It’s not the Jabulani combined with altitude

July 11, 2010

I just ran the numbers, and there’s pretty much no evidence that the Jabulani is to blame for the low scoring of this World Cup. So this is essentially a teaser post. I’ll put up the numbers after tomorrow’s final.

I admit it: I was wrong that it was likely that one of the reasons we had a low-scoring World Cup was the Jabulani combined with the altitude. Call me gullible. It was a theory advanced that seemed plausible.


2010 is not the lowest scoring World Cup

July 10, 2010

I have just run the numbers and 2010 will not be not the lowest scoring World Cup in modern history. Post-group play the number of goals per game is above average.

It’s still awfully close to being the lowest scoring World Cup, but 1990 will remain the king of low scoring. 1990, of course, was when Argentina made it to the finals against Germany despite scoring 5 goals in the entire World Cup. Yes, that’s right…Argentina scored less than a goal per game and made it to the finals. Pretty amazing, huh?

Edit to note: Graphs and charts to come tomorrow after Holland wins and we have final numbers.

Brazil v Netherlands: the 10th meeting

July 1, 2010

Tomorrow’s matchup between Brazil and the Netherlands is a strange matchup: the un-Brazil vs the un-Holland. With all due respect to Argentina, these are the two nations with the strongest commitment to playing attractive, stylish football.

It’s been a common refrain on this blog: under Dunga, Brazil plays a boring, joyless football. Despite having one of the most talented player pools in the world, Dunga chose a boring defensive-oriented team. He doesn’t seem terribly interested in who is in form, which explains how two players maintain their starting positions for la Selecao despite the fact that they couldn’t crack the starting lineup for 5th place Manchester City (Robinho, Elano). He chose Maicon over Dani Alves, only to replace an injured Elano with Dani Alves at right mid/wing, a position at which Alves looked a little lost for Barcelona the few times he played there.

Holland, likewise, is doing something they’ve never done before: win ugly. While they’re getting criticized back home, instead of attacking and leaving defending to chance, they actually defend. They don’t take silly chances. They still try to possess the ball with flowing football, but without overdoing it. Can you tell I’m a fan? Eljero Elia was right: the best from the Dutch is still to come. They haven’t even come close to their capacity.

Brazil is 3-2-4 through the first 9 meetings of these two teams. I think Holland is going to even the score tomorrow. Of course, I would say that since I have a Dutch last name…and because I’m really not a fan of Dunga. Like I indicated in my writeup of Holland, there’s a happy middle ground. If you’re up 1-0 with 2 minutes left in the game and the other team is collapsing into their end: you don’t have to attack.

I think this could be another Brazil v Holland World Cup classic. I hope the Dutch get a little luck — unusual for a World Cup — score first and come away with the win.

Johan Cruyff on Brazil

July 1, 2010

Dutch star Johan Cruyff spoke to UK newspaper The Mirror:

I would never pay for a ticket to watch the matches of this Brazilian team. Where has the Brazil team we all know disappeared to in this World Cup? I look at this team and I remember people like Gerson, Tostao, Falcao, Zico or Socrates. Now I only see Gilberto, Melo, Bastos, Julio Baptista. Where is the Brazilian magic? I could understand why Dunga has picked some players but where is the playmaker or skill in midfield? I don’t think any spectator would pay to watch them. Brazil need to play with more intensity, more bite on the pitch because they are not special, they are just like any other squad in this World Cup. Always the fans want to enjoy Brazil, enjoy their fantasy at World Cups but they do not have that this summer. They have talented players but they play in a way which is more defensive and is less exciting. It is a shame for the fans and the tournament. They are one of the teams people want to see.

Johan Cruyff is correct. This is the antithetical Brazilian team. Yes, it is true that if Brazil hadn’t always been the country (along with the Netherlands, perhaps) on which you could depend for an entertaining match, Cruyff wouldn’t say this. But Brazil always played with class, which is why this Dunga-ized joyless Brazilian team disappoints.

Is 2010 a boring World Cup? Why are there no goals?

June 25, 2010

Back to the question I asked after the first 1/3 of group play: is this a boring World Cup so far? Well, it is a low scoring World Cup, whether you call that boring is your opinion.

Goals per game of World Cup group play

Through group play, 2010 is indisputably the lowest scoring World Cup in history.

After the first set of games in group play, there were only 1.56 goals per game, so scoring has gone up significantly since then. Some of that was helped by Portugal scoring so many times against North Korea (7-0), but almost every World Cup has at least one really one-sided blowout.

However, the number of ties per group play is fairly close to the mean.

By the way, although I titled the post provocatively for google, I do not think this has been a boring World Cup. While it is low-scoring, it hasn’t been boring in the slightest bit from my view. And my teams have done pretty well so far.

Why are there no goals?

I’m sticking with my reasons before: parity, variance, and — at least a little bit — the ball.

Parity: teams are just more equal.* With the exception of North Korea, teams were relatively equal. Italy might have had the easiest group and yet it still failed to advance. There weren’t really any teams who allowed 4-0 victories as there may have been in past World Cups. As noted in the previous post, the World Cup expanded in 1998 and 1982, which seems to correlate with more goals.

Variance: Tighter offsides calls, whatever. Sometimes teams just score less and there is no explanation.

