In a summer packed with sport, the recent Tokyo Olympics provided another stage for both young (and some older) footballing talent from around the world to show what they were capable of as 16 teams competed for a coveted gold medal, which on the men’s side went to Brazil for the second time in a row.
Our expert analysts broke down every game from the men’s tournament in detail, collecting data to provide a more in-depth view of what happened on the pitch. Using this data, we take a look back at the competition to see how it can help us understand the results and uncover things that we may have missed from just watching the games first time around.
Spain Leave it Late
The winners from Barcelona ’92 scored four goals in extra time as they reached (and eventually lost) the men’s final, representing more than half their overall goal tally of 9. They also only scored once before the 60th minute.
A Real Mix of Team Playing Styles
Although a relatively small tournament in terms of number of teams, Tokyo 2020 provided a great opportunity to witness a wide range of footballing styles, from Romania and Australia’s fast, direct approach to Spain’s slower, more intricate play.
Three of the four semi finalists utilised a more pass-heavy approach compared to the average seen at the tournament, with Mexico representing an exception playing fewer passes each sequence. All four played with a below average direct speed.
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Looking at passing direction also provides context on playing styles. Australia played the highest proportion of their passes forward, although they were outside of the top 10 in terms of completing these passes successfully. Conversely Spain were the happiest to play the ball backwards whilst enjoying the highest forward pass success rate.
Spain (Unsurprisingly) Kept the Ball
Given the playing styles mentioned above, it’s no surprise to see Spain had an average of 67% possession. The Spanish were comfortably the side who held on the ball the best throughout the competition, with the next highest nation, South Korea, seeing 59%. Spain also had the highest number of 10+ pass sequences, with 145, over double the Japanese who came in second. Spain saw the highest pass completion rate.
France’s Leaky Defence
Conceding 11 goals in 3 games resulted in France dropping out of Tokyo 2020 after the group stages - no team conceded more during their opening matches. They also conceded 25% of the shots faced and let 9 goals in after half time, leaving the French with further unwanted records from the tournament.
Mexico faced the highest number of shots and shots on target of any team, although this did not prevent them from progressing to the semi-finals, perhaps this is thanks to some nice finishing, which we look at next...
Mexico Lucky or Finishing Their Chances Well?
Mexico scored an impressive 15 goals from open play in their six matches. However with a total (non-penalty) tournament Expected Goals (xG) value of 8.97, the Central American side netted almost double the number of goals you would expect based on the quality of chances they had. With Sebastián Córdova, Henry Martín and Alexis Vega sharing 11 goals between them, the Mexicans were taking their chances well, a key factor in their journey to the semi-finals.
At the other end of the pitch Mexico gave away possession more often than any other side — 134 times — in their defensive third. It’s perhaps expected that they had the leakiest defence of any side that reached the semi-finals.
Looking at the average position of where teams started their own sequences and where their opponents started theirs indicates a team’s ability to control areas higher up the pitch. Here we can see South Korea, Brazil, Argentina and Spain leading both with and without the ball.
By also considering turnovers high up the pitch we can get an idea of how much pressure a team is putting on their opposition. Spain, Brazil and South Korea lead here, indicating that they both play high up the pitch and work to gain possession in the final third. These three teams also played the highest proportion of their passes in the final third of all teams at Tokyo 2020.
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