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Because one of the great attractions of football is that it's a simple game. There's only about 18 rules and have more or less remained the same (offside excepted) for a century and everybody knows how the game works.

You are inventing a new game.

Personally I'd insist on more reliable footballs. Every time there's a new championship, there's a new ball and they don't fly straight (somewhat like a knuckleball in baseball) and it pisses the players off cos forwards miss crosses and goalkeepers miss shots. but sponsorship is sponsorship.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Jun 14th, 2010 at 02:45:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Making modifications to the ball is a honored tradition in the U.S., and usually in the direction of helping the offense. So, at least the authorities and traditionalists seem not to have a problem with that.

One other oddity of WC football is how life-or-death ref and so on decisions are. When several or more goals are scored such errors and controversies diminish in importance.

But, I realize a lot of my complaints are really about the World Cup's consistently crappy brand of football. I never feel remotely satisfied that the tourney has decided the best team.

There's other, better football out there, where players know each other and the goal-scoring drought isn't quite as bad.

fairleft

by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Mon Jun 14th, 2010 at 03:08:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
By the way, it was also a simple game back in 1954 when 5+ goals were being scored in the World Cup.

In 1954, the highest scoring world cup, the average number of goals per game was over 5. However scoring has fallen steadily since the early 1960s . . .

http://www.vancouverobserver.com/blogs/beautifulgame/2010/06/12/world-cup-questions-facing-worlds-ga me

Anyway, as I said, among the irritations is the unreliability and 'unfairness' of the results:

An Imperfect Game, Tournament?

When the dust clears after the World Cup concludes next month, it's likely that the champion will not be the team that played the best, said Gerald Skinner, an astrophysicist at the University of Maryland in College Park. . . .

The average World Cup match in 2006 featured a combined total of 2.3 goals. By analyzing the number of goals and their distribution, which is best described by a statistical phenomenon called a Poisson distribution, Skinner was able to show that if a match were replayed, the number of goals in a match and even the winner could vary considerably even if both teams played exactly as well -- partially because soccer is such a low-scoring game.

For a team that won by a commanding score such as 3-0, fans can be pretty certain that the better team won, but Skinner said that a 2-1 or 1-0 game is not as clear-cut. For example, he found that for 2-1 matches almost one-third of the time the better team does not win.

That uncertainty influences the entire tournament. Skinner said that the first round of the World Cup will likely identify the better teams because each team plays each of the other three teams in the group. But the following rounds are single elimination, and the uncertainties of the outcomes of four successive games add up. Skinner found that the likelihood that the best team would win the World Cup is around 28 percent. . . .

Skinner said that changing the game to increase the average number of goals scored would decrease the chance of lucky wins. Options include increasing the size of the goal or forcing teams to play until there was a significant goal difference, but added "I have to admit these aren't really realistic."

http://www.insidescience.org/current_affairs/best_team_not_guaranteed_world_cup_success

fairleft

by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Mon Jun 14th, 2010 at 03:49:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's because as the game gets more competitive and players and techniques improve, there are smaller differences among the top teams.

Closer to you, see Batting Average

Henry Chadwick, an English statistician raised on cricket, was an influential figure in the early history of baseball. In the late 19th century he adapted the concept behind the cricket batting average to devise a similar statistic for baseball. Rather than simply copy cricket's formulation of runs scored divided by outs, he realised that hits divided by at bats would provide a better measure of individual batting ability. This is because of an intrinsic difference between the two sports; scoring runs in cricket is dependent almost only on one's own batting skill, whereas in baseball it is largely dependent on having other good hitters in your team. Chadwick noted that hits are independent of teammates' skills, so used this as the basis for the baseball batting average. His reason for using at bats rather than outs is less obvious, but it leads to the intuitive idea of the batting average being a percentage reflecting how often a batter gets on base, whereas hits divided by outs is not as simple to interpret in real terms.

In modern times, a season batting average higher than .300 is considered to be excellent, and an average higher than .400 a nearly unachievable goal. The last player to do so, with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting championship, was Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox, who hit .406 in 1941, though the best modern players either threaten to or actually do achieve it occasionally, if only for brief periods of time. There have been numerous attempts to explain the disappearance of the .400 hitter, with one of the more rigorous discussions of this question appearing in Stephen Jay Gould's 1996 book Full House.

In Full House, Gould demonstrates how one type of statistical misconception leads to misunderstanding of important phenomena. The misconception is paying attention only to the "high score" or extreme value, when a continuous distribution of values exists (what Gould calls a "full house") and is what actually drives the phenomena.

The book focuses on two main examples of this misconception: the disappearance of the 0.400 batting average in baseball, and the perceived tendency of evolution towards "progress" making organisms more complex and sophisticated.

