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World Cup Off-Day Musings

by TGeraghty Thu Jun 29th, 2006 at 04:00:11 AM EST

What do people think about the following proposal: re-rank the teams before the knockout round (based on points, with goal differential as the first tie-breaker and goals scored as the 2nd) and make the match-ups based on performance in the group stages?

The reason I ask is, let's face it, Italy (unless they royally screw up) has essentially already been gifted a place in the semifinals due to scheduling quirks, despite a relatively mediocre performance. Of the 8 group winners they are 6th based on points, goal differential, and goals scored, but they will only have had to beat Australia (16th) and Ukraine (10th) to make the semis.

Meanwhile, the most impressive performer in the first round was Spain (1st), who were rewarded by having had to beat not only France (13th) but also Brazil (3rd) to reach the semis. Plus, on Friday either Germany (2nd) or Argentina (5th) will be out. That game seems more like it should be a final or semifinal than a quarterfinal. It doesn't seem fair.


These would be the rankings based on first round performance:

1    Spain
2    Germany
3    Brazil
4    Portugal
5    Argentina
6    Italy
7    Switzerland
8    England
9    Netherlands
10    Ukraine
11    Ecuador
12    Ghana
13    France
14    Sweden
15    Mexico
16    Australia

So the knockout round matchups would have been:

1    Spain
16    Australia

8    England
9    Netherlands

4    Portugal
13    France

5    Argentina
12    Ghana

3    Brazil
14    Sweden

6    Italy
11    Ecuador

7    Switzerland
10    Ukraine

2    Germany
15    Mexico

Then, by seeds (except for Swi-Ukr which was actually played), quarterfinals would be:

Spain-England
Portugal-Argentina
Brazil-Italy
Ukraine-Germany

BTW, just for fun, toughest groups, based on adding up the teams' rankings:

E (Italy, Ghana) & H (Spain, Ukraine) - 64 ranking points
A (Germany, Ecuador) & C (Argentina, Netherlands) - 65 points
B (England, Sweden), D (Portugal, Mexico) & G (Switzerland, France) - 67 points
F (Brazil, Australia) - 69 points

Based on this, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Argentina did better than expected in the rankings based on the difficulty of their groups, and the other group winners did worse, with Brazil having the worst relative performance of all.

Brazil are overrated and are not going to win this tournament, IMHO :) . Look out for Germany!

My predictions are: Germany v England Italy and Italy England v Brazil in the semis, with Germany and Italy England (thanks, Migeru!) moving onto the final, and Germany to win their fourth World Cup.

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Seems fair, except that then some more effort would have to be made to allocate the teams fairly for the group stage. The top eight teams were, indeed, seeded to avoid having two of them in the same group, but after that the overriding concern was to have teams from different continents in each group.

That said, using the points in the group stage to rank the teams lends itself to the following problem: in a group with four teams of sufficiently different skills you'd end up with 3-2-1-0 wins, or 18 points total. In a "group of death" with lots of ties you can end up with as little as 12 points total. In order to make the first round results more meaningful you'd need to make fewer but larger groups. This is impossible with 32 teams and 64 games.

An alternative format that is available for 32 teams and 64 games is to have a knockout tournament where teams are eliminated after their second defeat. This gives at least 62 games as 31 of the teams must be eventually eliminated and so must lose 2 games each. One could possibly have 63 games if the eventual winner loses one game along the way. The most exciting possibility would be to have two undefeated teams meet for a best-of-three final round, but this wouldn't happen under a reasonable pairing algorithm, as two undefeated teams would meet on the 5th round of 9 or possibly 10.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 28th, 2006 at 08:12:23 PM EST
We can examine the rankings of the teams' opponents and see where they might be expected to finish based on schedule strength compared to where they actually did finish.

If you do that for the group winners, you get the following:

            Schedule    Exp    Actual  
            Strength    Rank    Rank  
H    Spain        63        4       1        3.0
E    Italy          57        8       6       2.0
C    Argentina  60        5.5    5       0.5
A    Germany   64        2.5    2       0.5
B    England     59        7       8       -1.0
G    Switzerl'd  60        5.5    7       -1.5
D    Portugal    64        2.5      4       -1.5
F    Brazil         67        1       3       -2.0

Schedule strength = sum of team's opponents' rankings in the group phase

So group F was weak because Brazil's opponents were: the worst (based on overall group phase rank) second-place team (Australia, 16th), a below-average third-place team (Croatia, 22nd), and an average last-place team (Japan, tied for 28th). Based strictly on this measure of schedule strength, we would expect for Brazil to have finished with an overall #1 ranking, but they only finished 3rd, which is the worst relative performance of any of the group winners.

Italy, on the other hand, had an above-average second-place team (Ghana, tied for 11th), a slightly above-average third-place team (Czech Republic, 20th place), and the toughest last-place team (USA, tied for 25th). So Group H was the toughest of all the groups for them. They would have been expected to finish 8th, but actually finished 6th.

