The top five player performances at the 2018 World Cup

World Cup Eden Hazard Harry Kane Cristiano Ronaldo Toni Kroos Luka ModricConsidering the whole basis of Twelve’s world is an algorithm, it may seem odd to say we’re not obsessed with the numbers. But it’s the truth; we want fans to write what they think about a match, player or team, and then see what our statistics say, not the other way round. We had numerous excellent articles during the World Cup which did exactly that.

But then again, when you’re generating player scores based on millions of data points, it seems a shame not to see who the top five in a tournament were. After all, who doesn’t love a list they can argue with? If you want to see how a certain player scored in a particular World Cup match, we have a spreadsheet containing links to every game’s leader board, so you’ve got no excuse not to have a look for yourself. Without further ado, here are Twelve’s top five performances at the 2018 World Cup. Read More

Croatia brushed aside by fierce French

Croatia

A strong Croatian challenge was undone by a clinical France side as Les Bleus won their second World Cup.

Croatia started the game extremely strongly dominating possession with Luka Modric orchestrating the midfield excellently, by pinning France deep into their half and getting the ball into dangerous areas. The French, fair play to them, dealt with the pressure well, and this style of play suited them, as they were happy to sit back and counter on the break dangerously.

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How Twelve’s algorithm understood the World Cup

Twelve

It has been an amazing World Cup.

And for us at Twelve, it was more than ‘just’ the football. It was a chance for us to test the algorithm we have been developing for the past year.

The World Cup as a test set

Football is a difficult game to quantify. Indeed, many TV pundits and journalists claim that numbers can’t do justice when assessing player performance. While we accept that it isn’t easy, we don’t see why it isn’t possible. We believe that statistics give an extra edge in understanding football and, when used properly, can give just as much insight as a human expert.

The key to achieving insight is using the right numbers. And that is what we aim to do with Twelve. As data scientists would describe it, the World Cup has been a ‘test’ data set for us. We  fitted (or trained) our model on club football and now we have tested how the model fit on data from the World Cup.

It was a tough test, because we did it live via our rankings pages and our match app. The aim was to see how well the model rankings captured the assessments of our users and those  in the media.

Now the tournament is over I’ll explain where we have succeeded and where we have more work to do.

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France 4-2 Croatia: “déprimé, ajusté, récompensé”

FranceDepressed, adjusted, rewarded. France has a new motto, at least in football. Twenty years later, Les Bleus celebrate another world title, and this time away from home. An achievement that lit up the work of Didier Deschamps, who joins the Brazilian Mario Zagallo and the German Franz Beckenbauer in the restricted lot of world champions both playing and training.


To understand this second French world title we have to go back to 2016. To July 10th, the day Portugal won the European Championship. No one wins before learning to lose, and France began to build this title two years ago.

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Belgium 2-0 England: Quality Beats Quantity

England Belgium World CupFor the second time in this World Cup, Belgium beat England in a match which didn’t matter a huge amount to anybody. Unlike in the first meeting, the Three Lions had more shots and more on target than their opponents in St. Petersburg on Saturday, but it was Roberto Martinez’ side who amassed more expected goals both times.

And when it comes to chances, quality is always more valuable than quantity. Still, England did at least muster five shots on target in open play, which was significantly better than they managed to in their first six matches in Russia.

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Croatia must stop the unstoppable

Even if football is not coming home, the show must go on. Croatia continues to dream as they face France in Sunday’s final of the World Cup. Maybe not in football terms, but in historic or political ones this will be the battle of David vs. Goliath.

Croatia, a nation that became relatively newly independent in 1991 with only four million people and has only got past the group stage twice, will face giant France which has more than 60 million people and significantly richer football history.

It is interesting that France stood in the way of Croatia in the 1998 semi-final and wound up winning its first World Cup title on home soil that year. France has been to three finals over the last six World Cups and now again stands in the way of Croatia in their pursuit of winning an elusive first World Cup title.

We Croats must be honest and say this is the ‘underdog against a favourite’ type of game and all signs point to France coming out on top. Deschamps’s side is well rested, it had already been tested in the knockout stage and presents the most powerful defence of the whole tournament.

