Coming second in FIFA World Cup group stages not good enough any more

For a FIFA World Cup team, trying to qualify from the group phase is a hard enough task. There are three other teams there that are just as good as you or even better.

Even if your group isn’t a ‘Group of Death’, you can’t take any matches for granted.

Say you somehow get through to the knockout rounds, you manage to come in second by the skin of your teeth and start looking forward to your next match.

Even if you manage to get a team like Brazil, you’d fancy your chances against them in a one-off match. Anything could happen right?

Not really. Looking at the last three World Cups, if you come in second you might as well kiss your chances goodbye.

Only three group runners-up have won their Round of 16 matches over the last three tournaments. In fact, in the last World Cup in Brazil, none of the runners-up won their Round of 16 matches.

In the 2002 edition of the World Cup, at least four group runners-up won their ‘Round-of-16’ matches and went through to the quarter-finals. That came down to 2 in 2006, 1 in 2010 and 0 in 2014.

If we look at how many group runners-up made it to the semi-finals, only one has done so in the last three World Cups, France in 2006. The team also made it to the final, where they lost to Italy.

And if we look at how many teams that have won the World Cup after finishing second or third in their group, we have had none in 36 years.

There were three W...

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