By Daniel Blumenthal and Andrew Puopolo
Expanding upon our tradition of publishing 68 facts before March Madness every year, we decided to write a facts based preview for the World Cup. Below are 64 matches about this year’s World Cup, one each for the number of matches played.
1.) Germany, England, Spain, Belgium, Senegal, Tunisia and Iran all qualified for the World Cup without losing a match during qualifying.
2.) Australia played 22 matches to reach the World Cup, while the 5 African teams only played 8.
3.) Of the teams that qualified, Peru had the most losses in qualifying, with 6.
4.) Edinson Cavani was the top scorer in CONMEBOL qualifying with 10 goals.
5.) Switzerland failed to win their qualifying group despite having 9 wins and 1 loss, losing on goal difference to Portugal. Mathematically, 27 points from 30 possible is the most a team can achieve without guaranteeing victory in a group with a home/away format. They defeated Northern Ireland 1-0 over 2 legs in the UEFA playoffs.
6.) Robert Lewandowski had the most goals in UEFA qualifying (16).
7.) Both Egypt and Poland are largely one-man shows. Mohamed Salah and Lewandowski each scored more than half of their nation’s goals during qualifying.
8.) Belgium and Germany scored 43 goals in 10 qualifying matches, while England and France only scored 18.
9.) Spain and England only conceded 3 goals in 10 qualifying matches. They could be topped by Morocco, who only conceded 1 in 8 matches and 0 in their 6-match final group stage.
10.) On the flip side, Poland conceded 14 goals in 10 qualifying matches, while Peru conceded 26 in 20.
11.) Top teams that did not qualify for this year’s World Cup, ranked by number of previous appearances: Italy (18), Netherlands (10), U.S. (10), Chile (9)
12.) Morocco’s squad contains only 6 players that were born in Morocco. Of the 17 who were born abroad; 8 were born in France, 5 were born in the Netherlands, 2 in Spain, 1 in Belgium and 1 in Canada. Of the 6 Moroccan born players, 5 were born in Casablanca.
13.) Egypt and Argentina’s squads each have players whose club teams come from 4 different continents.
14.) Every single player in England’s squad plays their club football in the Premier League.
15.) Four coaches of World Cup teams (Héctor Cúper – Egypt, Ricardo Gareca – Peru, José Pékerman – Colombia, Jorge Sampaoli – Argentina) were born in Argentina, the most of any country.
16.) 13 of the 32 coaches at this year’s World Cup are not from the country they coach.
17.) 3 countries (Australia, Denmark and Switzerland) have coaches that are from countries that did not qualify for the World Cup (Netherlands, Norway and Bosnia & Herzegovina respectively).
18.) Only 2 members of Russia’s squad play in a foreign league (Vladimir Gabulov – Club Brugge, Denis Cheryshev – Villarreal).
19.) Croatia’s players come from club teams in 11 different countries – all in Europe.
20.) Every single player in Saudi Arabia’s squad plays their club football in Saudi Arabia or Spain.
21.) Nine players in Saudi Arabia’s final squad play their club football at Al-Hilal.
22.) Iceland’s final squad features 23 players who play club football in 14 different nations.
23.) Senegal and Sweden’s squads have no players who play their club football at home, while Iceland, Belgium, Nigeria and Switzerland only have 1.
24.) Morocco’s squad consists of 23 players who play for 22 different club teams. The only overlap is for the Dutch club Feyenoord, which employs both Karim El Ahmadi and Sofyan Amrabat.
25.) Manchester City has the most players (16) at the World Cup, including all 11 starters from their Premier League opener against Brighton. After Manchester City, the club teams with the most representatives are Real Madrid (15), Barcelona (14), PSG (12) and Tottenham Hotspur (12).
26.) 7 players in Poland’s squad are based in Italy, while 7 of Japan’s players are based in Germany.
27.) The second tier English Football League Championship will be well represented at this World Cup. Both Egypt and Australia’s squad contain 5 players who are employed by clubs currently in the Championship. Overall there will be 36 players who are employed by clubs who either played in the Championship this year or will next year, representing 14 different countries and 18 different clubs.
28.) This season, Egyptian midfielder Sam Morsy played his club football in the third tier of England with Wigan Athletic. He will be the only player at the World Cup who played in League One this past season.
29.) Panama and Costa Rica’s squad both have 6 players who play their club football in MLS.
30.) Despite Italy not qualifying for the World Cup, an astounding 58 players are based in Italy. In addition to the 7 Polish players mentioned above, 6 players in Croatia’s squad are based in Italy, and 5 players each from Uruguay, Argentina and Switzerland play in Serie A.
31.) Belgium’s squad contains 11 players who are based in England. 10 of those 11 players play for one of the Big Six clubs (with only Arsenal not represented), while Nacer Chadli plays for West Bromwich Albion (although he too used to play for Tottenham Hotspur).
32.) Mohamed Salah has scored 33 goals for the Egyptian national team. The other 22 players on Egypt’s World Cup squad have combined to score 32 international goals.
33.) As of June 4, England’s goalkeepers had 10 international caps combined. However, after Sergio Romero’s injury, Argentina matched their lack of experience – Argentina’s new group of goalkeepers have only 9 total caps.
34.) Ayoub El Kaabi is Morocco’s leading scorer (11 international goals) despite playing only 10 matches.
35.) Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 81 goals for the Portuguese national team, 69 more than his closest teammate (Andre Silva).
