LEANDRO SHARA’S ANALYSIS: The groups stage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup has finished and brought big surprises: happy for some and ugly for others.
Notably, Argentina and Mexico were close to missing out on the round of 16 but finally qualified thanks to ‘help’ from other matches. Germany, the defending champions, were knocked out from the tournament and finished last in their group.
Everyone expects that sports competitions will bring surprises but that they will be fair and nearly perfect after many decades of orgaisational experience.
But how fair and perfect is the Word Cup?
The central pillar of any competition is its format and the key attributes should be: competitiveness (encouragement to win), fairness and sports justice. So how does this tournament rate?
For the 32-team tournament, FIFA chose to continue with a combination of groups + knock out formats: a group stage round of 32 (consisting of 8 x 4-team groups) and knock out stage (round of 16, quarter-finals, semi-finals and final).
From a competitive standpoint the knock-out stages work well, since competiveness, fairness and sports justice are fulfilled.
But the groups stage is a different matter: Argentina and Japan qualified with four points each yet Iran and Senegal were eliminated with four points. Spain and Portugal qualified with five but by comparison with events in groups A, F or G, both would have been eliminated.
Is this truly fair?
Another issue is the level of competiveness of each match. In practical terms, a group of four requires six matches for a complete round. Each team play three out of the six matches. Thus, a quick and obvious calculation is that teams have a 50pc probability of calculating what exact scores they need to reach the next stage, minimising risks.
At the closing of the groups stage, Belgium and England played with minimum encouragement: both were already qualified and finishing top of the group offered minimal motivation. Denmark and France, in their last match, played to a 0-0 draw which was “convenient” for both.
The third issue with groups is that they frequently result in either “death” groups or “easy” groups, depending on which teams end up in them, thus the level of competitivess is often uneven. As an example, Group H (Colombia-Poland-Senegal and Japan) was very different to Group B (Spain-Portugal-Iran-Morocco).
A fourth an important issue with groups is that most teams are required to travel to another location for the next match, with the corresponding expense, reduction in concentration and the need to have team fans massively travelling from one city to other along the tournament.
The fifth issue with the groups format is the fact that the third match of the groups stage are played simultaneously, so as to prevent (or rather reduce) matchfixing or speculation.
In fact, the groups format has intrinsical pitfalls that cannot be solved and FIFA knows such. Perhaps, they think it is the least worst solution for the competition. In its origins, groups were proposed as a format to increase the number of matches that teams play. Should the World Cup operate through knock-out matches all along, the entire tournament would have 32 matches (including the match for the third place) instead of the current 64 matches and therefore drastically reducing revenue streams from TV rights, ticketing and so on.
Is there an alternative solution which ensures competiveness, fairness and sports justice in the round of 32 without relying on groups and having a 64 match tournament? The answer is yes.
MatchVision has developed a number of innovative copyright protected competition formats such as the Pots System © which resolve all the above issues. The 32 teams could compete for qualification to the round of 16 slots through a single general standings, in which the top 16 performers qualify; while still playing 3 matches in the first round and a total of 7 matches for the finalists. In short, the Pots Format © sorts all teams in 3 pots (ie. Pot A, Pot B and Pot C). Pots can be defined based on geography, past performance, FIFA rankings, qualifiers competitions performance or other criteria. Then, each team, regardless which Pot they are in, will play a match against an A team, a B team and a C team. The round of 16 would be sorted on a criteria that No. 1 plays No. 16; No. 2 plays No. 15 and so. This model encourages teams to win and get a higher position in the overall ranking implies that the next round opponents would be lower performing qualified teams. The Pots System © implies a number of additional rules and criteria, which overall ensures the three key criteria of a tournament: competitiveness, fairness and sports justice.
This format has been tested in a number of other sports and football competitions of lower profile such as Copa Peru (one of the largest amateur tournaments in the world). Later this year, CONCACAF will use it in the Nations League tournament.
Perhaps FIFA should consider reviewing an innovative format such as the Pots System © for what today is the largest and most important sports competition in the globe: The FIFA World Cup