Finishing woes are causing World Cup favorites to stumble

July 1

(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Monday, Germany went to extra time against Algeria. The Germans secured the victory with two goals in the added period, but a few bounces go the other way it would have been the North Africans headed to the quarterfinals. “A few bounces” in Brazil’s match against Chile at the weekend could not have been crueler to the Chileans. Mauricio Pinilla hit the crossbar in the 120th minute with what would have been a glorious winner. In the penalty shootout, Gonzalo Jara’s near-perfect strike bounced off the inside of the upright and spun just past the goal mouth and out of play. The capriciousness of tournament football has rarely seemed more evident.

Despite the late drama in both matches, however, I think Brazil and Germany are likely to be fine. Both sides were badly off form in finishing. They created significantly more chances than their opponents. Germany and Brazil combined for 21 shots from the danger zone and allowed only eight DZ shots to Chile and Algeria.

germany_algeria_map

Opta credits Germany with ten big chances, eight in regular time. In 380 matches in the English Premier League last season, only twice did a team create eight non-penalty big chances. No one created more than eight. The two teams which accumulated those eight big chances, Liverpool against Tottenham and Southampton against Newcastle, won by a combined score line of 9-0.

Now, this is not to say that Brazil or Germany was “unlucky” to be in this position. Finishing is not random chance. When Thomas Müller got himself free in a one-on-one inside the box in the 82nd minute, his shot missed because he scuffed it. This happened over and over to Germany, as the team created chances for open players to shoot, and they either struck the ball out of play or directly into the chest of Algerian keeper Rais M’Bolhi. M’Bolhi added a couple of very nice saves as well.

It is not that Germany deserved to win the match in regular time. But looking ahead to the semi-final against France, there is little in Germany’s attacking performance to suggest this side is not the fearsome attacking force they appeared in qualifying and through the group stage. A bad night of finishing can happen to anyone. Even the Germans.

brazil_chile_map

Brazil had a similarly difficult time finishing its chances against Chile. Overall there were more and better scoring opportunities for the Selecao, and in general a chance disparity of this sort suggests the team will be fine in future matches. One possible concern for Brazil is that two of the best chances that went begging were missed by strikers Fred and Jo. Jo had a tap-in from a cross and he only got the slightest of touches on the ball, barely registering a shot at all. Fred found a deflected ball bouncing at his feet about ten yards out and looped it high over the crossbar.

There is no concern with Germany that Thomas Mueller is not one of the world’s great finishers. Clearly he just had an off night. But this is now the second time Brazil’s finishing has let them down at the World Cup. Is this a structural problem for a team that lacks an elite center forward?

I have detailed statistics for 28 recent Brazilian matches prior to the World Cup. Brazil scored 67 goals in those matches, but their chances created only add up to about 54 expected goals. Brazil’s most recent competitive tournament, last summer’s Confederations Cup, likewise featured excellent Brazilian finishing.

brazil_confed

In matches against Spain, Uruguay, Italy, Japan and Mexico, Brazil scored 14 goals despite creating chances estimated at 9-10 expected goals. This is not terribly surprising to me, on reflection. While Fred is not an elite striker, neither is he a clod. Neymar is one of the game’s greats, and in Oscar, Hulk and Fernandinho, the supporting cast has good strikers as well. This team has fared perfectly well, indeed exceeded expectations, in its finishing in recent tournaments. Brazil remain World Cup favorites because this spell of difficulty in front of goal is likely to abate rather than continue.

All data provided by Opta unless otherwise noted.

Michael Caley writes for Cartilage Free Captain, where he analyzes fancy soccer statistics and bemoans Tottenham Hotspur’s most recent failures. You can follow him on twitter at @MC_of_AMy full World Cup projections and methodology can be found at SB Nation.

More on the World Cup:

For U.S., it’s time to stand and deliver

DaMarcus Beasley hopes fourth Cup is a charm

How the U.S. can beat Belgium in Tuesday’s game

France ousts Nigeria to reach quarterfinals

Suarez apologizes for biting Italian defender

U.S.-Belgium watch party in Dupont Circle scuttled by lack of funds

Referee becomes first American to handle a World Cup knockout match

Former Terps Zusi and Gonzalez shine for U.S. at World Cup

Dark horse Belgium has the talent but is relatively untested

Klinsmann says U.S. has ‘absolutely no fear’ entering knockout round

Video: Getting ready for Belgium, the U.S.’s next opponent

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