QATAR 2022: WHY LOSING A GROUP GAME MAY NOT BE THE END OF THE ROAD!
Last Sunday, the much anticipated 2022 world cup commenced with the match opener that saw South American team, Ecuador trashing hosts Qatar two-nil in a not so appetizing game. From Sunday till now, a lot of drama and upsets have been witnessed, as favourites, like Argentina and Germany have been humbled and stunned by countries like Saudi Arabia and Japan, who are deemed as soccer paperweights and underdogs.
This unexpected turn of events have caused a lot of stir in the football world, with pundits and analysts asking questions as to why the mighty have been falling since Tuesday. As a matter of fact, the last thing on the mind of soccer enthusiasts is to see heavyweights like Argentina and Germany being forced into an uncomfortable spot in the group stage, it is really far from what they imagined.
This then begs the question, Does losing an opener mean outright elimination from the world cup?
To say the truth, given the nature of the game of football where the unexpected is bound to happen at any time, this early setback might just be a test for both Lionel Scaloni and Hansi Flick’s sides, after which they might even finish the group stage atop the log.
However, in the real sense of it, these sides are up for an uphill task if they will come out of the group stage at all. For example, in Group C, after this disappointing loss to Saudi Arabia, which happens to be the least talented in the group, on paper at least, getting a win and a draw against better teams like Mexico and Poland will require a lot of grit and hardwork.
In Germany’s case, losing to Japan has also constituted a dent to their campaign because the presence of Spain, which had trashed Costa Rica seven goals to nil, in that group has already condemned them to a herculean task to qualify as group leaders or even qualifying at all, with the hope that they might beat Costa Rica while Spain does justice to Japan, provided the Asians do not also prove a hard nut to crack to the Spaniards.
Usually, six points will be enough to see a team through to the knockout stages, provided that three of the four teams in the group do not tie as a result of accumulating six points. In the instance where two or three teams finish with the same amount of points, parameters such as; Goal difference, goals scored, head-to-head record, goal difference in the games between the tied teams, goals scored in the games between the tied teams and fair play record (amount of cards awarded) will be used to decide which team proceeds to the next round.
According to the athletic, the total amount of points garnered by group winners since the 1998 world cup —which was the first tournament where 32 teams competed, with two teams progressing from each four-team group— to 2018 world cup averaged at 7.28 points, that means a hypothetical group leader need to win 2 games and draw one in order to have 7 points.
On the other hand, runners up were said to have had an average of 5 points between 1998 and 2018, this suggesting a win and two draws to qualify as runners up in a group. In some really tight cases, four points will be just enough to squeeze a team through to the next round but there have been some exceptions where a team qualified with just three points, a very good instance of this is Chile in the 1998 world cup, who made it through into the last-16 without registering a single win. They drew all three of their group games— against Italy, Austria and Cameroon —and managed to beat the latter two nations to qualify as runners up in Group B.
While Chile’s case remains an exception, official statistics pegged the benchmark required to qualify for the knockout stage at four points, which could either be a win and a draw or four draws, depending on the performance of other group members.
With Mexico and Poland being Argentina’s main adversary in Group C, it only means one thing for Scaloni’s men and it is that they must have a win and a draw, which promises to be a very tough task to execute.
However, there are a couple of instances where a team that lost their opening game made it to the world cup final. Scaloni and his men will definitely be drawing inspiration from Carlos Bilardo’s Argentina side of 1990. Just like it happened to this Argentina side, Bilardo’s men lost 1-0 to Cameroon in their opening game and went on to make the final, where they were beaten 1-0 by West Germany.
In the 1982 world cup, West Germany lost their opener to Algeria but went on to make the final but lost to Italy. Twelve years later, Italy lost their first game to the Republic of Ireland but also went on to make the final which they eventually lost to Brazil. The only side to have lost an opener and go on after that to win the world cup is the all-conquering Vicente del Bosque’s Spain side. They lost 1-0 to Switzerland but won every other game till the final, where they got the better of Netherlands to lift the 2010 world cup trophy.
All of these signals to Lionel Scaloni’s Argentina side that there is still light at the end of the tunnel and theirs could be another success story with a rough start! We will all keep our fingers crossed…