In the first example, Gould explains that the decline of the top batting average does not imply that there has been a decline in the skill of baseball players. Quite the contrary: he shows that all that has happened is that the variance of the batting average decreased as professional baseball got better and better, while the league average remained constant as the game rules changed - together causing the extreme value of the distribution--the best batting average--to decrease as well.



By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jun 14th, 2010 at 03:55:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Your blockquotes are more about the variation of player quality, and it makes sense that there are many more very well-trained batters now, with all the (excessive) emphasis on getting good at (one) sport there is now in the States.

I really think there's a huge difference between, for example, England and the U.S. in player quality. It wouldn't bother me if that difference were reflected in the score (and not just in the generally inferior dribbling and passing by the U.S. side). But, our goalie is good (perhaps better than good, we don't really know), and theirs made one idiotic blunder. My problem is simply with the sense that the match -- and most of the matches so far -- is just a 'throw the dice and there's the outcome' kind of deal. We didn't learn anything about which country is better at soccer. A blunder here, a great goal there, a blown call . . . and that's your World Cup again, thank you for watching.

fairleft

by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Mon Jun 14th, 2010 at 04:07:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I really think there's a huge difference between, for example, England and the U.S. in player quality.

I caught about 25 minutes of the first half while out shopping the other day and no, I didn't think so.

In fact... Of the US' Current squad, 8 out of 23 play for English teams, including all three goalies, and only 4 play in the US (wll the other ones playing abroad, in Europe or - two of them - in Mexico).

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jun 14th, 2010 at 04:15:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
(Confirmed impressions of the players below at the squad profiles at http://soccernet.espn.go.com/world-cup/?cc=5901&ver=us).

England is littered with 'among the world's best'. Rooney was Premier League player of the year this year. Lampard and Gerrard are two of the best midfielders in the world. Carragher, Cole, and Terry are defenders near the world's best.

Dempsey and Donovan are having success in the Premier League. Onyewu looked good against England, but is described as a back-up at AC Milan. Howard is a fine player but not considered among the world's best.  More specifically, I just looked at the usual 'just missed it' quality of passing, dribbling, and striking by the Americans. My impression is that most of them are just not quite there on the consistent precision front.

But the fumbles and mishits will rarely be punished, and partly that's because it is just so damn hard to score a goal. So, who knows, maybe the U.S. will go far.

fairleft

by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Mon Jun 14th, 2010 at 04:59:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There's generally one good rule to always keep in mind with sports: ESPN has no idea what it's talking about.  No matter the topic.  For the World Cup, they've brought in a bunch of pompous British pundits to "explain" the whole thing to us stupid Yanks, and so far those guys look pretty stupid.

As should be expected, because ESPN doesn't know what it's talking about.

You're basically getting the soccer-equivalent of Meet the Press conventional wisdom.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Mon Jun 14th, 2010 at 07:58:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you don't think those evaluations are generally accurate, well . . .

fairleft
by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 11:07:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And if you look at the official FIFA rankings, England is rated as Number 8 in the world and The US number 14, which from memory is the second or maybe third closest disparity between the top two teams in World cup groups. If you were going to bet on an opening round game  being a draw purely on the basis of rankings then the England US game would be the second most likely from the first set, If you want to take it from the full selection of first round games then it's the fourth most likely out of all 48 games

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Jun 14th, 2010 at 09:06:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh no, not the FIFA rankings!

FIFA Asia (& Australia) Zonal Ranking

  1. Australia (FIFA #20)
  2. Japan (#45)
  3. Korea Republic (#47)

http://img.fifa.com/worldfootball/nationalteams/index.html

Isn't Korea the strongest of those three teams, by a wide margin? They had one of the few convincing first round wins, 2-0 over a seemingly strong team from Greece (FIFA's world #13). And didn't Australia just lose to Germany 4-0?

fairleft

by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Mon Jun 14th, 2010 at 11:54:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Rankings reflect past performance, not current condition.