The ball: while plenty of domestic leagues used the ball in the last year, it does seem to be flying differently in the high altitude of South Africa if you believe the players. Not sure if only this ball flies differently, or if the altitude is really the big factor here, but I’m inclined to believe that this is in fact an issue that is affecting play. I have no idea whether teams will become accustomed to the ball in further stages or not and thus increase scoring.

* I’d note that you could argue this the other way. You could say that teams falsely appear more equal because there is less scoring.

Why are there so few goals in World Cup 2010?

June 16, 2010

As I noted below, there are no goals in World Cup 2010. But why? There are a few possible candidates: parity, vuvuzelas, the new ball, altitude and just variance.

World Cup 2010 Boring?

1. Global spread of the game has increased parity. The World Cup expanded in 1982 and then again in 1998. You can see spikes in the number of goals, which is probably logical, as more weak teams qualify when the field expands and thus lose by a large number of goals.

2. Vuvuzelas. Those things are so obnoxiously deafening that they make it hard to communicate.

3. Jubulani. The ball has received lots of complaints from lots of players. The ball has been used in this year’s Club World Cup, African Nations Cup, the MLS, and the Argentine first division.

4. Altitude.

5. Variance. Only 16 games have been played so far. That’s a very small sample size. Perhaps by chance all the first round matchups were very even.

My take:
* It’s not the vuvuzelas. In the 2009 Confederations Cup, largely held at the same venues, scoring was not down in the slightest bit. So wipe that possible explanation off the list.

* It’s not the altitude, obviously. Nor is it just the ball. But maybe the altitude combined with the new ball, according to this ESPN post by Chris Jones:

Early games here at the World Cup have been marred by poor play and few goals, which several players have attributed to the unpredictable flight of the Jabulani, the new ball by adidas.

In tests and in trials, in Germany’s Bundesliga as well as professional leagues in France, Argentina, Portugal and the United States, the Jabulani received few complaints. But its introduction to the rarefied air of South Africa’s World Cup venues has been far from controversy-free.

After defending the ball repeatedly, Thomas Schaikvan, an adidas spokesman, conceded yesterday that the Jabulani and altitude might not mix. “We want to create a more stable ball,” he told Press Association Sport. “But playing at altitude is not the same as playing at sea level. That is just plain science.”

A common line of defense for the ball — “The Germans didn’t seem to have a problem with it,” repeated time and again after Germany’s 4-0 opening defeat of Australia — now has heard its rebuttal. The Germans played at Durban, one of only three South African venues at sea level.

* The lack of scoring is probably mostly just variance, but I think that there is a non-zero parity effect since the World Cup field hasn’t been expanded recently. And perhaps there is something to the Jabulani combined with the altitude.

We will get more evidence when more games have been played, of course. As I write this, the first game of the second set of group play matches is at 3-0. That’s mean reversion!

Is World Cup 2010 boring so far?

June 16, 2010

I have updated the information after group play. This is the lowest goals in a World Cup so far. Click the link for updated stats and charts.

Up until this point, World Cup 2010 is boring. That’s what they are talking about right now on Argentine TV. As I listened to the Argentine pundits talk, I thought it might be interesting to run some numbers comparing this World Cup against previous World Cups.

If you like goals and dislike ties, then this World Cup is boring, according to the numbers.

Every team has played one game, so we can compare pretty easily against what had happened in previous World Cups. I went back and calculated the number of goals in the first set of games of group play for each World Cup back until 1970.*  It is worth noting that 1970-1978 had only 4 groups. 1982-1994 had 6 groups. 1998-now has had 8 groups. So, to some degree we are comparing apples to oranges.

Year Goals per Game
2010 1.56
2006 2.44
2002 2.88
1998 2.31
1994 2.5
1990 2.25
1986 2
1982 2.83
1978 2.75
1974 2
1970 2.5

Or, if you prefer, in chart form:
World Cup 2010 Boring?

2002’s stats are somewhat inflated because Germany scored 8 goals. 1982’s stats are inflated because Hungary scored 10 goals (look it up!) in its first game and Scotland scored 5. In the future, I might design a modified stat to strip away the outliers. However, even if you stripped away Hungary and Scotland’s extra goals, there were still more average goals per game in 1982 than in 2010.

Goals aren’t everything, of course. People will probably tend to think that a World Cup is boring if more games end in ties.

Year How many games end in a tie?
2010 37.5%
2006 18.8%
2002 25%
1998 31.3%
1994 25%
1990 25%
1986 33%
1982 41.7%
1978 25%
1974 25%
1970 12.5%

So is this World Cup boring? Lke I said, if you like goals and you want to see one team win or lose…then this is a boring World Cup so far.

I choose to focus on the positive: ties now mean that the last set of games for group play is meaningful. Plus, blowouts aren’t very interesting to me even if they mean more goals for the highlight reel. Plus my teams – US, Argentina and Holland – have all had good opening results. So, while thus far 2010 features a definite paucity of goals, let’s hold off before labelling it a boring World Cup. The goals could still come pouring in…especially if they would ban the vuvuzela.

* A note on methodology:  The statistics presented above are for the first set of games for group play, which is where we are in World Cup 2010: finished with the first set of games for group play.  Every team has played exactly one game as I write this before South Africa v Uruguay.  I did not take the average goals per game of all of group play for previous World Cups, as that would be an apples to oranges comparison.    Nor did I take the average goals per game of the entire World Cups. For those of you who care, you can see the spreadsheet here.

UPDATE: You can see my explanation for why there are so few goals at the World Cup.

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