Belgium most attacking, Morocco most miserly at 2018 FIFA World Cup
Data from the football website eloratings.net for the period Jan. 1, 2015 to June 6, 2018 shows that Belgium has scored 100 goals in 37 matches, at a rate of 2.7 goals scored per gamefootball Updated: Jun 08, 2018 11:31 IST
An analysis of results involving the 32 teams at the 2018 FIFA World Cup shows that Belgium have been the most attacking and Morocco the most defensive team over the past three years.
Data from the football website eloratings.net for the period Jan. 1, 2015 to June 6, 2018 shows that Belgium have scored 100 goals in 37 matches at a rate of 2.7 goals scored per game. Morocco in the 36 matches they have played since then have only conceded 0.47 goals per game. That’s around one goal conceded every two games.
Among the 32 teams, Nigeria played the least number of games (29) during this period, while Mexico played the most (67).
Here’s the chart for the 32 World Cup teams sorted by how attacking they’ve been:
If we look at the top of the table, we see a number of European countries such as Belgium, Spain (2.41 goals per game), Germany (2.3) etc. On the other hand, some South American countries such as Uruguay (1.47) and Colombia (1.39) lie way down the table.
That would seem surprising for a team such as Uruguay with an attack consisting of excellent players like Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani and Colombia, who boast of Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez among their ranks.
One reason this may be so is because of the kind of qualifiers European and South American teams play to get to the World Cup. The 10-team South American qualifying group is one of the toughest with each team playing each other home and away in a round robin format.
The European teams on the other hand have to qualify out of five to six-team groups where some of the teams are very weak. For example, one of the teams that Belgium had to face in its group was Gibraltar. Belgium are currently 3rd in the FIFA men’s national team rankings while Gibraltar are at a lowly 195th.
Predictably, one of the matches between the two turned into a drubbing for the minnows Gibraltar, with Belgium beating them 9-0 back in September 2017.
So while Belgium do have an amazing attack with players such as Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard involved, their stats and those of the other European teams are padded up to a degree because of the poor teams they get to play.
Now let’s take a look at a chart of the most defensive World Cup teams over the past three years, sorted by how few goals they’ve conceded per game.
Morocco’s place at the very top is intriguing. A lot of the games this African nation would have played over the past three years would have been qualifiers for the World Cup as well as the continental tournament, the African Cup of Nations.
This might lead us to think that the quality of the opposition in Africa might not be much, because of which there are so few goals scored against Morocco. But if we look at the qualifying group that Morocco emerged from, it was actually placed with two teams that were higher than them in the then FIFA rankings.
Morocco were ranked 60th at the time the group was drawn, and they managed to qualify despite the presence of the Ivory Coast (34th rank) and Mali (58th ) in the group.
So given the kind of opposition Morocco faced to qualify for the World Cup, it might seem that the team’s defensiveness is the genuine article.
Another interesting insight from this chart is how the hosts Russia had the weakest defence over the past three years, conceding around 1.35 goals per game. Because they are the host nation, Russia didn’t have to go through the qualifiers that all the other European countries played over the past two years.
Russia instead had to arrange friendlies with whichever team was available on the various international dates. And they usually arranged it with strong teams such as France and Brazil in order to prepare better for the tournament. But in matches against both those teams in March, Russia lost 3-0.
Russia’s weakness in defence only adds to the concerns of how far the hosts could go in the tournament, even if they manage to qualify from their relatively easy group at the tournament.
To conclude, while the results of this analysis should be interpreted correctly, it does give us an idea of which teams will shut out the opposition and which teams will give us goals.