Evolution of the Game From 1966-2010

Here’s a study that looks at the last 44 years of the World Cup final – the elite of the elite. Soccer is always evolving. The rules and basic?principles of the game may not be, but the athletes are. Most are just now seeing the value that speed and power can have on the game. The improvement and refinement of speed and power have a host of benefits that translate to the furtherance of the anaerobic?and even aerobic aspects of a soccer player’s game. It’s becoming so?prevalent in most sports, that even the true endurance athlete is now?implementing?some?anaerobic, high power output work in the weight room to enhance aerobic activities.

The evolving athlete has the ability to change the structure of play as shown in this study. We’re seeing shorter, higher intensity efforts paired with much longer periods of walking and low intensity jogging. Because some soccer athletes are now being trained to operate at higher intensities (i.e. greater speeds) the need for a longer recovery (low intensity jogging/walking) is needed. Game-breaking speed and power looks to be at it’s height… and will only be increasing as athletes develop further.

J Sci Med Sport.?2013 May 2. [Epub ahead of print]

Evolution of World Cup?soccer?final games 1966-2010: Game structure, speed and play patterns.

Wallace JL,?Norton KI.


School of Health Sciences, University of South Australia, Australia.



There are relatively few?performance?analysis studies on field sports investigating how they evolve from a structural or tactical viewpoint. Field sports like?soccer?involve complex, non-linear dynamical systems yet consistent patterns of play are recognisable over time and among different sports. This study on?soccer?trends helps build a framework of potential causative mechanisms for these patterns.


Retrospective correlational study.


Broadcast footage of World Cup finals between 1966 and 2010 was used to assess patterns of play and stop periods, type and duration of game stoppages, ball speed, player density (congestion) and passing rates. This involved computer-based ball tracking and other notational analyses. These results were analysed using linear regression to track changes across time.


Almost every variable assessed changed significantly over time. Play duration decreased while stoppage duration increased, both affecting the work: recovery ratios. Ball (game) speed increased by 15% over the 44-year period. Play structure changed towards a higher player density with a 35% greater passing rate.


Increases in?soccer?ball speed and player density show similarities with other field sports and suggest common evolutionary pressures may be driving play structures. The increased intensity of play is paralleled by longer stoppage breaks which allow greater player recovery and subsequently more intense play. Defensive strategies dominate over time as demonstrated by increased player density and congestion. The long-term pattern formations demonstrate successful coordinated states within team structures are predictable and may have universal causative mechanisms.

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John Grace is a coach at Athletic Lab Sports Performance Training Center in Cary, NC - USA. John has his CSCS, USAW Level 1 certification, USATF Level 1 certification and has worked as an assistant fitness coach for the Vancouver Whitecaps of the MLS.
Category : Research