Tuesday, 16 October 2018

World Rugby League

I started this blog as a way to publish a few thoughts and home-compiled statistics about football, but I think that one of the ideas put forward could work for rugby too, so here it is: a very simple league table made made in the most traditional way there is: by compiling the last two games played by the participating sides against each other, in this case the world's top 14 rugby teams. Since draws are quite rare in rugby, I haven't bothered with number of points for a win or bonus points for types of victory. A win is a win is a win. The result doesn't look too different from the official world rankings, but at least this one has a consistent, fair, easy-to-understand basis.


Japan has played South Africa only once ever, so in order the give everyone 26 games, I have awarded the missing match as a 3-0 win to South Africa. Sorry, and I know that Japan actually has a 100% record against South Africa, but if they played again, would Japan win again? Anyway, as soon as this is remedied and Japan has a second game against the Springboks I will add it. Also, Tonga and Argentina have also played each other only once, and in this case I have left their "second game" as a 0-0 draw.

One of the main talking points after the latest round of autumn internationals is whether Ireland could be judged to be number one in the world after having beaten the number one in the world. On boxing rules (beat the champion, become the champion), maybe. On league table rules, no. New Zealand has got only two current defeats, against Ireland and South Africa, but Ireland, for all their impressive current doubles against Australia, England and France, have five current defeats, against New Zealand, South Africa, Wales, Scotland... and Japan. Fix that, and sure, you can be number one.

I'm not a rugby expert at all, but thirteen games seems to be a fairly doable number for each of these sides to play every year, so why not play each other once a year? The Northern Hemisphere already does it in the Six Nations tournament and the Southern in the four-team Rugby Championship, so why not add four more teams (Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and Japan), and play it as a single global round-robin tournament? You wouldn't even have to scrap the Six Nations or the Rugby Championship: they could still be played inside this whole tournament, in the same way that the Calcutta Cup, for example, is contested as part of the Six Nations. After tallying all the results up, you can still give awards for the best team in each Hemisphere and proclaim a Six Nations champion, a wooden-spooner, etc. Also, you could introduce promotion and relegation, so that the 14th team changes every year. As the table stands, that's bad news to Italy, but hey, maybe you could soften the blow by having the bottom team play off against the best from anywhere else in the world for the right to compete among the best the following year. Meanwhile, the remaining 13 teams could be using that play-off international date to play one team each outside of the Top 14. If rugby really is serious about developing other nations, nothing does more for the cause than inviting the best in the world to play against those other countries just bubbling under the surface. The kids attending those games one day will be answering questions in the future saying that they really got their desire to play rugby on that day when New Zealand, or England, or South Africa, came to play my nation and I became hooked.

So, does rugby have 14-15 dates a year to play internationals? That's for them to decide. If not, maybe the top division could be trimmed to 12, but that would mean losing a couple of deserving teams every season.

As for logistics, especially travelling and venues, that's for someone else to decide. Maybe small groups of three or four so that over 12 days they play one another at one of the participant countries? For example, England, Japan and Australia playing in Japan, while Scotland, Argentina and South Africa play in South Africa, while Ireland, Fiji and New Zealand play in Ireland? Something like that. I know that matches involving the smaller Pacific teams (Tonga, Fiji and Samoa) are difficult to organise due to a variety of issues, both economic and otherwise, but if there is a will there will be a way. The Six Nations and the Rugby Championship have got big because they have been doggedly playing every year, and the World Cup has captured everybody's imagination in a very short time of existence. If this idea is implemented with vigour and insisting on it every year, it will become great very quickly.

Current results for this table (up to Monday 26 November 2018):

