The World Cup’s Opening Game: Fine Dining or a Yorkshire Pudding?

Brazil are the clear favourites to win this year’s World Cup and their opening game.  They play Croatia in front of a home crowd who’ll be expecting a return on all the money they’ve, a little grudgingly, poured into the tournament.

But is a Brazil win less likely than everyone thinks? Are opening games the great unknown equalisers of world football? Is a draw more likely?

Overall a draw happens in 1 out of 4 games

The very first international match of all time was Scotland vs. England in 1872, and it ended in a 0-0 draw. Did this herald a pattern for other opening matches to follow ever since? First, let’s take a look at the stats for all international matches.

Since that very first game, there’ve been over 34,000 international matches, 23% ending in a draw with ‘Friendlies’ most likely to finish this way. If you’re after a result your best bet is the Olympics.

But for World Cup opening group games it’s 1 out of 3

Second, let’s look at opening matches. These are much more likely to end in a draw, hugely more likely in fact.

Opening day matches end in a draw nearly one third of the time; when we excluded the 1934 and ’38 World Cups the proportion rose to 36%. Both of these World Cups didn’t have group stages but instead were entirely knock-out competitions.

So should FIFA make every game a knock out?

Should FIFA do the same with the next World Cup? We’d have fewer draws and maybe more exciting penalty shoot outs. But there’d only be 32 games (with 32 entrants, 31 have to lose plus 1 game to decide between 3rd and 4th) and it would all probably be done in a fortnight.

With the current format there are 64 glorious games of football to look forward to over 32 days. The competition is stretched out so fans can continue hoping their country’s flag will be proudly fluttering from car windows until the very end of the tournament for just that little bit longer.

And Hope, with a big ‘H’, really is what the World Cup is all about, Hope that your team will be the one still standing when all the others have gone home.

So perhaps a knock-out competition resembles a high quality Michelin-starred restaurant, brilliant food but the portions leave you wanting more. The group format is a more like your favourite local, big satisfying portions, a little hit and miss perhaps but something to sit back and enjoy.

This year Brazil are opening the tournament, a team who have played 6 opening games with 18 goals scored and only one draw. So will this World Cup’s starter be one to savour? We’re backing Brazil to win 3-1!

* For this analysis a game is classed as a ‘draw’ if it ends with scores level after normal and extra time.