What Does It Take to Advance At the World Cup?

Five points.

Since the current 32-team format was implemented for the 1998 World Cup, five points is dividing line between advancement and disappointment.

Some background: before the 1994 World Cup, two points were awarded for a win and one point for a draw. What happened? Well, the 1990 World Cup was basically the soccer equivalent of the 1968 baseball season: defenses were dominant and no one felt super inclined to score. To try to encourage more goals, the value for a win was increased to three points for 1994.

Since the tournament still had 24-teams in 1994, I decided to simply look at the data going back to 1998. Here are the results:

Adv % Did Not % Total
0 0 0% 10 100% 10
1 0 0% 18 100% 18
2 0 0% 7 100% 7
3 1 5.56% 17 94.44% 18
4 11 47.83% 12 52.17% 23
5 15 100% 0 0% 15
6 11 100% 0 0% 11
7 16 100% 0 0% 15
9 10 100% 0 0% 10

So the takeaway is obvious: get five and you’re golden. Of course, that still requires going undefeated. Four points is basically a gamble, especially since that’s also the only score that has come down to goal differential.

You might be wondering: who the heck got three points and advanced? Chile in 1998. After drawing all three of their group stage games, they got demolished by Brazil 4-1 in the first knockout stage.

And finally, I was going to do a full day-by-day schedule run-down for various time zones, but there’s already a better-designed website doing that for me. The only thing really lacking is TV info, but at least in the US you have a one-in-three chance of getting that right anyway (ESPN, ESPN2, or ABC).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.