Friday, 25 June 2010

R16 - Day One

The knockout stages of the World Cup are here, 16 teams left, and it’s win or go home. I have made some rather tongue-in-cheek references to using World Cup statistics going back to 1950, but as interesting as they are, I’m sure most of us realize that the game back then was quite different to how it is today, and the statistics are pretty much useless. The days of quarter-finals ending 7-5 or totaling 26 goals are gone.

FIFA re-introduced a knock-out phase in 1986 after the second round of groups format tried for three Cups proved to be unsatisfactory, and since then the competition has always had sixteen teams in a single elimination format.

As always with a small sample, the data should be handled with care. 2002 was something of an oddity, being held in Asia, and it was possibly to be expected that Asian countries would do better, but for South Korea to reach the semi-final beating Italy and Spain on the way probably exceeded most people’s expectations.

Being the first event to be held in Africa, it might have been expected that African countries would have an advantage and improve upon the record of never having more than one representative in the last 16 this year. It didn’t happen, with Ghana the continent’s last hope.

This World Cup is already notable not only for the exit in the group stage of the previous finalists, but also for the decline in number of UEFA teams reaching the last 16. Steady at 10 every tournament bar 2002 when the total was 9, the number this year is down to a paltry 6, and all six face each other in the opening knockout games. The quarter finals will see an all-time record low number of three UEFA countries remaining! A record total of 5 countries in the last 16 are from outside Europe and South America. CONBEBOL to be the winning confederation are 2.04.

South American teams have done better than ever with all five reaching the last 16. Four in 1990 and 1998 were their previous bests. Unfortunate for them that three are in the same quarter of the draw.

The only ever present teams in the last 16 since 1986 are Brazil and Germany. Five countries missed just one year: Mexico missed out in 1990, England in 1994, Spain in 1998, Argentina in 2002, and Italy this year. When they qualify for the Finals, England are ever present!

While the above is all very interesting, to me anyway, just how useful are the statistics from a sample over five competitions?

We have 90 matches to work with, not a big number, but enough to show some trends over the years. For example, 43% are 0-0 at half-time, 16% are 0-0 at 90 minutes, 34% are draws at 90 minutes, and 21% are decided on penalties. 73% are decided by a margin less of than two goals.

Within those totals though, there are some trends. It might be expected that the teams will become more evenly matched as the rounds progress, and this is borne out by the stats, for example, there are less 0-0 draws at half-time in the Round of 16 than in subsequent rounds (although in the low scoring 1990 tournament, the first half of eight matches saw just one goal).

Historically the ‘true’ price for Under 2.5 in the Round of 16 (R16) is 1.6, Over 2.5 is 2.67, and the wins, draws, losses etc. below refer to the game at 90 minutes. There is also less chance of a penalty shoot out at this stage than at any other.

So to Saturday's matches where, for the first time ever, no UEFA countries are involved.

Uruguay (Ranked 7) v South Korea (25): The first knockout game ever between Asia and South America, so no history to go on. For the upcoming Paraguay - Japan match, at least there will be one game to go on! Uruguay have been in the R16 twice, and lost both without scoring, with both matches finishing under 2.5. South Korea has been here once before drawing 1-1 before winning in extra time v Italy.

USA (15) v Ghana (32): Another first, no CONCACAF team has ever played an African team in a knockout game. The USA has been at this stage twice before, won v Mexico, lost v Brazil, both matches finishing under. This is Ghana’s second consecutive appearance at this stage, after losing 0-3 to Brazil last time around. (Their last group game was a 2-1 win over the USA).

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