Stats & Info: FIFA

Big weekend from five World Cup players

January, 6, 2014
Jan 6

Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images
Arturo Vidal of FC Juventus (#23) celebrates scoring the first goal against AS Roma Sunday.

The calendar has officially turned to 2014, which means the World Cup is just around the corner. Each Monday, ESPN Stats & Info will review the previous week’s action and highlight five impact players soccer fans can expect to see on the field in Brazil this summer.

While the majority of players covered each week will be in one of the Big 5 European leagues (EPL, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1), you can also expect to see plenty of players who perform well in the Champions League, Liga MX and MLS.

With that said, let’s take a look at a handful of future World Cup players who stood above the rest this past week.

Arturo Vidal (Chile) -- Vidal's opening goal, his eighth in Serie A this season, led Juventus to a 3-0 win against rival Roma Sunday. Vidal continues to be Juve’s do-it-all midfielder, ranking in the top 10 in the league in goals (8) and chances created (35), while leading Serie A in tackles (57).

During CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying, Vidal’s five goals were tied for the Chilean team lead, despite playing in only 11 of 16 games. Vidal also averaged 3.5 tackles per game during qualifying, the most by any CONMEBOL player who played at least 10 games.

Alexis Sánchez (Chile) -- Sánchez recorded his first league hat trick for Barcelona Sunday against Elche, leading to a 4-0 win. Sánchez has scored five goals in his last four games for Chile, including both goals in their 2-0 win against England in a Nov. 15 friendly.

Sánchez played in all four games for Chile in the 2010 World Cup. A 21-year-old up-and-comer at the time, Sánchez was held scoreless on 11 shots in the tournament.

Yaya Touré (Ivory Coast) -- Touré scored his 10th Premier League goal of the season to lead Manchester City to a 3-2 New Year’s Day win. Touré’s 10 goals this season are already three more than he had scored in any EPL season since joining City in 2010.

Touré also leads the Premier League in completed passes (1,294) this season, more than 200 ahead of the next closet EPL player (Kyle Walker, 1,090). Touré has completed 90 percent of his passes in Premier League games, his highest percentage since 2010.

Leighton Baines (England) -- Baines converted his first penalty goal of the EPL season, giving him three overall for the year. Both of Baines’ other Premier League goals this season came on free kicks in a 3-2 Everton win at West Ham on Sept. 21. Since 2010, Baines leads all EPL defenders with 17 goals, while only Wayne Rooney (6) has scored more free-kick goals than Baines (5) in the Prem during that span.

In the final stage of UEFA World Cup qualifying, Baines scored on a 35-yard free kick against Moldova. Only Croatia’s Ivan Rakitic (47 yards) and the Netherlands’ Arjen Robben (43 yards) scored longer free-kick goals during UEFA World Cup qualifying.

Ivan Rakitic (Croatia) -- Rakitic sealed Sevilla’s 3-0 win with his 77th minute goal against Getafe. The goal marked Rakitic’s first La Liga goal since Oct. 30, snapping a five-game scoreless drought.

Rakitic ranked in the top three for Croatia in passes completed (442), attacking-third touches (229) and chances created (19) during the final stage of UEFA World Cup qualifying.

If you think Brazil is best, you think like SPI

July, 4, 2013
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Brazil and its star Neymar stood above the rest at the Confederations Cup.
With today’s release of FIFA’s monthly rankings, here are some things to keep in mind that highlight the differences between the FIFA rankings and ESPN’s Soccer Power Index (SPI).

1. SPI updates its rankings daily, while FIFA updates monthly. The recent Confederations Cup is a good example for the importance of this.

Brazil was still 22nd in the FIFA rankings for another few days, before vaulting to ninth today. For what it’s worth, Brazil was favored by SPI in Final against Spain because it was playing at home. Spain was the slight favorite according to the odds makers.

2. Speaking of Brazil, they outline a major flaw in the FIFA rankings. Since the Brazilians are hosting the 2014 World Cup and qualify automatically, they are not participating in World Cup qualifying. FIFA does not account for that, and penalizes them relative to other countries because they are not winning any matches in these important qualifiers.

Entering the Confederations Cup, Brazil had fallen 17 spots in the FIFA rankings the past year despite playing well in an impressive slate of friendlies. For comparison, here was Brazil’s SPI and FIFA ranking alongside a “comparable” squad in the FIFA rankings prior to today’s new FIFA release.

It's worth noting that Brazil is now ninth (behind Croatia) in FIFA while Mali is 28th.

3. SPI uses full box scores from matches, and therefore can determine whether a team was using its full lineup, or “A” squad. If a team is fielding less than its full lineup, SPI will reduce the weight of the match and the overall importance to each of the participating teams’ ratings.

For example, in the upcoming Gold Cup, neither the United States nor Mexico will field any players from their “A” squad. Therefore we will learn very little as to the strength for each team. SPI accounts for that and will significantly lower the weight for each match. FIFA will not lower the weight, and instead will treat all matches as if both teams are taking the match seriously with their best squads.

4. For the fourth consecutive major international tournament (2010 World Cup, 2011 Gold Cup, 2012 Euros and 2013 Confederations Cup), SPI outperformed FIFA in terms of the correlation between each team’s pre-tournament rank and final tournament position.

If interested in accurate soccer predictions and want to learn more about SPI using a comparison from the 2010 World Cup, click here.

Contributions from Jeff Bennett, Albert Larcada and Jacob Nitzberg