FanPost

World Cup: Evaluating The Also-Rans

#Conquercaf! - Michael Steele

Europe and South America are the only regions to ever win the World Cup. In fact, they are also the only two regions to even make it to the final. They undoubtedly have the cream of the crop in the world of soccer. But what about the other regions? How do they compare to each other? Are they getting the right number of World Cup spots or are any regions hard done by? With UEFA and CONMEBOL the clear top regions, and OFC the clear bottom region, I’m going to be looking a bit closer at the World Cup performances of the also-rans. Teams from CONCACAF (North and Central America and the Caribbean), AFC (Asia) and CAF (Africa).

To simplify things, and to keep them a little bit more relevant, I’m going to be looking at World Cups that have had 32 teams. That means all the World Cups from France 1998 until Brazil 2014. Another thing to note, in that time Australia has moved from OFC to AFC. For consistency, I am going to consider their results to be AFC results, even from the tournaments when they were representing OFC.

I’ll be looking at a few different measures. Points Per Game (PPG) per region in the group stages, number of teams losing all 3 of their matches, World Cup intercontinental qualification playoff records, and records in matches between CONCACAF, AFC, and CAF.

Points Per Game

This measure is about seeing how well teams from each region perform on average. It’s not about seeing where the best team or the worst team comes from. It’s more about the strongest field of teams at the World Cup from top to bottom. Below is a table that shows the PPG for each region, by World Cup year, and their total PPG over all those World Cups combined. Of course it’s 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw, and 0 for a loss.

1998

2002

2006

2010

2014

Total (not an average)

UEFA

1.64

1.42

1.88

1.41

1.56

1.59

CONMEBOL

1.73

1.47

2.08

2.27

2.28

1.97

CAF

1

1

0.86

0.78

0.8

0.88

AFC

0.42

1.17

0.73

1.13

0.25

0.76

CONCACAF

0.89

1.67

0.5

1.11

1.5

1.12

In that table you can see that CONMEBOL is consistently the best region in the group stage by this measure, with the exception of a great performance from CONCACAF in 2002. UEFA is in 2nd each World Cup, again, with the exception of 2002 where they were 3rd. For all the World Cups combined since France 1998, CONCACAF is the 3rd strongest region, followed by CAF and then AFC.

3 Games, 3 Losses

This measure is about seeing who is sending in teams that are just making up the numbers. It’s a very simple stat, just the number of teams that have lost all 3 of their games at the World Cup, by region.

0-3 records

2014

2010

2006

2002

1998

Total

UEFA

1

1

2

CONMEBOL

0

CAF

1

1

1

3

AFC

1

1

2

1

5

CONCACAF

1

1

1

3

Once again, CONMEBOL is the best by this measure, and AFC is the worst. Asia averages 1 team per World Cup losing all 3 of its games. Africa and CONCACAF each have had 3 teams go pointless, and Europe isn’t that far ahead with 2 teams going pointless.

World Cup Qualification Intercontinental Playoffs

Some regions are given half positions to the World Cup, which means they will have to beat a team from another region in order to qualify. It seems like a good way to keep tabs on which regions are more deserving of an additional qualification spot. Below are the records for each region in these playoff matches, once again, from 1998 on. The playoffs consist of a home and away series, but I am just counting 1 win for the qualifying team, and 1 loss for the team that got eliminated.

Wins

Losses

CONCACAF

2

1

CONMEBOL

3

1

AFC

1

5

UEFA

1

0

OFC

1

1

A note about AFC’s numbers. As I mentioned at the beginning, I am counting Australia’s results for AFC, rather than OFC, since AFC is their current region. 1 win and 1 loss are courtesy of Australia, and I didn’t include the results of a playoff between Iran and Australia, since they are both AFC teams now. As you can see, UEFA and CONMEBOL have the best records by this measure, followed closely by CONCACAF, then OFC, and AFC is lagging far behind. CAF hasn’t had to play a playoff in the time period covered.

Head to head

The next table deals with CONCACAF, CAF, and AFC’s records against each other in the group stage at the World Cup. PPG is the important measure in this table once again.

head to head

Wins

Draws

Losses

Games Played

Points

PPG

CONCACAF

7

3

2

12

24

2

CAF

5

8

6

19

23

1.210526316

AFC

4

7

8

19

19

1

Here CONCACAF has a leg up on the others, and AFC is once again lagging behind.

Summary

So what does this all mean? I think each of these statistics are useful in determining how World Cup spots should shift between regions from tournament to tournament. In the time covered, CONMEBOL has stayed at 4.5 spots the whole time, and CAF has stayed steady at 5 spots. UEFA has gone down a full spot to 13. CONCACAF went from 3 spots to 3.5 and Asia has gone up a full spot from 3.5 spots to 4.5 spots. That math may seem a bit off, and that’s attributed to the fact that until 2002 the reigning champions got a guaranteed spot in the tournament, and in 2002 there were 2 hosts. Since then only the solitary host has gotten a guaranteed spot in the tournament. So CONCACAF and AFC are the only regions to get more spots. When and why did they get those spots? CONCACAF got its half spot and AFC got its full spot after the 2002 tournament, where the USA made it to the quarter finals, and South Korea made it to the semi finals. CONCACAF and CONMEBOL haven’t been rewarded for their good overall performance, and AFC has gained a spot despite its consistently poor performances in the group stages and also in the intercontinental playoffs. CAF also gets to keep its 5 spots (more than CONMEBOL) despite its consistently poor results.

If it were up to me, I would take a spot from each of AFC and CAF and give them to CONCACAF and CONMEBOL. Of course, if past qualifying campaigns are anything to go off of, 4.5 spots for CONCACAF still won’t be enough to get Canada in, without a lot of improvement.


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