Three soccer World Cups were analysed with the aim of identifying the match statistics which best discriminated between winning, drawing and losing teams. The analysis was based on 177 matches played during the three most recent World Cup tournaments: Korea/Japan 2002 (59), Germany 2006 (59) and South Africa 2010 (59). Two categories of variables were studied: 1) those related to attacking play: goals scored, total shots, shots on target, shots off target, ball possession, number of off-sides committed, fouls received and corners; and 2) those related to defence: total shots received, shots on target received, shots off target received, off-sides received, fouls committed, corners against, yellow cards and red cards. Discriminant analysis of these matches revealed the following: (a) the variables related to attacking play that best differentiated between winning, drawing and losing teams were total shots, shots on target and ball possession; and (b) the most discriminating variables related to defence were total shots received and shots on target received. These results suggest that winning, drawing and losing national teams may be discriminated from one another on the basis of variables such as ball possession and the effectiveness of their attacking play. This information may be of benefit to both coaches and players, adding to their knowledge about soccer performance indicators and helping to guide the training process.
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