By Edwin Delgado
As many people out there will try to give you a lot of useless and boring facts such as teams that win the Confederations Cup fail to win the World Cup the ensuing year, I tried to focus on more interesting nuggets of Knowledge to share with you.
1) World Champs Hangover
This sounds crazy but is totally true. Three out of the last four defending World Champions have failed to make it past the Group Stage in the following World Cup.
After securing its first title in 1998, France disappointed four years later, they were shocked in the opening match against Senegal, but their catastrophic failure consummated after earning a single point and went back home without scoring a single goal.
Italy who won the World Cup in 2006 in Germany arrived in South Africa as heavy favorites to top their group with Paraguay, New Zealand, and Slovakia, in which an embarrassing defeat to the latter in their third game sealed their humiliating early exit.
Just when you thought this was just a weird anomaly, Spain, the 2010 Champions and among top favorites to win the whole thing against were sent out home early following a 5-1 defeat to the Netherlands followed by a 2-0 loss to Chile.
The only exception to the rule was Brazil in 2006 – After winning the 2002 title the South American side cruised to the quarterfinals where they were knocked out by France.
Two commonalities for the three world champs eliminated early were an adverse initial result and the decline of a great generation of players. Though it seems crazy, everyone should monitor Germany, especially on its first two games against Mexico and Sweden.
2) Mexico on debuts
Just to add a little intrigue into the matter, consider this, in the previous five World Cups Mexico has not lost their opening game, with four wins and a draw, Mexico has made it a habit of getting a strong start at the World Cup.
If that fact doesn’t mean much to you, consider the next two caveats Mexico has a favorable 3-1-3 record against European teams in the group stage since France 98, the only loss came against Portugal in 2006. In turn, Mexico has gotten the best of Croatia twice and France in addition to three ties against Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy.
Also, Mexico has not lost to a seeded team in the 32- team World Cup era. They haven’t beaten one either. Throughout the last five tournaments, Mexico has tied with the Netherlands in 98. Italy in 2002, South Africa in 2010 and Brazil in 2014. Mexico was the seeded nation in 2006.
3) German Blitzkrieg
If Mexico has a good record on their debut, no one has a better resume for Day 1 than the Mannschaft. Since 98 Germany has won in all of their World Cup debuts and at times humiliated its opposition.
Since 98 the Germans have outscored opponents 22-2. Even if we remove the 8-0 Thrashing of Saudi Arabia in 2002. Outscoring opponents 14-2 over four world cups remains quite impressive.
The key to the 4-0 wins over Australia and Portugal in 2010 and 2014 was to take early 2-0 leads combined to their opponents being reduced to 10-men, if Mexico wants to avoid the same fate it is crucial not to concede at least in the first half hour and not getting any players sent off.
The two teams that made it slightly uncomfortable for the Germans in their debut were a pair of Concacaf team. In 98 Germany beat the United States 2-0, and in 2006 Costa Rica stroke a bit of fear during the game which was eventually won by Germany 4-2.
4) Second impression struggle
Throughout the previous five World Cups, the seeded teams tend to struggle the most on their second game of the World Cup and to an extent it makes sense. After a draw, teams got six months to prepare for their crucial first game and at times can overlook game two.
The greatest example of this is Germany. In 98 the Germans tied to Yugoslavia after they had beaten the U.S. in their debut, in 2002 they tied against Ireland, in 2006 they needed a goal in stoppage time to beat Poland, in 2010 lost to Serbia and in 2014 tied to Ghana.
But this isn’t a one team kind of struggle – statistically speaking the seeded teams on average obtain approximately 76 percent of the total points on game 1 and 78 percent of the points in game three, but for Game 2 that percentage drops to 65 percent.
In Brazil 2014, the host nation drew Mexico 0-0 in their second game, in the same round, Spain lost 2-0 against Chile, Switzerland got hammered 5-2 by France and Germany drew Ghana.
This stat is very good news for teams such as Egypt, Morocco, Peru, Croatia, Costa Rica, Sweden, Tunisia, and Colombia.
5) Inexplicable setbacks
It’s always interesting to look at the similarities between the runs of different national teams who are able to win the World Cup.
Besides some of the obvious similarities including a very deep roster and ability to concede very few goals especially in the knockout stage, there is one that is a bit intriguing. The last three World Champions have each failed to beat a team in the Group Stage which failed to make it out of that group.
In 2006, Italy tied against the United States 1-1, Italy went on to win the whole thing but the U.S. went home with a single point.
