Good Hosts and Bad Hosts
It’s Friday again, and that uneasy feeling rising in your belly is most likely because Friday means it’s Dotmund‘s World Cup preview day here on Twohundredpercent. This week, he’s been looking at the fortunes of the host nations of the tournament.
Until someone figures out how to astroturf the moon and stop the corner flags floating away, all major sporting events have to take place somewhere. And when you have somewhere, you can rest assured that someone already lives there. The host nation and the home advantage are here to stay.
Arguably, for the game of football, it shouldn’t make a great deal of difference. Many stadia in the world are identikit constructions, and the dimensions of the field of play and the equipment to be used are rigorously stipulated. Nevertheless, time and time again, it tends to make a positive difference. Put simply, being the host nation of a World Cup tends to get you further into the competition.
However, if one were to argue that this is because it makes teams play better, there is an anomalous fact to consider: that it can also let you play worse yet get away with it. Since the inception of the World Cup in 1930, the eventual winners’ have played 109 games combined, with 90 of these games being wins and just three being losses. Two of these were by nations who went on to lift the trophy on home turf – West Germany in 1974 (0-1 to East Germany) and Argentina in 1978 (0-1 to Italy). Of all the winning nations, only one has managed to overcome defeat in the finals and yet still ultimately prevail away from their home soil. That honour goes to West Germany, who lost 8-3 to the great Hungarian team in the group stage of the 1954 tournament in Switzerland. Of course, when they met again in the final, it was the German team who won a famous 3-2 victory.
There have been eighteen World Cup finals tournaments, hosted by 15 different countries. On six occasions, the host has gone on to be the winner – the first tournaments in Uruguay and Italy (1930 and 1934), then England (1966), West Germany (1974), Argentina (1978) and France (1998). There are also six host countries who remained unbeaten throughout, even considering West Germany and Argentina’s group stage losses in 1974 and 1978. In addition to Uruguay (1930), Italy (1934), England (1966) and France (1998), Mexico (1986 quarter-finalists) and Italy (1990 semi-finalists) both avoided defeat throughout, instead being eliminated in penalty shoot-outs.
Six is very much the magic number here, as it is also the amount of additional incidences where the hosts’ performances still represent their best ever World Cup display. These are Sweden (1958 finalists), Chile (1962 quarter-finalists), Mexico (1970 and 1986 quarter-finalists) and Japan and South Korea (2002, second round and semi-finalists respectively). In the latter two cases, neither country had even won a World Cup finals game before the start of the tournament.
On average, the World Cup host played 5 games per tournament, winning 3, drawing 1 and losing the other, scoring ten times and conceding four. This not only compares favourably to the average record for the eventual winner of each World Cup tournament (P6 W5 D1 L0 F14 A4), it would mean a quarter-final place if extrapolated onto the modern-day World Cup format. Of all the World Cup hosts, only three failed to win at least 50% of their games (Switzerland 1954, Spain 1982 and United States 1994) Of the remaining 16 (with Japan and South Korea counted separately), over half boast a win ratio of over 65 percent.
The host nation of a World Cup finals tournament is yet to fall at the first hurdle. It was quite widely thought that South Africa could well be the team to finally break this hoodoo and gallop out in the group stages with flying colours. After their very respectable display in last summer’s Confederations Cup, this concern has been somewhat diminished. Nevertheless, so as to make them feel better – and to counter all this saccharine talk of success thus far today – I’ve decided to finish off with a look at the five World Cup host nations with the worst statistical record.
5th: Japan (2002)
P 4 W 2 D 1 L 1 F 5 A 3
In 2002, Japan got to the second round for the first time in their history, having never previously won so much as a game in the finals tournament. However, their achievement was dwarfed rather by their co-hosts across the Sea of Japan, South Korea reaching the semi-finals. Nevertheless, their 2002 campaign being, statistically at least, the fifth-worst yet seen in the World Cup finals speaks volumes for the overall levels of success enjoyed by host nations.
