Thursday, June 17, 2010

ATH: Some First Round Analysis from USNTPA

From the US National Team Players Association

Winning The First Game

By Michael Lewis -- Ten National Teams must be feeling pretty good about themselves these days in South Africa. Why? They have a better than good chance of reaching the second round of the World Cup.

South Korea, Argentina, Slovenia, Germany, Ghana, the Netherlands, Japan, Brazil, Chile and Switzerland posted wins in their first game, putting them in the drivers seat to play another match day, a fourth match day.

Of course, nothing is automatic in the World Cup. History tells us it is virtually a must to win your first game if you want to participate in the round of 16. The numbers do not lie.

Since group play was instituted for the first round in 1950, countries that win their first match have moved onto the next round 82.5 percent of the time (85-18). Teams that have lost their opening games have gotten out of the first round only 17.6 percent of the time (20-94). And if you tie, you have more than a fighting chance - 61.5 percent (48-30) of playing in the second round.

That's why it was so important for the USA to tie England. The Americans have a lifeline, securing a point in their first match, their most difficult one. That makes Friday's encounter with Slovenia a must-not-lose situation. They can tie the Slovenians (1-0-0, three points) and stay alive, setting up a June 23rd confrontation where they would have to win. Or, they could win and make life a lot easier for themselves.

"The most important thing is... a point in your first game," US right back Steve Cherundolo said. "It doesn't matter who it's against. A loss in the first game of a World Cup in round play is devastating to your chances of making the next round."

Indeed, it is. Just take a look at the US history at the World Cup. The numbers hold quite well.

  • In 1930, the Americans defeated Belgium, 3-0 in their opening game and made it to the semifinals.
  • In 1950, the U.S. dropped a 3-1 decision to Spain and did not get out of its group.
  • In 1990, the Americans were drubbed by the Czech Republic, 5-1, and were eliminated in the first round.
  • In 1994, the hosts managed a 1-1 draw with Switzerland and reached the second round.
  • In 1998, the U.S. dropped a 2-0 decision to Germany and did not qualify for the round of 16.
  • In 2002, the Americans surprised Portugal, 3-2, and managed to reach the quarterfinals, their second-best showing.
  • And in 2006, the U.S. was spanked by the Czech Republic, 3-0, and failed to reach the second round. Incidentally, despite the great start, the Czechs did not make it to the round of 16.

If we read the World Cup tea leaves correctly, the American side should be playing in Rustenburg on June 26th or in Bloemfontein on June 27th. We'll see how that tie holds up for the US when it plays Slovenia on Friday.

Some Historical Background

Just in case you were wondering, the unlucky 18 teams that won their first game but for some reason were eliminated in the opening round were: Yugoslavia (1950), Uruguay ((1962), Argentina (1962), Brazil (1966), Italy (1966), Belgium (1970), Scotland (1974), Italy (1974), Tunisia (1978), Algeria (1982), Hungary (1982), Scotland (1982), Portugal (1986) and Norway (1994), Costa Rica (2002), Argentina (2002), Russia (2002) and the Czech Republic (2006).

The fortunate 20 nations that lost their opening game but reached the second round and beyond were: Yugoslavia (1962), England (1962), Hungary (1966), North Korea (1966), Argentina (1974), West Germany (1982 and reaching the championship game before falling to Italy, 3-1), Argentina (1982), France (1982), Soviet Union (1982), Belgium (1986 - finishing fourth), Spain (1986), England (1986), Argentina (1990 - losing in the championship game to Germany, 1-0), Yugoslavia (1990), Bulgaria (1994 - finishing fourth), Mexico (1994), Italy (1994 - in the championship game to Brazil via penalty kicks), Saudi Arabia (1994), Turkey (2002- finishing third), and Ghana (2006). No team has lost its first match and won the World Cup.

In fact, 13 of those 20 countries advanced thanks to the wild card berths at the 1982, 1986, 1990 and 1994 Cups. Since there won't be any wild card team in 2010, it's just about mandatory to win and survive to play at least another day.

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