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Which continent plays best football? Findings from the group stage of 2014 world cup.

Update1: Thanks to suggestions from ‘faustus’,  Table 2 and Table 3 are now updated to include numbers of wins / draws, and some grammatical errors in previous versions are corrected.

The Group Stage of 2014 FIFA world cup is now complete, and in fact the round of 16 has already started.  Congratulations to the 16 teams that have advanced to the round of 16 after 48 very exciting games. In all 136 goals were scored, averaging 2.83 per game. This is far greater (~35%) than the 2010 FIFA world cup in South Africa, when 101 goals were scored after the group stage.

How did my predictions fare so far? I received an email from ESPNFC Bracket Predictor that I am better than (or equal to) 51.26% or all brackets, which basically means I am barely above average. Not bad for a person who watches football once every 4 years, and for whom the first thing that comes to mind when someone says football is an oval ball usually thrown and caught with the hands. However, when you think of the fact that majority who entered in that bracket competition is likely Americans, it may be sort of an underachievement.

 Let’s see which federations were represented in this World Cup by how many teams:

Table 1. Participants of the 2014 FIFA world cup, broken down into continents.

Federation Continent Countries
AFC (4) Australia, Asia Australia, Iran, Japan, S. Korea
CAF (5) Africa Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria
CONCACAF(4) N. America Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, US
CONMEBOL(6) S. America Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay
UEFA (13) Europe Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Switzerland

A small cartoon to enjoy below, acknowledging the introduction of spray foams in this world cup,  before we delve into which continent is the best?


Which continent has played the best football in 2014?

To be fair, we must first admit that the climate is tropical – hot and humid, and many footballers from Europe, N. America, Asia, Australia, Africa may not feel at home. Of course this analysis does not consider or adjust for this, nor is this a statistical inference. It is pure descriptive statistics. Below is the breakdown of all intercontinental games. This table includes the 5 games that was played between two European teams.  I have added the last column which represents how many games were won by the first continent (W1), how many games were drawn (D) and how many games were won by the continent that is listed second(W2).

Table 2. Summary of intercontinental games. (Number of games = 48)

Continent-1 Continent-2 No. games Goals-1 Goals-2 Total Goals W1-D-W2
Africa Australasia 3 6 3 9 2-1-0
Africa Europe 7 7 13 20 1-2-4
Africa N. America 2 1 3 4 0-0-2
Africa S. America 3 4 9 13 0-0-3
Australasia Europe 6 4 11 15 0-2-4
Australasia N. America 0 NA NA 0 NA
Australasia S. America 3 2 8 10 0-0-3
Europe Europe 5 NA NA 21 NA
Europe N. America 7 10 6 16 3-2-2
Europe S. America 9 7 14 21 2-1-6
N. America S. America 3 4 3 7 1-1-1
48 136

Excluding the 5 games played between two European teams, we have 43 games and 115 goals.  Here is how each continent performed. As expected, the top two continents were South America and Europe (Table 3), although North America was not too far behind and 3 of the 4 teams in fact advanced to the round of 16.

Table 3.  Performance of each continent against all continents combined. (Excludes 5 intra-European games)

Continent Games Goals For Goals Against Goal Diff Goal Ratio % teams advanced W-D-L
Africa (5) 15 18 28 -10 0.64 60.0% 3-3-9
Australasia (4) 12 9 25 -16 0.36 0.0% 0-3-9
Europe (13) 29 41 31 10 1.32 46.2% 13-7-9
N.America (4) 12 13 14 -1 0.93 75.0% 5-3-4
S.America (6) 18 34 17 17 2.00 66.7% 13-2-3

For those interested, I report in detail the 9 games played between Europe and S. America. As shown in Table 2, South America beat Europe 14-7.  It could be debated, however, that Europe may not be represented versus South America by their best teams.

Table 4. S. America v. Europe games (N=9)

S.America team Goals Goals Europe team
Brazil 3 1 Croatia
Colombia 3 0 Greece
Ecuador 1 2 Switzerland
Argentina 2 1 Bosnia and Herzegovina
Chile 2 0 Spain
Uruguay 2 1 England
Chile 0 2 Netherlands
Uruguay 1 0 Italy
Ecuador 0 0 France
South America 14 7 Europe

Hence, my very preliminary analysis based on only 43 games, and including only 9 games between Europe and S. America, shows that S. America is playing the best football in 2014 world cup.