With the opening match just over 100 days away and the phrase “world cup” being bandied around in the Football Index Twittersphere like there’s no tomorrow, I decided It was time to launch the second edition of my “World Cup Fever” articles. If you missed the first one, based on European sides, you can read it here.
This time around the focus is on the South American sides in the tournament and how they fared in Qualifying. The qualification in this part of the world is much more representative than here in Europe, since every team plays each other in one big group meaning no one gets a plane-sailing ride into Russia without facing some big guns first and although they only have five teams in the competition, it’s certainly a case of quality over quantity, with these five teams having a combined chance of winning the tournament of 32.1% according to Opta, with Brazil and Argentina inside the top three with a 14.2% and 10.9% chance respectively.
Starting up-top and getting the obvious ones out the way, you can’t mention the World Cup and not talk about Neymar. Although the Brazilian only managed six goals in his fourteen appearances during qualifying (putting him joint second top scorer for Brazil) playing out wide of a front three has seen him rack up the most assists (8) in the whole of qualifying, as well as creating the most chances with 42 and having the most shots with 49, which makes it no surprise that Brazil was the highest scoring team with 41 goals and showing he is the focal point of the team and arguably justifying why he is so well thought after on the Index. Now we’ve set the benchmark, let’s have a look at who else could be set up to top the forward category. If you’re looking for goals, Edison Cavani was the man who topped the leaderboard with 10 in 15 games, including six opening goals, two of which were game winning goals and in a group with Russia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, he certainly has a chance to bag a couple more. Gabriel Jesus and Messi (shock) came in as second top scorers with 7, which for Messi, accounted for 37% of Argentina’s goals.
In the Midfield, the most goals came from James Rodriguez with 6 goals, all of which were the opening goal. The Columbian also picked up 4 assists and created 25 chances in his 13 games and will also have plenty of chance to perform in a group with Poland, Senegal and Japan as well as facing someone from England’s group, should his side progress. If you’re looking for more creativity than goals then a cheap option may be Angel Di Maria, who made the most crosses by over 30% in qualifying with 127, he also created 24 chances however it’s worth noting with Argentina’s underwhelming 19 goals in 18 games, he failed to make the assist leaderboard, meaning he picked up three at the most.
If it seems that the options mentioned above are slim pickings, its because they are. Take Brazil out of the equation and you have an average of 22 goals per side over 18 games which shows how offence really is only half the story for the majority of the South Americans. So it’s no surprise to see an impressive number of cleansheets, with Brazil leading the way on 10 and Argentina and Uruguay tied in second on 8. Of these impressive defensive performances, Nicolas Otamendi stands out for his passing ability, as he does at City, with the fourth highest number of passes at 865 in 15 games, as well as completing the most clearances with 82. Dani Alves also shone for Brazil, completing the most passes with 1227. A slightly less obvious option is Diego Godin of Uruguay who made 71 as well as being involved in 8 cleansheets and chipping in with three goals, two of which were match winners.
Focusing less on qualification statistics, it’s clear there’s a number of valuable players in the South American sides, especially within Brazil and Argentina’s squads, who definitely have a good chance of progressing well into the tournament. Brazil’s outstanding creativeness and goal scoring ability means anyone in the team is capable of grabbing a goal and could easily take a performance dividend. We’ve seen great scoring so far this season from the likes of Marcelo, Coutinho and Dybala and it’s expected they’ll be able to continue that to help their respective countries progress in the tournament. It’s the first time since the world cup began that a South American team hasn’t won it in a twelve year period so you can be sure they’ll be desperate to land the top spot this time around.
Written by @FootballIndexLM