 6

Today was a great day. I got to watch a game at the historical Maracana stadium, which has always been on my bucket list. Of course, in the 2nd game today, Brazil won 2-1 vs. Colombia, which means they are on to the Semi-Finals to face Germany. Brazil winning had a special impact on my stay ere in Rio, in that it gave me a great reason to stay out and party with all the Brazilians in Rio tonight!

Because of the partying, I think I will use the blog today for something fun. Below is a link to the an interesting article about the ‘arm folding poses’ that have been on TV for all the games in the World Cup thus far. The writers have determined who are the ‘World Cup Champions of Arm-Folding’.

Enjoy, and I will re-connect with you tomorrow evening!


Soccer Fitness – Brazil Trip Day 5

Today was the second straight day with no World Cup games to watch. I decided to fill the void with para-sailing. Several friends and colleagues who have been to Rio De Janeiro recommended this activity to me, so I figured I had to give it a try. There are a few draw-backs (it’s fairly expensive, there is a long wait until the wind is just right, and the cab ride home in traffic took almost 2 hours) but the view from up in the parachute was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. It’s crazy how small you feel when you look down and can literally see the “end” of the earth where it curves out of your line of sight. Highly recommended to anyone in Rio now or ever planning on visiting.

Tomorrow is the day I have been waiting for all trip – I get to watch France vs. Germany in the World Cup Quarter Final! In my blog today, I will discuss how I think this game – the 4th edition of a classic World Cup match-up – will go. In the last few World Cups, the German team has followed a very similar pattern. They typically open the tournament with a high-scoring, dominant performance, only to become a bit more conservative (or efficient) as the tournament wears on. France, on the other hand, has been very inconsistent, winning in 1998 and reaching the final in 2006, sandwiching two group stage exits in 2002 and 2010. This year, I believe the game will be a battle between the popular possession-based “tika-taka” style that won Spain the 2010 World Cup (and the 2008/2012 Euro Cups), played by Germany, and the newer, counter-attacking style characterized by defending deeper and attacking on the break with speed and efficiency, played by France (and also by Holland, Colombia, and Costa Rica).

The French in this tournament have been the third best team in terms of “scoring efficiency”, with an average of 2.5 goals per game on only 54% ball possession.
Germany, on the other hand, has used a very high line when defending, trying hard to win the ball in the middle of the pitch and not allow their opponents to settle in the last 3rd. They have become a possession-oriented team, and thus far have had the best passing accuracy of any team in the tournament (attempting 3060 passes and converting 84% of them). This leaves them exposed to counter-attacking teams, as was evident in their tough Round of 16 match against a determined, well-organized Algerian team. Adding to the risk for the Germans is that their centre backs, Matts Hummels and Per Mertesacker, are both slow players who lack the speed to catch up with some of the faster strikers in the France team. The German defense was not really tested against Portugal, but Ghana was able to exploit their deficiencies and score 2 goals, and as mentioned Algeria were able to create chances on the break as well. France, with star attacking players possessing lots of pace such as Paul Pogba, and Mathieu Valbuena, should be able to provide the most stern test the Germans have faced in this tournament.

The advantage that Germany will have in trying to defend the counter-attack of the French is their goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer. More than any other keeper at the World Cup, Neuer has been active as a “sweeper”, stopping opposing counter-attacks before they turn into shots on target. In the game against Nigeria, Neuer accumulated 21 touches of the ball outside his box. To put this number into perspective, goalkeepers typically average less than 10 outside-the-box touches per game, and in this World Cup the average thus far has been only 8 per game. If France are to be successful, they will have to avoid the German off-side trap, and Neuer, so the best option for them will likely be to try to counter with diagonal passes, splitting the centre back and full back and keeping the ball closer to the corner and away from the German goalkeeper.

In my opinion, I believe Germany will keep enough of the ball to tire out the French, and limit the effectiveness of their countering. If I had to guess, I would say that Thomas Muller will re-gain his scoring touch, and the game will be decided by his fifth goal of the tournament. We will have to wait and see what happens tomorrow afternoon.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.


Soccer Fitness – Brazil Trip Day 4

Today I hung out at Ipanema beach with my coaching friends from Toronto. It was a quiet day (mostly because there were no World Cup games on). Also got into another pick-up game on the beach, this time with some much more reasonable was a lot of fun. I have decided to go hang-gliding tomorrow (at the recommendation of several friends and family members who did it when they were in Rio).

Since there were no new games to comment on today, I will blog about the Argentina-Switzerand game from yesterday. It seems that a lot of people on the internet are commenting about how “lucky” Argentina are, because they have Messi and he can score (or create) late goals to win games for them. I have to say I find it a bit surprising that just because a team scores a late goal (in the final 10 minutes or so), people assume they were “lucky” to do so. In my opinion, luck had nothing to do with Argentina’s performance yesterday. Looking at any of the statistics which are the highest predictors of success in soccer (# shots on target, # total shots, ball possession, and # of corners) Argentina fared better than Switzerland. The Swiss goalkeeper Benaglio made several key saves throughout the match which kept his team in it.

True, Switzerland did play well and created some chances, but Argentina were clearly the better team. It is not necessarily realistic to expect any team to dominate their opponent in the knock-out stages of the World Cup. Almost all the gams in the Round of 16 were decided by 1 goal, and several of them also required extra time (or in the case of Brazil-Chile, penalties). In this particular game, Argentina created many chances but failed to find the back of the net until Messi came up with some individual brilliance. After a quick re-possession of the ball in the opponent’s half, Messi got the ball and dribbled very quickly, straight up the middle of the field. He attracted 3 Swiss defenders, including their left back, who came too close to Messi, allowing too much space for Di Maria on the right side of the pitch. Messi dribbled just long enough to get the left back to commit to him, before quickly passing off to Di Maria, who promptly scored the late winner.

I believe that it will be moments of individual brilliance that may be the deciding factors in several of the remaining World Cup games. Don’t expect to see any teams in the up-coming quarter-finals wining by 3 or more goals – the quality in each of the teams who have advanced is too strong to allow that to happen. Also, as I mentioned yesterday, the deciding goal in the Argentina-Switzerland game came immediately after a re-possession, another fine example of the importance of counter-attacking in the modern game. I think we are in for more of the same in the next 2 weeks.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.