Part 5: 18 Things to know ahead of Russia 2018

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).

14) Coaching

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.

 

 

 

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Part 4: Group by Group short analysis

By Edwin Delgado

For this exercise, I will give you a few pointers of what to watch out for in each group and how I expect each group to play out.

Group A

The hosts have a great advantage as they were drawn one of the weakest groups in the tournament, but despite the lack, fierce competition advancing is far from a sure thing for Russia.

Let make things simple, Uruguay is by far the best team in the group while Saudi Arabia is the weakest link, the battle for second place will come down to Russia and Egypt who play each other in the second round of the tournament. If Salah is healthy I expect Egypt to win and advance behind Uruguay, if he’s not, then it might come down to goal differential.

Although the opening match is not very pleasing, it will be an important game for the hosts if they fail to beat Saudi Arabia by multiple goals, their chances to advance will be very slim.

PREDICTION: 1) URUGUAY 2) EGYPT 3) RUSSIA 4) SAUDI ARABIA

Group B

Spain and Portugal are getting all of the attention on this group and deservedly so, there is a big gap talent wise with the Iberian peninsula sides compared to Morocco and Iran don’t discount the latter two so quickly.

The game between Morocco and Iran will tell us a lot about both teams, so far in studying them I have noticed that both have good tactical discipline and have sound fundamentals, looking at how they qualified is easy to note that both teams tend to defend well. I give Morocco the slight edge over Iran.

Though I don’t expect either to advance, both are capable of stealing points from Portugal and Spain and seems unlikely either will get beaten by three or more goals in any game.

When it comes to the two favorites, the group can go either way, but the depth Spain has should give them the edge over Portugal, but if it comes down to goal differential Portugal may end up on top.

PREDICTION: 1) SPAIN 2) PORTUGAL 3) MOROCCO 4) IR IRAN

Group C

France is a heavy favorite a group which should be wide open for the fight for second place. France has the depth and talent to win this group comfortably, playing Australia, Peru and Denmark should help them find their best form ahead of the knockout stage.

Peru and Denmark who face each other on the opening weekend are the favorites to claim the second spot, but Australia has shown positive signs in their preparation and shouldn’t be dismissed especially if they keep it close with France. Denmark has the class and flair, Peru has the grit, and the Socceroos the tactical discipline, there’s only space for one more along with France.

When it comes to Les Blues on thing to monitor is how their defense works throughout the tournament, which seems like the weaker side of their team. Denmark will struggle is Ericksen is not in good form and Peru has shown they can succeed with or without their lethal striker Paolo Guerrero.

PREDICTION: 1) FRANCE 2) PERU 3) DENMARK 4) AUSTRALIA

Group D

This is perhaps the toughest group to predict. Argentina has been on a very shaky form and with only one warm-up game against Haiti, we haven’t seen much to be excited about this team.

Iceland gave us the best story of Euro 2016 but since securing their place at the World Cup they have looked far from their best ever since. Croatia tends to have great players all over the field but has a history of underachievement while Nigeria has simply looked poor in their warm-up matches. Personally, I’m excited to watch all of the game in this group but now I’m a bit concerned that the teams who are in the least poor form will be the ones to advance.

Argentina has firepower in the final third to compete against anyone, an above average midfield, and a shaky defense. The biggest question for La Albiceleste will be how much they’ll miss the injured goalkeeper Sergio Romero, looks like Willy Caballero and Franco Armani will compete for the starting role.

Croatia will rely on their midfield and attackers, their defense is their weakest link, Nigeria will have to rely on midfield experience and physicality while Iceland will rely on the counter, and tactical discipline.

PREDICTION: 1) ARGENTINA 2) CROATIA 3) ICELAND 4) NIGERIA

Group E

This is really Brazil and three more. The South Americans are among the top contenders to lift the World Cup Trophy on July 15 and the first round shouldn’t be too much of a task for a star-studded Brazilian team. There are only a handful of questions that need to be answered before the tournament begins, it looks as if Neymar is good to go, but who will complete the front three along Gabriel Jesus, will it be Roberto Firminio, Willian or Philippe Coutinho, If not Coutinho, then he may play from a deeper role in the midfield which opens up a few more questions.

The only big question mark for the team is how good will Danilo be playing at right back, with the injury to Dani Alves, Danilo who has played most of the year as the second option at right-back for Manchester City. It wouldn’t be a shocker to see Marquinhos a center back who has some experience playing in that position play as the right back allowing Miranda and Thiago Silva to be the two starting center backs.

As far as the other teams go, Switzerland has become a very good defensive team that may not score many goals but since Brazil 2014 has lost only a handful of games. Costa Rica has a lot of experience in its team but seems to be missing a game changer, they are more than capable of advancing but are missing a spark. Serbia may have the most depth out of these three but the problem is for such players to blend in at the right time, the Balkan nation often fail to impress in big tournaments, they have a solid squad in the middle of the park but lack depth in other key spots.

PREDICTION: 1) BRAZIL 2) SWITZERLAND 3) COSTA RICA 4) SERBIA

Group F

Can anyone make Germany uncomfortable in this group? A lot needs to wrong for Germany not to win the group, among the top tests for this team will be whether Timo Werner can become a reliable No. 9 as he has been for RB Leipzig, the fitness of Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan in the middle.