In 2010, Spain made an awful debut after they fell 1-0 to Switzerland but regained their mojo and went on to win six straight to win their first ever World Cup title. Switzerland didn’t just failed to qualify out of their group but also failed to score in the other two games.
Finally, in Brazil 2014, Germany tied Ghana 2-2, the German side went on to win its group but that tie was the sole point Ghana obtained in the tournament.
6) European Domination
Though throughout history Europeans nations have only a slight 11-9 edge in World Cups won over South American nations, the recent trend heavily favors European nations.
After Brazil won the 2002 tournaments, things haven’t boded well for the South Americans and it goes far beyond the three straight titles by European nations. Since Germany 2006, there have been 10 Europe v. South America matchups at the quarter-final stage or later and Europeans have a heavy 8-2 advantage. The only two wins by South American sides came from Argentina who defeated Belgium 1-0 in the quarterfinals, and later edged the Netherlands on penalties in the semifinal.
The biggest sign of the European dominance occurred in 2010, when three of the quarterfinals featured a UEFA team against a Conmebol team, with Europeans sweeping the quarterfinals with the Netherlands defeating Brazil, Spain eliminating Paraguay and Germany thrashing Argentina.
7) Start by winning your group
Too often national teams aim to do the bare minimum and are often content with simply advancing to the knockout stage in second place, but if you want to make a deep run, it’s just a recipe for disaster.
Though there have been a few instances when a second-placed team goes far, the recent trend suggests that if you want to reach the quarterfinals or semis, you need to start by winning your group. Over the last three, World Cups teams who top their group are 21-3 in the Round of 16. In 2014 all eight group winners advanced to the quarterfinals.
The only three teams that made it to the last eight after finishing second in their group have been France and Ukraine in 2006 and Ghana in 2010.
France the quality to upset Spain 3-1 in the Round of 16, but in the case of Ukraine and Ghana, they accomplished their feats by betting surprise group winners Switzerland and the United States respectively.
8) Argentina and debutants
Argentina tends to be one of the teams with the best luck in World Cup draws and one of the best ways to put that luck into context is the following, out of their six tournament openers since 98, Argentina has begun their campaign against a nation making their first appearance at the World Cup four times.
1998 Argentina drew three of the four debutants in its group Japan, Jamaica and Croatia and opened their tournament with a 1-0 win over Japan.
Eight years later, Argentina started on the right foot against thanks to a 2-1 victory over debutant Ivory Coast, while in 2014 they defeated Bosnia & Herzegovina by the same scoreline. Argentina will open their campaign on June 16 against Iceland.
Also since 1996, Argentina has shared a group with Nigeria in five out of the last 7 world cups, the only exceptions were France 1998 and Germany 2006 for which Nigeria failed to qualify.
9) Surprise semifinalists
SInce 1998, there has always been one team that no one expected to get very far in the tournament who somehow managed to make their way into the Semifinals. In 1998, Croatia which made their debut in this tournament reached the semis joining three perennial powers including Brazil, France, and the Netherlands. The tragedy for the Croatians is that they have failed to advance out of their group in their ensuing three appearances.
In 2002 there were two unexpected guests at the semifinals, Turkey and the Korea Republic who reached this stage behind very shady officiating.
In Germany 2006, Portugal was the surprise package, joining Germany, Italy, and France. Portugal wasn’t really an underdog, but a lot of their stars were older and in decline and defeated slightly favored teams such as the Netherlands and England to get there.
In South Africa, Uruguay was the tournament’s sensation joining the Netherlands, Spain, and Germany among the top 4.
Finally, in 2014 it was the Netherlands who surprised many by reaching the semis, despite being one of the perennial powers, the Dutch had endured an embarrassing early exit in the 2012 Euro, and when grouped together with Spain, they were not expected to make it past the Round of 16. The evidence of how much this team overperformed in 2014 is simple, the Dutch failed to qualify for an expanded 24-team Euro in 2016 and failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
10) Surprise group winners
One of the reasons some teams manage to make it far into a tournament is because they unexpectedly win their group or have to knockout teams who were not expected to win their group.
In 2002, Turkey got as far as it did because it kept running into teams who had done better than expected. After finishing second to Brazil in their group, Turkey had the advantage of defeating overachievers such as Japan in the Round of 16 and Senegal in the quarterfinals to earn a semifinal rematch against Brazil who defeated them 1-0.
