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Wednesday, July 02, 2014

World Cup Goals

With the elimination yesterday of the United States from the World Cup, it seems appropriate to examine a broader story from the competition: the flurry of goals.  In the first round of 16 games at this year’s World Cup 49 goals were scored.  Four years ago there were just 25.  What accounts for this remarkable increase?  There are no doubt many factors, but this post will focus on just one theory: the top players in the world have finally read and internalized my article: “Missing Well: Optimal Targeting of Soccer Shots,” 22 Chance 21 (Fall 2009).

My thesis in that article was that to maximize goals per shot a player should aim the ball halfway between the goalkeeper’s reach and the goalpost.  This would generate roughly(!) equal numbers of keeper saves and shots wide.  I found support for this hypothesis using player-level data from the U.S. professional league.

If players adjusted their targeting strategy accordingly between the two World Cups: (1) the percentage of shots generating goals should have increased; (2) that increased yield should have accounted for some of the added goals; and (3) the ratio of misses to saves should have moved closer to one.

Let’s take the predictions in order.  On number (1), 12% of shots generated goals this year versus 8% in 2010.  As to number (2), that increased yield accounted for 7 of the additional goals.  The rest of the 17 added goals came from the fact that many more shots were taken: 406 this year versus 317 in 2010.

So there is still some room (7 goals) for my theory to have worked, which brings us to number (3).  Unfortunately, the miss-to-save ratio actually increased between from 2.6 in 2010 and to 3.25 in 2014, farther from one.  These guys are doing pretty well even without heeding my advice.  Go figure!

Posted by Fredrick Vars on July 2, 2014 at 09:44 AM | Permalink


I wonder.

Did that volume of Chance publish any articles that weren't jokes or put-ons?

Posted by: Dalvino | Jul 2, 2014 12:29:40 PM

What agreeable lives law professors must lead, having enough available time to devote to scholarship such as this!

Posted by: Lois Turner | Jul 2, 2014 2:30:47 PM

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