Expectations are low for Russia so don’t expect England to go on a scoring spree in the World Cup despite playing the relatively weak Tunisia and Panama in their first two group matches. Opening matches are generally tight affairs but this time England should be able to improve on their scoring averages but the reality could be different based on recent trends. Teams play group matches in the existing World cup format. Since the tournament first involved 32 teams in 1998 England’s record for scoring and conceding goals in the group stages and knockout rounds is as follows:
England have played in the last five World Cups so have contested 15 group matches. Against generally supposedly weak opponents England are averaging just over one goal per match. They have finished in the first two in the group in four tournaments because they have been solid at the back. In nine of those 15 fixtures the opponents have not scored a goal which means England have not been prolific at the other end of the field but done enough to progress to the round of the last 16.
England have not scored more than two goals in any group fixture from the 1998 World Cup onwards but conversely no opponents have found the net more than twice. Both teams have scored in six of those meetings and there have been more than two goals on four occasions. The highest scoring game has featured four goals and there have been three goalless draws. England have won six, drawn six and lost three matches in the first stage of the last five World Cups.
The opening matches against Tunisia and Panama provide England with two opportunities to score some goals and build confidence and momentum. Surely it’s better to be positive in the first half, establish a winning lead and then manage the game rather than struggle in the opening exchanges which only creates more pressure later in the tournament. England are not playing Brazil or Germany but two of the lowest ranked competing nations so a narrow win or draw is unsatisfactory.
From the France World Cup 20 years ago and onwards England have reached two quarter-finals and got no further. Scoring and conceding rates increase during the knockout rounds but the sample is very small. England have played six fixtures beyond the group stages and average 1.33 goals which is the same conceding rate. That figure is distorted by the four goals Germany scored in the last 16 tie in 2010. England scored in each of the last 16 ties they contested from 1998 to 2010.
Overall England have averaged slightly above one goal in 21 World Cup matches but conceded less than one goal per game in those fixtures. England’s matches in the last five tournaments have produced 42 goals for an average of exactly two. The tournament average is 2.48 goals per game so England’s world matches from 1998 have been below the average over the course of the tournaments. Despite relatively beatable opponents in the first two group matches these averages are unlikely to significantly change.