World Cup 2014: birthday data

Age concern

The World Cup is about to start in Brazil (in case you hadn’t noticed). To get me into the spirit of things – as an England fan that means reminiscing about past glorious failures – I read an excellent article by Rob Smyth in The Blizzard this morning about England’s so-near-yet-so-far glorious failure at Italia 90.

In truth I barely remember it. I can visualise faint memories of watching that penalty shoot-out in front of a TV at what must been way past my bedtime. But other details have been filled in from an old Italia 90 video I bought several years later and an excessive number of TV programs that have reminisced on England’s glorious failures and that get produced every two years to help everyone join-in.

From the England squad in Brazil, Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere, Phil Jones, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling and Luke Shaw won’t remember that glorious failure at all: they weren’t born. (Jordan Henderson was born the day after England drew 0-0 with the Netherlands during the group stages of Italia 90.) Barkley, Stirling and Shaw weren’t even born when England ingloriously failed to even make it to the 1994 World Cup (another excellent Rob Smyth article). Shaw was less than a year old when we experienced glorious failure at the hands of the Germans in a penalty shoot-out for a second time.

About 20% of the players at the World Cup were born after Italia 90 had ended. By the 2018 World Cup there’ll be players playing that weren’t born when an 18-year-old Michael Owen did this and then this happened. This all makes me feel rather old. But enough of that.

More seriously we can look at the birth years of World Cup 2014 players by nation and compare and contrast (we could look at ages instead of course). The interactive chart below is one way of doing this (data comes from the Guardian):

The vertical axis is cumulative so the chart shows players born for a side up to and including any given year on the horizontal axis. The translucent grey lines in the background plot all squads (so the darker line segments represent multiple nations). Roughly, if a country’s line tends to follow a path towards the lower-right extent of the “distribution” formed by the grey lines then they have a fairly youthful squad (eg Belgium) while paths towards the upper-left side of the distribution indicate an ageing squad (eg Argentina and Uruguay).

England has a fairly smooth distribution of birth years (bonus points if you can identify which steps correspond to which players). You could say that represents a good blend of youth and experience if you like clichés. By contrast the South Korean line has large steps, with more than half their squad born between 1988 and 1990.

Colombian goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon is the oldest player at the World Cup by four and a half years. He turns 43 between Colombia’s second and third group matches. In the interests of keeping the scaling nice, his birth year has been omitted.

And another thing

The Guardian recently published an article about the birth month of World Cup squad players. The gist of the article is that there is a surplus of players born in the early months of the year. Using the Guardian World Cup data again we can look at this:

It’s certainly true that there are noticeably more players born in the first three months of the year than the last three. The difference is far more pronounced when looking at players from just the AFC countries (Japan, Iran, South Korea and Australia): only 7 of 92 players were born in the last three months of the year. Conversely, 8 of Ghana’s 23-man squad were born in December. Whether these are statistical flukes or in part caused by some aspect of schooling systems or similar I wouldn’t want to say.

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