The weakness of this team is at left back, Jonas Hector, though he is good and better at defending than attacking, he is not at the same level as the rest of the backline courtesy of Bayern Munich.
The two center backs Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng are great physically, on set pieces and have a great sense of positioning but as Eintracht Frankfurt discovered, they are not the speediest defenders, speed may need to be the key against this team.

Mexico has the second strongest squad in this group but also the most volatile and least consistent. Over the tenure of its coach Juan Carlos Osorio, the Mexican National Team has struggled to play well for the majority of the 90 minutes having achieved so only in a handful of games. Mexico has enough talent up front to create chances against anyone but its defense has been troubling especially when defending in open field or in the counter if they can address those two issues they can become a great threat to anyone on its path.

Sweden has a few playmakers that can help them win games with Emil Forsberg as an attacking midfielder and a choice of strikers in Ola Toivonen, John Guidetti and Marcus Berg who bring different attributes to the table, but in the end, it will come down to their defense. They are capable of squeezing 1-0 wins, not 3-2 wins. If their defense shows up Sweden has the right elements to make it out of the group.

Korea Republic is seen as the victim in this group, but the team is tactically disciplined, but in the end, it will come down to how much can Son Heung-Min can do for the team, they’ll go as far as he will carry them.

PREDICTIONS: 1) GERMANY 2) SWEDEN 3) MEXICO 4) KOREA REPUBLIC

Group G

When it comes to U.S. based media I don’t understand the constant veneration toward Roberto Martinez, although as his team has breezed along the way through qualification the teams they have faced are inferior compared to the depth this Belgian side has. Yes, they are really good, the one intriguing change Martinez has made tactically is to play with only three center-backs in the back and no fullbacks since there are no quality players at those positions.

In the end, this team still has to prove itself at the World stage, they have great potential, should reach the quarterfinals but have no chance to get over Brazil or Germany who will likely be waiting.

Panama’s squad is the oldest in the World Cup, the team has a lot of grit and physicality but lack playmakers who can be a threat and change a game. Panama’s best weapon would be to absorb pressure and try to take advantage of set pieces or the counter. Overall Panama looks like the weaker side of the field.

Tunisia is an intriguing team, though they lack any stars on its team, they function well as a team and are fundamentally sound, in their warm-up games against Portugal and Spain they have shown the ability to move the ball from one flank to the other to generate space and show promise in set pieces. It will be extremely difficult to advance but if England has an off day Tunisia is more than capable to take advantage of that.

Is hard to find a team that will make you scratch your head more than England, they have a lot of potential, and could be a dark horse candidate to make it to the quarterfinals, but the squad lacks creativity out of its midfield, it’s backline still hasn’t faced serious competition and their three goalies have not played in any official tournaments. England should be pleased if they beat Panama and Tunisia and keep it close against Belgium and the winner of Group H in the Round of 16.

PREDICTIONS: 1) BELGIUM 2) ENGLAND 3) TUNISIA 4) PANAMA

Group H

This group along with D and E is one of the groups in which all four teams have real aspirations of advancing to the second round.

Poland arrive at Russia with a solid squad, though there are a couple of holes in the backline, tactical discipline, solid midfield block and arguably the best striker in the world in Robert Lewandowski make Poland a serious contender to claim the top spot of the group.

Senegal has playmakers upfront with Keita Balde and Liverpool’s Sadio Mane, a defense led by Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly. They have the physicality, the speed and enough talent to sneak into the second round.

Colombia arguably has the most depth, the same lethal dose of firepower now with the addition of Radamel Falcao up front who missed out of Brazil 2014 due to injury and the addition of the emerging defending star Davinson Sanchez will make the backline more solid. Despite’s Poland firepower, this Colombian side has all the right pieces to reach the quarterfinals and maybe a bit more.

Japan is one of the biggest question marks for the tournament. They are talented enough to cause trouble, their backline will have a big job to do trying to fend off the star-studded attack of their three group rivals. In the end, the team will have to rely on the creative prowess of Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa in the midfield, the rest of their squad looks a bit shaky.

PREDICTION: 1) COLOMBIA 2) POLAND 3) SENEGAL 4) JAPAN

Part 3 – When do the goals come?

By Edwin Delgado

If you had the power to deduce when goals are going to happen, would you want to know? The timing of a goal depends on a vast range of factors, from strategy, positioning, talent and many others.

For this exercise, I decided to take the record of goals in the previous five world cups from France 1998 to Brazil 2014 to give you a little insight as to when during a match is the best time for a goal to scored on a purely statistical sense.

As the games are going to take place early in the morning, you may want to consider sleeping an extra hour and watching only one-half of some of the games, or maybe at work and can only take a 1-hour break, so here is what the numbers say.

If you make the commitment to watch only one half of a game, choose the second half. Through five World Cups, 244 goals have been scored in the first half and 363 in the second half, meaning percentage wise, second halves on average see 48 percent more goals. In the bigger picture is about 40/60.

