Does high possession of a ball guarantee victory in a football game?
A proper pre-game analysis is the key to a successful bet. The football fans and the Tipper are
convinced that the long control of the ball actually means a guarantee of success in every game.
Is it really like that? We’ll see…

During Euro 2016, Spain had the highest possession
The players from the Iberian peninsula have been famous for their popularity for years, playing their
attacks for a very long time. The forerunner of this game model was FC Barcelona with its Tiki Taka – the
tactic based on endless cross pass and short pass play. Over time, the style of the pride of Catalonia
was taken over by the Spanish national team. Was this always successful?

At Euro 2016, Vicente del Bosque’s players had the highest percentage of possession among all the
other teams in the tournament, and yet they ended their participation in the round of 16, where they were
defeated 2-0 by the supporters of a very different game model – Italians. The possession of 59% has not
helped in this game. The Italians, who are perfect in defensive play, have built up access to their own
goal and have scored the goals after a standard situation and a mistake made by the goalkeeper and
after a counterattack shortly before the end of the game. To make it possible, however, the players of
Antonio Conte had to run 8 kilometers more than the opposing team (118-110).

It was even worse for La Furia Roja in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, when they were already eliminated
in the group stage. Despite 60% of possession in each game, they could not dominate the opposing
team and had to return to Spain before the fun started properly. For the spectators, this was all the more
surprising, as Spain has completely dominated three previous tournaments and was the first team in
history to have successively won European Championship, World Cup and again European
Championship. During World Cup 2010 in South Africa, Spanish players around the world
showed how to combine pleasure with utility. They became tournament winners and at the same time
world champions, who scored the fewest goals in history (only 8 goals in 7 games). In all games the
possession of Spain was at the level of 60% and even higher in the cup phase. They have not only
deprived the opponents of the ball but also the desire for play and … powers.

Anyone who has played football at least once in their lifetime knows well that nothing else makes them
feel as tired as running after the ball. And the Spaniards have perfectly mastered the ability to win the
remaining games with the least possible effort by owning the ball (and removing it from the opponent). All
matches in the cup phase looked identical. The players of the Bosque have attacked the opponent
immediately after every ball loss, the ball again won and tormented with their game the opposing team. It
was the Portuguese, then the Paraguayans, the Germans and the Dutch, who were defeated by the
Spaniards 1-0. In a tournament it is a perfect result – the team reaches the next phase with as little effort
as possible. It was no longer talking about the Spanish national team, as it used to be: “They play like
never before and lose as always”. Spain’s style was a role model that was very often copied, but often
failed, in all corners of the football world, which we’ll talk about later.

In Portugal, the low possession share of the title not prevented
Also interesting are the statistics on possession by other Euro 2016 participants. One of the highest ball
possession shares was the Ukraine – without a doubt one of the weakest if not the weakest team in the
tournament. In this case, the high ball possession has not brought a single point. And that’s not all. The
Ukrainians have not even scored a goal. Here, however, the statistics of possession of the ball may be
misleading, for a very simple reason. In each of the games, the Ukrainians were the first to concede and
had to catch up. The opponents then withdrew and successfully defended access to their own goal,
taking into account the future games.

The ball possession also found no reflection in the game England – Iceland. A gigantic superiority in the
field (63% – 37% in possession of the ball, 18 – 8 in shots on the goal and misses, 7-2 in corner balls)
had brought no goals. The brave Icelanders have caught up with the deficit in the first few minutes
despite the loss of goal and shortly after they have taken the lead, they have not given up until the end of
the game. So they wrote one of the most beautiful stories of Euro 2016. 37% possession was enough to
score 2 goals and send Rooney and his team back home. A phenomenon on the French
stadiums was the national team of Portugal. A very bad game and only 3 draws in the group stage, then
the initiative submission to the opponent and lower possession share in each game of the Cup phase
and final … the title of the best team on the continent. In order for the Portuguese to win the gold medal,

41% of possession in the match against Croatia was in the round of 16, 46% against Poland in quarter-
finals, 46% against Wales in the semifinals and 47% against France in the match for the title.

It seems strange, above all, that such technically perfect players as Ronaldo, Nani, Quaresma and the
others have given the ball to the Poles or Welsh, the teams that have in their football DNA a solid
defense and fast counterattack. So was not it a coincidence, but a planned tactic? Apparently, the coach
of the Portugieser (similar to del Bosque in 2010) has stated that the end justifies the means. And the
main goal in a tournament is not effective playing, which can also torment one’s own players in a game
to death, but to reach the other levels with little possible effort.

