#Possession analysis

Part 1.3: The relationship between possession and creating attempts

FIFA, 16 Nov 2023


Themes one and two explored possession and attempts’ link to success. However, is there a correlation between possession and attempts? Theme three examines this relationship in the context of the FIFA World Cup Qatar and FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand.

As mentioned in the introduction, one of the main arguments made by those who think possession equates success is that having more of the ball allows a team to have greater control over the game, which then enables them to move the ball into dangerous areas and create attempts. However, critics would claim that some teams who dominate possession can also be guilty of lacking urgency, directness in the final third, and the ability of breaking down low-blocks. Theme three investigates the relationship between share of possession and attacking potency at FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ and FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™.

Possession and net attempts

Figures 1.9 and 1.10 illustrate the relationship between possession gaps and net attempts in these two tournaments. Each dot on the graph represents a specific performance. The horizontal position of a dot represents the difference in possession between a team and their opponent. The further to the right on the X axis, the greater the share of possession created by the team. The vertical position of a dot represents the team’s net attempts, indicating the number of attempts they made compared to their opponent; the higher a team is positioned along the Y axis, the greater the margin the team outcreated their opponent by.

When comparing figure 13 and 14, it is evident that both tournaments show a positive correlation between possession and net attempts. However, there are notable differences between the women’s and men’s editions. The women’s tournament exhibits a steeper trend line and a higher  value compared to the men’s edition.

The steeper slope of figure 14’s trend line indicates that teams participating in the FIFA Women’s World Cup were more efficient in converting their possession into attempts. For instance, a team in the women’s tournament with 20% more possession than their opponent would be predicted to create 7.7 net attempts. On the other hand, a team in the men’s tournament benefiting from the same possession differential would only be expected to create 4.5 net attempts.

To put it simply, in the women’s competition, possession-dominant teams tended to create more scoring opportunities and concede fewer attempts compared to the men’s tournament. On the other hand, defense-orientated teams in the men’s competition were relatively closer in terms of net attempts, indicating a smaller margin of underperformance.

Moreover, the higher  value indicates that teams participating in the FIFA Women’s World Cup were more consistent in converting their possession advantage into creating more attempts. The  value measures the proportion of the variance in one variable that can be explained by the other variable. It ranges from 0 to 1, with 0 indicating no correlation and 1 indicating a perfect correlation. A higher  value suggests a stronger correlation between the variables, meaning that more of the variability in one variable can be explained by the other variable.

In the case of the women’s tournament, possession was a relatively strong predictor ( = 0.56) of net attempts. However, in the men’s competition, other factors beyond just possession played a more significant role ( = 0.36). These factors may include a team’s directness, the area they keep possession, their capability of breaking down well-organised defenses, or a stronger emphasis on prioritising the quality of attempts over quantity.


Both tournaments demonstrated a clear correlation between possession and attempts created, indicating that possession-dominant teams have indeed generated more attempts than their opponents. However, it is worth noting that this correlation was notably stronger at the FIFA Women’s World Cup compared to the FIFA World Cup. This highlights the relative effectiveness of possession-orientated teams Down Under and the defensive-orientated teams in Qatar.

To understand this disparity, it is important to consider various factors such as the area on the pitch where teams generally controlled the ball; the relative effectiveness of teams in possession; the relative effectiveness of teams out of possession; their level of directness; or the emphasis placed on creating good chances over searching for the optimal chance.

While we can only speculate about the exact reasons, it is important to have an awareness of these factors in order to improve the performance of possession-based and defense-oriented teams. By understanding the significance of generating scoring opportunities and considering the balance between quantity and quality, teams can make informed decisions to enhance their gameplay strategies. This knowledge can potentially lead to improved performance and better outcomes for teams in these aspects.

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