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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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 vs England Preview: Midfield supremacy vital for Vatreni

It seems almost nothing can stop Croatia on it’s way to the World Cup final. They’ve walked through the group stage in a surprisingly easy manner. Winning against Nigeria was not impressive, but it was enough for the initial self-confidence injection. Afterwards came the match against Argentina where Dalić’s team proved to be a serious candidate for a medal in Russia.

High-quality counter attacking football turned out to be a perfect plan for Croatia in the situation where it is opposed by a strong opponent. Vatreni began to feel very good in the role of an underdog as they showed against Sampaoli’s side.

But then the obvious problems in play while being a favorite started showing up. Dalic’s side started to struggle when in possession which was clear in the next two games.

In the first round of the knockout phase Croatia held off both it’s nerve and Denmark 3-2 in penalty kicks with the veteran shot-stopper Danijel Subasic stepping up at the right time. The Danes completely controlled the situation on the pitch for almost the whole match and similar was repeated against Russia.

There Modric and co. showed that football isn’t all about tactics, but a sport filled with strong emotions where they again came out as winners. It was simply unbelievable to see them pulling out from another penalty shootout intact. But, if they would play like in the last two games – against Denmark and Russia – they don’t stand a chance opposing England.

How can Croatia upset Southgate’s side?

First of all, Zlatko Dalic needs to return to a formation with three in midfield where Marcelo Brozovic will be the one who can unleash Modric’s abilty to drive his team forward, drag the opposition out of shape and generally dictate the match tempo. Dalic’s decision to introduce Internazionale’s deep-lying playmaker against the hosts after an hour proved to be a game-changer. Ultimately, in similar shape Croatia completely outplayed Argentina who, like England, play with three at the back.

Brozovic played a decent game against Argentina where he successfully, in cooperation with Rakitic and the defence, stopped Lionel Messi. He is the third best Croatian as per Twelve’s ‘points per minute’ overall rating at the tournament and will be vital in stuffing the midfield with players in order to stop England’s excellent duo Alli and Lingard in their roaming.


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Croatia 2-2 Russia (4-3 pens): An ode to Modric but problems still persist

Croatia are the last semi-finalist of the World Cup after Vatreni got past Russia on penalties. Croatian people waited two decades for this to happen. Vatreni finally did it, but it was really rough, dramatic and thanks to a penalty shoot-out win over the hosts at the Fisht Olympic Stadium, following a 2-2 draw after 30 minutes of extra time.

Croatia have knocked out the host nation at a World Cup for the first time in their third attempt, following unsuccessful battles against France in 1998 and Brazil in 2014.

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Can Croatia dream of winning the World Cup?

Only six nations in the last 32 years have reached the knockout stage of the World Cup without conceding a goal. Another one could be Croatia this year. I couldn’t have imagined things would turn out to be exactly as they are now.

The whole qualification process was strange for Croatia, especially in the last few games. I still remember watching the game in my hometown against Finland, which was supposed to be an easy three-pointer. Mandzukic scored in the 57th minute, but Soiri banged in the leveller in the 90th minute.

Next match was against Ukraine. It was the last round of the qualification process and ‘Vatreni’ needed a win to make the playoff. After the draw against Finland, the Croatian FA sacked Ante Cacic and things started to look irreparable. The chaos and disorder in Croatia’s game was obvious.

In that game against Finland, only Luka Modric showed the willingness to play and compete. Others were not interested and it looked like we were going to miss the World Cup, and not long after we were decent at Euro 2016.

But the FA’s decision to sack Cacic proved to be right. Zlatko Dalic took over and the rest is history. After years of waiting, Croatia finally has a squad capable of something big, and they confirmed that after only two group stage games.

Not only do they look harmonious on the pitch, but they finally play in a clear-set system that has it’s own essence. Everything before that was an over-reliance on pure individualism. The majestic win against Argentina proved exactly that, but everything started with Nigeria and game no.1 in the World Cup group stage for Croatia.

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