Democratising data: how FIFA primed World Cup underdogs to shock the world

The 2022 World Cup in Qatar wasn’t just about Messi’s crowning moment or Mbappe’s dazzling brilliance. It was also a tournament where underdogs roared, upsets unfolded, and the established order was challenged. While factors like tactical innovation and individual brilliance played their part, a silent force lurked behind many of these surprises: FIFA’s democratization of data.

For the first time in World Cup history, FIFA provided real-time tracking data and detailed video analysis to all participating teams, regardless of their ranking or resources. This meant that national teams like Morocco, Costa Rica, and South Korea, traditionally considered minnows, had access to the same level of information as footballing giants like Germany and Brazil.

“It was a game-changer,” declared Jamal Kingston, assistant coach of the Moroccan national team. “The data gave us insights we wouldn’t have dreamed of before. We could see attacking patterns, defensive tendencies, even individual player strengths and weaknesses.”

The impact was immediate. Morocco, with their newly acquired knowledge, famously upset Belgium, the world’s second-ranked team, in the group stage. Similarly, Costa Rica held Spain to a thrilling 1-1 draw, utilizing their data-driven analysis to exploit gaps in the Spanish defense.

The data revolution wasn’t just about tactical insights. It empowered coaches to make informed decisions about player selection, fatigue management, and even team psychology. “The data showed us how positive a 0-0 draw was in the first game against Croatia,” explained Attilio Sorbi, Argentina’s performance coach. “It helped us manage expectations and stay calm under pressure throughout the tournament.”

This democratization of data wasn’t without its challenges. Smaller teams often lacked the infrastructure and expertise to analyze and utilize the information effectively. However, FIFA stepped in, providing training and support to ensure everyone was equipped to leverage this valuable resource.

The impact of FIFA’s data initiative wasn’t limited to the World Cup itself. The increased access to information has trickled down to grassroots levels, empowering coaches and players in developing nations. Academies and training centers are now using the same data-driven techniques that were once reserved for elite teams, fostering a more level playing field across the globe.

There is no doubt that data by itself does not ensure success. A combination of talent, determination, and a little bit of luck is still an essential component. The 2022 World Cup, on the other hand, demonstrated how the democratisation of data can give power to underdogs, shake up established hierarchies, and add an element of surprise to the beautiful game.

It appears that the future of football will be increasingly driven by data, with advanced analytics becoming an indispensable tool for all teams, regardless of their size or resources. The effort taken by FIFA is a momentous step in the right direction, and it is quite possible that it will have a huge impact on the landscape of football around the world. Therefore, the next time you see an underdog team win, keep in mind that it could be partially driven by the democratisation of data, which is a silent revolution that is reshaping the beautiful game.