Winning First: Women’s World Cup Football

Last week, I wrote about winning first in cricket (link). That post was informed by a generic interest in winning first in tournament play.

I did follow closely, the 2019 Women’s Football World Cup and have a Google Sheet of the tournament (link). One of my interests was how the Elo rated teams performed. My estimates for 2019 were informed by two priors from the 2015 tournament hosted in Canada (link). In 2015, in the Group Games, 86% of the games were not lost by the higher Elo rated scoring first (31 games out of 36). In the Knockout Phase, in 82% of games the higher Elo rated team that scored first did not lose (13 games out of 16).

Scoring first in tournament play is, I think, very important and has direct relevance about how teams prepare for the first game. There is only one home team and in 2019 it was France (link).

In the first round in France, 10 of the 12 games were won by the higher Elo rated teams. The two exceptions were: Australia v Italy; Japan v Argentina. Australia lost to Italy 1v2 and Japan drew with Argentina 0v0. At that time, Australia was rated 9 Elo ratings above Italy and Japan 30 above Argentina. I believe both results had profound implications for Australia and Japan. In Australia’s case, Australia scored first and lost.

In the remaining Group Games, 11 out of 12 games were won by the higher Elo rated team (the exception was Nigeria v Korea Republic) in the second round of games. The third round of games was much more volatile. 7 of the 12 games were won by higher Elo rated teams. These games saw teams looking to qualify for the knockout stages. In these games: Spain drew with China PR; Scotland drew with Argentina; Canada lost to the Netherlands; New Zealand lost to the Cameroon; and Thailand lost to Chile.

In total, 81% of Group Games in 2019 were not lost by the higher Elo rated team (the figure in 2015 was 86%). The percentages by Group Games were: Round 1, 83%; Round 2, 92%; Round 3, 58%.

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