The 2019 Women’s World Cup has now reached the latter stages, meaning awards such as Golden Boot or Golden Ball have started to be discussed a lot more. The race for the Golden Boot is a close one, with a few players tied on five goals, while the Golden Ball will likely end up with one of the players who plays for a team who reached the semi-final at least.
With this in mind, I thought it’d be fun to have a look at what players impressed, despite their team not having a deep run in the competition.
To set some rules, I’ve said the team must only have players who were knocked out in or before the round of sixteen and there can’t be more than two players from any one team. I’ll also start with the attack, as it’s a lot easier to justify with the numbers, rather than the defence where you’ll see there isn’t a huge amount of logic behind the selection.
Forward – Sam Kerr
Probably one of the most obvious picks, Sam Kerr had a hugely impressive campaign for Australia, scoring five goals in four games.
There are a few caveats, she missed her penalty in the shootout against Norway, while four of her five goals came in the game against Jamaica, but Kerr’s ability to get shots – and good quality shots at that – was practically unrivalled.
@EveryTeam_Mark wrote an ode to Sam Kerr over on StatsBomb which highlights just how good her ability to get clear shots was. Kerr had the most shots with no players in the ‘cone’ between her and the ‘keeper, taking 12 (not including her penalty rebound). Norway’s Caroline Graham Hansen was next with 10, but the quality of her shots was much lower than Kerr’s.
Kerr finished the tournament with a huge xG per 90 of 0.66, the 3rd highest at the end of the round of sixteen, behind only Carli Lloyd and Ellen White.
The forward offered more than just goals though, she had Australia’s highest xG Assisted per 90 as well as receiving the 3rd most pass progression received per 90 in the whole tournament. Looking at all progression (pass progression takes out crosses), she had the most progression received per 90 – which should come as no surprise given her jumping and heading ability.
Jennifer Hermoso – Spain
Hermoso didn’t have Spain’s highest xG contribution per 90, but was hugely influential to the Spanish attack. While the pass progression numbers are relative to their distance to goal, it’s still hugely impressive that a forward had the 3rd highest numbers for her team. Hermoso also had the 2nd highest numbers for received pass progression per 90 in the Spanish squad.
Spain as a team weren’t too impressive going forward, but the main reason for picking Kerr over Hermoso was the goal scoring and shot creation of the Australian. Hermoso’s only open play goal was the one against the United States, while she only managed an xG of 0.11 per 90, it was her xG Assisted that bolstered her xG contribution numbers.
Christine Sinclair – Canada
The experienced forward had some strong numbers for Canada but all of them fell behind Kerr. Not to mention, her good xG numbers only resulted in one goal in the tournament.
Right Wing – Hayley Raso
The second and last Australian pick, which leads to some pretty big exclusions later on, is right-winger Hayley Raso. Raso didn’t play a huge number of minutes with 196, so these numbers may be skewed somewhat, but the numbers she managed in her time on the pitch are great.
Rather than going through each metric, the easiest way to highlight just how good her numbers were is this: For midfielders and forwards with more than 150 minutes, Raso is the only player above the 70th percentile for xG + xA per 90, completed pass progression per 90, received pass progression per 90, attempted dribbles per 90 and pressures per 90.
The right-wing was a huge part of Australia’s attack and Raso was a huge part of that right side. While Australia went out earlier than they’d have liked to, Raso’s numbers after suffering a broken back last year are a positive for the Matilda’s to take from this campaign.
Nichelle Prince – Canada
Prince had the 2nd highest xG + xA per 90 for all players who didn’t make the quarter-finals, behind Sam Kerr, but I decided to highlight Raso due to how strong her numbers were in multiple categories.
Lucía García – Spain
Another Spanish honorable mention, García had the best xG + xA per 90 numbers for Spain and the 3rd best for players who didn’t make the quarter-finals. With Spain making big progress on their last World Cup showing and García being just 20-years-old she could be on to keep an eye on, particularly for the 2021 Euro’s or next World Cup.
Left Wing – Jun Endo
Like Raso, Endo didn’t play a huge amount of minutes as rotated the left flank with fellow youngster Yui Hasegawa, but she was productive when she was on the pitch.
Endo stands out in the same type of search as Raso. In the same metrics as above with Raso, Endo was one of only five players who was above the 60th percentile for each of the numbers – interestingly four of the five names didn’t make it to to the quarter-finals.
It’s worth pointing out that none of Endo’s numbers for these metrics jump right off the page, but the fact such a young player is putting up above average numbers in so many metrics is impressive – particularly considering Japan weren’t great in the group stage.
