Contrary to Pele’s bold prediction that “an African team will win the World Cup before the year 2000,” no country from outside of Europe and South America has ever won the tournament. This trend won’t be broken at Brazil 2014, with two teams each from football’s strongholds – Holland and Germany from Europe; Brazil and Argentina from South America – having progressed to the semi-finals.
Africa hoped it would end the messianic wait for its first world champions in South Africa four years ago, but the fact remains that no team from the continent has ever made the semi-finals. South Korea’s third place finish when they hosted the competition in 2002 is Asia’s best finish, and no Asian teams qualified for the knockout phases this time around.
So does looking at the data demonstrate the dominance of the European and South American regions? For a start the breakdown of the teams that progressed to the knockout stages is significant – 6 European teams and 5 South American teams made up the majority of the Round of 16, with 3 from CONCACAF (North & Central America) and 2 from Africa.
Led by Chile (31.5), the South American teams are the Kings of Creativity, producing an average of 19.28 mid-high scoring chances per game to Europe’s 16.06, with Africa (13.32), Asia (12.03) and CONCACAF (10.43) lagging behind. Argentina (26.6), Germany (23.2), Brazil (20) and France (19.9) have been the next best after Chile at carving out opportunities.
“Tiki-taka is Dead!”, screamed German tabloid newspaper Bild after holders Spain exited the tournament, but our data reveals that the European passing game is very much alive, and could lie in the hands of Germany themselves. Joachim Low’s men average the highest number of passing-style build-up moves (66) per game at the World Cup. Europe’s overall average of 48.22 beats South America’s 39.00, with CONCACAF 36.45, Africa 36.14 and Asia 35.85.
The evidence suggests a counter-attacking strategy is favoured by the South American sides. They average 16.5 counter attack-style build-up moves per game, with none of the other four continents passing 15.
It looks like African teams could work on their long balls. They average the lowest percentage of quality build-up moves when taking the direct route – 10% – compared to the other continents. Argentina could be advised to be wary of lofted balls when they play Holland in the semi-finals, Louis Van Gaal’s men’s 15.2 long ball average is higher than any of the 32 participating teams with the exception of Honduras (15.3).
Who has their shooting boots on? Europe is ‘top of the shots’ with an average of 14.53 per game to South America’s 12.93. However, it seems the South Americans are more clinical, with a goals per game average of 1.83 (the highest of any continent) with Europe next on 1.55. Asia have the lowest goals per game average – 0.75. Holland’s average (2.20) is the highest of any country in the tournament.
Europe’s statistical story at the 2014 World Cup so far is promising, pointing to goals and a commitment to keeping the ball. However, if a European team is to triumph in Brazil they will have to break their own hoodoo – no team from Europe has ever won a World Cup hosted in South America.