We Timed Every Game. World Cup Stoppage Time Is Wildly Inaccurate.

The second half of Iran and Morocco’s tightly contested group match contained nothing too out of the ordinary by World Cup standards. Each side used all three substitutes; there was only one booking; no goals were scored. In a group with Spain and Portugal, both teams presumably were eager to steal a crucial three points and break the 0-0 tie. When the game reached the 90-minute mark, the fourth official raised the electronic board to indicate six minutes of added time.

It should have read 14 minutes.

It’s no secret that the stoppage time in soccer is often inaccurate, but it’s not easy to know exactly how inaccurate. This is unique to soccer — particularly when held against other major sports. In basketball, tenths of seconds can be decisive and are often exhaustively reviewed for accuracy. In football, pundits and fans measure coaches by the nuances of their clock management. But without an official clock in view of spectators and no dedicated timekeeper, the duration of each soccer game is solely up to the discretion of the referee. This, in turn, affects strategy as players and teams that are eager for a game to end find ways to stall.

With this in mind, we decided to test the accuracy, or lack thereof, of the referees’ stoppage time decision made at each half. Using a stopwatch and a team of patient timekeepers, FiveThirtyEight meticulously tracked and categorized every stoppage during the first 32 games played of the World Cup — a total of 3194 stoppages in all, or one every 58 seconds.