Japan topped a very average group in the first round, with an opening 2-2 draw against Belgium followed by two victories, 1-0 against an underperforming Russia side and 2-0 against Tunisia, before a narrow 1-0 reverse to a Turkey side, who went on to finish third overall, in the last sixteen.
4th: Switzerland (1954)
P 4 W 2 D 0 L 2 F 11 A 11
Switzerland emerged from a tough group with England, Belgium and Italy. With unseeded teams not playing one another, Switzerland did not face Belgium. They began against the Italians in Lausanne – which ended with a fine 2-1 win – and followed this with a 2-0 loss to England at Wankdorf. In a play-off with Italy to decide who won the quarter final place, Switzerland again excelled, beating Italy 4-1 in Basel. Come the knockout stage, the Swiss succumbed to Austria in Lausanne. Despite Switzerland being 3-0 up after 20 minutes, the teams came off at half time with Austria 5-4 ahead. Eventually, Switzerland lost 7-5 in a remarkable game, refereed by the splendidly-named Scot, Charlie Faultless.
3rd: Spain (1982)
P 5 W 1 D 2 L 2 F 4 A 5
The 1982 tournament was run to an unusual format, with a second round-robin stage of three teams following on from the traditional first group of four. Without this, there’s little chance that its host would have lasted as long as they did. A very average first round saw them finish second to a Northern Ireland team who famously beat them in Valencia with a goal from Gerry Armstrong. An opening draw with Honduras hardly set the world alight, but a vital 2-1 win against Yugoslavia proved enough in a group where the teams all took points off of each other. In the second round, Spain could offer only a further loss – 2-1 to eventual finalists West Germany – and a 0-0 draw with England in Madrid, notable for being Kevin Keegan’s sole World Cup finals outing.
Along with the United States in 1994, the Spanish team of 1982 are one of only two host nations to score less goals during the course of the tournament than they conceded.
2nd: United States (1994)
P 4 W 1 D 1 L 2 F 3 A 4
The United States have quite a lengthy history in the World Cup finals, being one of the semi-finalists in the inaugural tournament. However, for all the furore that surrounded their finals in 1994, you’d not have believed the average American had ever seen a football before. Sadly for a tournament that did such great things for the sport, the USA team failed to live up to the hype. One of the rare incidences of a host nation producing a worse performance than they had managed before or since, the US began with a 1-1 draw against Switzerland, the first World Cup game ever played indoors. This was followed by a fine 2-1 win against a good Colombia side and a 1-0 defeat to Romania.
1994 being the last tournament to feature 24 rather than 32 teams, USA scraped through in 3rd place, to be rewarded with a tie against favourites – and eventual champions – Brazil. They lost to a single second-half Bebeto goal.
1st: France (1938)
P 2 W 1 D 0 L 1 F 4 A 4
The 1938 World Cup finals was a straight knockout format, and as a result France’s record for the fewest games played by any host nation is likely to stand for all time, unless something insane happens. Let’s hope it does not. France began well in 1938, scoring in the first minute of their first game and going on to beat Belgium 3-1 in their opener. In the second round, however, they came up against the holders Italy at Colombes. Italy won 3-1, with two goals from Silvio Piola, and the team – who famously wore a politically-motivated all-black kit for the game – went on to retain their title.
And as for South Africa? Well, the South African team has qualified for two World Cup finals, in 1998 and 2002. Never past the first round, their combined record is nevertheless a decent Played 6, Won 1, Drawn 3, Lost 2. This gives them a similar record going into their own finals as the one held by Mexico prior to the 1970 tournament. Like South Africa, they had won one World Cup finals game and drawn 3. However, they had a rather more impressive thirteen previous losses, garnered from six previous appearances. Will South Africa prevail from Group A? You’ll have to read my (no doubt) insightful World Cup 2010 previews, starting from next Friday!