Ball possession brings only problems, so Mourinho
The Portuguese, who is known for his controversial statements, has determined that the possession of
the ball is just the number for statisticians, so something that is not reflected in the score, because it only
matters what is on the net anyway. He has gone further in his statements, because according to him
brings too high a ball possession even problems. So it’s better to give the ball to the opponent and leave
him the problem and focus on the defense and wait for the chance to play a successful counterattack.

That he said that is one thing. The other is, he has implemented this. Such as in the game Chelsea
against Liverpool at the end of the season 2013/2014. The tactic created by Mourinho for this
game was to completely abandon the initiative The Reds and wait for a single mistake by the opponent,
a single stumble. Before the game, probably not even The Special One could foresee that stumbling …
literally happened to the hosts. At the end of the first half, at 0-0 and with absolute dominance from
Liverpool, Steven Gerard slipped in a very safe situation. Demba Ba, left alone in the attack, seems to
have been waiting for it, he took the ball from the Liverpool legend, ran alone towards the goal and
calmly hit the ball into the net. In the second half, the Chelsea players have also successfully countered,
thus definitively destroying Liverpool’s dreams of their first ever Premier League victory since 1990. And
this despite constant pressure from the side of the host and a possession share of 73%.

Atletico was just one step from winning the Champions League without possessing the ball
The tactic of Atletico Madrid was very easy in the Champions League season 2013/2014 – to give the
ball to the opponent and focus on a flawless play in the defense. This strategy and the perfect selection
of the right players have turned a typical European team into a team that had to respect the biggest
European clubs. Throughout the Champions League season, Diego Simeone’s players had the ball just
over 40% of the time and scored 60% of all goals after set pieces or counterattacks. This tactic was
successful until the 93rd minute of the final in Lisbon, until the equalizer of Sergio Ramos. In overtime,
the dead tired Los Colchoneros could no longer resist the Galactics. One can not forget the
match between Celtic Glasgow and FC Barcelona in the Champions League season 2012/2013. The
game of the group stage was also a highlight of the 125-year club anniversary and the fans could
probably imagine no better gift. At the Celtic Park, filled to the brim with deafening applause, the hosts

defeated star-studded FC Barcelona 2: 1. The fact that they were on the ball only … 11% of the time did
not stop them. 11% – 89% in favor of FC Barceolna !!! Messi and his team exchanged 955 passes
between each other in the match (while the hosts only 166) and have lost anyway. Football, bloody
bright, as the classic said.

Failed attempts to copy Tiki-Taka
Despite a few failures, both the national team of Spain and FC Barcelona are a role model for other
teams in terms of how to stay in possession and take the ball away from the opponent. Many teams try
to copy this style, but few have any success, others fail. Why? Not only does the player have to be
technically perfect, but he must also be tactically prepared to play in this way. The players have to move
perfectly on the field, forming triangles, repeating schemas, but also improvising a bit, something that
can not be taught to everyone.

In the 2011/12 Premiership season, Swansea’s side tried to play that way. Although the team had third
place in the possession share, she ended the season only eleventh. Swansea scored only 472 scorings
throughout the season, while the teams with much lower possession had over 700 such opportunities,
40% more. It did not matter that the Swansea players were in possession of the ball and
exchanged the ball between each other, as most of those passes were in their own half and played
backwards or backwards. At FC Barcelona, it works perfectly as it is played in half of the opponent and
the players of FC Barcelona are constantly looking for gaps and scoring chances to give their colleague
a better position, even though their game often seems undecided and the ball is played across.

The examples of failed attempts can be called endless. In 2010, the legend of FC Barcelona Jose Mari
Bakero became the coach of the top team Polish Premier League Lech Poznan. The coach, who grew
up in the spirit of Catalan Tiki-Taka, wanted to transfer this model of the game to the Polish soil. But the
players used to playing counter-attacks could not understand what the Spaniard meant. After a little
more than a year and after only half of the games won, he had to say goodbye to the club.

With possession you win the titles and not the individual games
This bold thesis was once formulated by one of the top coaches and one has to say that there is a grain
of truth in it. For defying individual failures, both Spain and FC Barcelona, which we call the role model,
have been among the top teams for years. Sure, it can happen once in 125 years of history, as with
Celtic Glasgow, but in the end, it is the players of Catalonia’s pride who win the trophies.
Although football is not always and only rarely logical, the teams with a higher ball possession have a
greater chance of success, if you want to see it from a broader perspective. Which in no case means
they win 10/10 games …