Group Guide E-H ( microsoft sport) / WC guide continued

Group E

Switzerland

Strengths: The Swiss kept clean sheets in an astonishing 70% of their qualifying matches, with four of the six goals they did concede arriving in one match: a cracking 4-4 draw with Iceland. While they rarely ran riot in attack they posed a significant threat from set pieces, particularly free kicks which only five finalists scored a higher proportion of.

Weaknesses: Their relatively modest haul of goals notwithstanding, conceding late goals and hence preserving leads was an occasional problem for an otherwise exemplary defence, which will almost certainly be magnified in the tournament proper.

Prospects: Honduras and France both struggled to score in around a third of their qualifying matches, which will encourage the robust Swiss defence. While Honduras look the most vulnerable to set piece attacks, their knack of scoring late will have to be curtailed if further frustration is to be avoided.

Ecuador

Strengths: With 45% of their goals coming from headers – the highest percentage among the finalists – and many of these coming from close range, Ecuador’s attack will offer a unique challenge.

Weaknesses: Beyond the aerial threat their arsenal is relatively limited however: they only scored more than once in a quarter of their qualifying matches, the lowest proportion among the 32 nations.

Prospects: The draw wasn’t particularly helpful for Ecuador: there aren’t any sides in Group E who have struggled to defend headers recently, although Honduras allowed a third of the goals scored against them to be taken from close range which will suit their style. France’s defence were one of the better sides at allowing no such thing and seeds Switzerland have both a tight defence and a strong left flank going forward which will trouble Ecuador’s weaker right side.

France

Strengths: They may have needed a play-off to qualify but France are still a force to be reckoned with. One of just four sides in the finals not to have dropped any points from winning positions, they also scored almost a quarter of their goals from outside the box: a greater proportion than all but two qualifying nations. Their defence conceded the fifth lowest share of goals from inside the six yard box, suggesting an organised back line.

Weaknesses: The French attack can be inconsistent however: half their matches saw three or more goals scored but they failed to find the net in almost a third. They also tended to start matches slowly, with few goals coming early on, and few goals were dispatched from close range or aerially, potentially denying them a more pragmatic option against stubborn defences.

Prospects: Switzerland’s defence certainly fits the definition of stubborn, conceding in only three of their ten qualifiers, and could well frustrate the French. Their other two opponents should prove less problematic, although Ecuador’s direct approach will test their defensive organisation.

Honduras

Strengths: Honduras tended to leave things late in qualifying, scoring a greater proportion of goals in the last quarter of an hour than all but six qualifying teams. They ranked similarly at netting from corner kicks, which they used to great effect. Defensively they were strongest on the left side, with only five teams conceding a smaller proportion of goals from this area.

Weaknesses: The Honduran attack was one of the least reliable during qualifying, with no side failing to score more often than the 44% of matches in which they drew a blank. At the back things didn’t go much better, with 38% of their matches involving the concession of two or more goals.

Prospects: Progressing from the group stage will be a big ask. Their corner routine may be their best chance to carve out an opening against the formidable Swiss defence, which also tended to concede more late goals than early ones. Ecuador’s threat from free kicks and high balls into the box will cause Honduras problems based on their displays in qualifying, as will their tight defensive record late on.

Group F

Argentina

Strengths: No finalist created more of their goals from the centre of the pitch than Argentina, who carved out over three quarters of their goals without resorting to the wings. They liked to hit teams early, with only two finalists scoring more of their goals in the first half, and once ahead tended to stay there: only four of their 31 fellow qualifiers retained a greater share of points from winning positions.

Weaknesses: Despite topping their qualifying group, Argentina surprisingly only managed to keep a clean sheet in a quarter of their matches: a smaller proportion than any other Brazil-bound team. Going forward they rarely struck from headers or set pieces, which in addition to their lack of wing play could leave them without sufficient versatility to unlock more stubborn defences and unhealthily dependent on Lionel Messi’s inventiveness.

Prospects: The central focus of the Argentine attack should serve them well in Group F against three teams who all conceded an unusually high proportion of goals from central positions. Nigeria’s dead ball expertise and Iran’s industry down the right could catch them by surprise, but most people will be backing them heavily to progress given that their three opponents have a lower average FIFA Ranking than any other nation’s.

Bosnia

Strengths: Bosnia’s impressive record in qualifying surprised many, scoring three or more goals in over half their matches and never conceding more than once. They showed a steely resilience both in defending leads, which they did flawlessly, and in recovering from going behind where they clawed back a greater share of points than all but two fellow finalists.

Weaknesses: Their attack could be accused of lacking variety however, with few goals from set pieces or long range, and often took a while to get going. The lack of variety extends to personnel: no nation relied more heavily on their top three goalscorers, who converted 77% of their goals between them, which suggests that any attacking injuries or suspensions could be keenly felt.

