Last week’s closing Group G game between Belgium and England saw a divisive debate over whether the Three Lions would benefit most from building on their momentum or gaming it to end up in the perceived weaker half of the draw.
In hindsight, the elimination of Spain along with Japan’s showing in defeat to Belgium have vindicated Southgate’s decision to make eight-changes.
So, how important really is momentum?
The Importance Of Momentum In The World Cup
As of now, we know six of eight quarter-finalists. Of those six quarter-finalists, four won their final group game.
France overcame Argentina 4-3 on Saturday despite making six-changes for their final group game which ended 0-0 with Denmark. The star-man for Didier Deschamps’ men in the Last 16 was Kylian Mbappe, who introduced in the 78th minute against Denmark.
Meanwhile, in arguably the biggest upset of the tournament thus far, Russia beat Spain on penalties despite losing 3-0 to Uruguay six-days prior.
Croatia and Belgium will also feature in the quarter-finals, and yet both made wholesale changes in their final group game. Both made nine respectively. Events over the last few days have certainly justified Southgate’s decision.
However, historically group performance has been a pretty good indicator of knockout performance.
Sine the format change implemented at the 1998 World Cup, 13 of 14 sides to win all their group games went on to reach at least the quarter-final. 8 would reach the semi-final, while four of five tournaments since ’98 have featured a finalist who won maximum points in the group phase.
This is reinforced through the fact eight of 10 post-1998 finalists were unbeaten in the group stage, while 17 of 20 semi-finalists won their group. Momentum has historically proved key.
Of the ten-sides remaining in the competition, just Uruguay, Belgium and Croatia won maximum group points. In the lower-half of the draw just Croatia were unbeaten in the group stage. If these trends were to hold true over the next couple of weeks, then the 2/1 about Croatia lining-up at the Luzhniki on July 15th could be of appeal.