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By The Numbers: Banyana’s World Cup Group Stage performance

Banyana Banyana made it through to the knockout stages of the World Cup with a spirited display in a 3-2 win against Italy.

Thembi Kgatlana

Banyana Banyana made it through to the knockout stages of the World Cup with a spirited display in a 3-2 win against Italy. They had to come back from a goal down to lead and then snatch a very late equaliser as the Italians threatened to shatter their dream. For the observer, the match itself was a simply breathtaking ride with a happy ending. For Desiree Ellis and the players, it may have presented a different set of emotions. Here are some of the numbers from the game and their overall performance in the Group stages.

In our last article, we expressed fear of how this golden generation of players may not reach the promised land of the World Cup knockout stages. Coming into this final group game, the odds were heavily against Banyana winning. Italy had been given a 50-60% chance of winning by most bookies, with Banyana around 20%. When Italy took the lead, those percentages must have moved for the worse, but the team did not give up and fought until the end.

64 – matches played by African teams at the World Cup (since 1991)

47 – matches in which African teams have conceded the opening goal (73%)

1 – matches in which African teams have won despite trailing before this World Cup (2%)

For a change, Banyana had a rather poor first half, as the pressure of the occasion seemed to get to them. The Italian own goal came after applying consistent pressure for the first (see the image above). But, the truth is we were lackluster in the first 45, at least from an attacking perspective. A lot of this could have been due to Italy getting a goal in the opening 10 minutes, and for once, we had to chase the game. The second half saw an improvement in these attacking numbers:

3 – shots attempted by Banyana in the first half

0 – shots on target in the 1st half (the first time they complete a half without a shot on target)

5 – shots on target for Banyana in the 2nd half (more than any full game at any World Cup)

Overall, the difference between the two tournaments (2019 and 2023) is quite big. This is true on the attacking front, with six goals in 2023 far above the solitary goal from 2019.

16 – shots attempted by Banyana in all 2019 WWC Group games

35 – shots attempted by Banyana at the 2023 edition

4 –  shots on target for Banyana in all 2019WWC Group games

13 – shots on target for Banyana at the 2023 edition

1.2 – total xG for Banyana in all 2019WWC Group games

4.3 – total xG for Banyana at the 2023 edition

There is also improvement in performance out of possession. They have had to learn how to control games without controlling possession, and they are mastering this with every game. Unlike the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations where they enjoy 60%+ of the ball, their average in the World Cup is much less (39% in 2019, 36% in 2023). Their ability to force opponents into turnovers when they gain possession has been exemplary, enabling the team to spring surprise counterattacks with a deadly frontline speed.

74 – tackles attempted by Banyana at the World Cup (1st in the tournament)

50 – tackles won by Banyana at the 2023 World Cup (1st in the tournament)

Compare this with 2019:

50 – tackles attempted by Banyana at the World Cup (last in the tournament)

Having said that, there is still work to be done on the defensive side. The xG flow chart from the Italian game shows how the flow of this game would ordinarily have resulted in a 3-1 win for the Europeans. Desiree Elliss will remind you of the Argentina game (Banyana 2 – 0.7 Argentina).

Indeed, Banyana are yet to keep a clean sheet at the World Cup in any of their six games. Of all the Round of 16 clashes, the Netherlands are being given (by Opta) the best chance of progression (82.5%), so a clean sheet here will be a tall order.

Yet, we’ve seen stranger things.

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