WORLD CUP: IS THERE SUCH A THING AS HOME ADVANTAGE?
With Russia off to a strong start in the FIFA World Cup group stages, beating both Saudi Arabia and Egypt, we decided to investigate the theory of home advantage. This report will explore why European nations have historically been so dominant at tournaments held on their own continent and how, in recent years, this trend is being challenged with the rise of foreign winners from the last six world cups.
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Home advantage is ‘a thing’!
Research done on the English Premier League suggests home teams really do have an advantage. On average, home teams have a 1 point advantage compared to teams playing away.
Further studies from the EPL examining the effects of travel on technical and tactical performance found there are a number of variables that differ between playing at home and away. For example:
- When teams are playing away their performance is impacted, with fewer shots on goal and fewer corners won. The home team is more likely to record more shots on goal and win more corners.
- Game workload variables are also influenced for away teams, with players experiencing an increase in the total distance and a simultaneous increase in low-intensity activity.
- Lastly, player wellness is significantly influenced. Away teams are more likely to experience a decrease in sleep quality, quantity and hydration, whilst also experiencing an increase in fatigue.
The above would suggest that travel has a huge impact on performance, affecting variables such as fatigue and hydration. Yet for events like the World Cup, teams that are more likely to suffer from the impact of travel, such as Australia, will host training camps up to a month before the competition to lessen those effects and acclimatise to the host region. To learn more about minimising the impact of travel, visit here.
So with teams take precautions to minimise the harmful impact of travel, what other variables provide home teams with an advantage? Could it be the greater fan support? Or the blade by blade knowledge of the pitch?
Home-Continent Advantage at the World Cup
The previous 20 World Cups suggest any advantage really lies with teams competing on their home continent, rather than with the host nation. Only six host nations have won a World Cup – the last being France 20 years ago. All 20 winners have come from either Europe or South America, with European winners traditionally dominating European World Cups and South American teams doing likewise on their own continent. Brazil are the only team to have triumphed in Europe (Sweden, 1958) while Germany became the first team to taste success in South America, in Brazil four years ago.
So how did Germany manage to finally buck a trend that has spanned almost 85 years? Spain became the first European nation to win a World Cup outside of Europe four years earlier, when Africa hosted its first-ever tournament (South Africa, 2010). Does the increase in foreign teams winning indicate that nations are becoming better equipped to win tournaments on foreign soil?
We asked AS Roma’s Director of Performance and High Performance Consultant for Germany’s National Football Team, Darcy Norman for his expert opinion on these latest trends.
Building the perfect team on, and off, the pitch
“Teams are investing a lot of energy and money into resources to try and give them the best advantage possible,” said Norman.
For Germany’s 2014 World Cup win in Brazil, their coaching and backroom staff included some of the best names in sport. Head coach Joachim Low, whose salary is a reported €3.85million, was supported by specialists hired from Exos Performance. Exos assigned performance experts and physical therapists, including founder Mark Verstegen, fitness coach Masa Sakihana, who has previously worked with the national football teams of Japan and the USA, and Darcy himself, who commented: “National teams have a very short window to be successful, so you need people who have been there, done that, that can get you as close to being prepared as quickly as possible.”
Teams are taking home advantage on the road
When asked about his experience with the German national team, Norman said: “They do a phenomenal job of creating training environments that are really comfortable for the staff and players. In the past, it was a disadvantage to be in new places and different hotels with things you weren’t familiar with.”
“But now, with the teams preparing with their own chefs and coming in ahead of time to create an environment that they are used to with their own equipment, you can really create a convenient training facility and base camp to minimise what was once deemed a disadvantage.”
Norman was in part referring to Germany’s $42million investment into private resort, Campo Bahia, that was built in South America for the exclusive use of their national team. The training camp boasted a FIFA regulation training pitch, outdoor swimming pool, media centre, fitness centre, lounge and dining area, and was located less than two hours away from any of the 2014 World Cup venues. Norman highlighted that the point of this investment was to ensure between matches players were relaxed and focused on recovering or preparing for their next game.
Better technology, means better preparation
“Technology allows teams to prepare a lot better – we are getting smarter as we go along,” added Norman.”
The influence and evolution of technology in sport has enabled teams to better prepare themselves for big tournaments, and do so in a short amount of time. Teams are now armed with years and years’ worth of data and not just on the athletes themselves, but on the opposition, the grounds and the competition schedule.
Better preparation by teams could also be attributed to the growing influence of sports science, coupled with the breadth and depth of research that is at the fingertips of many performance and sports science staff (i.e. effects of travel and sleep on performance, the impact of playing at altitude etc).
“The travel knowledge of players, teams and coaches is far more experienced than ever in history,” said Norman. There is no doubt these factors would help team preparation, giving staff a huge advantage in monitoring, managing and protecting players from injury or underperformance.
Kitman Labs is a sports science technology platform used by numerous National Sporting Organisations, including the Irish Rugby Football Union, Australian Rugby League, South African Rugby Union and Italian Rugby Federation.
Stephen Smith, founder and CEO of Kitman Labs, highlighted the value of the company’s award-winning Athlete Optimisation System to national teams: “More than ever, technologies such as Kitman Labs give teams the power to increase their efficiency and improve preparation in the lead up to important competitions,” he said.
“For example, Kitman Labs uses a secure parent-child data flow meaning when an athlete comes into camp, the national team staff can see their medical history, training loads, injury records and more, simply with the click of a button. These types of insights are invaluable, as staff immediately know how to individualise programming for that player to keep them injury-free during competition and to benefit the performance of the wider team.”
So the theory of home-continent advantage, is it fact or fiction?
With only one team from a foreign continent winning one of the ten World Cups that have been held in Europe – Brazil 60 years ago – it could be safer to look inside of Europe for this year’s winner. Yet with the rising trend of national teams investing enormous amounts to improve operations, backroom support and technology, foreign teams are giving themselves every chance of bucking this trend. Despite this, Norman is certain the World Cup will hold many surprises for the competing nations, as Germany’s shock defeat to Mexico has already proved! : “Soccer is a funny game sometimes,” he added. “You can do everything right and still lose. That’s the nature of the sport, but it’s why people love it!”
Fowler, Duffield, Vaile, 2014. Effects of domestic air travel on technical and tactical performance and recovery in soccer. Int J Sports Physiol Perform; 9(3):378-86. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24755963
Dubas-Fisher, David. 2014 How much is home advantage worth in the Premier League? We crunch the numbers to find out. Mirror Online: https://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/how-much-home-advantage-worth-4204033