The Weekend Preview is a blog that aims to provide a different angle on the narrative of an upcoming sporting event.

FIFA World Cup: Australia vs. Peru

FIFA World Cup: Australia vs. Peru

Tuesday Afternoon, 26th June 2018 at Fisht Stadium, Sochi

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After 2 games played, Argentina are in crisis, Brazil have narrowly avoided disaster, Peru are scoreless, Uruguay have been lacklustre and Colombia have just recovered from a calamitous opening game. What's going wrong for the South American teams? Or, after Colombia's impressive 3-0 win against Poland, is the tide finally going to turn in favour of the South Americans?

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The 10 teams that make up the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) take part in the most hotly contested World Cup qualifying tournament. Home and Away over 18 games, the top 4 make it directly through to the World Cup finals, whilst the 5th placed team takes part in an inter-confederation play-off. The collective strength of the confederation has time and again been proven on the World Stage. In the last 3 World Cups (2006, 2010 & 2014), 13 of the 15 qualified South American teams have progressed from the Group stage. No other confederation can compete with that strike rate.

Furthermore, more than any other confederation, the form from the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers holds strong at the World Cup proper. In fact the group stage of the World Cup finals could be considered easier than the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers. Collectively, the qualified South American teams average about 1.5 goals per game during qualifying whilst conceding about 1.0 goals per game. Typically they maintain this scoring average at the World Cup whilst tightening up their defence, as shown in Figure-1 and Figure-2. So far at the 2018 World Cup, the South American teams are still keeping their opposition on average to less than a goal per game, but there has been a noticeable drop in their scoring output. It is this drop in scoring that has been holding the South Americans back in Russia.

 Figure-1: South American Qualifying/World Cup Form Comparison - Goals Scored

Figure-1: South American Qualifying/World Cup Form Comparison - Goals Scored

 Figure-2: South American Qualifying/World Cup Form Comparison - Goals Conceded

Figure-2: South American Qualifying/World Cup Form Comparison - Goals Conceded

So what is going on? Quite simply, the South American teams have been inefficient in converting their attempts on goal into actual goals. Brazil have had 43 attempts for only 3 goals (7% conversion rate), whilst Argentina have had 36 attempts for only a single goal (3% conversion rate). Peru have tried hard, but they have been unable to convert any of their 28 attempts into a goal. Only Colombia can claim to have been efficient in their opening 2 games (19% conversion rate).

Across all 32 teams after the completion of their first 2 matches, the average goals from attempts conversion is 11%. Russia is leading the way scoring 8 goals from only 24 attempts at a remarkable conversion rate of 33%. This rate of conversion by Russia is unsustainable, but similarly it could be argued that the poor conversion of Brazil, Argentina and even Germany (5% conversion rate) is equally unsustainable.

Obviously the total number of attempts does not necessarily reflect the quality of the opportunities created, but it is difficult to imagine that the likes of Brazil and Argentina lack the creative quality to make more of their opportunities. If they manage to make it out of their respective groups, Brazil and Argentina are certainly teams that any country would want to avoid.

 Figure-3: Goal Scoring Performance of all 32 teams with South American teams (and Australia) highlighted

Figure-3: Goal Scoring Performance of all 32 teams with South American teams (and Australia) highlighted

But what about Australia? In the Figure above, Australia is shown to have been quite efficient in converting their 18 attempts into 2 goals (11% conversion rate). However, both these goals have come from the penalty spot and Australia's inability to create opportunities in open play remains concerning.

One of Australia's problems is adapting their play from Asian World Cup qualifying to the World Cup. Asian form from World Cup qualifying holds up very poorly at the World Cup, as shown in Figure-4 and Figure-5. Goals scored per game are halved, whilst goals conceded typically quadruple. Playing stacked defences and dominating possession in qualifying to playing the exact opposite at the World Cup is clearly something the Asian teams have struggled to adapt to. Although, after 2 games at the 2018 World Cup there does appear to be at least a slight improvement in the goals conceded column.

 Figure-4: Asian Qualifying/World Cup Form Comparison - Goals Scored

Figure-4: Asian Qualifying/World Cup Form Comparison - Goals Scored

 Figure-5: Asian Qualifying/World Cup Form Comparison - Goals Conceded

Figure-5: Asian Qualifying/World Cup Form Comparison - Goals Conceded

Australia have not kept a clean sheet at the World Cup since a 0-0 draw with Chile in 1974. The Socceroos defence may hold up well against Asian opposition, but at the World Cup finals, the classier opposition take their opportunities. Peru may have been kept scoreless in their opening 2 games, but given they have had 28 attempts it hasn't been for lack of trying. With their elimination already confirmed, the pressure is now off for Peru, and up against an Australian team that has it all to play for it is difficult to imagine that Peru don't get at least a goal out of this game.

But how many goals can Australia score? Australia have struggled to score in open play, and may need to be reliant on set pieces. Further opportunities from the penalty spot not withstanding, this will mean they will need to make the most of their height/aerial advantage over the Peruvians. But true to their South American pedigree, Peru have managed to keep it tight defensively and limit their opposition to only the solitary goal in both their games so far. Australia are yet to beat a South American team at a World Cup (1 draw, 2 losses) and yet again they may struggle to find the goals they need to force a result.

Prediction: DRAW, 1-1

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