Does the Colour Your Team Wears Impact your Performance? (World Cup 2018)

Post length: 1,306 words, almost 6 minutes.

Two statements were made in the office after a few games had been played in the 2018 World Cup: “There’s a lot of (red team) vs (white team) matches in this World Cup” and “White is the easiest colour to spot on a football pitch, so those teams do well.” I thought these two statements required some further investigation so went about putting together some statistics to analyse them.

Red vs. White

The first statement is relatively simple to evaluate with two questions: are there, comparably, a lot of teams who play in red or white; and have there been a disproportional number of matches played between sides where one was wearing red and the other white?

TalkSport have a handy rundown of each of the 32 teams home and away strips. Using the main colour from each team’s home and away jerseys for comparison, assuming the shirts are the thing which would be most obvious to players during a game rather than shorts or socks, gives us a list of 6 different colours1: red, blue, green, white, black and yellow. As there are 32 teams, and each has two strips, there are 64 strips in question. Two are black, five yellow, seven blue and seven green. There is then a big gap to the top two, red and white. White is the most popular colour with a staggering 78% of teams in the World Cup having one white strip (that’s 25 teams, 39% of all strips we will see), with red coming second with 18 teams, 56% of competing teams, 28% of all strips, having a red variation.

Looking at the contest as a whole there are 16 teams which play in either red or white, while looking at the groups specifically there is one group where every match was red vs. white. Group B, Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Iran, contains only teams which have one red and one white strip. Incidentally Iran is the only team in that group which has white as their home strip and red as their away. The others all play in red at home and white away.


Given these statistics it would comes as little surprise that there are a lot of games played where it is red vs. white. In total 19 matches, 40% of all played, were red vs white with a whopping 75% of matches in the group stages having one team wearing white and 54% of matches having a team playing in red. It seems to me fair to say there “there’s a lot of (red team) vs (white team) matches in this World Cup.”

Is White the Best Colour?

This statement is harder to assess. There are, of course, a whole load of different reasons for a team’s performance and if it was easy to pin down those reasons you could argue that there’s no point in the tournament taking place at all.┬áThere are also a number of ways of looking at the statistics. Depending on how you class “success” you get different outcomes. So with that in mind I’ve taken a look at the performance of both white and red teams through the group stags.

It comes as no surprise that on goals teams playing in red or white have scored more than teams playing in any other colour strips. Red teams have scored 36 goals and white teams have scored 39 goals. The nearest rival for goals scored is blue with 17 scored during the group stages. Interestingly, however, if you work out the average number of goals scored per game played, white and red teams are not doing so well with 1.08 and 1.38 respectively. Furthermore the number of games won doesn’t break down the same way as goals scored either. While teams playing in white have won more games than teams playing in any other colour, teams playing in red are only two wins ahead of teams playing in blue, having won nine and seven a respectively.

If you plot the number of games won against the number of games played, teams playing in blue are statistically performing better than teams playing in all but one other colour winning 64% of the games they played in (bear in mind the blue/black comments on Croatia in note 1, below). While on number of games won white is in the lead, based on the same wins/games metric white teams, in fact, performed the worst of all the colours having won only 33% of their games.

Of the 16 teams who qualified for the knockout stages all but five have a white strip, but only Argentina, England and Spain played more than one of their group matches wearing white shirts. If you compare Argentina’s performance with that of Russia, who also came second in their group but only played one match in white, Argentina did worse. They finished with 4 points to Russia’s 6, and a -2 goal difference to Russia’s +4. Compare Argentina’s finishing position to Croatia’s, who topped the same group but never played in white, and the difference is even worse: 4 points to 9 and -2 goal difference to +6. Equally Belgium, another team who never play in white, put in a performance which outshines Argentina’s scoring 6 points with a +6 goal difference. Spain performed marginally better than Argentina, but still pail in comparison to Croatia and Belgium, scoring 5 points and +1 goal difference. England performed best of the three scoring 6 points with a +5 goal difference.

So which colour is performing best? Statistically it seems to be either teams playing in blue or black. Teams playing in black had the best win record beating their opponent in 67% of their games while blue teams won 3% fewer of the games they played. The average goals per match statistic show the same trend with black teams scoring an average of 2.00 goals per match compared to blue teams’ 1.55. In fact teams playing in black were undefeated in the group stages with two wins and one draw. However there is a large flaw with this data used to reach this statistic — it’s based on only two teams who have black strips and three games played wearing them.


There are other ways to cut the data from the first round (or other data which might be more telling such as passes or possession, for example), and I don’t doubt that looking at it from another angle might lead to a different conclusion, but from this brief analysis I am pretty convinced that the statement “White is the easiest colour to spot on a football pitch, so those teams do well” is, in the group stages of this World Cup at least, fallacious. Indeed from the small sample being looked at here one might suggest there is an advantage to wearing a darker colour, black or blue for example, if there is in fact any benefit to be gained from the colour the team wears at all!

1 A couple of teams’ shirt colours are open to interpretation. I have attempted to think about how the strip may appear in the midst of a game. I had the biggest problem categorising Croatia’s two strips. For their home strip they wear a red and white chequered pattern, the away strip is dark blue and black checked. I have put them in the red and black categories in this case. I think people would more quickly identify the red than the white when looking at a red and white strip (although this is further complicated by the back of the home strip being all white). In contract the blue and black strip is very dark so from a distance would appear mostly black for the purpose of this exercise. Peru’s strips are white with red stripe and red with white stripe, while Argentina’s home strip is white with light blue stripes. In all of these cases I have used the base colour for the comparison as this is the major colour when viewing the shirts overall.

Posted on Friday 6th July, 2018 at 9:05 am in Obiter dicta.
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