Given that, I should amend my previous comments: Italy's relative performance has actually been excellent by this measure (not "mediocre" as I stated before), second only to Spain's in the group phase. But, it still seems unfair that Spain would have had a much tougher road to the semifinals than Italy. Part of the problem is also France's underachievement in the group phase -- if they had won their group as they should have, then Spain would have played Switzerland and Spain would still be in it.

BTW, Spain played in sort of an "average" group; Ukraine was the second-best 2nd-place team, Tunisia was the second-worst 3rd-place team, and Saudi Arabia was the median last-place team. So Spain would have been expected to finish in the middle of the pack among group winners, but since they finished first their relative performance in the group phase was the best of anyone.

by TGeraghty on Wed Jun 28th, 2006 at 08:34:50 PM EST
Here is the problem: Italy was in a group of death, as was Switzerland. However, Italy according to your calculations had the weakest first-round schedule while Brazil had the hardest. This is exactly the opposite of what happened, and is a reflection of the fact that victories count for 3 points and ties for 1 point.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 28th, 2006 at 08:58:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, lowest score = toughest schedule, since lower rankings are better. Italy had the strongest first-round schedule, and Brazil had the easiest. Switzerland had the third-toughest (tied with Argentina).
by TGeraghty on Wed Jun 28th, 2006 at 09:08:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah, it's sum of rankings, not sum of scores. My bad.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 28th, 2006 at 09:10:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, man, I don't want to live through the English press' buildup to a Germany-England final...

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 28th, 2006 at 08:59:42 PM EST
They have been relatively positive so far, I thought. But you are right. No, there is always hope, but then there is also Sun....
by PeWi on Thu Jun 29th, 2006 at 04:05:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Have the advantage of living in Wales, so get a slightly less jingoistic version of the Sun. as long as wales are playing Rugby somewhere in the world, England might not even make the back page if they get to the final.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu Jun 29th, 2006 at 03:14:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
More fire on the Aragones-Henry-race issue:

from Le Monde

on the vast Plaza de Colon, in Madrid [...] tens of thousands of people had come to watch the match on a large screen [...] To express their fervour, a majority saw nothing wrong in imitating monkey sounds each time a black French player had the ball

I remember listening to Bernard Lama, France and Paris' goalkeeper from 1992-1998 (before Barthez), who said that it was somtimes hard for him to play because even at home in Paris, his own supporters would throw bananas at him from behind his goal. But most of the time it was an extra motivation, he said.

Frankly the whole monkey sound + race issue in football pisses me off completely, I don't care whether it happens in France, in Spain, in Italy, I just want it to stop.

Domenech was smart to only focus on keeping the best players for each available position, when he started as coach for France (2 years ago). Back then it was a shock for many (Le Pen had already said back in 1998 that fielding so many black players -and there were fewer back then- meant that he would not support this team) Even I remember feeling shortly surprised when I first saw a line-up during the anthem playing with 10 brown/black players and Barthez as the only white. Not shock for me, of course, just surprise. It only surprised me once, that instant. Perhaps it shouldn't have, but you can imagine that if I, a rather tolerant globe-trotter, was surprised for an instant, that all the racist, xenophobic, latent racists and clean-shaven suit & tie fathers of three, were shocked.

As the president of one of France's anti-discrmination organisation, the MRAP (either that or the LDH), said, in retaliation to Sarkozy's much-mediatised nomination of a Franco-Arab governor not too long ago, "And when will we have a Black minister? Black is in your face. Black gets noticed. Franco-Arab is very good for France, but it's still too pale for people to notice. And I'm not talking about coffee black, which some governments have put as sports or youth ministers, I'm talking about very dark black, in an important ministry". (alex note: I'm quoting from memory, this is essentially what was said but won't be the exact words)

I also remember a chat with one of my xenophobic uncles back then, after this 90% black line-up, when I suggested that he rename one of the alleys in my grandma's mini-forest "Allée les bleus" (a pun on "alley" and "go blues!" ie. as in the blue shirts of the French football team). He had answered, cynically and with a good dose of discrimination: "blue? you mean black right?".

So it happened with Domenech, the transition has been consumed, now my feeling is that people accept it. In which case let's hope it will work on the long term. But what if it only works as long as the team wins?? So let's not fool ourselves: one of the players in the French world cup squad, Patrick Chimbonda, left the team he was playing for in Corsica, to go play for Wigan in England, as he was tired of monkey sounds and general abuse. He says that he's never lived that experience again ever since he arrived in England, last year.

by Alex in Toulouse on Thu Jun 29th, 2006 at 07:20:39 AM EST
At the end of the game there were clashes between the spectators and the police.

El Pais: The party ended in a brawl (28-06-2006)

30 injured and 12 arrested at Colón after Municipal Police charged against agitators

Yesterday's broadcasting of the Spain-France game at Colón square ended in a multitudinous battle between police and thousands of adolescents. In total 30 people were injured, one of them a policeman, of whom 16 were taken to various hospitals in the capital. Security forces arrested 12 people for the incidents. In the party at Sol 15 people were assisted by Samur [emergency ambulance service].

(my translation)

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 29th, 2006 at 07:31:52 AM EST
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