Youth vs Experience at the World Cup

With the first round of the Group stage now complete, we are now 25% of the way through the competition in terms of the number of games played. The tournament certainly hasn’t disappointed so far, with thrills and spills aplenty, spectacular performances – not least from Gareth Southgate’s England troops – and a fair share of shock results.

One of the most notable features of the opening games has been just how many fancied nations have struggled in the face of the relentless running and frenetic pressing of the so-called lesser nations. Belgium and Uruguay just about got away with it against Canada and South Korea respectively, but Argentina and Germany certainly didn’t when slain by Saudi Arabia and Japan.

The reasons such nations have been unable to cope with tactics that should not surprise them are a little unclear. There are after all high-pressing, hard-running sides in almost every major league. With that in mind, we wondered if perhaps youth may play a role. Are the older more experienced players simply not equipped to match the work rate of the younger legs?

Youth Just Takes the Opening Round

Youth vs Experience at the World Cup

The above table presented by, shows the results of the 16 games to have been played so far (excluding the drawn fixtures), complete with the average ages of the players to have taken part in the game. Younger teams are listed to the left and older teams to the right.

Overall, the younger teams have won 6 games to 5 for the older nations. Far from conclusive evidence that younger legs are playing a major role at first glance. The total goals picture however presents a stronger case that younger legs are holding the edge, with the total score across the above games standing at Younger Team 25-13 Older Team.

The Bigger the Gap, The Greater The Edge

One factor which does stand out in the above data is that the bigger the gap in age between the two sides, the greater the advantage the younger side has. Overall, there have been five games in which the difference between the average ages of the sides has been greater than one year. Ecuador comprehensively outclassed the 3.7 years older Qatar side, in a game the betting market had fairly even. England and Spain battered Iran and Costa Rica respectively, suggesting that should the favoured nation possess greater quality AND significantly younger legs, the most likely result may be a comprehensive win for the favourites – something to bear in mind in terms of handicap betting on the remaining fixtures.

Rounding out the picture are Ghana who enjoyed a 1.5 years age advantage over Portugal, and Canada who were 1.4 years younger than Belgium on average. Turning first to Ghana, their performance was perhaps the worst of the younger teams, but it should be remembered that they are the lowest-ranked side in the competition, and only lost by a single goal to Cristiano Ronaldo and co. Canada in contrast were simply unlucky when well and truly making Belgium look their age. Missing a penalty, and winning the total shot count by 22-9, John Herdman’s men can count themselves unfortunate to come away with nothing at all.

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