Argentina 20 37 Australia
Australia 19 23 Argentina
Argentina 25 35 England
England 21 8 Argentina
Argentina 9 28 Fiji
Argentina 49 30 Fiji
Argentina 0 27 France
France 28 13 Argentina
Ireland 28 19 Argentina
Ireland 28 17 Argentina
Argentina 30 24 Italy
Italy 15 31 Argentina
Argentina 68 36 Japan
Japan 20 54 Argentina
New Zealand 46 24 Argentina
Argentina 17 35 New Zealand
Argentina 32 16 Samoa
Argentina 12 28 Samoa
Argentina 15 44 Scotland
Scotland 14 9 Argentina
South Africa 34 21 Argentina
Argentina 32 19 South Africa
Argentina 0 0 Tonga
Argentina 45 16 Tonga
Argentina 10 23 Wales
Argentina 12 30 Wales
England 30 6 Australia
England 37 18 Australia
Australia 28 13 Fiji
Australia 37 14 Fiji
Australia 26 29 France
Australia 25 23 France
Australia 21 26 Ireland
Australia 16 20 Ireland
Italy 27 40 Australia
Italy 7 26 Australia
Australia 91 3 Japan
Australia 63 30 Japan
Australia 12 40 New Zealand
Australia 20 37 New Zealand
Australia 74 7 Samoa
Australia 23 32 Samoa
Australia 19 24 Scotland
Australia 24 53 Scotland
Australia 23 18 South Africa
Australia 12 23 South Africa
Australia 52 14 Tonga
Australia 74 0 Tonga
Australia 29 21 Wales
Wales 9 6 Australia
England 35 11 Fiji
England 58 15 Fiji
England 19 16 France
England 16 22 France
England 9 13 Ireland
England 15 24 Ireland
England 36 15 Italy
England 46 15 Italy
England 35 15 Japan
England 60 7 Japan
England 21 24 New Zealand
England 15 16 New Zealand
England 28 9 Samoa
England 48 14 Samoa
England 61 21 Scotland
England 13 25 Scotland
South Africa 10 25 England
England 12 11 South Africa
England 101 10 Tonga
England 36 20 Tonga
England 21 16 Wales
England 12 6 Wales
Fiji 15 40 France
France 14 21 Fiji
Fiji 0 53 Ireland
Fiji 20 23 Ireland
Fiji 22 19 Italy
Fiji 10 19 Italy
Fiji 27 22 Japan
Fiji 38 25 Japan
Fiji 0 91 New Zealand
Fiji 14 60 New Zealand
Fiji 38 16 Samoa
Fiji 24 22 Samoa
Fiji 27 22 Scotland
Scotland 54 17 Fiji
Fiji 20 37 South Africa
Fiji 3 49 South Africa
Fiji 14 10 Tonga
Fiji 19 27 Tonga
Fiji 13 17 Wales
Fiji 13 23 Wales
France 9 19 Ireland
France 13 15 Ireland
France 40 18 Italy
France 34 17 Italy
France 47 21 Japan
France 23 23 Japan
New Zealand 26 13 France
New Zealand 49 14 France
France 22 14 Samoa
France 52 8 Samoa
France 22 16 Scotland
France 26 32 Scotland
France 17 18 South Africa
France 26 29 South Africa
France 14 19 Tonga
France 38 18 Tonga
France 20 18 Wales
France 13 14 Wales
Ireland 56 19 Italy
Ireland 54 7 Italy
Ireland 50 22 Japan
Ireland 13 35 Japan
Ireland 9 21 New Zealand
Ireland 16 9 New Zealand
Ireland 20 10 Samoa
Ireland 40 9 Samoa
Ireland 22 27 Scotland
Ireland 28 8 Scotland
Ireland 13 19 South Africa
Ireland 38 3 South Africa
Ireland 32 9 Tonga
Ireland 40 19 Tonga
Ireland 9 22 Wales
Ireland 37 27 Wales
Japan 34 17 Italy
Japan 22 25 Italy
Italy 10 68 New Zealand
Italy 3 66 New Zealand
Italy 0 15 Samoa
Italy 24 13 Samoa
Italy 13 34 Scotland
Italy 27 29 Scotland
Italy 20 18 South Africa
Italy 6 35 South Africa
Italy 28 23 Tonga
Italy 17 19 Tonga
Italy 7 33 Wales
Italy 14 38 Wales
Japan 6 54 New Zealand
Japan 31 69 New Zealand
Japan 33 14 Samoa
Japan 26 5 Samoa
Japan 13 26 Scotland
Japan 16 21 Scotland
Japan 0 3 South Africa
Japan 34 32 South Africa
Japan 20 31 Tonga
Japan 39 6 Tonga
Japan 23 8 Wales
Japan 30 33 Wales
New Zealand 25 16 Samoa
New Zealand 78 0 Samoa
New Zealand 24 16 Scotland
New Zealand 22 17 Scotland
New Zealand 34 36 South Africa
New Zealand 32 30 South Africa
New Zealand 91 7 Tonga
New Zealand 41 10 Tonga
New Zealand 46 6 Wales
New Zealand 33 18 Wales
Samoa 33 36 Scotland
Samoa 38 44 Scotland
Samoa 23 56 South Africa
Samoa 6 46 South Africa
Samoa 30 10 Tonga
Samoa 26 30 Tonga
Samoa 26 19 Wales
Samoa 17 19 Wales
Scotland 16 34 South Africa
Scotland 20 26 South Africa
Scotland 15 21 Tonga
Scotland 37 12 Tonga
Scotland 7 34 Wales
Wales 21 10 Scotland
South Africa 74 10 Tonga
South Africa 30 25 Tonga
South Africa 20 22 Wales
Wales 20 11 South Africa
Tonga 6 24 Wales
Wales 74 24 Tonga

World League of Nations

After the European Nations League started in 2018, I thought that the tournament should be expanded to just include the best teams from all over the world. However, this probably means, in strict terms, Western Europe and South America. To get the ball rolling, I have compiled the last two matches of the top 11 football international teams, and here is the resulting table.

What? No Belgium, FIFA's number 1 in its World Rankings? No, no Belgium. Or Chile, or Mexico or anyone else. I have hand-picked the teams according to a mixture of footballing tradition, current standing and staying power for generations. That means, basically, all the World Cup winners (Argentina, Brazil, England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Uruguay), plus the Netherlands. That would have meant nine teams, which I think most people would agree are the top footballing nations of all time, all things considered. I dithered a bit about Uruguay, who were great at the beginning of the World Cup era and are very good now, but sometimes they go missing for decades. Eventually, I put them in, and added Portugal and Croatia as teams who have been consistently good for the last decade or more. So, teams like Belgium, who come and go, like the Bulgaria or Romania of 1994, unless they prove themselves to be a team who consistently deliver for many years, will remain aside for now. According to FIFA, Norway were once number 2 in the world. In three separate months. The same applies to all the other teams in the world: when you beat Brazil, Germany, Italy or Argentina on a regular basis, we'll see about inclusion. If you're still curious about Belgium, if you put them in, they'd be tied on 5th-6th-7th with Spain and England.

All teams are on Games Played: 20

W  D  L  F  A  P  GD
10 07 03 34 23 37+11 - 01 Brazil
11 05 07 30 25 35+05 - 02 France
09 06 05 28 19 33+09 - 03 Germany
08 07 05 30 18 31+12 - 04 Netherlands
09 03 08 28 24 30+02 - 05 Argentina
07 07 06 23 21 28+02 - 06 England
07 05 08 34 30 26+04 - 07 Spain
05 07 08 14 23 22-09 - 08 Portugal
05 07 08 17 32 22-15 - 09 Croatia
04 06 10 19 31 18-12 - 10 Uruguay
02 09 09 19 30 30-11 - 11 Italy

Brazil lead the table having lost only 3 out of their current games (the famous 7-1 defeat against Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinal, the match right after that, which was a 3-0 versus the Netherlands in the third-place play-off, and a 1-0 versus Argentina). Germany were on the same number of points as Brazil until they lost 3-0 against the Netherlands and 2-1 against France in the European Nations League.

