How to advance in the World Cup.

We are literally seconds away from kickoff in South Africa as Bafana Bafana (South Africa) take on Mexico.  Naturally, ESPN has already hit technical problems.  My local news station (WGN Chicago) seems to have had problems figuring out where exactly the World Cup is happening as you can see from the photo (I’m guessing the intern doing the graphics didn’t do well in his Geography classes).

All that aside, I have been pondering the question about what winning a match in World Cup means, and if there is really a certain day where it is most important to win.  While the draw is made so that there is a seeded team in each pot, it would be expected that other teams in the group may win a match or two.  From a financial perspective, I have read reports talking about how progressing through the World Cup helps that countries economy, however this seems to be another over estimate.  While there are changes in spending patterns within a country, I believe as I stated in a previous post that a lot of the spending is transferred from one leisure good to another.

Now the numbers.  I noticed a post on a soccer forum which went through the numbers of winning matches, I checked over the numbers and every thing seemed to check out.  Here is the findings:

If you win any match, it greatly boosts your chances to advance to the round of 16.  Any teams that has won a match has had better than 50% chance of advancing in the last three World Cups.  In 1998, 80% of teams that won a match advanced, in 2002 64%, and in 2006 76.2%.  Over the last three World Cup tournaments, this means that just under 75% of the teams which have won a game have advanced to the next round (take that into consideration when filling out your World Cup brackets).

Now the question is, is there a “most important” match to win to improve your chances to advance.  Over the last three World Cups, teams that won their first match advanced 85.7% of the time (in 1998 all 10 teams that won their groups opening match advanced to the next round).  Teams that won their second match advanced 81.25% of the time (in 2006 all 12 teams that won the second match advanced to the second round), and teams that won their third match advanced 75% of the time.

Thinking about these numbers, it basically told me that while winning the first match is important, winning any match is very beneficial to help a team go through to the next round.  While the sample size is small (something I’ll hope to fix by looking further back, as well as adding this years data), I think there are a few things which can be gleaned from these findings.  There is a drop in the advance rate of teams that won their third match, which was to be expected as teams playing in a third match are often already qualified and resting players, or have a pair of teams already eliminated playing against each other.  That said, many people seemed to think that winning the first match was the key to advancing, but from what I see, a draw or loss in the first match isn’t necessarily a death sentence, rather it is how you perform over all three games which really matters.  Just some thoughts I had as I was thinking about World Cup.

Well Sepp Blatter is on the TV, which means we will be kicking off soon.  Enjoy the games.

HT to Scotch17 from


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