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2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Preview – Nigeria: Best Defence is a Good Offense

Because this is a Women’s World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 24 participating nations. In this instalment, I will look at Nigeria, who are making their 7th appearance at the Women’s World Cup (they have qualified for every tournament thus far). Nigeria have been drawn in Group D, along with Australia, Sweden, and the United States of America.  They will play their first match against Sweden on Monday, June 8th, 2015.

As the 7-time African Champions, Nigeria have dominated women’s soccer on their own continent for over two decades. Their strategy has been basically an all-out attack, and this year was no different as they scored 16 goals in 5 qualification matches and finished with the African tournament’s two top goal scorers, Desire Oparanozie and Asisat Oshoala .  Of course, they will be coming up against stronger competition this year, with the Asian runners-up Australia, European runners-up Sweden, and 2-time Women’s World Cup Champions the United States all in their group.  Can the excellent attacking skills of the Nigerian team overcome these tougher obstacles and get them out of what is generally regarded to be this tournament’s “group of death”?  We will have to wait and see what happens in 1 month’s time.

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

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2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Preview – Sweden: Predictors of Performance

Because this is a Women’s World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 24 participating nations. In this instalment, I will look at Sweden, who are making their 6th appearance at the Women’s World Cup. Sweden have been drawn in Group D, along with Australia, Nigeria, and the United States of America.  They will play their first match against the Nigeria on Monday, June 8th, 2015.

I have recently returned from attending and presenting my research at the 8th World Congress on Science and Football in Copenhagen, Denmark.  One of the topics that was frequently discussed at the Congress was match analysis, and more specifically, what statistics taken from match analysis could be used as the best predictors of performance in soccer.  Interestingly, although increasing ball possession has become a popular strategy and tactic in soccer, this metric was actually only the third-best predictor of a team’s success in matches.  The first and best predictor of success in soccer is the total number of shots on target, which has also been shown to have very little correlation to the amount of time a team spends in possession of the ball.

All of this brings us back to the Swedish Women’s National Team.  In qualification, they did not lose a game, finishing first in their group and conceding only 1 goal in 10 matches.  Although a performance like this could easily be seen as a resounding success, Sweden Head Coach Pia Sundhage was critical of the team, stating that they had “terrible difficulty in creating scoring chances.”  This type of analysis from a very experienced Head Coach suggests that she has a good understanding of the key areas in which her team will need to improve when competing at the World Cup.  Fifa.com has reported that, although Sweden was unbeaten in qualification, they were also the lowest scoring group winners in Europe.  The team is talented and has a history of success at the Women’s World Cup (they finished as runners up in 2003, and also reached the semi-finals in Germany in 2011).  Can they make the necessary tactical changes to produce more shots on target, more goals, and more wins this year?  We will have to wait and see what happens in 1 month’s time.

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

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2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Preview – Australia: Youth Plus Experience

Because this is a Women’s World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 24 participating nations. In this instalment, I will look at Australia, who are making their 6th appearance at the Women’s World Cup. Australia have been drawn in Group D, along with Sweden, Nigeria, and the United States of America.  They will play their first match against the U.S.A. on Monday, June 8th, 2015.

Australia has had success in the Women’s World Cup before, having reached the Quarter-finals in 2007 and again in 2011.  Among the strengths of this year’s team is that they are both youthful (the average age of the team is only 23) and experienced.  Their experience stems in part from the fact that the team is full of players who have spent a few years in one of the best and most competitive women’s soccer leagues in the world.  Fifa.com recently reported that Australia has more foreign players playing in the Women’s Professional Soccer League (W.P.S.L.) in the United States than any other country outside North America.  The W.P.S.L., which features some of the world’s best players including Canada’s Christine Sinclair and the U.S.A.’s Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, has certainly become a top level league and will no doubt provide the young Australian players with valuable experience against top level opposition.  Can this extra experience help Australia to get out of a difficult group this year?  We will have to wait and see what happens in 1 month’s time.

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

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2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Preview – U.S.A.: The Strongest Striker in the World

Because this is a Women’s World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 24 participating nations. In this instalment, I will look at the United States of America, two-time Women’s World Cup Champions (in 1991 and 1999) and one of the favourites to take the title this year. The U.S.A. have been drawn in Group D, along with Sweden, Nigeria, and Australia.  They will play their first match against Australia on Monday, June 8th, 2015.

The United States have a star-studded team, with talented and experienced players in almost every position on the pitch.  Among the top players in the team is striker Abby Wambach, who excels both because of her technical as well as her physical prowess.  At 5 ft. 11 inches tall, Wambach is a handful for any female centre back to mark (and she would probably be a challenge for many male centre backs as well)!  As impressive as her physical size and strength are, Wambach also has excellent speed, agility, and jumping power.  She has scored 182 goals for the United States in her international career, dating back to 2001.

