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What are the World Cup Qualifying Playoff trends?

by: Michael Gales - posted on: 14-Nov-2013

Ahead of the World Cup Qualifying Playoffs on 15th & 19th November we look at what trends have preceded the four previous campaigns. Is there a benefit playing at home second, how rare are goals and how often has a tie gone to extra time?

Is there a benefit playing away first?

We are often told that it’s better to play at home in the second-leg of any knockout tournament, and it’s no different in the World Cup qualifying playoffs. But is this second-leg advantage simply a misconception?

Yes. We have already quashed this phenomenon in an article that looks at the misconception in the Champions League knockout stages. Looking at the past four World Cup qualifying playoffs in Europe 53% of nations playing at home second qualified for the World Cup. The data range is very small however, given there have been only15 European World Cup Qualifying playoff games.

The odds back up the data as they suggest two nations – Portugal (1.575*) and Greece (1.763*) – are favourites to qualify playing their first-leg at home, while Croatia (1.227*) and France (1.351*) are fancied to finish the job at home in the second-leg, which is more about the strength of the nation.

How have the best & worst qualifiers performed?

Once the top teams of qualifying have been decided, the best runners-up progress to the playoffs. Are the teams who qualified second with the most and least points more or less likely to progress?

In the four previous World Cup qualifying campaigns the team to qualify for the playoffs with the worst record has failed to progress, while only Italy and the Czech Republic in 1998 and 2006 respectively have been the best qualifiers and progressed through the playoffs. And in Italy’s case won in 2006.

Croatia were the worst qualifiers this year but are favourites to become the first team to progress when they play Iceland, while Greece are also favoured to beat Romania after finishing top of the playoff qualifiers.

Are the playoffs a goal fest?

With so much at stake in World Cup qualifying playoffs one could assume that they are tight affairs. However there have been on average 18 goals per year, at an average of 2.46 goals per leg, nearly five per tie.

Since 1998 the number of goals during the playoffs has reduced year-on-year at a high of 25 goals in 1998 – skewed by Yugoslavia’s 12-1 aggregate win against Hungary – to just ten goals in 2010.

In 30 World Cup qualifying playoff games there has been just one goalless draw – Greece’s 0-0 at home to Ukraine in 2010 – and 17 cleansheets at an average of 4.25 per tournament.

Is there a need for extra time, penalties & away games?

Bettors who are betting on the second-leg should be aware that no European World Cup qualifying playoff game has been decided by a penalty shoot-out.

It is also worth noting that the 2010 tie between Ireland and France has been the only tie to be decided by extra time, and only two previous ties have been settled by away goals.

Will experience be key?

We looked at the last four World Cup qualifying and European playoffs to look at the eight teams’ historic performances in playoffs.

Aside from Sweden and Iceland all nations have been involved at least once in a playoff format for either a World Cup or European Championships.

Portugal (2 tournaments) have a 100% record in playoffs alongside France (1), Greece (1) and Croatia (3). In comparison Romania lost their only World Cup qualifying playoff in 2002, while Ukraine have been cursed in playoff games; losing all four ties.

These World Cup Qualifying Playoff trends should be considered but not relied on – the data range as mentioned is small – in addition to a bettors own research to give them a improved chance of making a profit on 2014 World Cup Qualifying Playoff betting.

Click here to see the latest World Cup qualifying playoff odds.