The Greek team looked old and weak. In fact had South Korea not missed so many chances, the result could have been 6:0. And Japan won against the higher ranked but lacklustre playing Cameroon. So it is hard to say which is better: South Korea or Japan. (But I should mention I root for South Korea -- I like their style of game, if they get better at finishing, they could become giant-killers again.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 06:52:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Japan had one of the worst run-ups to a World Cup ever. We should judge teams by how well they play, not the FIFA world rankings.

fairleft
by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 11:05:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We should judge teams by how well they play

Such judgements are always bound to be subjective. It depends on how high you value the opponents, and how you weigh by the seriousness of the match (friendlies are often used to test new configurations and players and thus don't tell much about tournament performance), and how far back you look at it (I'm guessing you only looked at Japan's performance this year, rather than back to at least two years). FIFA rankings are based on past performance just like yours, just with an apparently different weighting.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 04:38:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW, no one except FIFA was in love with Australia, and most experts considered South Korea a strong Asian team. For example, here's a typical pre-tourney ranking of the three teams (out of the 32 in the WC), by Eurosport:

  1. Australia

  2. Japan

  3. South Korea

That's just about right.

http://uk.eurosport.yahoo.com/14062010/58/world-cup-2010-power-rankings-jubilant-japan.html

fairleft

by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 06:23:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As DoDo commented, FIFA rankings are based on longer term performance, and not just year on year strength. They are not meant to be a predictor of future performance, rather a basis for deciding which nation gets to have how many places in which tournaments.

Negatively, that the San Jose Sharks don't automatically get a place next year because they finally did this year.  But it's a big deal if the German Bundesliga gets 2 or 3 sure places in the Champions League or not.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - AnaÔs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 06:31:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You remind me that FIFA ranking reflects club football performance, too.

I add to yours, and you tell me if the analogy is bad, but perhaps it is somewhat helpful to compare to league tables and playoffs in US sports. It may be that one team leads the league table, but gets tired towards the end of the season, and is butchered in the playoffs. The league table is just life FIFA rankings, and playoffs like a World Cup, only it takes one year rather than four. (The analogy is of course not perfect; World Cup participation is not dependent on FIFA ranking.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 06:56:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
International football has a four-year cycle. Hence any proper ranking should reflect scores in at least four years, even if team performance changes more rapidly.

Now let's see it in terms of seriousness. The only recent tournaments to gauge Australia's (and South Korea's) tournament capabilities were the 2006 World Cup, the 2007 Asian Cup, and the 2009 Confederations Cup. In the first, the Aussies got into the round of 16, South Korea failed in the group stage. In the second, which should count less than a WC, it was South Korea that got one round further. As neither won it, of course neither participated in the Confed Cup. Next in seriousness are qualification matches. Both Australia and South Korea won their qualification group, but Australia did so with 20 points, South Korea only 16.

Based on this simple analysis, even if South Korea seems the stronger team at the moment, it should clearly be ranked lower.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 06:48:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We will see, that first result might be down to luck, or their opponents performing spectacularly badly

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 07:13:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A great deal is down to luck and one or two bad referee calls, especially with about 1.7 goals on average per match. But placing South Korea so low also just indicates FIFA is doing a bad job at ranking national teams.

fairleft
by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 11:04:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, on one hand, the difference between "World's best" and "good international" is not that big.

On the other hand, football is a team sport. It's not the individual quality of the players that's deciding, but how well those qualities can be exploited in combination. A coherent team of even second-league players can beat a badly organised or individualist bunch of top-rate players. And the US team seemed rather well organised, even in the face of English attacks cutting right through defense lines. Meanwhile, England was good only in the midfield, while the defense line without the injured Ferdinand did some silly things. And then there is the goalkeeper problem.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 06:23:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"A coherent team of even second-league players can beat a badly organised or individualist bunch of top-rate players."

Hence the managerial career of Brian Clough.

A corollary of this is that the England team will underperform compared to the paper strength of their players for as long as the club game takes precedence over the national side. Even a team-building genius like Clough couldn't have done much with the sort of contact time the England coaching setup get with their players.

Regards
Luke

-- #include witty_sig.h

by silburnl on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 08:47:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree the U.S. did a good job as a team, and that as individuals most of them except four or five are second-rate. Remember this thread was initially a response to a comment saying the quality of the individuals on the U.S. team were not very much below the level of the English players.

fairleft
by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 11:11:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I do think the quality of the players on the U.S. team were not very much below the level of the English players. What I mean is that individual player quality can be much lower if there is good team cohesion. Consider Poland 1982, Denmark 1992 (won the European Cup), South Korea 2002. There are several more examples in club football.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 05:12:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I know what you mean, Ireland is often one of those teams with great cohesion. But it wasn't as if the U.S. players played an unusually large number of friendlies or practiced an extraordinary amount of time.

I think many of these Americans are great athletes who just lack consistency and precision as football players. You have a decent chance when just one great speedy run, a good cross and one good finish can win a game. I'd rather an upset be a bit more difficult.

fairleft

by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 06:30:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know why anyone would argue for more predictability in sport, surely the fact that you don't know what is going to happen is half the point, If you know what the result is very likely to be before you go, what is the point as a spectator?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Jun 16th, 2010 at 05:45:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Back to the 1954 World Cup, check some match scores. Those matches were very unequal matchups.

