Six months after the tournament came to an end, FIFA have now been able to identify the technical, tactical and physical hallmarks of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
The keen eyes and experience of FIFA's bone fide football experts have combined with unrivalled and extensive performance analysis data to highlight some of the latest trends in the modern game.
On 18 December 2022, Lionel Messi raised the World Cup aloft in Doha's Lusail Stadium. After a scintillating game that finished 3-3 after extra time, Argentina beat defending world champions France 4-2 on penalties to become World Champions for the third time. For many, the final was one of the best FIFA World Cup final matches ever witnessed. For some, it was the greatest of all time.
The head-to-head battle between Argentina captain Lionel Messi and France forward Kylian Mbappé for the adidas Golden Boot and Golden Ball awards could not have played out more perfectly. At 35 years of age, the mesmeric Messi scored two goals in the final before converting his penalty in the shootout to secure the Golden Ball, becoming the first player ever to win it twice.
While the Golden Ball went to Messi, the explosive 23-year-old Mbappé scored a hat-trick and successfully dispatched his shootout spot kick to win the Golden Boot and claim the Silver Ball. They were joined on the winners' podium by Croatia's masterful, 37-year-old captain Luka Modrić, who took a bronze medal and the Bronze Ball home from what could be his last World Cup.
FIFA's Technical Study Group (TSG), led by FIFA's Chief of Global Football Development Arsène Wenger, attended every match at the World Cup to analyse the tactical, technical, physical and psychological trends that emerged during the tournament. The role of his team was to observe and investigate the themes that influenced, inspired and/or affected performances on the pitch during the competition, and this article summarises some of their key findings.
YOUNG TALENTS AND EXPERIENCED MASTERS
For Wenger, the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ was defined by the performances of young talents and experienced masters.
"I feel in the modern game, the young players are ready earlier to perform on the biggest stage. Their football education starts earlier, they are better prepared, they get more chances in some leagues so, in this World Cup, we have seen some very promising young players."
"For example, [Jamal] Musiala, [Jude] Bellingham [and Bukayo] Saka, these players are not only physically able to play but they are mentally ready too and not afraid to turn up in a big tournament," explained Wenger.
At the other end of the spectrum, Wenger points out that other players are achieving greater longevity in their careers and are maintaining the ability to perform at the highest level of the game.
"Lionel Messi won the adidas Golden Ball at the tournament that took place in December 2022, and he was born in 1987. He is the best player in the world at 35, and this extension in [his] career was evident with other players too."
"Karim Benzema won the Ballon d'Or in 2022 and he was born in 1987 also. We had Olivier Giroud playing for France in this tournament and he was 36. Luka Modrić captained Croatia and won the adidas Bronze Ball at this World Cup at the age of 37. Both he and Cristiano Ronaldo were born in 1985."
According to Wenger, "This did not happen 20 years ago, so it looks like there is an extension of the career at the highest level."
Traditionally, it has not been unusual to see goalkeepers enjoying greater longevity at the highest levels of the game, but this has not been true of outfield players. So, why are more outfield players able to continue playing at the highest level into their mid and late 30s?
Wenger believes there are a number of potential reasons for this development, noting that "Players get greater medical care, greater physical preparation, and they have a better lifestyle, and all these factors accumulate to extend their careers."
One unique aspect of the FIFA World Cup 2022 was the fact that the whole tournament took place in one city. With the stadiums and most of the teams located in close proximity around Doha, travel demands were significantly reduced compared with previous World Cups.
This reduction in travel time also meant that recovery times also improved significantly, because players could be back in their hotel rooms just two hours after their games had finished.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN WINNING AND LOSING TEAMS
In addition to the key themes from FIFA World Cup 2022 (detailed below) and the insights gleaned from the additional data now available to analysts, comparing the metrics of winning and losing teams during the competition yielded some striking statistics.
1. Winning teams consistently outperformed losing teams when it came to successfully converting ball progressions into attempts at goal.
As can be seen in the table below, winning teams enjoyed more receptions after offers in behind, completed more ball progressions and broke the defensive unit more often than teams that lost. This also led to more attempts at goal and greater attacking efficiency.
