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World Cup 2010: Offensive Team versus Defensive Team showdowns

Posted by Jason Lisk on June 21, 2010

The United States will be playing Algeria on Wednesday in a must win situation to advance in the World Cup. Both of these teams have, of course, played the same two opponents in the group phase, but have vastly different goal records. The United States has been leaky defensively, particularly early in games, conceding three goals, while it has shown the ability to attack. Algeria, on the other hand, has played well defensively, only giving up a late goal against Slovenia while frustrating England, but showed very little offensively and has yet to score a goal. I was interested in finding some comparable matchups to see what happens when two apparently similar opponents meet in the final group match, but one has been offensive and the other defensive.

Here's what I did to find comparable matchups. I looked at every group game from 1986 to 2006 where the teams meeting in the final game of the group:

1) were within +/-2 of each other in overall goal differential;
2) both had a goal differential between -3 and +3 through the first two games;
3) one team had scored more goals and given up more goals than the other; and
4) the amount either scored or given up was greater than 1 goal in at least one of the two categories.

For example, if two teams had respective goal differentials of 2-2 and 1-1, they would not meet the fourth criteria, while 3-2 (or 2-3) versus 1-1 would. This generated a list of fifteen matchups over this period that fit all the criteria and provide a pretty good list of comparable matchups. Here they are:

Year Offense Team OFF GF OFF GA OFF PT Defense Team DEF GF DEF GA DEF PT OFF RES DEF RES
2006 south korea 3 2 4 switzerland 2 0 4 0 2
2006 australia 3 3 3 croatia 0 1 1 2 2
2002 portugal 6 3 3 south korea 3 1 4 0 1
2002 denmark 3 2 4 france 0 1 1 2 0
2002 sweden 3 2 4 argentina 1 1 3 1 1
2002 belgium 3 3 2 russia 2 1 3 3 2
2002 paraguay 3 5 1 slovenia 1 4 0 3 1
1998 nigeria 4 2 6 paraguay 0 0 2 1 3
1998 england 3 2 3 colombia 1 1 3 2 0
1998 spain 2 3 1 bulgaria 0 1 1 6 1
1994 saudi arabia 3 3 3 belgium 2 0 6 1 0
1994 spain 3 3 2 bolivia 0 1 1 3 1
1994 romania 4 5 3 united states 3 2 4 1 0
1990 sweden 2 4 0 costa rica 1 1 3 1 2
1986 belgium 3 3 4 paraguay 2 1 3 2 2

The positive news for the USA is that the "offensive" teams won 8, lost 4, and drew 3 in the final matchup of group play against the "defensive" teams, with a collective goal differential in that third matchup of 28 goals for, 18 goals against. Further, of the four losses, one was by Nigeria in 1998 to Paraguay, and Nigeria had already clinched first in the group before that match and rested starters, so it is arguably not a good comparison because the offensive team had nothing to play for. The four defensive teams on this list that, like Algeria, came in with one point as a result of 0 goals for and 1 goal against went a combined 0-3-1 in the third game.

This entry was posted on Monday, June 21st, 2010 at 12:26 am and is filed under World Cup. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.