In South Africa, Uruguay won a wide-open Group A ahead of Mexico, South Africa, and France, and had the luck that Group C was unexpectedly won by the United States. This meant that in order to get to the Semifinals Uruguay needed to beat Korea Republic in the Round of 16 and Ghana in the quarterfinals.
In 2014 the Netherlands unexpectedly won Group B ahead of Chile and Spain which allowed them to avoid Brazil in the Round of 16. To reach the Semifinals the Netherlands had to eliminate Mexico and Costa Rica in the knockout stage.
11) Mexico’s Round of 16 run
Based on what you’ll hear from Mexican media is that having reached the Round of 16 and getting eliminated in the same stage six times in a row is a big failure, but it really depends on perspective, you can make arguments for both sides.
On one hand, Mexico has never managed to win a knockout stage game in any FIFA competition outside of its boundaries.
However, you can also see it from a more positive perspective, Since 94 only three nations have advanced out of the group stage every tournament: Brazil, Germany, and Mexico.
Argentina was eliminated in the group stage in 2002, Spain in 1998 and 2014, England failed to qualify in 1994 and 2014, the Netherlands failed to reach the tournament in 2002, Uruguay was absent in 1998 and 2006 and Italy failed to make it out in 2010 and 2014.
12) Last three finals have gone to extra time
World Cup finals have become very tight affairs in recent years with the three prior finals needing of Extra Time to settle the match.
Italy and France battled the 2006 trophy in the second ever penalty kicks in a final which the Italians won after losing to Brazil in penalties 12 years earlier.
Spain and Germany won 1-0 with goals from Iniesta and Gotze late into extra time.
13) German consistency
One of the factors which make Germany’s chances of failing to advance out of their group very slim is the impressive consistency the team has had over the last 12 years. Since the World Cup, it hosted in 2006 Germany has always managed to reach at least the semifinals of every tournament they’ve played including European Championships.
Also during the three prior World Cups, Germany has been the highest scoring team, scoring 14 in 2006 run to finish third, in 2010 Germany scored 16 and once again finished third, and in Brazil 2014 Germany scored 18 (11 of which were scored against Portuguese speaking countries).
Despite the spreading talent of coaching worldwide, still all nations that have lifted the World Cup trophy have one thing in common, all 20 World Cup winners had a coach with the same nationality as the winning team.
In fact, you have to go back to 1978 to find the last time a foreign coach took a team to the final, that was Austrian coach Ernst Happel who took the Netherlands to the final.
The last time a foreign coach took a team to the semifinals was Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari who took Portugal to the last four in 2006.
15) Uruguay’s Deep Runs
Though Uruguay is a highly regarding soccer nation thanks to their two World Cups won since 1950 La Celeste has only managed to make it to the quarterfinals in one instance, South Africa 2010 when they reached the semifinals.
16) England’s fading success
England is arguably the most underachieving national team in the world considering the amount of talent that they’ve enjoyed.
In their last five World Cup appearances, England has managed to win its group only once, back in 2006 when it topped a group with Sweden, Paraguay, and Trinidad & Tobago. England would later eliminate Ecuador in the Round of 16 to make the quarterfinals.
In 2002, England also made the quarterfinals, but after finishing second in the group with Sweden, Argentina and Nigeria, and later defeating Denmark in the Round of 16 before getting ousted by Brazil.
17) More Mexico numbers
Since 1998, Mexico has only suffered two losses in the group stage, a 2-1 loss to Portugal in 2006 and a 1-0 loss to Uruguay in 2010.
Both losses came in the third round of games and both teams that beat Mexico went all the way to the semifinals. Since 98 Mexico has accumulated eight wins, seven draws and two losses in the group stage.
18) Paving the way for VAR
On June 27, 2010, with England down 2-1 to Germany late in the first half of the 2010 World Cup Round of 16 matches up, Frank Lampard took a long-range shot which sailed past Manuel Neuer struck underneath the crossbar and bounced inside the goal.
That should’ve tied the game at 2, but it didn’t. Neither the referee nor his assistant saw that the ball bounce a yard inside the goal, so the goal never counted and in the end, England was defeated by Germany 4-1.
That clear mistake by the officials busted open the gates keeping technology out of the beautiful game, it paved the way for goal-line technology which was used for the 2014 World Cup which eventually led the way for Video Assistant Referees being called upon for FIFA youth tournaments, and Confederations Cup last year. After some of the initial issues have been worked on, VAR is set to make its debut at the greatest stage. Don’t expect the process to be perfect the first time around, but it will be a major step in the right direction.