On the other hand, Croatia somehow scraped through three tough rounds of knockout football, going the full 120 minutes in every one and needing penalties to settle two. They’ve had to come from behind in all three of these games and have had to dig deep for those wins using all 22 players at their disposal (after Nikola Kalinic was sent home following their opening game).

There must be a lot of tired legs in Zlatko Dalic’s team, as well as injuries. Five first team players skipped the last training session with Ivan Perisic as the one who is the most questionable to start in the final. But, as it has been in the tournament so far, Croatia’s medical staff will do their magic and no major changes are expected.

The latest odds and betting lines have France as a massive favourite to come out on top, but like always, this is the final game and everything is possible.

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France and fencing on the run

France has done just enough to sneak by every opponent thus far, earning all but one of their five wins by one goal. They come into the final against Croatia as heavy favorites, however this will be a cautious game between two teams keen to avoid risks, both looking to grind the other down via their respective world-class central midfields.

I’ll compare the players who, for me, will have particular clashes between them and the results will determine the progress of the match.

For that reason, the head-to-head between Luka Modric and N’Golo Kante – the tournament’s two most impressive players – should define the World Cup final, both tactically and symbolically. Kante’s role is extremely important given Paul Pogba’s tendency to drift and Blaise Matuidi’s need to close down on the left wing, and the Chelsea midfielder certainly won’t choke; he has made more ball recoveries (48) and interceptions (19) than any other player at the World Cup.

On Twelve’s chart for Modric in attack, we can see where he created his best actions with the ball. Good passes and chances created around the 18 yard box. Also good long balls from behind the centre spot line.

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The Golden Ball winner is decided… (or is it?)

It has been a funny World Cup for the superstars. Messi performed well and scored a beautiful goal against Nigeria, but Argentina were already on the ropes at the group stages and were dealt a knockout blow by France. Ronaldo had his hat trick against Spain, but went the same way as Messi in the last 16. Neymar made it to the quarter finals, and despite the fact he dominated that match, he will be remembered mostly at this tournament for the 14 minutes of playing time he spent rolling around the ground. These three can count themselves lucky. Despite amazing performances, Toni Kroos didn’t even make it past the group stages with Germany.

So who is the real star of this World Cup? The Twelve Bot has a very clear answer: Luka Modric.

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Croatia’s World Cup dream goes on

Modric’s foul on Dele Alli gifted the Three Lions a free kick in a dangerous position early on, and Trippier stepped up to bend the ball over the wall and into the top corner, leaving Croatian goalkeeper Danijel Subasic rooted to the spot. When that happened, I thought to myself – it is definitely coming home. There is no chance for Croatia to return from this one. After suffering extra time and penalty shootouts against both Russia and Denmark, this was way too much to turn over.

Apparently, there was only one dream at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow in the first half. A dream for England to win their first semi-final in 28 years and qualify for another big stage – the final against France. Trippier’s first ever goal for his national team gave Southgate’s side a start which they could’ve only dreamed of. And they kept the early pressure on as Croatia were slow to get going.

England’s threat at set pieces was as constant as ever, with Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard, as well as Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling making all sorts of problems for Croatia’s defence. Moreover, the Three Lions should have doubled their advantage on the half-hour mark when World Cup top gunman Harry Kane was slipped through on goal, only to be firstly denied by Subasic when one-on-one, and then a combination of Subasic and the post from point-blank range.

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It’s not coming home for England

A berth in the final of the World Cup was at stake and England were 120 minutes away from having a chance to bring football home, but a 2-1 loss to Croatia means they will instead play for third place on Saturday.

England came off a 2-0 win against Sweden while Croatia defeated hosts Russia on penalty kicks. England’s inability to close out the match after scoring early saw Croatia grow in confidence. A lone goal by Kieran Trippier was followed by an equalizer by Ivan Perisic and an eventual winner in extra time by Mario Mandzukic. Emotionally, Gareth Southgate’s team went from the highest of highs to the absolute lowest of lows across the 120 minutes.

Kieran Trippier gave the Three Lions a dream start. Just minutes into the semi-final match, Trippier gave England a 1-0 lead following a fantastic free kick. Gareth Southgate’s men looked sharper and quicker when compared to their counterparts on the day but as the match went on, Croatia grew in confidence and England let the match slip away.

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