World Cup Fever: Descriptive statistics and all-time records

With the World Cup taking place simultaneously as the beginning of my vacations, I may have spent the last week binging on football matches. One thing I’ve noticed is how the games in this edition of the World Cup have been so far more exciting and fun to watch in comparison with South Africa 2010. And it’s not just me, as soon as you start to Google news and articles on Brazil 2014, you will realize that there seems to be a consensus among sports journalists on how team’s tactics have changed, how the plays have become more offensive, and how the teams are now scoring more goals per matches (an average of 2.8, according to FIFA’s official website). In fact, as I am writing this, 7 goals were just scored in the Switzerland vs. France match (France: 5, Switzerland: 2).

Another interesting thing about this World Cup is how some Latin American “underdogs” have surpassed previous expectations with regards to their performance in the group stage. Obviously, they have the close distance advantage, which probably makes it easier for their fans to travel to Brazil to support their teams (one case where it was obvious was the Chile vs. Spain match, where you could hear loud and clear the presence of Chilean fans chanting to their players); but also, they have been playing surprisingly good football, making their presence felt in the field even while being the David to other European Goliaths. The most vivid examples so far have been Chile’s victory against Spain, and Costa Rica’s victory against Italy, both of which have served to qualify the respective winner for the next round. Nevertheless, we have also seen amazing performances by other European giants, such as Germany’s 4-0 against Portugal, and the Netherlands’ 5-1 against Spain.

Before the official kick off, I had the hypothesis that Brazil was going to be the indisputable champion of this World Cup. I mean, even though I myself am not an avid Brazil fan, the fact that they are regulars in the World Cup winner’s podium, that they have such big names in their roster, AND that on top of that they are the host country should somehow work in their advantage. However, this then got me thinking: Well, does the fact that Brazil is a host country actually make it more likely for them to win the title? And, can the outstanding performance of many Latin American teams be explained by the fact that the World Cup is indeed taking place closer to home? And, finally:  Even though some European countries have also been displaying solid performances, what are the actual odds of an European country winning a World Cup in Latin America?

Of course, these questions led me deep into a spiral of looking of World Cup stats and facts (I have way too much time off). Unfortunately, the small sample size (only 19 World Cups) and the actual limits of my commitment to this topic make it hard, if not impossible for me to perform any serious form of econometric analysis, but I still find that there are some pretty interesting facts, descriptive statistics, and all-time records worth sharing below, for your personal enlightenment:

  • The first World Cup ever was in Uruguay in 1930, in which only 13 teams played. Uruguay was chosen as the host country due to the fact that its football team had retained the title in the 1928 Olympics, and also to commemorate the centenary of its first constitution.
  • Of the 32 countries playing in this World Cup, only 8 of them have ever won the title: Brazil (’58, ’62, ’70, ’94, ’02), Italy (’34, ’38, ’82, ’06), Germany (’54, ’74, ’90), Uruguay (’30, ’50), Argentina (’78, ’86), England (’66), France (’98), and Spain (’10).
  • Out of a total of 19 World Cups, the host country has been the champion in 31.6% of them, and has played in 42% of the final matches. So, it is actually not even THAT likely that Brazil HAS to win.
  • As a matter of fact, Brazil did NOT win the World Cup the only other time it hosted it, in 1950 (Uruguay did).
  • 47.37% of the World Cups have been won by a Latin American country, while the remaining 52.63% have been won by a European country.
  • The farthest a non-European or a non-Latin-American team has even gotten to in a World Cup is to the Semi-Finals stage (the U.S. in ’30, and Turkey and South Korea in ’02).
  • Now, all of the 6 World Cups hosted in Latin America have been won by a Latin American country, and, out of the 10 World Cups hosted in Europe, 9 have been won by an European Country. Maybe playing in your same hemisphere does make a difference, after all.
  • Brazil is the only non-European country to have won a World Cup in Europe.
  • Brazil is also the only country to have won a World Cup in more than one continent: America, Europe, and Asia.

In fact, there are a number of facts and figures that proves just how noticeable Brazil’s performance has been throughout all the World Cups:

  • Brazil is the only team to have participated in all 19 World Cups (Followed only by Italy and Germany, who have participated in 17 World Cups each).
  • Brazil is also the team to have scored the most goals in the World Cup, with a total of 210 goals (Followed by Germany with 206, and Italy with 126).
  • However, if we average the number of goals by the number of matches, Hungary is the team with the most goals scored per match (2.72), and Brazil stands in second place, with 2.16 goals per match (Germany takes the third place, with 2.08 goals per match).
  • Brazil is also the team with the most successive wins, winning in 11 consecutive matches between the World Cups of 2002 and 2006 (Mexico is the team with the most successive defeats, losing 9 consecutive times between the World Cups of ’30, ’50, ’54, ’58).
  • Brazil is one of the only two teams to have ever won two consecutive World Cup titles (’58, ’62). The other team is Italy, winning in ’34 and ’38.

As for other interesting World Cup facts:

  • Mexico is the team that has had the most losses in the history of the World Cup (24 in total). Followed by Argentina and Germany with 20 losses each.
  • The World Cup of 1954, which was hosted in Switzerland, has been one of the most impressive in terms of record-setting. It set the record for highest average goals per game overall (5.38), most goals scored by a single team (Hungary, with 27 goals), highest average goals scored per game by a single team (Hungary again, with 5.4 goals on average per game), and most goals scored in total a single game (Austria: 7, Switzerland: 5). Also, it was the very first World Cup with television coverage.
  • The greatest margin of victory in a single game has been 9 goals, scored by Hungary against South Korea in 1954, and later equated by Yugoslavia against Zaire in 1974, and Hungary against El Salvador in 1982. (What ever became of Hungary’s national football team?!)
  • The largest goal deficit ever overcome in a win has been three goals. Once in a match between Austria and Switzerland in 1954, where the score went from a 0-3 in favour of Switzerland to a 7-5 in favour of Austria. This is the same match that set the world record for the most goals scored in a single match. In fact, this match is known by its German name: Hitzeschlacht von Lausanne (roughly translated to “The heat battle of Lausanne”), due to the high temperature that it was played under 40°C (104°F).
  • Portugal equaled this record in 1966, when it ended up defeating North Korea with a score of 5-3, overcoming an initial losing score of 0-3.
  • Bolivia and Algeria are the two teams that hold the record for having played the most matches without scoring a single goal (5 matches each).
  • Finally, the most World Cup encounters any two teams have ever had is 7 (Brazil vs. Sweden, and Germany vs. Yugoslavia).

Naturally, these figures do not yet account for the currently ongoing World Cup, which, as cliché as it is to say it, might be full of surprises. In fact, this initial group stage has hinted that perhaps we may see a new face among the World Cup champions. I am personally more interested to see whether the precedent of having a Latin American country win a Latin American-hosted World Cup will stand. Even though the odds would suggest that it is highly unlikely, remember that the odds are based on a very small sample, and that both the sport of football and the World Cup itself have changed over the years, becoming increasingly more globalized, and challenging any preconceived notions we might have on who is “objectively” more likely to win the title. Anyways, the upcoming weeks will end up showing just how groundbreaking (or not) this World Cup will be, and in the meanwhile, we can all just continue enjoying from the greatest football feast in the world.


P.S.: The post-match memes have been amazing.


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