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World Cup trends: Comebacks, high-scoring games rampant in early going

Photo: Ryan Pierse/FIFA/Getty Images

Netherlands star Arjen Robben has accounted for three goals in what has been a high-scoring start to the 2014 World Cup.

SÃO PAULO — It’s still early enough in the World Cup that the sample size is small, but a few intriguing early trends have emerged on the field in the first 20 games of the tournament. For starters, if you think the games are featuring more goals and more comebacks than in previous tournaments, you’re right.

In fact, scoring is up 58 percent over World Cup 2010 through the first 20 games:

GOALS SCORED IN FIRST 20 GAMES

2014 60
2002 51
2006 46
1998 39
2010 38

 

Another spike has come in terms of comebacks: No fewer than six of the first 20 World Cup 2014 games saw a team concede the first goal and come back to win the game. That’s three times as many occasions as any World Cup’s first 20 games going back to 1998. Why would this be happening? Perhaps it has something to do with the overall quality of this tournament field. Very few surprise teams qualified for Brazil 2014, and other than Cameroon (and perhaps Honduras) no team appears to be completely overmatched at this point.

 

GAMES IN WHICH TEAM THAT SCORES FIRST LOSES (IN FIRST 20 GAMES)

Brazil 2014
Brazil beats Croatia
Netherlands beats Spain
Costa Rica beats Uruguay
Ivory Coast beats Japan
Switzerland beats Ecuador
Belgium beats Algeria 

Germany 2006

Australia beats Japan
South Korea beats Togo

France 1998

Mexico beats South Korea
Nigeria beats Spain

South Africa 2010

Greece beats Nigeria

Japan/South Korea 2002

Brazil beats Turkey

 

Another early trend so far in World Cup 2014 is the success of CONCACAF. No confederation in the tournament has won a higher percentage of possible points in games against other confederations. Opening-game wins by the U.S., Mexico and Costa Rica are a carbon copy of what happened early on in World Cup 2002—a tournament that saw the U.S. go all the way to the quarterfinals.

The best way to measure World Cup performance is by only including games against other confederations. That means not considering the results of any UEFA vs. UEFA games, since UEFA is the only confederation that has more than one team per group.

If we look back at previous World Cups, the trend emerges that CONCACAF teams are always more successful early on than teams from CAF and the AFC—and occasionally on par with or slightly ahead of powerhouses UEFA and CONMEBOL:

PERCENTAGE OF POSSIBLE POINTS WON VS OTHER CONFEDERATIONS (FIRST 20 GAMES)

2014
CONCACAF 67%
CONMEBOL 67%
UEFA 53%
CAF 22%
AFC 13%
2010
CONMEBOL 81%
UEFA 42%
CONCACAF 42%
AFC 40%
OFC 33%
CAF 21%
2006
OFC 100%
UEFA 73%
CONMEBOL 67%
CONCACAF 33%
AFC 33%
CAF 7%
2002
CONCACAF 100%
CONMEBOL 44%
CAF 43%
UEFA 41%
AFC 27%
1998
UEFA 62%
CONMEBOL 50%
CONCACAF 50%
CAF 24%
AFC 0%

Additional research by Zach Dixon

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