Dirty Tricks: World Cup Sweepstake – an analysis of 2014’s dirtiest teams

It’s ironic that the Brasil 2014 World Cup was one of the “cleanest” World Cups for some time. Ironic, because this was the World Cup where the Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez had another bout of teething trouble and chowed-down on an Italian shoulder. This hunger aberration aside, the players generally behaved themselves or at least when they did trespass perhaps the officials were prepared to be lenient if indeed they witnessed any wrong-doing at all.

This all brings me to an important consideration that I’m sure has divided many offices – The World Cup Sweepstake. A national tradition. An unmissable ingredient to raise the pulse. The best way to waste a pound.

The competition winner was fairly obvious. As was the runner-up. But then we get into some uncertain waters. The alternative prize at stake in my competition was the dirtiest team. So how to work this one out? Just give it to Uruguay? Or the team with the most red cards? Or the team with the most straight red cards perhaps?

Below is a plot of the yellow and red card statistics for each team, with the number of matches played in the competition in blue. When a player is given two yellow cards in the same game (resulting in a sending-off), this is shown separately to those yellow cards that do not contribute to a sending-off, green and red bars respectively. We can see that Brasil not only wore yellow but weren’t shy of picking up a few bookings here and there too. The Netherlands and Costa Rica also said hello to yellow more than the rest. The teams to the left up to Honduras all had a man sent for an early bath at some stage too. So, is Brasil the dirtiest team?

*Note: Click on graphs to enlarge


What we need is a combined yellow and red card statistic.The plot below shows some candidates. Let‘s assume that a yellow card is worth 1 point and a straight red card is worth 3 point so for example a team with one yellow and one straight red would score 4 points.

The question then is how much should a two-yellow-card-red-card (TYCRC) be worth?

The dark blue bars show the values if two yellows is simply worth the sum of two normal yellows i.e. two. The red bars are if its slightly worse but still not as bad as a straight red (2.5 points) and the green bars are if a TYCRC is worth the same as a straight red card (3 points). Purple is slightly worse still (4 points) and finally the light blue bars are if the TYCRC is worth the individuals yellows and the red card values (5 points). We see that in general Brasil are still naughty step contenders. Only when TYCRC is worth 5 do Costa Rica edge ahead.


But this still isn’t the whole picture. Obviously if a team played more games then they are more likely to have picked up a booking or two along the way so we should account for this. When we divide the numbers in the plot above by the number of games that each team played we get the plot below.

Now we get that when the TYCRD is worth two single yellows or just a bit more then Uruguay are on top. For any values bigger then Honduras come steaming-up on the inside to take pole position.

WC3So, what does this all mean? Well, personally, I would say that Brasil actually aren’t all that bad after all and that Uruguay are in fact the dirtiest team of the Brasil 2014 World Cup even without taking in to account the on-going antics of Luis the Chewey.

Post by: Nathan Green

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