Now, with many having to work during the time the matches are taking place, you may want to know something at a more precise level to take your “Bathroom Break”

Here is what I did, I divided the game into six, 15-minute intervals to see what moments in the match tend to have the most goals.

Unsurprisingly, the first 15 minutes of a match tend to have the fewer number of goals. It’s completely normal, the first 10 to 15 minutes often serve as the study period used to know who the opponent is lining up before fully implementing your own strategy. The opening minutes have 28 percent fewer goals than the average.

The numbers improve a bit in the next two 15 minute intervals, In the 240 matches that have been played in the group stage, there have been 85 goals scored from the 16th to 30th minute and 87 from the 31st minute to the half. Despite the increase that’s still 15 percent below average.

In the next two intervals (46th to 60th and 61st to 75th) 101 and 100 goals have been scored which is right at the average mark, but one of the main reasons the world cup is such a great event in which emotions can change in the blink of an eye is how often late goals come. 160 goals have been scored after the 75th minute. The last 15 minutes and aggregate time average 60 percent more goals than the average and more than double of the opening 15 minutes.

One of the things to note is that three of the last opening games have featured a goal in the first 15 minutes of the game. In 1998 Brazil took an early lead against Scotland, in 2014 they scored an own goal 11 minutes into the game and the Germany- Costa Rica match in 2006 had two goals in the opening quarter hour.

When dividing when goals happen for each group there are a few intriguing stats, for example, group A has a high number of late goals scored in the first round of games with 13 goals scored after the 75th minute in 10 previous games.

Group B is has a high number of goals for all three rounds including 11 in the third round of games and group G has had 12 late goals in round 2, while goals are far more scarce in the other two rounds.

Here is the complete view:

 

Group A
Round 0-15 16-30 31-45+ 46-60 61-75 76-90+ Total 1H Total 2H Total
1 4 5 3 3 6 13 34 12 22
2 3 2 1 5 4 5 20 6 14
3 1 8 6 4 6 8 33 15 18
Total 8 15 10 12 16 26 87 33 54
Group B
Round 0-15 16-30 31-45+ 46-60 61-75 76-90+ Total 1H Total 2H Total
1 6 1 5 5 3 8 28 12 16
2 4 4 4 3 5 8 28 12 16
3 2 2 6 6 4 11 31 10 21
Total 12 7 15 14 12 27 87 34 53
Group C
Round 0-15 16-30 31-45+ 46-60 61-75 76-90+ Total 1H Total 2H Total
1 2 3 4 3 5 6 23 9 14
2 4 2 7 4 4 7 28 13 15
3 6 4 7 3 5 7 32 17 15
Total 12 9 18 10 14 20 83 39 44
Group D
Round 0-15 16-30 31-45+ 46-60 61-75 76-90+ Total 1H  Total 2H Total
1 3 7 3 5 4 5 27 13 14
2 3 2 3 0 3 5 16 8 8
3 6 3 0 5 5 7 26 9 17
Total 12 12 6 10 12 17 69 30 39
Group E
Round 0-15 16-30 31-45+ 46-60 61-75 76-90+ Total 1H Total 2H Total
1 1 4 7 5 4 7 28 12 16
2 2 5 7 3 7 5 29 14 15
3 4 5 3 1 4 6 23 12 11
Total 7 14 17 9 15 18 80 38 42
Group F
Round 0-15 16-30 31-45+ 46-60 61-75 76-90+ Total 1H Total 2H Total
1 1 2 1 2 5 5 16 4 12
2 2 4 1 2 2 6 17 7 10
3 4 2 4 9 1 7 27 10 17
Total 7 8 6 13 8 18 60 21 39
Group G
Round 0-15 16-30 31-45+ 46-60 61-75 76-90+ Total 1H Total 2H Total
1 3 1 5 3 2 5 19 9 10
2 3 4 0 9 4 12 32 7 25
3 2 5 1 4 2 4 18 8 10
Total 8 10 6 16 8 21 69 24 45
Group H
Round 0-15 16-30 31-45+ 46-60 61-75 76-90+ Total 1H Total 2H Total
1 1 5 2 7 7 4 26 8 18
2 3 4 3 5 5 7 27 10 17
3 2 1 4 5 3 4 19 7 12
Total 6 10 9 17 15 15 72 25 47
Grand Total 72 85 87 101 100 162 607 244 363

The dynamic for the Knockout Stage is just slightly different. The four 15-minute intervals that run from the 30th minute through the 75th minute of a game average about 4.4 to 5 goals per tournament, while the first 15 and last 15 minutes average 7.2 and 7.4 goals per tournament.

Extra time goals were not factored into these numbers, in the last five tournaments a total of 18 goals have been scored in extra time with nearly half of them (8) scored in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Part 2: On opening games

After bursting a few bubbles with the first post evaluating the probability of a team to win a match when they score the first goal, it is only natural to begin to think about how important the first game of a tournament is for every team.

Turns out the first result is extremely important in determining whether a team advances to the second round.

Again, taking only the last five World Cups as our statistical record, it turns out that teams that win their first World Cup game have an 85 percent probability of advancing to the second round. Only 9 out of sixty teams that opened their World Cup campaign with a victory, didn’t make it past the group stage, here are the teams that had a short-lived momentum.

