Observations From First Round of World Cup 2018

Observations From First Round of World Cup 2018

Group Matches

There is no doubt that the World Cup is truly the world’s best tournament. Its accessibility to a large number of countries, the exciting brand of football, the crowds, and the one-stop “shop” for watching the world’s best cannot be matched by another tournament in the world.

Already, the 2018 version of the World Cup has done that and promises more as we move into the second round of matches. Here are my observations from the first round of matches:

Top Seeds

Higher ranked teams, using FIFA ranks as a measure, won just eight (50%) of their games in the opening round, drawing three, and losing five. The lowest team in rank differential to win is  #61 Japan with a 2-1 victory over #16 Colombia, that is a rank differential of  -45.

The smallest point differential is #12 Denmark over #11 Peru (-1). Essentially, these games are more open than the FIFA ranking may inform us. A 50% win rate is not significant. We saw teams with -19 differential (Senegal) and -14 differential (Mexico) win their matches.

Set Piece Conversions

The number of set–piece goals in this World Cup is outstanding. While African teams have conceded a large number of these goals, they have also been scourge for teams from other parts of the World.

It seems that it is not so much about how to prevent set-piece goals because many teams are having problems doing so. It may well be about converting them.

African Referees

In spite of the regular bashing of African referees in the continent, one must share my elation on how well the African referees compare with referees from other parts of the world. In my opinion, I have always believed that they are just as good and they have shown that in the opening round.

FIFA ‘s decision to invite a large number of African referees is proving to be a wonderful idea.


The video assistant referee (VAR) system has come in handy and we should have embraced them by now. Violators can no longer perpetrate hideous fouls behind the back of match officials and expect to get away with it.

However, the presence of VAR has not prevented some poor calls. Go figure the foul call that provided Colombia an equalizer against Japan. That foul, if anything, should have been called in favor of Japan. Nevertheless Japan won the game to mute what could have been a major controversy.

The Crowds

The attendance has been admirable with television cameras showing packed stands in all first round of group games. Unfortunately, for African teams, the fact that they have very few traveling fans have meant that they play each of their games as if they are playing away.


Watching these games denote that the coaching gap between teams are narrowing considerably. I would venture to state that the games are transitioning into an area where the difference between teams will no longer be about tactics and coaching but about talent. It is like a return to the past.

The way I envision it is that the first World Cups featured teams with wide gaps in terms of talent in an environment where tactical knowhow was not that much because information on several opponents were virtually unknown.

That moved to a period where talent was relatively converging and tactical difference became the key to winning games.

That is still the case but it appears that we are about to transition to a next level where talent may well return to the fore in form of better use of data to gain talent advantages.

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