Brazil are also the highest-scoring team (36), with Spain second (34), despite being only seventh on the table. Spain are also the third team to have conceded the most goals (30), with only Uruguay on 31 and Croatia on 32 below them. The Netherlands on 18 and Germany on 19 are the teams to have conceded the fewest goals. Portugal are the lowest scorers, on a miserly 14 in 20 games.

If you heard the names of all the participating teams and you were asked to predict the bottom three before seeing the table, you'd probably have gone for Portugal, Uruguay and Croatia. And you would almost be right. Remarkably, Italy prop the table on only two current matches won, one against the Netherlands and the other one against Uruguay. They missed the 2018 World Cup Finals, and they just can't beat any of the top teams lately, although they remain barely in touch thanks to their 9 draws, the most of any team. These four are also the only teams with a negative goal difference, and by some margin.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Every penalty shoot-out in full internationals

This is a list of every penalty shoot-out in full, senior, male internationals in major competitions since this rule was introduced in the 1970s. The major competitions included are the World Cup (WC), the Confederations Cup (CC) and the regional tournaments for each football confederation: the European Championship (EC), the Africa Cup of Nations (AN), the Copa América (CA), the Gold Cup (GC), the Asian Cup (AC) and the Oceania Football Cup (OC). No Olympic teams or smaller competitions have been included. After the list and the summary, you can find a brief analysis of the results.

Competition - Stage - Date - Result after 120 minutes - Shoot-out result - Winner - Loser