2002

Costa Rica — The Ticos happened to open the World Cup with the weakest team in the group, China, they made the most of it and came out as a 2-0 victor. Costa Rica drew Turkey late in their second game but a lopsided 5-2 loss to Brazil in their final game meant the Ticos missed out on goal differential.

Argentina — Argentina came to the tournament as one of the heavily favored sides to win it all in 2002. A hard fought 1-0 win wasn’t enough in the end as the Albiceleste went on to lose 1-0 against England and drew Sweden 1-1 in the final game to finish third in the group for an early and embarrassing exit of the tournament.

Russia — Russia opened their World Cup with a 2-0 win over Tunisia, but their fortune quickly turned around for the worse as they fell to host Japan and Belgium in their next two games.

2006

Czech Republic — In 2006, the Czech Republic was seen as the leading dark horse candidate for the tournament, similarly as to how Colombia and Belgium are seen today. They got everyone’s hopes up with a big 3-0 win against the United States in their opening match, but the excitement was short-lived as they fell surprisingly against Ghana, and later Italy to finish third on their group.

Korea Republic — This one wasn’t really a surprise. South Korea trailed debutant Togo in the second half and it wasn’t until the African side had a player sent off that Korea was able to come back and win the game 2-1. Korea did surprise France in their second game drawing them late but a loss to the Swiss left them off the second round.

2010

Switzerland — In South Africa, Switzerland scored only one goal. In a counter and after a series of rebounds Gelson Fernandes scored for the Swiss to stun Spain 1-0. The Swiss crashed out of the group stage after they lost to Chile 1-0 and failed to beat Honduras in their third game.

2014

Ivory Coast — After being drawn in very difficult groups in 2006 and 2010, this looked to be the year for the Ivory Coast, especially after they began with a 2-1 victory against Japan, only two go on to lose twice against Colombia and Greece.

Italy — The Azzurri had an embarrassing 2010 crashing out at the group stage while being the defending world champs, surely it can happen to them twice in a row right? Especially when they started by defeating England 2-1. Well, it can and it did. Italy went on to lose by Costa Rica and later got chewed by Uruguay (haha, Get it?) by the same scoreline. Hopefully they can do better this time around… oh wait!

With the exception of Switzerland in 2010 the other eight teams only managed to beat the team that eventually finished last in their group, so if things don’t go well for your team nor the team you beat on round 1, you may be in a bit of trouble.

The Dark Side

Now that you know how important the first result is for your World Cup success, here is the opposite perspective. Teams that lose their opening match have only an 11.67 percent chance of advancing to the knockout round.

That means only seven out of 60 have managed to accomplish this. These are the comeback masters:

2002

Turkey — Under no circumstance, you want to start playing against Brazil, but despite a close 2-1 loss in their opening match, Turkey tied Costa Rica and defeated China to secure second place. Not only did they advanced out of their group but they reached the semifinals to lose to Brazil for the second time.

2006

Ghana — The Black Stars made their World Cup debut against Italy and lost 2-0 but Ghana turned things around and defeated the Czech Republic and the United States to advance.

Ukraine — It’s hard to recover from losing your first game in a tournament, getting thrashed 4-0 by Spain is far from an ideal start but Ukraine managed to bounce right back with a 4-0 against Saudi Arabia and a 1-0 against Tunisia and went all the way to the quarterfinals only get thrashed 3-0 by Italy.

2010

Spain — The pre-world cup favorite had a rough start in 201 with a figurative kick to the chest in their opener against Switzerland followed by a literal kick to the chest courtesy of Nigel De Jong in the final. Despite dominating their game against the Swiss, Spain lost, but from that point on to win six straight games outscoring opponents 8-1 to win their first ever world title.

2014

Greece — The last World Cup gave us a statistical anomaly with three teams advancing after losing their first match. Greece got pounced by Colombia 3-0 in their opening game, salvaged a scoreless draw against Japan and a late win against the Ivory Coast was enough to see them through the Round of 16.

Uruguay — The sensation of 2010, was stunned by Costa Rica the sensation of 2014. Despite the predicament, the Uruguayan side found itself early, wins over England and Italy was enough to advance.

Algeria — After losing to Belgium in their opener, the Algerian team was able to defeat South Korea and draw Russia to secure its place in the next round.

It is worth noting that all of the teams that have lost its opener and then went onto the second round, either lost to the seeded team in the group or were the seeded team.

Under that presumption, this statistic would mean that the losing team in these games it’s pretty much done for as there is no statistical precedent to cling on:

Uruguay v. Egypt

Iran v. Morocco

Denmark v. Peru

Nigeria v. Croatia

Serbia v. Costa Rica

Korea Republic v. Sweden

England v. Tunisia

Japan v. Colombia

It’s ON!

To wrap things up I’ll include the boring statistic of what happens in case of a tie in the opening game. Those teams have a statistical probability of 57.89 percent of advancing past the group stage.

 

 

A look at the statistical history of the FIFA World Cup

By Edwin Delgado

Every four years the World Cup brings us countless storylines, and a vast array of mixed emotions from the joy of winning, to the amusement of an underdog defying the odds, the madness of late goals and the despair of elimination which all but one team have to endure.

