An alternative format to determine World Cup Winners

After the semi-finals of 2014 FIFA World Cup two teams are deemed massive failures. This time all four semifinalists were unbeaten during group phase but none of them progressed that far after posting thumping victories.

Brazil the local favourites and unbeaten in competitive matches at home for eons were fortunate against Croatia and could not get past Ochoa in their second match against Mexico. Then they beat Chile on penalties and faced a nervous last ten minutes against Columbia. Yet they were favourites to lift the cup and no one grudges their place in last four.

Germany, clinical against Portugal, were tested by Ghana in a thrilling draw and huffed and puffed to beat USA. They could beat Algeria 2-1 only in extra time. Bookies favoured France in quarters but managed to progress to semis after scoring an early goal.

The Dutch won all three matches in their group including a very special 5-1 win against Spain, the defending champions. But in the round of 16, Mexico led the tie until the 88th minute but lost after 2 late goals. Supposedly they had the easiest opponent in Costa Rica at the quarterfinal stage which ended 0-0 after extra time. Tim Krul, the substituted goalkeeper, saved two penalties, This specialist saved 2 out of 20 penalties playing for Newcastle in Premier League.

Argentina scored the fewest goals amongst the final four. All three group stage wins were narrow especially the 1-0 win against Iran where Messi scored in injury time. The Swiss were equally obdurate in round of 16 who succumbed only in the 118th minute. Argentina scored an early goal against Belgium in quarters, not unlike Germany, to join the last four.

There we have the four teams – all deserving but none with a swagger of the champion. After two semi-finals we now know that Brazil lacked the bottle and van Gaal ensured the Dutch exit the moment he introduced Tim Krul to face penalties in the earlier match against Costa Rica؟

I am not a big fan of knock-out matches. During IPL 2014, I generated a picture scorecard for all 56 league matches and an objective team summary for the eight teams at the end of their 14th match. I deliberately avoided the last 4 play-off matches which are wonderful to crown the champion on a pre-determined date. A double round-robin format where each team plays everyone else is the best way to find the worthy champions.

With 32 teams and a 1 month window it is not feasible to use the vanilla version of this format. So the tweak involves 6 matches in a group of four teams played both at the beginning and end of the tournament, along with a two-legged knockout round in between.

The alternative is best explained by using the results from the current world cup. Instead of two teams qualifying from each group, only the winner will make the cut. The performance based table for the eight group winners appears here:

Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
 Netherlands 3 3 0 0 10 3 +7 9
 Colombia 3 3 0 0 9 2 +7 9
 Argentina 3 3 0 0 6 3 +3 9
 Belgium 3 3 0 0 4 1 +3 9
 Germany 3 2 1 0 7 2 +5 7
 Brazil 3 2 1 0 7 2 +5 7
 France 3 2 1 0 8 2 +6 7
 Costa Rica 3 2 1 0 4 1 +5 7

Four teams won all their group matches whereas the other four secured two wins and a draw. Goal Difference and Goals Scored are used as tie-breakers to decide the group rank. Germany and Brazil can’t be separated so their FIFA ranks before the tournament is used as a further tie-breaker.

These 8 teams will be narrowed down to last four based on the results of a knock out round. Since margins are narrow in football matches, we can argue that it will be difficult for an underdog to beat a superior team over two matches. Thus Nederlands(1) would have faced Costa Rica(8) twice for a place in the Golden Group. Other matches would involve Colombia against France, Belgium v Germany and the South American heavyweights Argentina and Brazil.

In this tournament, all 8 group winners beat the runners up in the Round of 16. So the quarterfinalists happen to be the same 8 teams indicated above. For simplicity, we may also use pre-determined knock-outs such as A1 vs C1, E1 vs G1, B1 vs D1 & F1 vs H1. Using QF results below:

France  lose to  Germany
Brazil  BEATS  Colombia
Argentina  DEFEATS  Belgium
Netherlands  Trump  Costa Rica

the final four to play in the golden group will be Germany, Brazil, Argentina & Netherlands. Two semi-finals, a third place play-off and the grand finale are played in the last week which effectively means that each team faces two of the remaining three. Instead six matches, only two more, will be played by these four teams to decide the champion. We can expect 6 thrilling encounters and the two teams that lose the opening matches (equivalent to semi-final) will get another chance to win the trophy. Using the two known results:

BRAZIL  1-7  GERMANY
NETHERLANDS  0-0 (AET)

2–4 (PENALTIES)

 Argentina

as the opening group matches, we can determine the next round. The next round should not be between winners Germany and Argentina. Instead if Brazil faces Argentina and Netherlands are up against Germany then both losing semi-finalists get one more chance to be in contention. Of course each match must end with a result which means draws lead to penalties. If both Germany and Argentina win again then the last round of matches will determine Champions and 3rd place winners. If both these teams lose then all four teams stand a chance to be crowned champions on the final day. If only one team manages to secure two wins in two matches even then it is still not guaranteed to finish top of the group. Thus irrespective of how these matches pan out, the champions will be determined after the last two games are played simultaneously.

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