EC Fn 1976-06-20 (2-2) 5-3 Czechoslovakia - West Germany
AN SF 1980-03-19 (2-2) 4-2 Algeria - Egypt
EC 3P 1980-06-21 (1-1) 9-8 Czechoslovakia - Italy
AN Fn 1982-03-19 (1-1) 7-6 Ghana - Libya
WC SF 1982-07-08 (3-3) 5-4 West Germany - France
AN SF 1984-03-14 (2-2) 8-7 Nigeria - Egypt
AN SF 1984-03-14 (0-0) 5-4 Cameroon - Algeria
EC SF 1984-06-24 (1-1) 5-4 Spain - Denmark
AC SF 1984-12-13 (1-1) 5-4 Saudi Arabia - Iran
AC 3P 1984-12-16 (1-1) 5-3 Kuwait - Iran
AN Fn 1986-03-21 (0-0) 5-4 Egypt - Cameroon
WC QF 1986-06-21 (1-1) 4-3 France - Brazil
WC QF 1986-06-21 (0-0) 4-1 West Germany - Mexico
WC QF 1986-06-22 (1-1) 5-4 Belgium - Spain
AN SF 1988-03-23 (1-1) 9-8 Nigeria - Algeria
AN 3P 1988-03-26 (1-1) 4-3 Algeria - Morocco
AC 3P 1988-12-17 (0-0) 3-0 Iran - China
AC Fn 1988-12-18 (0-0) 4-3 Saudi Arabia - South Korea
WC 8F 1990-06-25 (0-0) 5-4 Ireland - Romania
WC QF 1990-06-30 (0-0) 3-2 Argentina - Yugoslavia
WC SF 1990-07-03 (1-1) 4-3 Argentina - Italy
WC SF 1990-07-04 (1-1) 4-3 West Germany - England
GC Fn 1991-07-07 (0-0) 4-3 USA - Honduras
AN SF 1992-01-23 (0-0) 3-1 Ivory Coast - Cameroon
AN Fn 1992-01-26 (0-0)11-10Ivory Coast - Ghana
EC SF 1992-06-22 (2-2) 5-4 Denmark - Netherlands
AC 3P 1992-11-08 (1-1) 4-3 China - UA Emirates
CA QF 1993-06-26 (1-1) 5-3 Colombia - Uruguay
CA QF 1993-06-27 (1-1) 6-5 Argentina - Brazil
CA SF 1993-07-01 (0-0) 6-5 Argentina - Colombia
AN SF 1994-04-06 (2-2) 4-2 Nigeria - Ivory Coast
WC 8F 1994-07-05 (1-1) 3-1 Bulgaria - Mexico
WC QF 1994-07-10 (2-2) 5-4 Suecia - Romania
WC Fn 1994-07-17 (0-0) 3-2 Brazil - Italy
CC 3P 1995-01-13 (1-1) 5-4 Mexico - Nigeria
CA QF 1995-07-16 (1-1) 5-4 Colombia - Paraguay
CA QF 1995-07-17 (0-0) 4-1 USA - Mexico
CA QF 1995-07-17 (2-2) 4-2 Brazil - Argentina
CA Fn 1995-07-23 (1-1) 5-3 Uruguay - Brazil
AN QF 1996-01-28 (1-1) 4-1 Tunisia - Gabon
EC QF 1996-06-22 (0-0) 4-2 England - Spain
EC QF 1996-06-22 (0-0) 5-4 France - Netherlands
EC SF 1996-06-26 (0-0) 6-5 Czech Republic - France
EC SF 1996-06-26 (1-1) 6-5 Germany - England
AC SF 1996-12-18 (0-0) 4-3 Saudi Arabia - Iran
AC 3P 1996-12-21 (1-1) 3-2 Iran - Kuwait
AC Fn 1996-12-21 (0-0) 4-2 Saudi Arabia - UA Emirates
CA QF 1997-06-22 (1-1) 4-3 Mexico - Ecuador
AN QF 1998-02-21 (1-1) 8-7 Burkina Faso - Tunisia
AN QF 1998-02-21 (0-0) 5-4 Egypt - Ivory Coast
AN 3P 1998-02-27 (4-4) 4-1 DR Congo - Burkina Faso
WC 8F 1998-06-30 (2-2) 4-3 Argentina - England
WC QF 1998-07-03 (0-0) 4-3 France - Italy
WC SF 1998-07-07 (1-1) 4-2 Brazil - Netherlands
CA QF 1999-07-10 (3-3) 4-2 Mexico - Peru
CA QF 1999-07-10 (1-1) 5-3 Uruguay - Paraguay
CA SF 1999-07-13 (1-1) 5-3 Uruguay - Chile
AN 3P 2000-02-12 (2-2) 4-3 South Africa - Tunisia
AN Fn 2000-02-13 (2-2) 4-3 Cameroon - Nigeria
GC QF 2000-02-19 (2-2) 2-1 Colombia - USA
EC SF 2000-06-29 (0-0) 3-1 Italy - Netherlands
CA 3P 2001-07-28 (2-2) 5-4 Honduras - Uruguay
GC QF 2002-01-26 (1-1) 6-5 Canada - Martinique
GC QF 2002-01-27 (0-0) 4-2 South Korea - Mexico
GC SF 2002-01-30 (0-0) 4-2 USA - Canada
AN Fn 2002-02-10 (0-0) 3-2 Cameroon - Senegal
WC 8F 2002-06-16 (1-1) 3-2 Spain - Ireland
WC QF 2002-06-22 (0-0) 5-3 South Korea - Spain
AN SF 2004-02-11 (1-1) 5-3 Tunisia - Nigeria
EC QF 2004-06-24 (2-2) 6-5 Portugal - England
EC QF 2004-06-26 (0-0) 5-4 Netherlands - Sweden
CA SF 2004-07-21 (1-1) 5-3 Brazil - Uruguay
CA Fn 2004-07-25 (2-2) 4-2 Brazil - Argentina
AC QF 2004-07-30 (2-2) 4-3 Bahrain - Uzbekistan
AC QF 2004-07-31 (1-1) 4-3 Japan - Jordan
AC SF 2004-08-03 (1-1) 4-3 China - Iran
CC SF 2005-06-26 (1-1) 6-5 Argentina - Mexico
GC QF 2005-07-17 (1-1) 5-3 Panama - South Africa
GC Fn 2005-07-24 (0-0) 3-1 USA - Panama
AN QF 2006-02-04 (1-1)12-11Ivory Coast - Cameroon
AN QF 2006-02-04 (1-1) 6-5 Nigeria - Tunisia
AN Fn 2006-02-10 (0-0) 4-2 Egypt - Ivory Coast
WC 8F 2006-06-26 (0-0) 3-0 Ukraine - Switzerland
WC QF 2006-06-30 (1-1) 4-2 Germany - Argentina
WC QF 2006-07-01 (0-0) 3-1 Portugal - England
WC Fn 2006-07-09 (1-1) 5-3 Italy - France
CA SF 2007-07-10 (2-2) 5-4 Brazil - Uruguay
AC QF 2007-07-21 (1-1) 4-3 Japan - Australia
AC QF 2007-07-22 (0-0) 4-2 South Korea - Iran
AC SF 2007-07-25 (0-0) 4-3 Iraq - South Korea
AC 3P 2007-07-28 (0-0) 6-5 South Korea - Japan
EC QF 2008-06-20 (1-1) 3-1 Turkey - Croatia
EC QF 2008-06-22 (0-0) 4-2 Spain - Italy
GC SF 2009-07-23 (1-1) 5-3 Mexico - Costa Rica
AN QF 2010-01-25 (0-0) 5-4 Nigeria - Zambia
WC 8F 2010-06-29 (0-0) 5-3 Paraguay - Japan
WC QF 2010-07-02 (1-1) 4-2 Uruguay - Ghana
AC SF 2011-01-25 (2-2) 3-0 Japan - South Korea
GC QF 2011-06-18 (1-1) 4-2 Honduras - Costa Rica
GC QF 2011-06-19 (1-1) 5-3 Panama - El Salvador
CA QF 2011-07-16 (1-1) 5-4 Uruguay - Argentina
CA QF 2011-07-17 (0-0) 2-0 Paraguay - Brazil
CA SF 2011-07-20 (0-0) 5-3 Paraguay - Venezuela
AN QF 2012-02-05 (1-1) 5-4 Mali - Gabon
AN Fn 2012-02-12 (0-0) 8-7 Zambia - Ivory Coast
EC QF 2012-06-24 (0-0) 4-2 Italy - England
EC SF 2012-06-27 (0-0) 4-2 Spain - Portugal
AN QF 2013-02-02 (1-1) 3-1 Mali - South Africa
AN SF 2013-02-06 (1-1) 3-2 Burkina Faso - Ghana
CC SF 2013-06-27 (0-0) 7-6 Spain - Italy
CC 3P 2013-06-30 (2-2) 3-2 Italy - Uruguay
WC 8F 2014-06-28 (1-1) 3-2 Brazil - Chile
WC 8F 2014-06-29 (1-1) 5-3 Costa Rica - Greece
WC QF 2014-07-05 (0-0) 4-3 Netherlands - Costa Rica
WC SF 2014-07-09 (0-0) 4-2 Argentina - Netherlands
AC QF 2015-01-23 (3-3) 7-6 Iraq - Iran
AC QF 2015-01-23 (1-1) 5-4 UA Emirates - Japan
AN 3P 2015-02-07 (0-0) 4-2 DR Congo - Equatorial Guinea
AN Fn 2015-02-08 (0-0) 9-8 Ivory Coast - Ghana
CA QF 2015-06-26 (0-0) 5-4 Argentina - Colombia
CA QF 2015-06-27 (1-1) 4-3 Paraguay - Brazil
CA Fn 2015-07-04 (0-0) 4-1 Chile - Argentina
GC QF 2015-07-19 (1-1) 6-5 Panama - Trinidad and Tobago
GC 3P 2015-07-25 (1-1) 3-2 Panama - USA
OC Fn 2016-06-11 (0-0) 4-2 New Zealand - Papua NG
CA QF 2016-06-17 (0-0) 4-2 Colombia - Peru
EC 8F 2016-06-25 (1-1) 5-4 Poland - Switzerland
CA Fn 2016-06-26 (0-0) 4-2 Chile - Argentina
EC QF 2016-06-30 (1-1) 5-3 Portugal - Poland
EC QF 2016-07-02 (1-1) 6-5 Germany - Italy
AN QF 2017-01-28 (0-0) 5-4 Cameroon - Senegal
AN QF 2017-02-01 (1-1) 4-3 Egypt - Burkina Faso
CC SF 2017-06-28 (0-0) 3-0 Chile - Portugal
WC 8F 2018-07-01 (1-1) 4-2 Russia - Spain
WC 8F 2018-07-01 (1-1) 3-2 Croatia - Denmark
WC 8F 2018-07-03 (1-1) 4-3 England - Colombia
WC QF 2018-07-07 (2-2) Croatia - Russia