This rollercoaster ride that lasts 32 days has attracted the attention of the world and for most fans, it’s hard to put into words what the World Cup is unless you’ve enjoyed it from the comfort of your home or witnessed a part of its rich history in the stands.

Though, most of the time the favorites tend to be the last few teams standing, the unpredictability and the unsung heroes who unexpectedly grabbed the spotlight in the grandest stage is what makes it a unique experience.

Lately, a question that I’ve made myself has been, whether there is a way to be able to make at least some predictions as to what the fans can expect based on recent history at the World Cup.

Can we predict when are goals most likely to be scored? and how often teams who go down in a game bounce back to win?

My intrigue and impatience have led to this path of exploring some historical data trends to try to gain additional insight about some of the intricacies we should look out for in this year’s FIFA World Cup.

Part 1: When in the lead

The first thing that should be noted is that all the statistical information collected encompass the previous five World Cups, this arbitrary decision to only take into account the World Cups from France 1998 through Brazil 2014 was made due to the simple fact those have been the only World Cups with 32 participants.

We all like to believe in the concept that anything can happen during the World Cup no matter who is on the field. We believe most of the participating nations have the ability to surprise an established elite nation, especially in the early rounds and that no matter what the score is at any point of a game it can suddenly turn on its head.

However, based on the history of the last five tournaments, the single most important factor to determine which team will win a game is simply which of the teams on the field manages to score the first goal. Just taking into account the 219 out of 240 group stage games that have been played since 1998 (scoreless draws were not taken into account),  a team that goes down 1-0, has managed to come back to win a game less than 11 percent of the time. If you score first, the statistical likelihood of you winning a game is nearly 70 percent.

There are many small statistical points which are very intriguing and bizarre. For example, it’s logical to think that the earlier you take the lead in a game, the easier it may be to lose that lead after all is very different to defend a lead for 85 minutes as to only five minutes or less. However, less than 10 percent of the teams that take a lead in the opening 15 minutes of a game go on to lose, the win percentage does dip to 62.63 percent but the possibility of a tie rises to 25 percent.

So what is the worst moment in a game to take the lead?

It turns out that if you take the lead between the 16th and 31st minute of a game you’re more prone to see your opponent come back and win the game. Statistically speaking, the probability of losing a game increases to 21.3 percent, nearly double the average.

Not impressed yet? Out of the 24 come-from-behind wins that have occurred in the group stage since 1998, more than half (13) have happened when the eventual losing team takes the lead within this time frame. The last six come-from-behind saw this happened.

Here is the list of victims

1998: Brazil v. Norway — Brazil took the lead in the 78th minute, but with two late goals Norway won the game 2-1. Brazil had already secured the group’s first place and is a statistical outlier.

1998: Spain v. Nigeria —  Spain scored in the 21st minute, but eventually went on to lose 3-2, and eventually crash out of the tournament in the first stage.

1998: Korea Rep. v, Mexico —  The Asian side went ahead on the scoreboard in the 27th minute. Mexico scored three times in the second half to win 3-1.

2002: Spain v. Paraguay —  Paraguay took the lead in the 10th minute. Lost 3-1.

2002: Slovenia v. Paraguay —  Slovenia took the lead in the 45th minute. Lost 3-1.

2002: Brazil v. Turkey —  Turkey took the lead in the 45th minute. Lost 2-1.

2002: Sweden v. Nigeria —  Nigeria took the lead in the 27th minute. Lost 2-1.

2002: Italy v. Croatia —  Italy took the lead in the 55th minute. Lost 2-1.

2002: Mexico v. Ecuador —  Ecuador took the lead in the 5th minute. Lost 2-1

2006: Costa Rica v. Poland —  Costa Rica took the lead in the 25th minute. Lost 2-1.

2006: Ivory Coast v. Serbia & Montenegro —  Serbia & Montenegro took the lead in the 10th minute. Lost 3-2.

2006: Australia v. Japan —  Japan took the lead in the 26th minute. Lost 3-1.

2006: Japan v. Brazil —  Japan took the lead in the 34th minute. Lost 4-1.

2006: Korea Rep. v. Togo —  Togo took the lead in the 31st minute. Lost 2-1.

2006: Spain v. Tunisia —  Tunisia took the lead in the 8th minute. Lost 3-1.

2010: Nigeria v. Greece —  Nigeria took the lead in the 16th minute. Lost 2-1.

2010: Cameroon v. Denmark —  Cameroon took the lead in the 10th minute. Lost 2-1.

2014: Brazil v. Croatia —  Croatia took the lead in the 11th minute. Lost 3-1.

2014: Spain v. Netherlands —  Spain took the lead in the 27th minute. Lost 5-1.

2014: Ivory Coast v. Japan —  Japan took the lead in the 16th minute. Lost 2-1.

2014: Uruguay v. Costa Rica —  Uruguay took the lead in the 24th minute. Lost 3-1.

2014: Switzerland v. Ecuador —  Ecuador took the lead in the 22nd minute. Lost 2-1.

2014: Honduras v. Ecuador —  Honduras took the lead in the 31st minute. Lost 2-1.

