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These World Cup teams play the dirtiest soccer (but still lose)

Italy's Mario Balotelli is given a red card.
Reuters/David W Cerny
See this? This is what losing looks like.
By Nikhil Sonnad
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The more aggressive sports team usually wins, right? Not if it is far better than its opponent. In the World Cup, the countries that most regularly get dealt red and yellow cards are some of the least successful to have entered the tournament.

Just looking at the number of cards given to a single team since 1970—when the current penalty system was first introduced—Argentina comes out on top with 99 yellow cards and seven reds. But Argentina is a perennial qualifier and has played 54 matches in that time. Quartz has crunched the numbers on a more telling metric: the average number of cards doled out to teams per game.

The result: None of the top 20 offenders on our list has reached a World Cup final, at least since the card system began.

It looks like underdogs commit more penalties out of carelessness or desperation. One study even suggests that being ahead in a soccer match makes your team more susceptible to injury. Or maybe, as fans the world over have speculated, stronger teams get preferential treatment from referees.

Slovenia is the biggest transgressor on our list, averaging over three penalties per match. It racked up one red card and 19 yellows in just six matches. The red card championship is shared between Australia and Cameroon, which have each been booked with one red card for every three matches they have played. The friendliest country? That would be Peru, with just nine yellow cards in 13 matches.



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