Results by country, in alphabetical order: won - lost - differential - country

2 2, 0 Algeria
8 6 +2 Argentina (most played, 14, most won)
0 1 -1 Australia
1 0 +1 Bahrain
1 0 +1 Belgium
7 5 +2 Brazil
1 0 +1 Bulgaria
2 2  0 Burkina Faso
4 3 +1 Cameroon
1 1  0 Canada
3 2 +1 Chile
2 1 +1 China
4 3 +1 Colombia
1 3 -2 Costa Rica
2 1 +1 Croatia
3 0 +3 Czechoslovakia / Czech Republic
2 0 +2 Dem Rep Congo
1 2 -1 Denmark
0 1 -1 Ecuador
4 2 +2 Egypt
0 1 -1 El Salvador
2 6 -4 England (worst balance)
0 1 -1 Equatorial Guinea
3 3  0 France
0 2 -2 Gabon
1 4 -3 Ghana
6 1 +5 Germany / West Germany (best balance)
0 1 -1 Greece
2 1 +1 Honduras
2 6 -4 Iran
2 0 +2 Iraq
1 1  0 Ireland
4 7 -3 Italy (most lost)
4 4  0 Ivory Coast
3 3  0 Japan
0 1 -1 Jordan
1 1  0 Kuwait
0 1 -1 Libya
2 0 +2 Mali
4 5 -1 Mexico
0 1 -1 Morocco
0 1 -1 Martinique
2 5 -3 Netherlands
5 3 +2 Nigeria
1 0 +1 New Zealand
4 1 +3 Panama
4 2 +2 Paraguay
0 2 -2 Peru
0 1 -1 Papua New Guinea
1 1  0 Poland
3 2 +1 Portugal
0 2 -2 Romania
1 1  0 Russia
4 0 +4 Saudi Arabia
0 2 -2 Senegal
1 2 -1 South Africa
4 3 +1 South Korea
5 4 +1 Spain
1 1  0 Sweden
0 2 -2 Switzerland
0 1 -1 Trinidad and Tobago
2 3 -1 Tunisia
1 0 +1 Turkey
1 2 -1 United Arab Emirates
1 0 +1 Ukraine
5 5  0 Uruguay
4 2 +2 USA
0 1 -1 Uzbekistan
0 1 -1 Venezuela
0 1 -1 Yugoslavia
1 1  0 Zambia

Penalty shoot-outs have been described sometimes as coin-flips, and the compiled results mostly bear that out, with a few outliers. The more times you flip a coin, the more likely is that you'll get a 50-50 result between heads and tails, and the same seems to happen with penalty shoot-outs. For example, if you hear that Argentina has lost as many as six penalty shoot-outs, that sounds bad, but on the other hand they have won eight, which shows the other side of the story (or the coin).

Argentina are, in fact, the team to have played and to have won the most penalty shoot-outs so far, and are second in the "most lost" category : P14 W8 L6, and the accumulated result is as close to 50-50 as it can be without being exactly that after fourteen times. Something similar could be said about Brazil: they have won seven (impressive), but they have lost five (not so impressive), again very close to 50-50. Uruguay have played 10 and their record is 5-5, and Mexico have played 9, with a result of won 4 lost 5. These are the four countries who have been involved in the most penalty shoot-outs, which shows that the more you play them, the more the outcomes balance themselves out. However, it is true that there are a few outliers, as you can see below.

So, in order to put this into context, the most useful indicator is how many more shoot-outs a team has won that they have lost or vice-versa, and that's reflected on the list with a +2, -1, 0, etc. Of the 71 countries ever involved in a penalty shoot-out in major competitions, only nine present a swing of +3, -3 or wider:

+5 West Germany / Germany
+4 Saudi Arabia
+3 Czechoslovakia / Czech Republic, Panama
-3 Ghana, Italy, Netherlands
-4 England, Iran

Saudi Arabia boast an impressive 4-0 so far, with the Czechs 3-0 including Czechoslovakia, and no-one has lost more than Italy (7), although once they won a World Cup final this way (and lost another one). The Netherlands were 0-4 down until 2004 (and are 2-1 since). Germany lost their first ever (and anyone's first ever), and they have won the next six on the trot. England propped the differential table on 1 won and 6 lost until they beat Colombia in July 2018.