2014: Belgium v. Algeria —  Algeria took the lead in the 25th minute. Lost 2-1.

Overall stat breakdown (out of 240 group stage games)

Percentage of games ending 0-0 — 8.75%

A team comes back to win — 10.96%

Comes back to tie — 19.63%

Take the lead and wins — 69.40%

Result if a team takes the lead in minutes 1-15 — (Win – 62.63%) (Tie – 25%) (Lose 9.38%)

Take the lead in minutes 16-30 — (Win – 65.52%) (Tie – 15.52%) (Lose 18.97%)

Take the lead in minutes 31-HT — (Win – 69.23%) (Tie – 17.95%) (Lose 12.82%)

Take the lead in minutes 46-60 — (Win – 65.38%) (Tie – 30.77%) (Lose 3.85%)

Take the lead in minutes 61-75 — (Win – 82.65%) (Tie – 17.65%) (Lose 0%)

Take the lead in minutes 75-FT — (Win – 87.5%) (Tie – 6.25%) (Lose 6.25%)

The only team that has taken the lead after the 55th minute and lost was Brazil against Norway in 1998 under suspect circumstances, regardless,  the last time a team turned around a result after conceding the first goal in the second half was back in 2002, since then any second-half goals almost guarantee a win, a tie at worst.

Other common scenarios:

I decided to look at two other scenarios that happen often, what happens when a team that leads 1-0 concedes a goal? and how much your chances of winning improve when you go up 2-0?

It’s hard to get a firm conclusion based on the first question as anything can happen. Although you have a 70 percent chance to win when taking the lead, once you conceded, you’re chances of winning take a sharp nosedive.

So here is the scenario, if Team A leads 1-0, then Team B ties the game at 1. How do the probabilities change for Team A?

Winning probability: 22.5%

Losing probability: 31.25%

Game end in a tie: 46.25%

So, in Russia, when the team you’re rooting for inevitably goes down 2-0, you want to know the chances your team has to come back and get something out of it, right?

Well, you may just want to check what else is on TV. Teams that take a 2-0 lead have an 84-1-6 record in World Cup Group Stage history.

Statistically, that means the team that takes a 2-0 lead will win the game 92.31 percent of the time, tie 6.59% and lose just 1.1% of the time.

Only one team has lead 2-0 and lost, that was courtesy of the worst team in the 2006 World Cup, Serbia and Montenegro who lead Ivory Coast 2-0 after 20 minutes but lost 3-2. Keep in mind, Ivory Coast scored twice from the penalty spot in the process.

In 1998, Mexico erased a two-goal deficit in back-to-back games. Mexico trailed 2-0 against Belgium at the half and trailed by the same score against the Netherlands just after 20 minutes, but came back to tie in both of those games.

In the same tournament, Germany erased a 2-0 deficit against Yugoslavia.

In 2002, it happened twice, Paraguay squandered a 2-0 lead against South Africa, while Senegal stole their thunder by drawing Uruguay 3-3 after they had a 3-0 lead at the half. That is the only time in the 32-team world cup era that a team has failed to win after leading by three or more.

The single instance in which this happened in South Africa 2010 was when the United States came back from a 2-0 deficit at the half against Slovenia to tie the game and remains the last time any team squandered a two-goal lead in a group stage game.

They say a 2-0 lead is the trickiest scoreline, but at least for the World Cup, it is not the case.

Knockout Stage:

Because the first and second stages of the world cup are very different, I separated them into two sections and simplified the numbers by removing ties. The question I sought an answer was, percentage-wise what is the likelihood that a team that scores first will advance to the next stage?

The simple answer is that the team who scores first will advance 81.16 percent of the time. It’s unsurprising the numbers are this high as this is when the specialists shine and demonstrate their ability to close games.

Here is a look at how the numbers shape per stage: (Third place games were not considered because no one cares.)

Round of 16: 83.78% probability of winning.

Quarterfinals: 70.59%

Semifinals: 88.89% (Croatia v. France in 1998 is the only exception)

Final: 81.16% (France v. Italy in 2006 is the lone exception)

All 23 teams that have taken a 2-0 lead in the World Cups since 1998 have won or advanced. Teams began trailing in a game and tied at 1-1 advanced 56.5 percent of the time.

Obviously, when you’re watching at home you need to keep in mind these numbers are based solely on historic precedents over the previous five tournaments. The talent and depth of the teams involved have nothing to do with these numbers.

 

Video Replay implementation won’t eliminate controversy

On April 26, FIFA President Gianni Infantino officially announced that video assistant referees will be used in the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Russia next year, the introduction of video replay into the game may be one of the most significant news in the world of soccer in a long time.

For many years, fans have been calling for the implementation of technology in soccer as it has become more difficult for match officials to keep up with the speed of the game.

This development is an enormous step for the sport of soccer, which will now offer referees an additional tool to help them make complicated decisions within the game.

However, I suggest being cautious with optimism. The VAR will definitely make the games fairer and will help decrease human error but under no circumstance, will end the controversy of decisions that are made by the referees.

First, keep in mind when VAR can be used. At the time the intention is to allow the referees to get assistance from the VAR under four different circumstances: Goals (which includes offside calls), penalties, straight red cards decisions and mistaken identity.

