Germany crushing Brazil in their huge semifinal match of the World Cup was predictable, if you believe the science. It’s apparent that Die Mannschaft took a typically German approach–and it worked brilliantly. Forget about Moneyball–Germany has now used serious Big Data to win a World Cup match. (Soccer, a more fluid game, was thought to be less amenable than baseball to Big Data’s wiles.) According to assistant coach Hansi Flick, team managers combed through years of research about the Brazilian team compiled by students at Cologne’s Sports University, looking for any advantage to be gained over the fearsome Brazilian squad. The compiled information included a detailed analysis of all Brazil’s players–their favorite moves, how they deal with high pressure scenarios, their reactions when fouled, and even how they sprint for the ball. The German team hoped to find somewhere in the massive amount of data the key to upending the five-time world champions–and Big Data delivered.
The absence of Brazilian stars Neymar and Thiago Silva made the task slightly less daunting, but Germany rolled like a high tech tank. Germany has won the Cup three times in its history (1954, 1974, and 1990) and is undefeated in the tournament this year, but no European team has won any of the previous six World Cups held in Latin America. All previous defeats, however, preceded the widespread use of data analytics.