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.

How a 48-team World Cup would look like

The vast amount of criticizing and outrage that has ensued FIFA’s decision to expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams is unsurprising and for the most part completely deserved.

As much as I personally dislike the new 48-team format approved by FIFA in January, I do find it puzzling that many of the sports commentators who voiced their opinion had no concern it exaggerating when making some of their claims.

Last week’s announcement of the proposed allocation of bids per confederation was an opportunity for skeptics like myself and a large group of sports journalists around the world to pile on that criticism.

It’s no secret that the decision was based on two core premises: More games generate more TV content that generates more money, and the second is a political move by FIFA’s President Gianni Infantino to get full support for future FIFA elections from smaller nations who now have a much better shot at reaching the World Cup.

I could go on and on about it but now it’s not the time. However, while listening to a multitude of opinions out there, I noticed a particularly annoying trend that a large number of people in the journalism and social media worlds have spread around.

“Imagine tuning  a World Cup game to watch Salomon Islands against Nicaragua, that’s exciting for you?” I heard a host of a TV host say.

It’s absolutely true that the changes will dilute the quality of the tournament particularly during the group stage, however, you don’t do yourself or your audience any good by basing your arguments on outrageous and almost impossible scenarios.

Others resort to mentioning the first bad national teams that come to their head, other more responsibly look at the current FIFA Rankings to give people an idea of the type of teams that could qualify in an expanded field of 48. But no one has taken a realistic enough approach of how the field would look like under the new format, until now.

Methodology

I did what any responsible adult and contributing member of society would do, I wasted a full day at my day job to find the best way to predict how a 48-team World Cup field would look like (you’re welcome!). I managed to do just that using the qualifying standings from the last World Cup (Brazil 2014) and see what other teams would’ve made the tournament if the field of 48 was in place for the 2014 World Cup.

According to the latest proposal announced, 16 European nations along with six representatives from South America, six from CONCACAF, nine from Africa, eight from Asia and one from Oceania are expected to make up the field plus an additional two qualifiers.

Now, I’ll guide you through the process of what I did. The first step was to identify those that would’ve been if Brazil 2014 had 48 participating nations. The teams that didn’t qualify but would’ve in a 48 team tournament are Panama, Jamaica, Venezuela, Sweden, Ukraine, Romania, New Zealand, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Tunisia, Senegal, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Jordan, Qatar, and Oman. Are feeling excited now?

Now, I made up a rule that I think could be very interesting to consider moving forward which could help give the qualifiers a bit more value. I used the following criteria to pick the 16 seeded teams: the host country (Brazil), the defending world champion (Spain) plus the best performers in all confederations excluding Oceania:  Argentina, Germany, United States, Iran, and Ghana who were automatically set as seeded teams.

The remaining nine spots were decided by the October 2013 rankings, the same FIFA used for the World Cup final draw, meaning Belgium, Colombia, Portugal, Italy, Chile, Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Spain, Uruguay, and England would’ve also been seeded teams and France would’ve still missed out. I conducted a real draw at home (Yes, I have no social life) to get a sense of how Brazil 2014 could have played out if it had 48 teams. I used balls with the names of the participating countries and split them into three pots, the 16 seeded nations I just mentioned were placed in Pot 1.

I placed the remaining teams that made it to Brazil in Pot 2 and the 16 add-ons on Pot 3. The only rule of the draw was that no less and no more than one European team had to be drawn in each group.

Now the FIFA’s proposal calls for the first team out of all confederations except Europe to compete in a six-team playoff tournament to determine the six final spots in the World Cup, the participating teams could have been: Venezuela, Peru, Egypt, Iraq, Guatemala and New Caledonia. I picked Venezuela and Egypt as my two final teams.

Group A Group B Group C Group D
BRAZIL ARGENTINA BELGIUM COLOMBIA
AUSTRALIA BOSNIA-HERZ. IRAN KOREA REPUBLIC
ROMANIA BURKINA FASO PANAMA UKRAINE
Group E Group F Group G Group H
UNITED STATES PORTUGAL ITALY GHANA
NIGERIA ALGERIA HONDURAS CROATIA
SWEDEN NEW ZEALAND EGYPT JAMAICA
Group I Group J Group K Group L
CHILE SWITZERLAND GERMANY JAPAN
GREECE MEXICO IVORY COAST FRANCE
TUNISIA JORDAN VENEZUELA SENEGAL
Group M Group N Group O Group P
NETHERLANDS SPAIN URUGUAY ENGLAND
CAMEROON COSTA RICA RUSSIA ECUADOR
QATAR OMAN ETHIOPIA UZBEKISTAN

How about that? Even with a 48-team World Cup U.S. somehow still manages to fall in the group of death.

Even though there is a good possibility that you’ll have some very uninteresting groups such Group C (Belgium, Iran, and Panama) or Group M (Netherlands, Cameroon, and Qatar), there is still potential for good matchups in the group stage, not many but there are a few such as England  v. Ecuador, Uruguay v. Russia, U.S. v. Sweden, Switzerland v. Mexico, and Ghana v. Croatia.

One of the most outrageous exaggerations that I’ve heard from multiple people especially on television who claim they would never watch a game until the quarterfinal stage because some of these so-called pundits have no clue of what they’re talking about and have made no effort looking into how a 48-World Cup may look like.

I’m willing to bet all the money I’ve in my 401(k) (About $45) that any real soccer fan would not want to miss most of the Round of 32 matchups.

Here is a sneak peak of what they may look like:

Brazil vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina

Belgium vs. Ukraine

Argentina vs. Australia

Colombia vs. Iran

United States vs. Algeria

Italy vs. Ghana

Portugal vs. Sweden

Croatia vs. Egypt

Chile vs. Switzerland

Mexico vs. Tunisia

Germany vs. Senegal

France vs. Ivory Coast

Netherlands vs. Costa Rica

Spain vs. Cameroon

Uruguay vs. Ecuador

England vs. Russia

So, there you have it! a serious look at how a 48-team World Cup can look like. Later this week I will give you another example where I would use the United States as the host of the 2026 World Cup and select teams based on a combination of current form (Current 2018 WCQ standing) and historical accomplishments to build sort of a best case scenario. I will go a step further for that one as I will assign host cities and build a full schedule. Also, I’ll work on a different post in which I will reform each confederations qualifiers to keep them as interesting as possible, so stay tuned for those upcoming posts.

-Everything worth doing is worth overdoing.