So, just like all other sports that use video replay, the technology itself has its limits.

In order for all of us to start getting familiar with what sort of aid the VAR can bring to the game, I came up with a few well known controversial plays.

Here are some examples of plays the VAR won’t even take a look at:

During the Copa America Centenario group stage game between the U.S. and Paraguay, DeAndre Yedlin committed back-to-back fouls both which the referee judged to merit a yellow card which resulted in Yedlin being sent off early in the second half. The second foul is a clear yellow card, but the foul he committed 90 seconds earlier was a hard decision to make. Although Yedlin slide from behind he appeared to win the ball clearly although his momentum caused him to bring down a Paraguayan midfielder, although that ended up being an important play because it became of two yellows, it wouldn’t have merited a review because the VAR only takes a second look at straight red card infractions.

Another good example could be the recent Real Madrid-Bayern Munich second leg match in which Bayern’s midfielder Arturo Vidal was given a second yellow card for a challenge in which he won the ball fairly.

Something else to keep in mind is that the VAR will only overturn a bad or missed call made by the referee in the game if it is indisputable. That means that even if there is a situation in which the referee likely made the wrong the decision but the different television angles do not provide sufficient evidence to the contrary, then the call will likely stand, just the same way as it does in football.

The best example that comes to mind is the penalty kick that was called in favor of the Netherlands against Mexico in a round of 16 game at 2014 FIFA World Cup in which Rafael Marquez was called for a foul on Arjen Robben inside the box in stoppage time of a tied game.

That play was very controversial at the time and is likely one of those 50/50 calls that can go either way and if the VAR were to take another look the call made in the field would’ve stood.

Most important of all are the situations in which the VAR will intervene, so that William Gallas goal against Ireland in the European World Cup qualifiers would be called back due to a flagrant handball by Thierry Henry in the build-up, that goal helped France secure their spot in the 2010 World Cup at the expense of the Irish.

That infamous play in November of 2009 became one of the biggest examples used by fans to call for the implementation of technology into the sport. A few months later during the 2010 World Cup Round of 16, two very poor decisions added more fuel to the fire. In the Germany-England game with the Germans leading 2-1, Frank Lampard took a shot from distance that hit the crossbar and dipped inside the goal at least 3-4 feet past the goal line but the goal was never given. That play eventually forced FIFA to implement goal-line technology a few years later. During the next world cup in Brazil such technology correctly awarded a goal to France against Honduras and a goal to Costa Rica against Italy.

The Challenges

The two biggest concerns that I have about the implementation of the VAR have to do with speed and procedure.

During the past Club World Cup in Japan, the Kashima Antlers were awarded a penalty after the VAR discovered a foul by an Atletico Nacional defender which the referee missed. The problem is that play continued and was stopped when Atletico Nacional had earned a throw-in in the opposite half and took the officials two minutes to determine to go back and call the missed foul.

Although the decision was the correct one, I can foresee a lot of outrage in certain scenarios.

Imagine you are watching the World Cup Final, the game between Team A and Team B is tied and the game is stoppage time, as Team A is on the attack, one of its wingers tries to send a cross into the box but the ball is blocked by a defender’s arm inside the 18-yard box, however the officials miss it and allow play to continue, then Team B takes advantage of the situation and go on the counter and score, the goal-scorer takes off his shirt as he rushes into the stands to celebrate with the fans but as he comes back realizes that his goal has been disallowed by the VAR because they are now retroactively calling the previous handball that had not been called. That would create a devastating swing of emotions.

To me that is the toughest challenge ahead for the VAR, to be able to identify a play worth reviewing and communication promptly with the game official to try to prevent such situations when possible.

It is also worth noting that neither team will have the ability to ask for a certain play to be reviewed and that responsibility falls strictly to the VAR, who has to be focused during the entire match and promptly and effectively communicate with the match official to let him know that a particular play needs further review.

Despite the potential issues that may need to be addressed the VAR just like goal-line technology will become a huge asset for the referees and the game itself to take out as many officiating mistakes as possible.

So far the only experience with this technology is from the Club World Cup this past December. The tournament only has seven games and making assessments on such small sample size is premature, but one as a fan can’t help to smile knowing the VAR has been recently implemented in the Australia A-League, and will be used for the second half of the 2017 MLS season, the next Bundesliga season, the 2018-19 premier league season, the 2017 Under-20 World Cup, 2017 Confederations Cup and at last during the 2018 World Cup.

So even it it doesn’t completely eliminate mistakes, who cares? controversy will always be part of any sport and it adds another layer of intrigue to the discussion. After all, we all enjoy a little drama.

 

 

 

 

Creation of CONCACAF Nations League would be a mistake

So far, 2017 has been a year of bad ideas in the world of soccer. I’ve stated my arguments against a 48-team world cup enough though. Now, the Confederation of North, Central America and the Caribbean Association of Football (CONCACAF) is looking into the possibility of organizing a tournament which mirrors UEFA’s proposal to create a Nations League competition.

UEFA’s proposal although it may have a few wrinkles to iron out, it’s a brilliant idea and I can’t wait for it to start 17 months from now, however, Concacaf is a much different region where most of its members have a pretty bad competitive level.

