Canada’s Qatar 2022 performance explained by the numbers.
Data from FBREF.com
The elimination was, is, and will continue to be painful for Canadian soccer fans. Canada grabbed the headlines around the world with their beautiful soccer, their beautiful game against Belgium (except for 15 seconds of lapsed focus), and Herdman’s controversial comments, but in fairness, their level of play should have been a bigger story, and I will demonstrate why, including a little bit of perspective and closure, which we all need at this point.
For the first time in its history, Canada scored a goal at the World Cup, but yes, only one. They are far from being the only team to have scored only one goal. For example, Belgium with arguably the best midfielder in the world in Kevin De Bruyne has only scored one goal, same for Wales with MLS Cup winner Gareth Bale (who scored the goal for Wales against the United States), same for Qatar, Denmark, and Tunisia (who beat the defending world champions France 1-0 in their last game of the group stage). So yes, 1 goal is not ideal at all, but I take solace knowing that Belgium’s world class offense also scored only one.
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I believe this is the true value of Canada’s attack at the World Cup. Canada finished its tournament with 4.2 xG. That is good for the 10th-best out of the 32 teams in the group stage. That is a better xG value than Japan, Croatia, and Korea, which qualified for the Round of 16. If it wasn’t for Thibault Courtois, Canada would have beaten Belgium. He has a post-shot xG of 2.08, which is 2nd best of the entire tournament. Post-shot xG measures the difference between the number of goals allowed by a keeper and the post-shot xG of the shots on target they faced. A positive number means they’ve saved more goals than expected, while a negative number means they’ve allowed more goals than expected, via FBREF.com. All the data used in this article are from FBREF.com.
Expected Goals Against
Canada’s defense was technically the 3rd worst of the World Cup with 7 goals allowed. When we dig deeper and when we account for the variance of luck, bad decisions, and poor execution, we find that Canada’s defense was at worst average, and could have been seen as good if compared properly. I like to use expected goals against (xGA) as a better measure of the true value of a defensive performance, and when we look at the xGA during the group stage, Canada has a respectable 3.9 xGA, 21st out of 32. It seems low, but they are in front of Japan, Portugal, Australia, and Poland, which all qualified for the Round of 16. Canada is also in front of Belgium and Wales, which are eliminated, but were seen as good teams before the beginning of the Qatar 2022 tournament.
One of my favorite indicators of potential for an attack is their shot-creating actions (SCA). To score, you have to shoot, that seems simple enough, and this metric gives us that, how many actions lead directly to a shot attempt. Canada ended its Qatar journey with 61 SCAs, which is the 13th-best at the tournament. It is better than Japan, Croatia, and Switzerland, to only name a few. Canada was able to create, play its football, and almost get a result in Group F, which was, in hindsight, the Group of Death in my opinion.
Let’s finish with a classic, an OG, an Old School stat.
Canada finished 11th in the group stage for its passing accuracy with 82.4%. It indicates to me good chemistry, a good understanding of the system John Herdman likes to employ, and a belief in each other from the Canadian players. Having a big disparity of talent in the team, it would be easy to try and find the feet of Davies or David with each pass, but that would show up with a low percentage of successful passes, which has not been the case. Canada did better in that department than the United States, South Korea, Switzerland, and Morocco to only name the ones that qualified for the Round of 16.
Lessons will be learned from this tournament, and the talent gap that exists at all positions at Canada Soccer will be addressed hopefully in the next 2 to 4 years, but numbers do not lie. Canada belonged at the World Cup, no, better yet, Canada played well at the Qatar 2022 World Cup, and just like a good bottle from the Osoyoos Valley, they will be even better in four years.
You can contact Kevin at KevinOnSoccer@kevlaramee
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