Post-tournament analysis also showed that winning teams outperformed their opponents in take-ons and step-ins. On average, winners completed 4.15 more take-ons and 7.66 more step-ins per game than losers, suggesting a more progressive style of play.
2. Centre-forwards and left-wingers in winning teams received the ball after an offer in behind significantly more often than those in losing teams
In relation to the impact of players in certain positions for teams that won versus teams that lost, some interesting data has emerged.
As discussed in the analysis on the role of Number 9s, the impact of centre forwards in the 2022 tournament changed in comparison to the 2018 World Cup. The significance of this change is underlined by the difference in the impact that centre forwards made for teams that won compared to the impact had they had for teams that lost. Centre forwards in winning teams completed 123 receptions after an offer to receive in behind compared to 85 for those in teams that lost. They also completed 32 defensive unit line breaks compared to 12 for those that lost.
This discrepancy was not confined to centre-forwards. For instance, left-sided centre-backs in victorious teams were able to complete more ball progressions than their counterparts in losing sides, registering 76 progressions compared to just 45 in teams that lost. Similarly, right-sided central midfielders in winning teams completed 77 ball progressions compared to 46 by those in losing teams. It may also be significant that left-wingers in winning teams completed more than double the number of receptions after an offer to receive in behind the opposition defensive line than their opposite numbers in losing teams, registering 152 receptions compared to just 68 for left-wingers in teams that lost. This total exceeds the same count for centre forwards by 29.
3. Winning teams in 2022 demonstrated a stronger ability to activate quality, vertical threats on the counter-attack and in attacking transition compared to teams that lost.
In the counter-attacking phase, victorious teams completed 130 receptions of the ball after an offer to receive in behind the opposition's defensive line, compared to just 53 completed by teams that lost.
Moreover, while defeated teams completed more ball progressions in build-up phases (opposed and unopposed), winning teams completed significantly more ball progressions in counter-attack phases (73 vs 27) and in attacking transition phases (237 vs 165).
The numbers for defensive unit line breaks in counter-attack phases show a similar trend, with 45 for winning teams versus 20 for teams that lost. The same is also true of breaks in attacking transition phases (68 for winning teams as against 35 for losing teams).
Interestingly, winning teams registered a total of 430 counter-attacks, as opposed to 274 for losing teams; the average duration of victors' counter-attacks were slightly longer than the that of losing times (4.25 seconds versus 3.81). Teams that lost also tended to counter-attack at slightly faster speeds than winning teams did, at an average of 31.73km/h compared to 30.6km/h for teams that won.
However, the quality of counter-attacks by victorious teams was significantly higher. Winning sides registered 42 counter-attacks resulting in attempts at goal, leading to 11 goals, while losing teams only produced 12 counter-attacks culminating in attempts at goal, none of which resulted in a goal being scored.
KEY THEMES FROM FIFA WORLD CUP QATAR 2022
After sieving through the vast amounts of football played in Qatar, the TSG determined four technical and tactical elements as key themes that defined the tournament. The remainder of the analysis centres around these themes, and the main findings of each are provided below.
Mid-blocks and compactness
The use of wide areas
The role of the Number 9
Goalkeeper line height
FIFA WORLD CUP QATAR 2022™ IN NUMBERS
The first FIFA World Cup™ to take place in the Arab world was as record-breaking as it was groundbreaking. Below are some of the official facts and figures from the greatest-ever edition of football’s biggest competition.
As Argentina lifted the FIFA World Cup Trophy at the end of one of the most exhilarating games of football in living memory, it capped the end of a more-than-memorable 29 days of football. For the first time in tournament history, an African nation reached the final four – as Morocco defied the odds to go on the FIFA World Cup journey of a lifetime – and fans of all 32 teams were able to gather in one place to bond over a shared passion for the beautiful game.
In what many called the greatest FIFA World Cup final of all time, records tumbled:
- Argentina captain Lionel Messi hoisted the coveted winner’s trophy for the first time in his storied career, while notching up his record 26th FIFA World Cup appearance and winning the adidas Golden Ball Award along the way.