Although the new competition can provide a big benefit to some of the region’s national teams who play only a few competitive matches in a four-year cycle, this would be at the expense of the bigger soccer nations in the region such as Costa Rica, Mexico, and the United States.

I understand the reasoning behind the move, CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani has said that due to the creation of the UEFA Nations League which would replace most friendly matches, the ability to schedule matches against European competition will be very difficult, however, by creating this competition you also eliminate the ability of the region’s top teams to schedule games with better competition outside of Concacaf. The European teams would no longer be available, but that shouldn’t be the argument since very few teams outside of Mexico and the U.S. schedule games against European competition anyway.

But instead of just ranting about it let’s take a closer look at how this proposal could potentially look like before I continue to make fun of it. Concacaf has 35 FIFA recognized members, but the total number of members is 41, so that is the number I’ll use.

I created two different formats to get a better sense of the type of competition each team may be stuck with as part of the proposal. To properly do this I used the most recent FIFA Rankings to rank the teams. Since Concacaf has six non-FIFA members I will do my best to place those teams where appropriate.

The first format I’ll present to you would be made of five tiers of 8 or 9 teams each. This is how that could look:

League A:

MEXICO (1) COSTA RICA (2)
PANAMA (4) UNITED STATES (3)
HAITI (5) HONDURAS (6)
JAMAICA (8) CURACAO (7)

League B:

TRINIDAD & TOBAGO (9) MARTINIQUE* (10)
ANTIGUA & BARBUDA (12) GUATEMALA (11)
SAINT KITTS & NEVIS (13) NICARAGUA (14)
CANADA (16) EL SALVADOR (15)

League C:

FRENCH GUIANA* (17) GUADELOUPE* (18)
PUERTO RICO (20) SURINAME (19)
GUYANA (21) BELIZE (22)
ARUBA (24) DOMINICAN REPUBLIC (23)

League D:

CUBA (25) SAINT LUCIA (26)
GRENADA (28) BARBADOS (27)
SAINT VINCENT & THE GRENADINES (29) BERMUDA (30)
U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS (32) DOMINICA (31)

League E:

MONTSERRAT (33) TURKS & CAICOS (34) CAYMAN ISLANDS (35)
BAHAMAS (38) ANGUILLA (37) BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS (36)
SAINT MARTIN* (39) SINT-MARTEEN* (40) BONAIRE* (41)

The goal of this format would be to ensure the top teams in the region aren’t forced to play against teams that are ranked far below them, by only having a total of eight teams in the top tier, you can minimize the gap between the teams in the highest level of the competition. Also, in this format, you can have a championship game to be played between the winners of each group or a Final Four competition with the top two of each group.

The second proposal is a three tier system with four groups in each division which will make it similar to the UEFA concept.

LEAGUE A:

MEXICO (1) COSTA RICA (2) UNITED STATES (3) PANAMA (4)
JAMAICA (8) CURACAO (7) HONDURAS (6) HAITI (5)
TRINIDAD (9) MARTINIQUE* (10) GUATEMALA (11) ANTIGUA & BAR. (12)

League B:

ST. KITTS & NEVIS (13) NICARAGUA (14) EL SALVADOR (15) CANADA (16)
PUERTO RICO (20) SURINAME (19) GUADELOUPE* (18) FRENCH GUIANA* (17)
GUYANA (21) BELIZE (22) DOMINICAN REP. (23) ARUBA (24)
CUBA (25)

League C:

ST. LUCIA (26) BARBADOS (27) GRENADA (28) ST. VINCENT (29)
MONTSERRAT (33) US VIRGIN IS. (32) DOMINICA (31) BERMUDA (30)
TURKS & CAICOS (34) CAYMAN IS. (35) BRITISH VIRGIN IS. (36) ANGUILLA (37)
BONAIRE* (41) SINT MARTEEN* (40) ST. MARTIN* (39) BAHAMAS (38)

The benefit of this proposal is the fact that you only force the top teams in the region to only play four games although the groups may be slightly less competitive.

As you can see from the possibilities shown above, the number of games that a true soccer fan would watch is minimal. The true value of such competition would be to the vast majority of the region except for the top teams.

In my humble opinion, the best way to move forward would be to not have a League A to give those teams the freedom to continue to schedule better competition while providing a mechanism for the remainder of nations to get the constant competition to allow them to have consistent growth.

The problem, however, is that by doing that all the necessary revenue needed to invest on the Nations League wouldn’t be there if you didn’t have Mexico or the United States. So at the end of the day if Concacaf moves forward with the Nations League it will have to include all of its 41 member associations.

There is, however, one complex issue that Concacaf needs to resolve to spark interest in this tournament is to set it up in a way to make the U.S. and Mexico play each other, whether is a single group, or to have a playoff competition which opens the possibility to both teams have a chance to play each other with a title on the line can be the boost that enables this concept to work.

The same challenge will emerge in future World Cup qualifying where the Hexagonal will inevitably come to an end which may mean the two most important team in the region may not encounter each other in every qualification cycle as they currently do. In that case, this proposed competition may be the answer to allow the top four or six teams to be able to continue to play against each other.