Prospects: It will be fascinating to see how one of Europe’s emerging teams deals with the threat of Argentina, who themselves have been ruthless at defending leads and conduct the bulk of their goalscoring from the centre where Bosnia’s defence is weakest. Elsewhere in the group they look well equipped to deal with Iran’s numerous forays down the right, having conceded no qualifying goals from this area.

Iran

Strengths: The Iranians relied more heavily on set pieces for goals than any other side heading for Brazil, with 40% of their goals being created from dead ball situations. The Iranians also managed not to concede a single long range goal during qualifying, one of only four teams to achieve this.

Weaknesses: Whatever makes Iran such an attacking threat from set pieces doesn’t translate to defending them, with no team conceding a greater share of goals in this way than their 57%. The same share of goals were conceded from close range, again the largest share of the 32 qualifying nations, which could prove costly in Brazil.

Prospects: Their preference for attacking from wide positions gives them a potential means of unsettling Argentina, who are much more comfortable in the centre, although both they and Bosnia will be tough to resist over 90 minutes. Nigeria’s love of long shots will test Iran’s defensive resilience, with the Nigerians’ own back line seemingly well-configured to neutralise the right-sided and set piece attacks Iran favour.

Nigeria

Strengths: Nigeria scored in every single match during qualifying, making good use of free kicks and with the highest proportion of goals struck from outside the area. They also netted the largest share of late goals with nearly two thirds of their strikes coming in the last 15 minutes of games. The Super Eagles were one of the better nations at recovering from losing positions too, recovering an impressive 56% of possible points from these situations.

Weaknesses: While they didn’t concede many goals in qualifying, half of the ones they did were long-range efforts, so perhaps their strikers and goalkeepers need to train together more often. They were also one of the lowest scorers in qualifying, with their average of 1.38 goals per match the fifth lowest.

Prospects: Their opening match against Iran looks to be the most winnable, but the Iranians didn’t concede a single long range effort during qualifying. They did however concede the most goals from free kicks which should provide encouragement. Dead ball situations may also be their best chance to catch out Argentina, who along with Bosnia present a forbidding route to the second round.

Group G

Germany

Strengths: Germany’s rampant goalscoring exploits during qualifying, where they registered an average of 3.6 goals per game, should concern any defence. They and the Netherlands were the only two teams to score at least twice in every match, with most of the Germans’ thrust coming from the centre where they created the third highest proportion of goals.

Weaknesses: Surprisingly however, they only managed to strike once from a set piece and didn’t convert a single header. At the back they were uncharacteristically lax at times, most notably down the flanks where stronger opponents were able to get the ball into the danger zone surprisingly easily.

Prospects: Portugal’s wingers will represent a tough early test for the German defence, so they’ll need to keep the ball in the middle if they want to enjoy more productive use of it. The stats don’t highlight any major threats from Ghana or the USA, although the Africans could catch them unawares with shots from distance.

Portugal

Strengths: Cristiano Ronaldo in full flow will cause problems for any team, and the set piece delivery which saw Portugal score from more corners than any other finalist is an obvious threat. Centre back Bruno Alves is the man to watch as the ball is whipped in: he’s converted two thirds of his team’s impressive corner haul. The persistence which saw them recover an impressive 61% of points from losing positions, coupled with the sheer number of late goals they scored, makes them difficult to write off.

Weaknesses: Only one of Portugal’s qualifying goals came from outside the area, which could limit their ability to catch defences unawares. Their own defence was among the more vulnerable sides to set pieces, specifically corners.

Prospects: Portugal find themselves in one of the tougher groups and all three of their Group G opponents prefer to attack from the centre, which is where Portugal’s defence has been the weakest. The wings are certainly their most promising source of goals against seeded Germany, while they should beware Ghana’s strength from set pieces.

Ghana

Strengths: Ghana proved a potent attacking force in qualifying, averaging 3.13 goals per match: the third highest scoring rate. Their threat was among the more varied, with their proportions of goals from both close and long range featuring among the top five. They also grabbed a third of their goals from dead balls and scored a higher proportion from headers than all but three sides.

Weaknesses: Things were less rosy when the pressure was on though: they failed to recover a single point from the matches where they fell behind. Their defence was also among the more vulnerable from the flanks, with half of the goals they conceded coming from wide positions contributing to very few clean sheets being kept.

Prospects: Being drawn into one of the candidates for the ‘Group of Death’ title wasn’t the most auspicious start: but Ghana do have some useful weapons at their disposal, with both the USA and Portugal looking vulnerable from close range and from set pieces. However their three group opponents are among the most regular scorers making the trip to Brazil – Portugal’s threat from wide is particularly worrying –  which will put pressure on the inconsistent Ghanaian defence.