- Kylian Mbappé became only the second player to score a hat-trick in a FIFA World Cup final, while also holding his nerve to convert his spot kick in the decisive penalty shoot-out, finishing as the tournament’s top scorer with eight goals and taking home the adidas Golden Boot.
- Mbappé’s second-half volley to level the scores at 2-2 was clocked at 123.34km/h, making it the most powerful scoring shot in the tournament.
- The six-goal final helped to make Qatar 2022 the highest-scoring FIFA World Cup ever. A total of 172 goals were scored, eclipsing the previous tournament record of 171 goals, achieved in 1998 and 2014.
The magnificent moments on the pitch were not the only remarkable thing about this FIFA World Cup.
As the impressive figures kept coming in, viewership numbers and global interest also reached peak levels, telling the story of how football successfully united the world:
3.4 million spectators
The attendance at the final pushed the cumulative total for this FIFA World Cup to over 3.4 million spectators, with an average overall attendance capacity of 96.3%.
1.8 million +
Al Bidda Park in Doha saw more than 1.8 million fans enjoy the live broadcasts of games and the vibrant entertainment on offer at the FIFA Fan Festival™.
1 million +
Over one million visitors travelled to Qatar to watch matches in person, with the top visiting nations being: Saudi Arabia, India, the USA, the United Kingdom and Mexico.
First FIFA World Cup in the Arab world
The first FIFA World Cup in the Arab world introduced much of the world to the local culture and demonstrated the passion for football held by fans in the region.
For the first time ever...
For the first time ever, countries from five different continents qualified for the knockout stage, with Morocco becoming the first-ever African or Arab nation to make it as far as the semi-finals.
The most compact FIFA World Cup
The most compact FIFA World Cup since the inaugural edition in 1930 also benefitted fans, teams and media representatives, who had the option of attending several matches and entertainment activities per day.
420,000 volunteer applications
A record 420,000 volunteer applications were received, of which 20,000 were chosen, including 3,000 international volunteers from 150 different nations to help support and deliver all facets of the tournament.
9.19 million trips
During the group stage, the busiest phase of the tournament, the Doha Metro and Lusail Tram networks notched up 9.19 million trips, with a daily average of 707,032 passengers.
Around five billion people engaged with the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, following tournament content across an array of platforms and devices across the media universe. On social media, according to Nielsen, there were 93.6 million posts across all platforms, with a 262 billion cumulative reach and 5.95 billion engagements.
The final on TF1 attracted an average audience of 24.08 million viewers, 81% of the audience share. This was 24% greater than the audience for the France v. Croatia final in 2018 (19.38 million) and an all-time viewing record in France.
The final was aired across three channels (TV Publica, TyC Sports and DirecTV) – with a combined audience of 12.07 million viewers.
The final attracted a combined audience of almost 26 million – with the coverage on FOX being the most watched English-language broadcast of a FIFA World Cup in the USA. The final was also the most-watched match of the tournament in Spanish, with a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of nine million viewers – a 65% increase compared to the 2018 final.
Pan-Middle East and North Africa
Coverage of the final aired live across the MENA region on beIN Sports. The match achieved an audience reach of 242.79 million viewers – equivalent to 67.8% of the channel’s potential television audience.
Rest of the world
The tournament as a whole attracted an overall reach in the country of 173 million – 81% of the population.
More than 36 million watched the coverage of Japan’s second group-stage match against Costa Rica on TV Asahi – achieving an audience share of 66.5% – a record in 2022.
51.22 million UK viewers were reached across the entire tournament, representing 83.9% of the potential market audience.
A total of 11.14 million viewers watched Korea Republic’s opening match against Uruguay – representing a 97% increase in Korean TV audience compared to the average group-stage figures at the previous FIFA World Cup.
Coverage of Portugal’s round-of-16 match against Switzerland delivered the most-watched FIFA World Cup broadcast ever recorded in Portugal, with an average of 3.89 million viewers – 71.8% of the broadcast share.
The 22nd edition of the FIFA World Cup was also hugely successful for FIFA’s Commercial Affiliates – with over five billion people reached, the platform that the tournament provides is like no other. All global and regional sponsorship packages were sold out, with the 32 Commercial Affiliates activating more than 600 special marketing programmes.