It may have been a disappointing tournament for Japan but, with plenty of impressive young players in the squad, it doesn’t seem as though they should be worried about the future.
Gabrielle Onguene – Cameroon
Onguene had the 5th highest xG + xA p90 for teams who didn’t reach the quarter-finals. I went for Endo because of the strong numbers across multiple areas, but Onguene also had a great tournament for Cameroon.
Mariona Caldentey – Spain
Yes, it’s another Spanish honorable mention. Caldentey was on of the five players with numbers above the 60th percentile with Endo, but I opted to go for Endo instead – even though Caldentey played slightly more minutes.
Centre Midfield – Erin Cuthbert
Scotland didn’t have the tournament they were hoping for, losing a 3-0 lead in their final game against Argentina and having many VAR controversies saw them crash out at the group stage, but the performance of 20-year-old Erin Cuthbert was a positive for Scotland.
Cuthbert played both upfront and in a deeper role but it’s in the deeper role I’ve chosen her, mostly due to her pressure numbers. For players who didn’t make the quarter-finals, she had the 14th most pressures per 90, in a team that didn’t record all too many pressure events. Cuthbert averaged 26.2 pressures per 90, significantly more than the other midfielders Kim Little and Caroline Weir, who oddly both had 13.1 pressures per 90.
She isn’t just here because she was active on the ball though. Using the same metrics as previously mentioned, Cuthbert was above median for all of them. It’s likely skewed due to her goal against Argentina, but Cuthbert had the 7th highest xG + xA per 90 of player not to make the quarter finals.
Her progressive passing numbers, both made and completed, don’t rank as highly but, given Scotland didn’t have great numbers as a team, having above median numbers is still a strong showing from Cuthbert.
There’s no doubt that Cuthbert has a big future ahead of her, she’s already playing for a strong Chelsea team and can only really grow from here. It’s unrelated, but it’d be good to see her get picked in the Team GB Olympic squad for Tokyo 2020.
Centre Midfield – Hina Sugita
Another young Japanese player and another player who means there are some pretty big exclusions in defence, Sugita has some strong numbers from midfield for Japan.
She had the 2nd highest completed pass progression per 90 for midfielders and forwards who didn’t make the quarter-finals, while also having the 6th best completion rate for passes that move the possession closer to goal.
She doesn’t have a huge goal contribution, but she is above the 70th percentile for progressive passing per 90, pressures per 90 and defensive actions per 90 (attempted tackles, attempted interceptions and ball recoveries) – so if you want a midfielder who can win the ball back and progress it with accuracy, she’s your player.
While I’m awarding individual performances, in the back of my mind I am thinking about how this team would fare as a team and a midfield of Cuthbert and Sugita (with a player still to mention) does sound like it could be fun. Both are active off the ball and able to progress it, while Cuthbert can push forward and contribute in the final third as well.
Centre Midfield – Sophie Schmidt
Canada may have been disappointing going forward in the World Cup, but they were one of the harder teams to play against.
Looking at passes that intersect the middle third, Canada’s opponents had the lowest pass completion. They do drop to 2nd when looking at passes that move the possession closer to goal, with United States leapfrogging them, but given Canada’s group seemed to be a lot tougher than that of the USWNT’s, it’s still a strong performance from Canada.
A big part of the Canadian midfield was 31-year-old Sophie Schmidt. For midfielders and forwards who didn’t make the quarter-finals, Schmidt had the highest pass progression per 90 with the 4th best accuracy.
She didn’t make a huge amount of pressures per 90 with 14.6, but she did have the 2nd most defensive actions per 90, only behind Raissa Feudjio of Cameroon.
With Canada’s strong numbers for pass completion in the middle third, plus Schmidt’s individual numbers for progression and defensive activity, she seemed like a strong option as the final choice in midfield.
Going off on a tangent, if it was to be a starting eleven, it could be a double pivot of Sugita and Scmidt with Cuthbert playing just behind Kerr.
Rui Zhang – China
China had strong numbers for opposition pass completion in the final third and solid defensive numbers. Zhang was their main creator with a strong xG Assisted per 90, while also having the 8th highest pass progression per 90.
Emily van Egmond – Australia
Strong progression numbers and kept the Australia team ticking, but her numbers aren’t quite as strong as the others and there’s already two Australian’s in the side.
So-yun Ji – Korea Republic
So-yun Ji had the 4th best pass progression per 90 and the best accuracy for passes that move the possession closer to goal. She had strong numbers for Chelsea in the FAWSL and I’d have liked to include her but Cuthbert’s stronger xG contribution and activity off the ball made me pick her.