Most won:
8 Argentina
7 Brazil
6 West Germany / Germany
5 Nigeria, Spain, Uruguay
4 Cameroon, Colombia, Egypt, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, USA

Most lost:
7 Italy
6 Argentina, England, Iran
5 Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Uruguay
4 Ghana, Ivory Coast, Spain

Thursday, 8 December 2016

The World Cup and the Champions League should go for 64 teams

Over the last few months there has been some debate about possible modifications to the number of entrants in the World Cup and the Champions League. My opinion about this is simple: both competitions should run with 64 participating teams. Here are my reasons:

1) Twice the number of current teams will be involved. This seems obvious enough, but this is also the number one reason why it should be done. Every time these two tournaments are held, there are some prestigious teams that are left out because there are not enough places. Doubling the number of participants would help more of these teams to qualify. This also means many more fans, in many more cities and many more countries would be included and would enjoy these tournaments. And when you include more teams, you generate increased interest across the whole country where that team is from. Ask any Polish or Scottish fans, for example, whether their interest is the same in a World Cup or Champions League group stage when they have a team present or when they don't.

2) The overall duration of the competitions would not be altered significantly. Just one more matchday would be needed in the World Cup (to accomodate an extra elimination round after the group stage), and two extra days in the Champions League, as compared to now. This would mean 8 matches instead of the current 7 in the World Cup, and 15 in the Champions League instead of 13. Given that the current Champions League quarter-finals are played over eight different days instead of the minimum four (four Tuesdays and four Wednesdays in February and March), the booked dates needed are already available on the international calendar. And also, let's remember that during four seasons at the turn of the century there was a second group stage after the first, taking a total of 17 matches for the competition to be completed. This was later trimmed back to 13 games, but 15 over 9 months is feasible, and it is a very small sacrifice in order to double the number of teams participating. Besides, in the case of the World Cup, the 48-team enlargement now under study by FIFA also would need an 8-match schedule anyway, due to the planned play-off round before the proper tournament starts, so if you're going to block off an 8-game chunk of the international calendar for the World Cup, at least make that length of time count, and use it to its maximum strength.

(Update: In January 2017 the FIFA plan eventually approved a 48-team finals in groups of three teams. This makes it even worse. I think that using an extra week of the international calendar every FOUR years is not that big a sacrifice for the price of DOUBLE the nations to be included)

3) Worrying about "diluting the quality" is a non-issue. Anyone who watches football knows that you simply don't know how "good" the next match you watch is going to be, whatever the "quality" of the teams involved, and you don't know either where the next thoroughly enjoying crowd-pleaser is going to come from. We've all seen a disappointing Real Madrid v Barcelona, an underwhelming Liverpool v Manchester United or a boring Italy v Germany. And we've also seen an entertaining Swansea v Crystal Palace, or an eventful Portugal v Hungary, games which maybe wouldn't be billed as "highest quality" before the fact. Having fewer matches do not mean they are going to be better games, and conversely, more matches do not mean they are all going to be worse. Every fan of each team is going to find their own games interesting, whatever the "quality" of the play, and then they will judge the rest of the matches according to their own time and inclination.

4) Yes, it would be difficult to watch every match in an enlarged World Cup like this, but no-one is asking you to. As an everyday fan, do you watch every match in the current Champions League, or in your current domestic club competitions? No, and nobody will say you're a poor football fan if you don't. I know that it is a great experience being able to watch every single match of the World Cup, which is just about doable with the current number of games, but with double the number of matches to deal with, you can just concentrate on the ones you're interested in (or just actually able to watch), and then catch up with the remainder through recorded viewing or highlights packages... which is what you're doing now with the Champions league anyway, and with your local national leagues and cups.

5) The 64-team format would give everyone more of what they enjoy from a football competition: being able to take part in it more often as a player or a fan, for a start, and also many more dramatic elimination matches. The enlarged World Cup would have an extra 16-game last-32 round, and the Champions League would also have an extra 16-match last-32 round of two-legged ties. In fact, this expansion would make the Champions League elimination rounds as big (in terms of number of clubs participating in them) as the old European Cup seasons until 1992. You would be able to recapture the magic of those 32-team competitions of pure home-and-away football, after the group stage.

6) The enlarged number of participants would mean that big teams miss out less often (remember England, the Netherlands, France, Milan or Chelsea in previous years), middle-ranking nations and clubs would qualify more frequently, rather than just once every three or four tournaments, and lower-ranked teams would also be able to take part more often than until now. This would even improve the chances of a Cinderella story like those of Iceland, Jamaica, Anorthosis or Ludogorets in recent times. Depending on who you support, you know how hard it is when you don't qualify, and you also know that it is not the same when you have to watch the competition from the outside.

7) Stadia and organisation wouldn't be a problem in the Champions League: Europe already has a second competition running, the Europa League, which shows that the whole continent is able to run many mid-week matches across many countries without problems. Now, imagine many of those games (like this season's Ajax v Panathinaikos, for example, or Manchester United v Feyenoord) being played in the Champions League instead of the Europa League. It just isn't the same, and don't the players and fans know it!