We didn't learn anything about which country is better at soccer.

I say those chance goals were not so chance. For example, Green's blunder might have been exceptional, but England's goalkeeper problem is well-known and goes back decades.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 06:12:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Marxism attempted to discern the scientific basis for history -- and it was the Soviet Union that first attempted to unlock the scientific basis for soccer. The grand theoretician of this approach was a Ukrainian named Valeri Lobanovsky. In high school, before signing up for the local soccer club, he had displayed mathematical acumen, winning a gold medal in the subject -- and went on to study heat engineering at the Kiev Polytechnic Institute, even as he played professionally. It was at the Polytechnic in the early '60s that he arrived at his epiphany that the cybernetic techniques and other methodology he encountered in the classroom could revolutionize his sport.

In the schematic he invented, the game could be broken into 22 component tasks, what he called "actions" and "coalition actions." He would dispatch analysts to tally each of these actions -- forward passes, backward passes, tackles -- and then feed these numbers into a computer to evaluate his players. He also recruited a young academic, Professor Anatoly Zelentsov, to run the "laboratory" at their club, Dynamo Kiev. As Zelentsov explained his task: "In my laboratory, we evaluate the functional readiness of players and how their potential can best be realized. And we influence players in a natural way -- we form them following scientific recommendations."

It was pseudoscience. But even pseudoscientists have great insights. Lobanovsky-coached teams used well-coordinated pressing and superior stamina to swarm opposing players with the ball. During the 1970s, Lobanovsky's teams twice won the European Cup-Winners' Cup. But he also ultimately ruined Ukrainian soccer -- or, at least, his less sophisticated, less charismatic disciples did. The national game is now characterized by players running and tackling frenetically. They rush to complete the actions that the computers reward, no matter their ultimate efficacy. It is ugly, and, judging by the Ukrainian performance on the international stage, not terribly effective.

Outside the Soviet Union, Lobanovsky's lab-based approach never caught on. But the quest to find the mathematical underpinnings for soccer continues. There are powerful computer programs -- Opta, ProZone -- that track how far players run in the course of a game, how many times they touch the ball, and how many times a player is involved in an attack leading to a shot. While these analytics have proved useful to scouting and buying talent, they haven't reshaped the game in the same way that sabermetrics have transformed baseball ....

Yet, after many years of academic papers, the game is nowhere close to that kind of revolutionary state. In part, this is a product of soccer's cultural hostility to data, particularly plied in the service of making rational purchases of talent. (The biggest clubs are often run by oligarchs, either Russian or Emirati, who don't care about managing the financial risks of their player purchases; or, in the case of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, by presidents who are democratically elected by fans and pander to the masses.) But the problem isn't just the culture of the game; it's the game itself. Soccer has never really had box scores or batting averages or any of the rudimentary statistics that James and Beane have rebelled against. On a profound level, soccer is immune to rigorous statistical analysis, at least compared to baseball and basketball. There is no single controlled variable -- like a batter standing at home plate -- that can form the building block for good analysis. And the flow of the game is too anarchic, with constant change of possession, to be broken into a series of discrete moments, where actions can be judged to have clear cause and effect.

And, even when the game does yield data about a player, it's hard to invest much in it. More than most other sports, the performance of an individual player is highly dependent on the team around him -- and on his coach. A great basketball star like LeBron James can flourish under the tutelage of a mediocre coach. But, in soccer, a poorly structured team can squelch even the greatest talent. This past season, when the Argentine Lionel Messi played with his club, Barcelona, he ran all over opponents. However, under his national team coach, Diego Maradona, he hardly ever scores. Maradona's formations simply can't construct room for Messi to run at opposing defenders, without him getting quickly blanketed -- and they will likely account for yet another Argentinean disaster at the World Cup.

by das monde on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 11:34:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There's only about 18 rules and have more or less remained the same (offside excepted) for a century

Other recent changes:

  • Win is 3 points not 2: very significant change, and the one I fully endorse.
  • Golden goal, silver goal: now gone after much controversy. I didn't have problems with it, but that's maybe because I usually rooted for the teams winning by golden/silver goal...
  • Cards system, changes in what is considered an offense to be penalised: this really has to keep developing constantly, in a constant war with trends in faults and foulplay.
  • Replacement balls: maybe the game accelerated somewhat now that matches aren't played with a single ball, and thus teams and fans can't use the retrieval of a ball leaving the pitch as delaying tactic, but I was really fond of this tradition. Ball retrieval was a ritual bond between players and spectators, connecting the audience to the game.


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 07:09:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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