Rotation practices at the 2012 Olympic Football Men’s Competition

We take a look at how Olympic team managers have rotated their squads during the men’s football competition of the London Olympics, using the same analysis conducted for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations and UEFA Euro 2012.

The Olympics are different from other international football competitions in that the squads are limited to 18 players, which means that managers have to weigh a pool of possible starters against a reduced pool of substitutes.  Some of the strategies are borne out in the rotations that they make, which we’ll see in a moment.

The first part of the analysis tabulates the number of players rotated through a team’s starting lineup relative to the previous match.  The second part records the change in the number of players who made a match appearance relative to the previous match, so not just starters but substitutes as well.

Below is the table of results from part 1 of the analysis.  Olympic teams that advanced to the knockout stage are in red.

Changes in Starting Lineup

Country Group Match 2 Group Match 3 Total Actives
Japan 1 5 6 17
Brazil 1 5 6 16
Senegal 2 2 4 15
Switzerland 2 2 4 15
Honduras 3 2 5 15
Great Britain 3 3 6 15
Egypt 1 2 3 14
Gabon 1 2 3 14
Uruguay 1 3 4 14
Spain 2 3 5 14
Mexico 0 2 2 13
United Arab Emirates 0 2 2 13
Morocco 1 2 3 13
Belarus 1 0 1 12
Korea Republic 0 1 1 12
New Zealand 0 0 0 11
© 2012 Soccermetrics Research

The common practice in short tournaments is to keep the same starting lineup in the second group game (unless enforced by injury or suspension), and make two or three changes to the lineup in the final group game.  If a team has already qualified for the knockout stage, managers are much looser with their rotations.  Most of the teams who qualified for the medal round rotated 15 of their 18 players through the starting lineup.  Japan and Brazil’s managers had a tight rotation policy, but loosened it significantly after they confirmed their places in the last eight.  Senegal, Great Britain, and Honduras — all of which drew their first game — rotated two or three players per match.  The real outlier is South Korea (Korea Republic in FIFA language).  They made only one change to their starting lineup over the three group matches, and it involved one of the two Korean players who was consistently substituted from matches (Tae-Hee Nam).  New Zealand were the only side to not make any changes in their starting lineup over the group stage.

The second part of the analysis examines squad rotations among players who made a match appearance, and the chart below presents those results.  Again, Olympic teams which went through to the medal round are in red.

Changes in Starting Lineup

Country Group Match 2 Group Match 3 Total Actives
United Arab Emirates 2 4 6 18
Japan 1 3 4 17
New Zealand 3 2 5 17
Brazil 1 3 4 17
Senegal 2 3 5 17
Switzerland 2 3 5 17
Honduras 3 1 4 17
Great Britain 2 3 5 17
Mexico 1 2 3 16
Egypt 0 2 2 16
Morocco 1 2 3 16
Uruguay 2 2 4 16
Spain 2 3 5 16
Gabon 2 1 3 15
Belarus 0 3 3 15
Korea Republic 0 1 1 14
© 2012 Soccermetrics Research

Wow! South Korea have not just made the smallest number of starting lineup changes of the eight quarterfinalists, they have the smallest active squad of all of the Olympic teams!  Other sides, such as New Zealand or United Arab Emirates, have a small core of starters but refresh the lineup with a relatively large number of substitutes (UAE were the only Olympic finalist to play their full compliment of players).  The other teams in the last eight used all but one or two players during the group stage.  It will be interesting to see if the Koreans suffer fatigue in the knockout matches, especially if they have to play 120 minutes in a game.  (I’m writing this post during the quarterfinal matches and have not seen any of the results.)

I’ll follow up with a similar post at the conclusion of the football competition.


Tags: ,