As for the World Cup, I think that too much is being made of the hosting problems. The enlarged 64-team World Cup would mean 127 football matches over 6 weeks. That's fewer than the number of matches being played in England's domestic top three divisions (136 games) over just four weekends. And over those four weekends there are many more football matches being played in lower divisions at the same time, and this happens all throughout the season, often twice a week, for nine months, while the rest of the footballing countries do the same, at the same time. That's thousands of games every few days, and it works. So don't tell me that hosting 127 matches, never more than 6 a day, over less than a month and a half is too hard. I have never been involved in the organisation of a big sporting tournament, so I do reckon there will be difficulties to deal with regarding travelling fans, rooms to stay the night, fan zones, transport, policing and all that, but those shouldn't be insurmountable, especially when you see what the Olympic Games manage to cram in just two weeks over dozens of sports in and around a single city. The answer to this would be: for the first few tournaments at least, choose dependable hosts with ready-made stadia and good tourism infrastructure already in place. The USA, Spain, England, Japan, Mexico, would all be able to do it, and if not, then co-host sensibly. I heard often that the 2002 Japan-South Korea World Cup was "like hosting two different World Cups at the same time". Well, then you're doing it wrong. Europe are going to host it continent-wide for their own competition in 2020, and I think it will work. But for a 64-team competition, maybe Italy could host 4 of the 16 groups, Spain another 4, England 4 more and Portugal the remaining 4 (I'm just leaving Germany and France out of the example as the two most recent European World Cup hosts, but they could be included too). Then, each of those four host nations would get 4 round-of-32 matches, 2 round-of-16 games, 1 quarter final and then each of them either one semifinal or the 3rd-place play-off or the final. Sorted. Besides, this four-country hosting system could also apply to other parts of the world. And I'm sure there are many more solutions to this, including co-hosting between continents too (how about a Mediterranean World Cup across Spain, Italy, Greece, France, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco and Tunis, hosting two groups each, for example, or a CONCACAF-CONMEBOL effort from Canada to Chile). Anyway, my point is that this problem, if it is one, shouldn't be a deterrent.

And finally, to give you an example of how all this would look like, here's a list of a "virtual" group stage for each competition.

In the Champions League I have followed the current UEFA rankings and I have chosen as examples the teams from each country with the best UEFA coefficient (Sorry, Inter Milan, 7th best in Italy, Marseille, 6th best in France, Spartak Moscow, 9th best in Russia and Feyenoord, 4th best in the Netherlands). If you don't like the choices blame them, not me.

Top 4 UEFA-ranked nations: 6 teams each (24 teams all told)

 1 SPA Real Madrid
 2 SPA FC Barcelona
 3 SPA Atlético Madrid
 4 SPA Sevilla
 5 SPA Valencia
 6 SPA Villarreal
 7 ENG Manchester United
 8 ENG Arsenal
 9 ENG Chelsea
10 ENG Liverpool
11 ENG Manchester City
12 ENG Tottenham
13 GER Bayern Munich
14 GER Borussia Dortmund
15 GER Bayer Leverkusen
16 GER Schalke 04
17 GER Wolfsburg
18 GER Mönchengladbach
19 ITA AC Milan
20 ITA Juventus
21 ITA Lazio
22 ITA AS Roma
23 ITA Napoli
24 ITA Fiorentina

Nations ranked 5 and 6: 5 teams each (10 teams)

25 POR FC Porto
26 POR Benfica
27 POR Sporting Lisbon
28 POR Braga
29 POR Estoril
30 FRA Lyon
31 FRA Bordeaux
32 FRA Paris Saint-Germain
33 FRA Monaco
34 FRA Saint-Étienne

Nations ranked 7 and 8: 4 teams each (8 teams)

35 RUS CSKA Moscow
36 RUS Anzhi
37 RUS Zenit
38 RUS Rubin Kazan
39 UKR Dynamo Kiev
40 UKR Shakhtar
41 UKR Dnipro
42 UKR Metalist

Nations ranked 9 and 10: 3 teams each (6 teams)

43 NET Ajax
44 NET PSV
45 NET Alkmaar
46 BEL Anderlecht
47 BEL Brugge
48 BEL Genk

Nations ranked 11 and 12: 2 teams each (4 teams)

49 SWI Basel
50 SWI Young Boys
51 TUR Galatasaray
52 TUR Fenerbahçe

Rest of nations: 12 places to play for in preliminary rounds

53 GRE Olympiacos
54 CZE Sparta Prague
55 ROM Steaua Bucharest
56 AUS FC Salzburg
57 CRO Dinamo Zagreb
58 CYP APOEL
59 POL Legia Warsaw
60 ISR Maccabi Tel-Aviv
61 BLS BATE Borisov
62 DEN FC Copenhagen
63 SCO Celtic
64 SWE Malmö

Obviously, this distribution can be tinkered with. For example more nations represented and fewer nations with multiple clubs, but that's minutia to be decided later. Example of resulting groups (seeding made from UEFA's own coefficient ranking):

01 Real Madrid - 17 Shakhtar - 35 Anderlecht - 52 Sporting Lisbon
02 Bayern M - 22 Tottenham - 34 Dnipro - 53 Steaua Bucharest
03 Barcelona - 18 Leverkusen - 37 Monaco - 55 Genk
04 Atlético - 18 Basel - 36 Mönchengladbach - 57 Saint-Étienne
05 PSG - 23 Dynamo Kiev - 38 Fenerbahçe - 62 FC Copenhagen
06 Juventus - 25 Olympiacos  - 40 Sparta Prague - 61 Anzhi
07 Dortmund - 27 Galatasaray - 39 Roma - 63 AZ Alkmaar
08 Benfica - 26 Villarreal - 41 Milan - 64 BATE Borisov
09 Chelsea - 24 Fiorentina - 42 PSV - 68 Bordeaux
10 Arsenal - 29 Lazio - 43 Rubin Kazan - 113 Estoril
11 Sevilla - 30 Liverpool - 44 Celtic - 75 Young Boys
12 Manchester City - 31 Wolfsburg - 78 Dinamo Zagreb - 94 Metalist
13 Porto - 32 Lyon - 47 CSKA Moscow - 86 APOEL
14 Schalke - 21 Valencia - 49 Brugge - 81 Legia Warsaw
15 Napoli - 33 Ajax - 50 Salzburg - 89 Maccabi tel-Aviv
16 Zenit - 20 Manchester United - 51 Braga - 108 Malmö

Not bad, I think, and as we saw before, this still leaves out some well-know names.

