#Possession analysis

Part 1: How important is possession?

FIFA, 09 Nov 2023


What influence does possession have over winning football matches? How do teams use possession? And what are the characteristics, opportunities and risks of possession? The following introduction lays out a three-part analysis seeking to understand the role of keeping control of the ball in the beautiful game.

The question of whether having more possession increases a team’s chances of winning a football match is a hot topic among football coaches worldwide. It is also a heavily contested field in the world of football analytics. There are conflicting beliefs forming part of this discussion, with some people believing a team is more likely to win if they have higher ball possession, while others arguing that there is no meaningful connection between possession and winning.

Different viewpoints

Those who support the idea that ball possession leads to success in football put forward several arguments. One claim is that teams with higher possession percentages have greater control over the game. This control allows them to dictate the rhythm of play, move the ball into advanced areas of the pitch, and create more goal-scoring opportunities. Another claim is that maintaining possession reduces the opponent’s time on the ball, effectively limiting their ability to create goal-scoring opportunities.

Those against the notion that possession brings success argue an overemphasis on possession can lead to a lack of directness in attack, with teams prioritizing sideways or backward passes over meaningful progression towards the opponent’s goal. Furthermore, possession can make a team vulnerable to quick counter-attacks, which can be more decisive in terms of goals scored due to the higher quality of chances they create. The idea that “football is not about keeping hold of the ball, it’s about what you do with it” encapsulates this second line of thought.

Tournament observations

These different beliefs were also reflected in the initial observations from both the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ and the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™. While possession-dominant teams seemed to achieve considerable success in the womens competition, they appeared less effective in the mens tournament. On the other hand, defensive styles of play looked to be yielding better results in the mens tournament compared to the womens. These perceived differences have piqued our curiosity, leading to a three-part analysis on the specific outcomes at the men’s and women’s FIFA World Cups, and the role of possession in football more generally.


Part 1 of the analysis aims to investigate the intricate relationship between possession and winning matches. Specifically, we will delve into the connections between possession, attempts, and the number of matches won. The discussion is structured into four sub-themes, each addressing a specific aspect of this relationship.

  • Theme 1: The relationship between possession and matches won

  • Theme 2: The relationship between attempts and matches won

  • Theme 3: The relationship between possession and attempts

  • Theme 4: The relationship between possession, attempts and matches won


In part 2, we delve into team profiles and the strategic use of possession. We will investigate the consistency with which teams adopt a certain share of possession and how their chosen role impacts their success in winning against different opponents. Lastly, in part 3, we will examine the characteristics, opportunities, and risks associated with having more or less possession in a match. Here, we will explore the tactical scenarios that teams with different ranges of possession must master and identify the factors that differentiate winners from losers. Like part 1, these sections will be divided into themes.

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