Why 90th minute goals are frequent in FIFA

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Ifrequently hear people complain about an unnatural number of goals happening in the 45th or the 90th minute. As illustrated by the quotes below, a lot of people believe that these goals are part of a sinister plan to change the outcome of our matches:

“Why is it there are so many dramatic 45th and 90th min goals? Yes one could argue that you have injury time and are therefore stuck on that minute for a while longer. But its plain too see that whilst you get ever closer to this minute the pressure and momentum ramps up.”
(user Angry_Gooner on reddit.com)

“But in the 45th minute. i think there’s a script to enable bullshit in ,added time and against silver/bronze teams.”
(user justlur on reddit.com)

“The scripting is completely insane in this game. The opponent ALWAYS scores in the 90th minute. Some games I’m winning 3-0 so I mean it’s alright but when it’s 1-0 or 1-1, it is infuriating.”
(user Vampire_Prince10 on Reddit.com)

But as I will demonstrate below, there is every good reason to be skeptical about these claims.

How frequent are 90th minute goals?

Based on personal experience and the evidence at hand, I consider it absolutely beyond dispute that 45th and 90th minute goals are extremely frequent compared to other goals. According to my 2014 survey, approximately two-thirds of the participants experienced decisive stoppage time goals in minimum every other match.

Q: How often are matches decided by 90th minute goals?

Although this method probably doesn’t allow us to establish the exact frequency of late goals, it does seem to support the claim that a lot of people experience late goals on a very frequent basis. But the mere fact that late goals happen frequently doesn’t lead us to conclude that EA makes them happen deliberately.

EA’s incentive – if there is one

Before one gets too deeply entangled in speculations about a conspiracy, it seems fair to consider what EA’s possible motive for scripting those goals in possibly could be. And despite the fact that I have asked that question every time I came by this claim, I so far haven’t seen anyone present a credible motive for EA to make goals happen in those particular time slots.

I have seen people claim that those goals are put in as part of a plan to help bad players out, but I have a hard time seeing how goals scored in the 45th minute would support that aspiration to any larger degree than goals scored in the 52nd minute. Furthermore, it seems somewhat counter intuitive to describe a player trailing by a single goal as particularly bad relative to his opponent.

The absence of a credible motive does not prove anything in itself, but it does brings the attention to another option: That EA doesn’t script those goals in but rather allows them to happen – like all other goals.

A long minute

A notable detail about the mysterious 45th / 90th minutes is that those terms in most cases don’t refer to a period of 60 seconds.

When people complain about “45th / 90th minute goals”, they usually mean two things:

  • Goals recorded as 45th or 90th minute in the post match report.
  • Goals scored while the clock was stopped at 45:00 / 90:00, i.e. during stoppage time.

To illustrate why it’s a bit of a misunderstanding to refer to the above goals as either 45th or 90th minute goals, I would like to use an example where the fourth official shows a “5” sign as below.

4th Official Phill Dowd shows 5 minutes extra time to be played

As most people probably know, the sign tells that a minimum of 5 minutes will be added, and that the referee may add extra time if new stoppages occur during stoppage time itself. If the referee adds 5 minutes, it means that 40 effective minutes were played during ordinary time whereas another 5 effective minutes will be played during stoppage time.

Under such circumstances, the average minute of the ordinary match only contained 40 / 45 * 60 = 53 seconds of effective playing time meaning time where players potentially could score goals.

To complicate things even further, FUT’s post match reports list goals scored between 89:00 and 89:59 as 90th minute goals because 89:00 marks the beginning of the actual 90th minute of the match.

So, if 5 minutes are added, a total of 5:53 minutes of effective playing time is played during, what people wrongly refer to as “the 90th minute”. And logic dictates that the probability of scoring a goal during 5:53 minutes all other things equal is approximately 7 times larger than the chance of scoring a goal during 53 seconds.

However, the lengthiness of the 90th “minute” isn’t the only contributor to the excessive number of late goals.

How the scoring chances increases towards the end of a half

The average number of goals per minute in a match as a function of the time (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0047678)

Although a lot of people hate to accept it, FIFA is a football simulation, and that inevitably means that it carries many of the same traits as real football. And in real football, goals aren’t evenly distributed across the match. Statistical analyses demonstrate that the goal ratio increases throughout the match and particularly so towards the end of either half. The closer you are to the end of either half, the bigger the chance of scoring during the next minute.

In the EPL, the goal ratio between the 30th and the 45th minute is 70 % higher than the goal ratio between the first and the 15th minute, and during the first rounds of EURO 2016, nearly 1/3 of all goals were scored in the dying minutes of the match.

Image (c) Telegraph.co.uk (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2016/06/17/euro-2016-on-course-to-break-record-for-late-goals-scored-but-wh/)
Image (c) Telegraph.co.uk

A number of factors contribute to late goals being more frequent in real football: Psychology and fatigue imply that players make more mistakes. Many teams apply different tactics during the last minutes of a match.

