Friday, June 09, 2006

How important is a team's first World Cup match?

If you are like me, you had no problem waking up this morning. Who knows, maybe your first though was something like, "it's finally here." So with the first kick happening not months, days or hours, but minutes from now, I thought it would be interesting to look to past World Cups to figure out the importance of a team's first cup match when it comes to possible advancement to the knockout phase.

In 2002, the World Cup was made up of 32 teams with 16 advancing. Of the 16 that advanced, 11 won their first game while 5 tied. None lost their opening match. Also, only 1 team that won their first match did not advance (Ecuador). Winning the opener did not lock you in, but it sure gave you a good start as 92% of opening match winners moved on.

World Cup 1998 saw the first use of the 32 teams with 16 advancing format. Interestingly enough, a defeat didn't kill you like it did four years later. Of the 16 that advanced, 8 won their opener, 4 tied and 4 lost (Brazil, Denmark, Nigeria, Croatia). As far as teams that won their first match but did not move on, there were 3 (Morocco, Spain, Jamaica). That means 73% of opening match winners moved on. Interestingly enough, all 4 of those who lost, were defeated by the other team from their group that advanced.

The World Cup in 1994 saw the last use of the 24 teams with 16 advancing format. With fewer teams in the mix, it gave team better odds of getting to phase 2. Anyway, of the 16 advancing, 7 won their opener, 5 tied and 4 lost (USA, Argentina, Switzerland, Belgium). There were 2 teams that won their first but did not advance (Colombia, Russia), giving winning teams a 78% advancement rate.

The last Cup I'm going to look at is 1990, which was played under the 24 teams, 16 advance method. Of the 16, 7 won, 6 tied and 3 lost (Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Cameroon). Just like in 1994, 2 teams won their opener only to go home after group play (Austria, Soviet Union), putting the win and move on rate at 78%.

So what conclusions should one draw from this? Obviously winning the first match puts you in a much better position, however 1998 showed that a defeat can be overcome. That said, as I noted, all 4 teams that lost, fell to the other team that advanced from their group. If you look at those four teams, they were very good. Three of them made it to the quarter-finals (Brazil, Denmark, Croatia) with Brazil taking second place and Croatia coming in third. One could say that unless you are a top-level team, a defeat dooms you.

Still, with such little data to go on (this will only be the third 32 team World Cup), one cannot make any hard conclusion. Perhaps 2006 will buck 2002's trend and allow more forgiveness of opening match failure, however, Cup history does not suggest this will happen. If your team fails to get a point in their first, you might want to delay sending out the invitations to your World Cup Championship viewing party.

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5 Comments:

Anonymous Greg said...

Great analysis, Mike! From the look of this, it looks like the US better be ready to play on Monday vs. the Czech Republic!

12:33 PM  
Anonymous Brian said...

I think they'll be more than ready!!!!

Check out the video I found-
http://www.break.com/worldcup2006/soccersave8.html

That's SWEET!!!

1:35 PM  
Blogger Matt Matros said...

"The World Cup in 1994 saw the last use of the 24 teams with 16 advancing format. With fewer teams in the mix, it gave team better odds of getting to phase 2. Anyway, of the 16 advancing, 7 won their opener, 5 tied and 4 lost (USA, Argentina, Switzerland, Belgium)."

Eh? The US and Switzerland tied in their opening match. Argentina won its opener 4-0, and Belgium won its opener 1-0.

http://www.planetworldcup.com/CUPS/1994/wc94index.html

4:53 PM  
Blogger Mikael Vandegraff said...

Interesting!
Germans never do more they need to do, even in the first game.

BTW. What do you think about link exchange?
Soccer scores

4:00 AM  
Anonymous peter said...

The first game is difficult for all teams, experienced or not. New teams want to perform well because it is their first and possibly only chance to play in this tournament. Traditional powers have to play under a lot of pressure because nothing less than a win is tolerated. It levels the playing field if you ask me.

BTW, you should checkout the live commentary this guy did of the England vs Paraguay game. He is hilarious, England vs Paraguay

11:17 PM  

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