USA

Strengths: The Americans have been most improved side in the FIFA Rankings over the last 12 months, gaining 243 ranking points and moving up from 27th to 14th, directly beneath England. Topping their qualifying group, they excelled at scoring from close range with the second highest proportion of goals from inside the six yard box.

Weaknesses: Their qualifying performance was far from perfect however, with keeping things tight early on and holding on to leads sometimes proving problematic. Repelling free kicks was also something their defence found difficult, with only two finalists conceding more from these situations. It remains to be seen whether any of these problems will be further exacerbated against top quality opposition.

Prospects: Group G is certainly among the toughest and even the supposedly weakest opponent, Ghana, are sufficiently well-practiced from set pieces to cause concern. Taking points from Portugal and Germany will obviously be a challenge: Portugal are an even greater set piece danger while the Germans’ relentless goalscoring in qualifying should worry anyone.

Group H

Belgium

Group H

Strengths: While they were one of seven finalists to score in every game, Belgium’s qualification was founded on a tight defence: only Spain conceded goals at a lower rate than their 0.4 per match. They created a greater proportion of goals from wide areas than anyone except Croatia and only two teams were more reliant on set pieces, with corners being a particular speciality.

Weaknesses: Belgium boast one of the more well-rounded attacks in the tournament, with the worst criticism that one could level at them being that they rarely scored more than twice. It’s likewise hard to pick too many holes in a defence that conceded so infrequently, but it’s worth noting that three quarters of the goals they shipped were created from wide positions and a similar proportion arrived late in matches.

Prospects: All three of their Group H opponents had trouble defending their flanks, with Algeria and South Korea also vulnerable from set pieces, so creating chances shouldn’t be a problem. The Algerians’ attacking strength down the flanks might surprise them however, as could South Korea’s habit of scoring late.

Algeria

Strengths: Algeria are one of the better African sides at long-range deliveries, with more goals from long balls than any of the 32 finalists and the seventh greatest share from set pieces. Defensively they kept things tight early on during qualifiers and kept their opponents at a distance, conceding few close-range efforts. They were also a menace down the wings, particularly the right, and one of seven finalists to score in every qualifying match.

Weaknesses: However they exhibited a tendency to switch off when defending set pieces, particularly corners, and only four sides conceded a higher proportion of goals from headers. With nearly three quarters of the goals they conceded being crafted via the flanks, their full backs look to be an obvious weakness and are in danger of being found out in Brazil.

Prospects: Their preference for wide play gives them a fighting chance in Group H, with all three of their opponents among the seven most susceptible finalists to attacks down the flanks. Defending early goals is something else that all three have struggled with, with the Algerians one of the faster starters in qualifying. While Belgium’s strengths from set pieces, the wings and the air look almost tailor-made to breach the Algerian defence, they certainly have the capacity to surprise in their other two fixtures.

Russia

Strengths: During qualifying Russia didn’t concede once from outside the area, one of just four teams not to do so, and never conceded more than once in a match. They tended to start purposefully up front, with only three sides scoring a greater share of their goals in the opening 15 minutes of matches.

Weaknesses: Russia have seen their FIFA ranking drop more than any other qualifying nation in the last 12 months, losing over 200 points and dropping 13 places. While their overall defensive record was strong, they looked vulnerable from headers and deliveries from wide positions, which each accounted for over half the goals they conceded. They also failed to recover any points from games in which they fell behind.

Prospects: With their goals mainly coming from the centre during qualifying, Russia won’t be thrilled to learn that their three Group H opponents are all much more vulnerable down the flanks, so a change in game plan may be required. Both Algeria and South Korea are capable of producing the long balls that Russia found tricky to defend during qualifying, with the Algerians also adept at scoring from headers. This won’t be a straightforward group to get out of by any means.

South Korea

Strengths: Along with Algeria, who they’ll be sharing a group with, South Korea have relied the most on long balls to create goals during qualifying, with one in five of their goals arriving via ‘route one’. They created more of their goals from the left wing than any side except Croatia, with whom they also shared a proficiency for scoring at close range.

Weaknesses: It’s not been a good year for the South Koreans who currently find themselves the second lowest ranked team in the tournament. The 64% of the goals they conceded from the flanks is among the highest, while no finalist conceded a higher proportion of their goals in the opening quarter hour of matches and only Iran leaked a larger share from set pieces.

Prospects: The number of late goals they scored provides hope against Belgium and Russia who both conceded a disproportionate share of goals in the closing stages. However Belgium and Algeria look capable of punishing them from set pieces while Russia’s knack of scoring early could well stun them in their opening match.

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~ by richardpmurfin on May 18, 2014.

One Response to “Group Guide E-H ( microsoft sport) / WC guide continued”

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