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Analysis

World Cup 2022: Group-stage trends in Qatar | Goals, stoppage time, upsets, passes and red cards

Half of group-stage games ended goalless at half-time but total goals remain at average levels; World Cup upsets ranked according to FIFA world rankings; referees added 563 minutes - over nine hours, or six matches of standard time; player stats revealed in interactive tables

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The World Cup group stages drew to a close in typically dramatic style on Friday - but what have been the standout trends in Qatar so far?

Were those goalless first-halves unique?

In total, 24 of the 48 group games ended goalless at half-time.

To put that into perspective, that's eight per cent more than any previous World Cup since 2002.

Extended stoppage time

Perhaps the most notable trend at this World Cup has been stoppage time - lots of it. Referees added 563 minutes during the group stages - that's over nine hours, or six matches of standard time.

England participated in the longest game during their 6-2 win over Iran, when 27 minutes were added to the standard 90 - effectively playing extra-time in the group stage.

Giant-killers

Another trend so far has been major upsets, with underdogs frequently overcoming the Goliaths of world football. Quantifying the scale of upsets is hard. However, using the FIFA world rankings we can apply a figure to a scale.

Using these rankings, Saudi Arabia's 2-1 win over Argentina ranks as the greatest upset at this World Cup so far, with the Middle East side sitting 48 points lower on the FIFA list.

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Saudi Arabia fans celebrated their team's shock win over Argentina while fans in Buenos Aires were left stunned by the defeat.
Image: Saudi Arabia fans celebrated their team's shock win over Argentina while fans in Buenos Aires were left stunned by the defeat.

Cameroon's 1-0 win over Brazil (-42) is next up, followed by Ghana's 3-2 victory over South Korea (-33), Australia 1-0 Denmark (-28), Tunisia 1-0 France (-26), Belgium 0-2 Morocco (-20), South Korea 2-1 Portugal (-19), Japan 2-1 Spain (-17) and Germany 1-2 Japan (-13).

Goalless draws at the break, so fewer goals?

Let's work through this systematically. Firstly: shots. Like in the Premier League, shooting is in decline, a trend which is likely due to a growing emphasis on patient build-up play and carving clearer scoring opportunities.

In Qatar, we have had an average of 22 shots per game, which is the lowest recorded from our available data.

Unsurprisingly, the same decline applies with shots on target, with fewer than eight per game this winter.

However, when it comes to actual goals scored, this World Cup ranks somewhere in the mid-range - almost bang-on average over the six tournaments since 2002 - evidence of that patient play to create better angles on goal.

In terms of the players, Marcus Rashford is locked on three goals with Kylian Mbappe, Alvaro Morata, Cody Gakpo and Enner Valencia - but the Manchester United forward stands out among the leading scorers with just 107 minutes played.

Meanwhile, Netherlands and Manchester United transfer target Gakpo has netted every single shot on target, with Valencia also proving clinical with only four accurate attempts before Ecuador failed to qualify from Group A.

Tiki-taka is back!

Pass-masters Spain epitomise tiki-taka and Luis Enrique's side have recorded a tournament-topping 2,489 successful passes during the group stages in Qatar- that's 735 more than any other team.

As the chart below shows, there have been nearly 800 passes per game at this World Cup - continuing an upward trajectory which has been running for 20 years. Of course, the considerable stoppage-time has contributed to the increase this year.

Spain midfielder Rodri leads the way for total completed passes by a long way - some 153 clear of the next most prolific passer, John Stones. However, Spain's Pedri and Argentina duo Rodrigo De Paul and Lionel Messi rank top for successful distribution in the final third.

Fouls and reds in decline

Perhaps the final trend during the Qatar group stages was the fact only two red cards were brandished across the 48 games.

Breaking this down, one reason for the decline in disciplinary action appears to be dwindling fouls being made, with an average of just 24 per game - the fewest since our records begin.

The ratio for yellow cards was actually at its lowest in 2014. This year, it remains at average levels with just over three per game.

But, in terms of dismissals, unsurprisingly, this tournament has the lowest ratio with the two reds equating to just 0.04 per game.

Wales 'keeper Wayne Hennessey and Cameroon's Vincent Aboubakar were the only players to receive marching orders - the former was sent off after wiping out Mehdi Taremi in the 84th minute before his replacement, Danny Ward, shipped two goals in the 2-0 defeat to Iran.

Netherlands full-back Denzel Dumfries and Tunisia forward Issam Jebali have been the most prolific at making fouls - each committing 10, while 14 players have received two yellows in Qatar.

Record-breaking England

England are currently recording record-breaking highs across a a raft of statistics, which we have logged since Italia '90. Southgate's side have averaged at 66 per cent possession, which is more than 10 per cent higher than their next most dominant campaign back in 2010.

They have also averaged at three goals per game - boosted by their 6-2 win over Iran, which almost doubles the ratio from any previous World Cup over the past 32 years. In addition, their xG ratio has been incrementally increasing since the turn of the millennium, now hitting 1.77 per game.

England have also pushed farther upfield, with passing sequences typically starting at 47.8m from their own goal line, which is nearly four metres more advanced than in 2018 and ranks behind only Germany at the tournament in Qatar.

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England to face Senegal on Sunday | France or Poland in QFs? Spain in SFs?

England will face Senegal in the last 16 of the World Cup on Sunday after qualifying for the knockout stage as Group B winners.

The game will kick off at 7pm UK time on December 4.

England's potential path to the World Cup final has now been set following the conclusion of their group stage.

If Gareth Southgate's side progress past Senegal, they will play on Saturday December 10 against either Group D winners France or Group C runners-up Poland.

Were they to reach the semi-finals, England would then feature on Wednesday December 14, with their current provisional opponents being Morocco, Spain, Portugal or Switzerland.

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