Now for an example of a 64-team World Cup. To start with, I believe that in international competition terms, football should be divided into just four regions: Europe, Africa, the Americas (North, Central, South and Caribbean) and Oceania/Asia. Each of those regions would have roughly the same number of teams (around 50-60), so qualification rounds would last more or less the same amount of time. Each region could have 14 guaranteed places (56 total), and the last 8 would come from inter-continental play-offs, which would be the fairest way to see which region deserves more. Another way would be to do it by the FIFA rankings, which would yield, as of November 2016, 32 places for Europe, 12 for Africa, 13 for the Americas and just 7 to OceAsia. I would be OK with that, but there should be more games between teams from different continents to refine the rankings.

Going by FIFA Rankings:

Europe: 3 Germany, 5 Belgium, 7 France, 8 Portugal, 10 Spain, 11 Switzerland, 12 Wales, 13 England, 14 Croatia, 15 Poland, 16 Italy, 21 Iceland, 22 Netherlands, 23 Ireland, 29 Ukraine, 31 Austria, 32 Northern Ireland, 39 Romania, 41 Sweden, 42 Greece, 44 Serbia, 46 Denmark, 49 Albania, 52 Slovenia, 54 Israel, 55 Russia, 63 Montenegro

Africa: 33 Senegal, 34 Ivory Coast, 35 Tunisia, 36 Egypt, 38 Algeria, 47 DR Congo, 50 Burkina Faso, 51 Nigeria, 53 Ghana, 57 Morocco, 60 South Africa, 61 Mali

Americas: 1 Argentina, 2 Brazil, 4 Chile, 6 Colombia, 9 Uruguay, 17 Costa Rica, 18 Mexico, 19 Peru, 20 Ecuador, 21 USA, 40 Paraguay, 58 Panama, 59 Venezuela

OceAsia: 30 Iran, 37 South Korea, 45 Japan, 48 Australia, 56 Saudi Arabia, 62 Uzbekistan, 64 UAE

Notably out: 65 Cameroon, 67 Scotland, 72 Bulgaria, 79 Guatemala, 83 China, 85 Norway, 95 Bolivia, 110 New Zealand, 120 Iraq.

Again, the distribution could be debated (Europe has many more higher-ranked teams being left out altogether than other regions, so there could be more places up for grabs through play-offs), but here's how the groups could look like:

1 Argentina - 26 Hungary - 33 Senegal - 49 Albania
2 Brazil - 25 Slovakia - 34 Ivory Coast - 54 Israel
3 Germany - 24 Turkey - 35 Tunisia - 56 Saudi Arabia
4 Chile - 23 Ireland - 36 Egypt - 55 Russia
5 Belgium - 29 Ukraine - 37 South Korea - 50 Burkina Faso
6 Colombia - 22 Netherlands - 38 Algeria - 63 Montenegro
7 France - 31 Austria - 40 Paraguay - 51 Nigeria
8 Portugal - 32 Northern Ireland - 45 Japan - 53 Ghana
9 Uruguay - 21 Iceland - 39 Romania - 57 Morocco
10 Spain - 30 Iran - 41 Sweden - 58 Panama
11 Switzerland - 28 USA - 42 Greece - 60 South Africa
12 Wales - 27 Bosnia - 47 Congo DR - 59 Venezuela
13 England - 20 Ecuador - 43 Czech Republic - 64 UAE
14 Croatia - 19 Peru - 44 Serbia - 61 Mali
15 Poland - 18 Mexico - 46 Denmark - 62 Uzbekistan
16 Italy - 17 Costa Rica - 48 Australia - 52 Slovenia

If anyone has any comments, you can leave them in the section below. If any new talking points come up, I will add them to the post. Thanks for reading.

Monday, 10 October 2016

The current classification

The EFCL classification table (last updated 03 June 2017)

Pos (W-D-L) Points-Nation-Team

01 (30-14-08)104 SPA Real Madrid
02 (29-17-07)104 SPA FC Barcelona
03 (28-12-12) 96 GER Bayern München
04 (27-13-12) 94 ENG Liverpool FC
05 (22-20-10) 85 FRA Paris Saint-Germain
06 (22-18-12) 84 ENG Manchester United
07 (22-16-14) 82 ITA Internazionale Milano
08 (21-18-13) 81 GER Borussia Dortmund
09 (21-16-15) 79 ITA Juventus Torino
10 (18-22-12) 76 ENG Chelsea London
11 (20-16-16) 76 ENG Arsenal London
12 (17-23-12) 74 ESP Valencia CF
13 (18-16-18) 70 FRA Olympique Lyonnais
14 (15-16-19) 67 ITA AS Roma
15 (12-28-12) 64 ITA AC Milan
16 (15-18-20) 63 POR Benfica Lisboa
17 (13-23-16) 62 NET Ajax Amsterdam
18 (15-15-22) 60 POR FC Porto
19 (14-18-20) 60 GER Bayer Leverkusen
20 (11-21-20) 54 NET PSV Eindhoven
21 (10-22-20) 52 TUR Galatasaray Istanbul
22 (12-13-27) 49 GRE Olympiacos Pirea
23 (10-19-23) 49 GRE Panathinaikos Athinai
24 (10-16-26) 47 BEL Anderlecht Bruxelles
25 (07-23-22) 44 FRA Olympique Marseille
26 (07-22-23) 43 NOR Rosenborg Trondheim
27 (08-14-30) 38 UKR Dynamo Kyiv