36.) The most common group stage matchups are Sweden vs. Germany and Spain vs. Portugal, which have both been played 36 times. More on both of those matchups later in the article.
37.) France last played Denmark in a competitive match at the 2002 World Cup. The Danes knocked off the French 2-0 as the defending champions were eliminated without scoring a goal. France defeated Denmark in the group stages of Euro 84 en route to the title on home soil, while Denmark returned the favor in the Euro 92 group stages en route to their own home title. France also defeated Denmark in the group stages at Euro 2000 on their way to another title, but unfortunately that tournament was not held in France.
38.) Argentina and Nigeria will meet in the group stage for the 3rd successive World Cup. Argentina triumphed 1-0 in 2010, and 3-2 in 2014. They two countries also met in the 1994 and 2002 World Cups, with Argentina taking both matches. Fret not Nigeria fans, The Super Eagles defeated Argentina in their most recent matchup, a 4-2 friendly success in November 2017.
39.) Despite both being members of UEFA, Switzerland and Serbia have never played against each other. They will meet for the first time on June 22.
40.) Brazil and Costa Rica have met 10 times, with Brazil winning 9 and Costa Rica’s sole win coming back in 1960. The most notable of these matches was Brazil’s 5-2 win over Costa Rica in the final group stage match of the 2002 World Cup.
41.) Sweden and Germany were drawn in the same group for 2014 World Cup Qualifying. The teams combined for 16 goals across the 2 matches. In the first match, Sweden roared from 4-0 down in the 62nd minute to draw 4-4 in Berlin while in the second match Germany erased a 2-0 deficit to win 5-3 in Stockholm.
42.) The last competitive match between Mexico and South Korea took place in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2002, which is traditionally reserved for only North American teams, but in the past has invited teams from other confederations. South Korea won the match on penalties.
43.) Germany and Mexico met in last year’s Confederations Cup, with Germany winning 4-1. Germany (or to be more precise West Germany) thrashed Mexico 6-0 in the 1978 World Cup.
44.) South Korea lost 1-0 on home soil in the semifinals of the 2002 World Cup to Germany.
45.) Belgium have only defeated England twice in 21 games. The most notable matchup betweeen the two countries was a 1-0 win for England in the 1990 World Cup last 16 courtesy of a 119th minute goal from David Platt.
46.) Tunisia have met both Belgium and England in past World Cups. They were defeated 2-0 by England in 1998 but earned a 1-1 draw with Belgium in 2002.
47.) Panama are the only team in the World Cup who have never played against any of their three group stage opponents.
48.) Poland won their first 4 matches with Japan, but Japan have taken the last 2 (all six matches were friendlies).
49.) Colombia defeated Japan 4-1 in the final group stage game of 2014 World Cup.
50.) Spain and Portugal last met in the Euro 2012 semifinals, with Spain prevailing on penalties and stranding Cristiano Ronaldo from taking the last shot. Spain also defeated Portugal 1-0 in the World Cup Round of 16 in 2010, but Portugal defeated Spain 1-0 in the Euro 2004 group stages. The record between the two countries is nice for numbers geeks: Played: 36, Spain wins: 18, Draws: 12, Portugal Wins: 6.
World Cup History:
51.) At the time of the draw, Saudi Arabia (63) and Russia (65) were the 2 lowest-ranked teams to be placed in the same World Cup group since the FIFA World Rankings began in 1992. Russia were also the lowest-ranked team to qualify for this World Cup.
52.) Harry Kane is the youngest ever England captain at a World Cup. The previous youngest captain, Bobby Moore, was 25 when England won the World Cup in 1966.
53.) Mexico have the most World Cup appearances (16) of any country to never win the competition.
54.) Portugal, Spain and Morocco meet in Group B. This is a record for the closest pairwise distance between 3 countries in a group stage.
55.) The host country has only failed to advance from the group stage once (South Africa, 2010). South Africa entered that World Cup ranked 83rd, so Russia (65) are a little bit ahead of them.
56.) Iceland and Panama are making their World Cup debuts this year.
57.) 3 of the last 4 defending champions have been knocked out in the group stage. In addition, no team has won consecutive World Cups since Brazil in 1958 and 1962.
58.) Germany have made the semifinals at 4 straight World Cups.
59.) Only 2 of the Russian stadiums have a capacity of greater than 50,000, the first time this has happened since 1998.
60.) South Korea have the worst all-time goal differential in World Cups, having been outscored by 36 goals across 31 matches.
61.) The only time a non-European country won a World Cup that was staged in Europe was in 1958, when Brazil prevailed over hosts Sweden. On the contrary, Germany’s win in 2014 was the only time a European team has won a World Cup staged in South America.
62.) Mexico have lost in the Round of 16 at 6 straight World Cups. The only times they have advanced past the second round were in 1970 and 1986, when they were the hosts.
63.) Egypt’s 45-year-old goalkeeper, Essam El Hadary, will become the oldest player in World Cup history. He is more than 25 years older than this year’s youngest player, Daniel Arzani of Australia, who was born on January 4th, 1999.
64.) At 9,361 miles, Australia and Peru are the two farthest countries geographically in the group stage. They will meet in Sochi, which is 7,589 miles away from Australia and 7,883 miles from Peru. These two countries are accustomed to travel though, as their final round of qualifiers were also marathon distances; Australia played Honduras (9,756 miles) while Peru played New Zealand (6,818).