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STATS: What to expect in the round of 16 and why winning your group is so important

by Andy Mullins | June 27, 2014

Wow! What a two weeks we’ve had. Right now we’re doing the football equivalent of smoking in bed, still gasping and hazily saying ‘that’s the best we’ve ever had’.

A World Cup in Brazil always had the potential to be spectacular but expecting it to be this good was more ill-advised than man-marking Luis Suarez before he’s had his dinner.  A record amount of goals, some big boys heading home early and some grievous bodily harm – it’s been brilliant.

No sooner do we get our breath back after the group stages than we arrive at the Round of 16. We could dissect the stats and try to explain what went wrong with England, Spain, Portugal and Italy. However, given most of those players are already on sun loungers, sipping on Del Boy style cocktails, they don’t seem bothered by it so why should we?

Chaff rubbing shoulders with the wheat

The last 16 is an odd point in the tournament. While the group stage is there to separate the wheat and the chaff, it’s quite clear that a decent amount of chaff will still be rubbing shoulders with the high quality wheat. Teams sneaking a win and a draw and squeaking through the groups on four points will face opponents who swaggered through and will harbour secret or not so secret hopes of winning it.

The Last 16 stage as we now know it has only existed for seven of the 19 World Cups. Not long in the grand scheme of falling to the ground under minimal contact, but enough to pick out some interesting trends. Well ‘interesting’ depends how nerdy you are about football, but we did it nonetheless.

Looking through the history books, we attempted to answer two questions. First and foremost – ‘do teams who win their progress to the quarter-finals more than the second place teams?’ and second and hindmost – if that’s a saying – ‘what tends to happen in Round of 16 matches?’

Using our brains and a decent amount of Photoshop, we present to you the results.

World Cup 2014 Round of 16 Take it from the top

The first time the round of 16 was played was at Mexico in 1986. Prior to the expansion of the number of competing teams from 24 to 32 in 1998, there were only six groups at the tournament. This meant that there was a place in the last 16 for the four best third placed sides. Since then, overall we see an increasing trend towards teams who finish higher in the group stages making progress to the last eight.

Of the six teams that topped their groups in 1986, only 50% of them made it through the quarter-finals. In the two tournaments that followed this rose to 66%, with four of the six group toppers winning their last 16 games.

In 1998, following the tournament’s expansion, 75% of the eight sides who won their groups went on to win in the first-knock out stage. This dropped to 62.5% in 2002 when Turkey England and Senegal all made it through to the quarter-finals in spite of finishing runner up in their respective groups.

However in Germany in 2006 the figure returned to 75% when only France and Ukraine made it through to the final eight. Four years ago in South Africa, we got a record high success rate of 87.5% – meaning seven of the eight group winners made it through to the quarter-finals. That’s good news if you fancy Costa Rica to continue their fairytale, but less promising if you’re a Yank currently speed-reading their way through the ‘Dummies Guide to Soccerball’.

World Cup 2014 Round of 16 Sweet 16

With the curious mix of favourites facing off against teams who are just happy not to be on their summer holidays yet, we wanted to see if there was a typical type of game we could expect to see in the World Cup Round of 16. Are the games tepid, cagey affairs or are they looser than a teenager in Kavos for the summer?

The short answer is ‘they’re a bit of everything’. We’ve got matches packed full of goals and entertainment, but then a handful of games that bore right up to the point both teams say ‘F*ck it. Our best chance is penalties’. In general, there’s a fairly even spread of the break of matches. A couple are usually won easily enough (2 goals or more winning margin), a few more are normally decided by a single goal with the remaining games going to extra-time and sometimes penalties.

The short summary is:

  • Generally, two or three games are decided by more than two goals and the same number go down to a single goal
  • In six of the seven Rounds of 16, precisely one of the eight games has gone to penalties
  • Germany are kings of the Round of 16 – winning their game in all seven Last 16s

The longer summary isn’t that much longer. Some games will be tight. Colombia v Uruguay, Costa Rica v Greece, Netherlands v Mexico and Belgium v USA look like potentially close games with France, Germany and Argentina being handed possibly more comfortable assignments. Brazil v Chile could go either way, so good luck with that.

The groups have given the knock-out stages a lot to live up to. And all we can say for certain is that around 37.5% of the time, the Round of 16 provides high drama all the time.




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