Below is a very entertaining highlight video of Abby Wambach, which includes some great footage of her best aerial goals, as well as her training regimen:

Can Wambach’s technical and athletic abilities finally lift the United States to their first World Cup title in over 15 years, and provide her with the one achievement which has eluded her thus far in her career?  We will have to wait and see what happens in 1 month’s time.

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

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2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Preview – Ecuador: The Value of Coach Education

Because this is a Women’s World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 24 participating nations. In this instalment, I will look at Ecuador, who are making their first ever appearance at the Women’s World Cup. Ecuador have been drawn in Group C, along with Japan, Switzerland, and Cameroon.  They will play their first match against Cameroon on Monday, June 8th, 2015.

I have just returned from attending and presenting at the 8th World Congress on Science and Football in Copenhagen, Denmark.  One issue that was discussed at length at the Congress was the importance and value placed on coach education.  In many countries (including Ecuador) becoming  a coach at the higher levels (university teams, professional teams, and national teams) requires a large amount of specific education in coaching.  Sometimes the national coaching licenses can take up to 3-4 years to complete.

Although Vanessa Arauz, the Head Coach of Ecaudor’s Women’s National Team, is young – at only 26 years of age she is the youngest Head Coach at this year’s Women’s World Cup – she has already spent a considerable amount of time becoming an expert in her field.  Fifa.com had this to say about her:

 “Vanessa Arauz will only be 26 by the time Canada 2015 comes round, but her youth is not synonymous with inexperience: in 2011, she became the first woman to graduate with a football coaching title in Ecuador – and with the second-highest mark overall. As a reward, the former Emelec midfielder was named assistant of Ecuador’s senior women’s team. She occupied that role until 2013, when she was made head coach of all the country’s female sides.”

Can a young but very experienced Head Coach drive her players to get out of a wide-open group that includes three other World Cup newcomers?  We will have to wait and see what happens in 1 month’s time.

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

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2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Preview – Cameroon: Shot Stopper

Because this is a Women’s World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 24 participating nations. In this instalment, I will look at Cameroon, who are making their first ever appearance at the Women’s World Cup. Cameroon have been drawn in Group C, along with Japan, Switzerland, and Ecuador.  They will play their first match against Ecuador on Monday, June 8th, 2015.

Cameroon’s biggest strength in the CAF (Confederation of African Football) Women’s Championship was their goalkeeper, Anette Ngo Ndom, who was voted as player of the tournament and helped the team concede only 4 goals in 5 matches.  Below is a link to a highlight video of a penalty shoot-out in one of Cameroon’s matches in the tournament, in which she makes a decisive save.  Can this excellent young goalkeeper help the Cameroonians to get out of a tough group that includes the previous Women’s World Cup Champions Japan?  We will have to wait and see what happens in 1 month’s time.

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

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Annette+Ngo+Ndom

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2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Preview – Switzerland: Reverse the Relative Age Effect

Because this is a Women’s World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 24 participating nations. In this instalment, I will look at Switzerland, who are making their first ever appearance at the Women’s World Cup. The Swiss have been drawn in Group C, along with Japan, Cameroon and Ecuador.  They will play their first match against Japan on Monday, June 8th, 2015.

I have just returned from attending and presenting at the 8th World Congress on Science and Football in Copenhagen, Denmark.  Among the most popular topics at this Congress was the “Relative Age Effect.” which is in summary, a phenomenon where the majority of a National Team’s players (sometimes up to 40-50%) are born in the first three months of the calendar year (January, February, March).  The only logical reason why such a statistically significant number of top level players are born in these months is that the coaches who are identifying them have a selection bias towards players who are older and physiologically more developed.  Of course, for any National Team, the Relative Age Effect is a big problem, as it implies that a significant portion of any country’s top players are being overlooked when they are younger simply because they have not developed at the same rate as their peers.

As I write this, the information about the Relative Age Effect is fresh in my mind, so I decided to have a looks at the Switzerland Women’s National Team and their birth months, to see if there was any connection.  Surprisingly, it seems as though the Swiss have done an excellent job at eliminating any selection bias in their National Team program.  Below is a summary of the players’ birth months, and the percentage of players in each of the four “quarters” of the year relative to the total number of players:

  • January/February/March: 6 of 23 = 26%
  • April/May/June: 6 of 23 = 26%
  • July/August/September: 2 of 23 = 1%
  • October/November/December: 8 of 23 = 34%

As you can see, there are actually more Swiss players born in the last three months of the calendar year (October, November, December) than in any other “quarter” of the year.  Of course, some more analysis into the selection criteria and methods of Switzerland’s Women’s National Team must be done before any definitive conclusions can be made, but based on this data, it appears as though the team has made the most of their relatively small talent pool.  Will the absence of the Relative Age Effect and any selection bias in the Swiss team make a difference for them in this tournament?  We will have to wait and see what happens in 1 month’s time.

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