I see no reason to assume that FUT is fundamentally different. After all, all the needed ingredients are present:

  • Humans, who are able to become nervous or mentally fatigued.
  • Virtual footballers, who will perform worse and make more mistakes due to fatigue.
  • The ability to make tactical changes, where you take a bigger risk in the dying moments.

With regards to the psychological and tactical aspects, it’s worth noticing that not only FUT Draft and tournaments but also FUT Seasons contains a large proportion of knock-out matches.

Knock out matches affects the psychology

As explained in our article on the difficulty of promotion and relegation matches, the combination of a very brief season and three different point thresholds implies that anything between 2 and 9 matches per season are deciding promotion, relegation or winning the title. In our article on decisive matches, we assess that most players in fact will experience that significantly more than 50 % of their FUT seasons matches are potentially decisive.

A notable fact to consider in this context is that even if player 1’s match may be indecisive, player 2 may be having his final chance of securing promotion. Hence, if 50 % of player 1’s matches are decisive and 50 % of player 2’s matches are decisive, an estimated 75 %  of all matches will be decisive to minimum one of the involved players, meaning that minimum one of them has a reason to go all out attacking to claim that final, decisive point – or – become nervous towards the end and concede a stupid goal.

Many goals = many goals in stoppage time

A third factor which influences the occurrence of late goals in FUT is the high overall goal ratio.

Liverpool4-3

In a recent 8-0 win, I managed to score twice in “the 90th minute”. Was this scripting?



According to some scripting believers, EA scripts matches to make them more even. But clearly, my 7-0 and 8-0 goals didn’t make the match the least bit more even. Considering that I was playing against an opponent who lost 9 out of his 13 FUT seasons matches this year, this hardly was a case of the game helping a noob out against a better player.

But my example illustrates an inevitable fact: If there are many goals in general, there will be many goals in stoppage time – and in any other random range of time you may define.

A real life example of this is Liverpool’s 4-5 win against Norwich on January 23rd 2016. The match contained two, potentially decisive 90th minute goals. According to BBC’s detailed commentary, Bassong equalized at 90 + 1:57, whereas Lallana decided the game at 90 + 4:19. The match finished at 90 + 5:33. A notable detail is that the two goals scored in the 54th and 56 minute actually happened closer to one another (1:40 in between) than the two goals scored in “the 90th minute” (2:24 in between).

FUT’s extreme goal ratio

In an earlier article, I counted the average number of goals across 400 FUT 15 matches, which is a fairly large sample. I found that the average was 5.5 goals per match. An average of 5.5 goals per match is extremely high when compared to real football. Among the five big leagues, the Bundesliga has the highest goal ratio with 2.82 goals per match.

At 5.5 goals per match and 1/9 of the goals scored during stoppage time, we should expect to see .61 goals scored in stoppage time per match, assuming that the scoring probability remains constant throughout the match.

Of course, the ratio of goals scored in stoppage time will vary depending on the number of goals and the number of added minutes. Both parameters will depend on your playing style.

The table below shows the expected frequency of stoppage time goals with different combinations of added minutes and goal per match ratios. What you should notice about the table is that even if we look at the more conservative section of the table, stoppage time goals still happen very frequently.

Minutes added per half
+2 +3 +4 +5
Goals/match 3.5 0.16 0.23 0.31 0.39
4.5 0.20 0.30 0.40 0.50
5.5 0.24 0.37 0.49 0.61
6.5 0.29 0.43 0.58 0.72

Expected number of goals per match scored in stoppage time

The point I want to make with this table is that, unless EA intervened to prevent stoppage time goals from happening, these are the stoppage time goal frequencies we should expect to see. If EA – for some unknown reason – likes us to score many stoppage time goals, they really don’t need to interfere in order to make it happen.

Why 90th minute scripting is a myth but bullshit goals aren’t

The simple calculations above demonstrate that there is a perfectly natural explanation for the large number of 45th / 90th minute goals. Meanwhile, the fact remains that we have no evidence suggesting that there is a residual of goals which cannot be explained by the above and no information suggesting that EA would have an incentive to script such goals in.

Having said that, the facts listed above tell us something else about the goals we score and concede in FIFA:

As stated, FIFA has an extreme goal frequency. With 5.5 goals (FIFA 14) in a match which lasts just 12 minutes, we end up with 0.45 goals per minute, whereas the average Bundesliga match has a frequency of 0.02 goals per minute. We are not even close to realism here, and that is hardly a coincidence.

If we got the chance to ask them, I think EA would confirm that the goal ratio is intentional. FIFA probably wouldn’t have sold 12 million copies a year, if the goal ratio was at a more realistic level.

So, while rejecting the claim that EA has a particular preference for 45/90th minute goals, I find it beyond dispute that EA are “at blame” for making it relatively easy to score and hence inevitably also to concede goals. After all, they are in this business to entertain us – not to bore us to death.

So, “bullshit” goals are real, bullshit goals happen during stoppage time – but 90th minute scripting doesn’t exist.

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