The Fifa World Cup 2018 finals has been one of the most keenly contested tournaments so far, with several storied teams such as Spain, Argentina, and Germany exiting the tournament even before the quarterfinals. At the same time, several less fancied teams have punched above their weight.
The over-achievers are led by hosts Russia—which has had a dream run so far—and include teams such as Sweden and Croatia who have survived the knockout stage, a Mint analysis shows.
The analysis is based on pre-tournament Fifa rankings and World Cup performance rankings based on ratings provided by the football website Whoscored.com. The Whoscored.com ratings are computed live, by aggregating 200 raw statistics weighted by their relative importance in the context of the game. The difference between the two sets of rankings gives us a measure of the extent of over-achievement (or under-achievement).
The over-achievers include teams such as South Korea, Nigeria and Japan, who have exited the tournament but made their mark before doing so. Japan came close to pulling off a shock upset against title contender Belgium, while South Korea knocked out title-holder Germany, finishing ahead of them in Group F. Nigeria, despite being the lowest ranked African team, won plaudits for their attractive game play.
The biggest over-achiever by far has been Russia, which ranked 70 in the world ahead of the tournament, but qualified automatically by virtue of being the host nation. However, ever since Aleksandr Golovin and Denis Cheryshev led Russia’s rout of Saudi Arabia in the opening match, the hosts have had a surprisingly strong run, handing fancied Spain a shock defeat on their way to the last eight.
The biggest disappointments of the tournament are Germany, Argentina, and Poland. Defending champions Germany fell prey to the winners’ curse, failing to cope with the intensity of teams such as Mexico and South Korea. Argentina also disappointed their fans, including those in India, with their early exit from the tournament. Among teams that have survived the knockout stage, Brazil and France have managed to perform in line with their pre-tournament rankings, the analysis shows.
A confederation-wise analysis shows that Asian teams have exceeded expectations the most although no Asian team has made it to the last eight. Their status as overachievers owes much to the fact that they had low rankings to start with.
In the South American pool, Argentina and Peru have performed below par and. Europe has been a mixed bag, with teams such as Sweden and Croatia gaining at the expense of traditional powerhouses such as Spain and Germany. As we head to the business end of the tournament, there is the possibility of a new World Cup champion. Will host nation Russia, continue to prove the punters wrong with their fairy tale run? Or will Brazil coast through to a record breaking sixth title? We will have the answers in the next nine days.
Arjun Srinivas is a recipient of the Mint-Hindustan Times-HowIndiaLives Data Fellowship 2018.