Right Back – Ashley Lawrence
The second Canadian player to make the side is right back Ashley Lawrence.
Lawrence had the best pass progression per 90 of all right-backs in the tournament, while also having the 2nd best xG Assisted per 90 for those who didn’t make the quarter-finals.
Defensively Canada were strong down that side, having the 4th best numbers for opposition pass completion for passes that move the possession closer to goal from their left flank.
Ellie Carpenter – Australia
Only 19-years-old and was an important part of an Australian team who had the 2nd best numbers for pass completion from the right, however, her individual numbers don’t jump right off the page.
Left Back – Tamires
With Brazil getting six points in a tough group and narrowly losing against France, it feels as though there probably should have been a Brazil player mentioned before this point. However, no individual’s numbers stand out a great deal.
Cristiane had a great opening game and followed it up with a strong header against Australia, while Marta had some good moments, but the only Brazilian player I’ve named is Tamires.
The left-back had the most pass progression per 90 for Brazil and the 2nd of all left backs not to make it to the quarter-finals. Defensively Brazil had the 7th best numbers for pass completion of passes that intersect her flank and move the possession closer to goal.
What’s interesting is that they had the biggest difference between opposition pass completion on the two flanks, with their left side performing much better than their right.
Aya Sameshima – Japan
Sameshima had the best pass progression numbers per 90 for left-backs who didn’t make the quarter-finals, but having already mentioned two Japanese players and Japan’s numbers on that flank being slightly worse I opted for Tamires instead.
Centre Back – Irene Paredes
I’ve talked before about not being good at assessing centre backs, so this is where all logic gets thrown out of the window.
The only Spain player I’ve picked is Irene Paredes. The centre back had the best progressive passing per 90 numbers for Spain, who also had strong defensive numbers as a team.
They had a fairly tough group with Germany and China – although their attacking numbers were poor – before they faced the US in the round of sixteen, yet they still had the 7th best xGA against.
Going back to the preview from the USA vs Spain game, they also had some of the best numbers when it comes to completion rate of progressive passes conceded.
Paredes doesn’t play a huge part in all of that, with Spain putting a lot of pressure on higher up, but her strong progression numbers at the heart of a side with good defensive numbers made me pick her here.
Centre Back – Yuping Lin
This is the pick I have the least confidence in and it basically came down to I have to pick someone.
My thought process was China had a strong defence and they had slightly better numbers for the left side of the defence so I’d pick their left centre back. She doesn’t have great individual numbers, centre back partner Haiyan Wu actually has better numbers, but I wanted to pick a right centre back on the right and a left centre back on the left so I opted for Yuping Lin – more to reward China’s strong defence as a team more so than Lin’s tournament as an individual.
Australia’s Centre Back Pairing
The top two defenders (from teams who didn’t make the quarter-finals) for pass progression per 90 were Australia’s centre back pairing – Alanna Kennedy and Steph Catley. They both are good, ball-playing defenders and have good accuracy as well as totals, but Australia were suspect defensively and Kennedy got herself sent off in extra time against Norway with a fairly unnecessary foul.
Saki Kumagai – Japan
3rd best progression numbers for all defenders who didn’t make the quarter-finals. Would have probably been a better pick than the centre-backs I did pick, but I didn’t want to pick someone else over Jun Endo or Hina Sugita.
Kadiesha Buchanan – Canada
Didn’t have great individual numbers, but Canada were strong defensively and when watching I thought she looked like a great defender, while also being confident on the ball.
With me picking the rest due to some strong numbers and teammates Schmidt and Lawrence having leading numbers for their positions, I thought it’d be harsh to not pick one of those for Buchanan though.
Goalkeeper – Claudia Endler
I could have dived into (I didn’t intend for that to be a pun) the StatsBomb freeze frame stuff and tried to assess goalkeeper’s in a better way, but I’ve decided to be lazy.
Endler had strong performances against Sweden and the US, before not being tested against Thailand. It seems odd to pick a ‘keeper who conceded five goals as the best of the rest, but she seemed to do a good job of keeping the score down in the opening two games.
Vanina Correa – Argentina
I was initially going to pick Correa instead of Endler, but her only strong performance was against England from what I remember. Japan had a low xG total, so she wasn’t hugely tested, while Scotland scored three – albeit from good chances. Against England, however, she looked unbeatable. She pulled off a few great and different type of saves – like the one-on-one vs Beth Mead, the penalty save and the reaction save through a group of bodies.
Sydney Schneider – Jamaica
Made some great saves in the opening game and saved penalties in back to back games, before the second one had to be retaken. Only 19-years-old, could be one to keep an eye on in the future.