African teams have underperformed

June 23, 2010

My former landlord is a Harvard PhD in economic history, a nice guy, and is paid to write a blog for one of the nation’s biggest newspapers. He wrote a post (in spanish) “Four eternal World Cup myths.” His are: 1) Play is really bad this year, 2) There are so few goals, 3) Watch out for African teams, and 4) So many upsets.

As for (1), he contends that this is the first year everyone is really trying to play possession football. A fair point, I think, although I think this has more to do with parity among nations. The business of football is booming, and the World Cup field hasn’t expanded for a few years, so there’s more parity and thus more teams have the ability necessary to try to play possession football.

As for 2, did anyone not think that there would be some regression to the mean? It was almost impossible for goals to stay that low. As you will note, I predicted this, as I said that the primary reason goal totals were low was variance.

African teams. To be honest, this is what spurred me to write this post. He writes, “The African teams are bad.” He doesn’t really develop it much except to note how bad the African teams record is in this World Cup. To which I say, “Che, Lucas, miraste los mismos partidos que yo?” (Dude, did you watch the same games I did?)

So let’s review briefly. Six african teams: Algeria, Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, South Africa and Cameroon. Nigeria. I didn’t see Nigeria’s match against South Korea (due to the fact that the Argentines had the remote and refused to even let me flip over to Nigeria-Korea when the first half was done), but people seemed to indicate that Nigeria played better. They also played well against Argentina, and although Argentina was quite profligate in their opportunities to score, the score was 1-0 and Nigeria had two excellent, excellent opportunities to score late in the game. They also outplayed but were pretty unlucky against Greece. While they finished with a bad record, I have zero doubts that Nigeria was the second best team in their group.

South Africa: They had a pretty hard group, but they only made the World Cup because they were the host nation. I thought they acquitted themselves reasonably well trying Mexico and beating France, although studies do show that home field advantage is worth slightly more than half a goal in international football.

Algeria: Could still qualify if they beat the US. Tied England and only lost to Slovenia by a goalkeeper error. I don’t want to say anymore because they play the US tomorrow.

Cameroon: The first team eliminated officially; it is definitely not good to lose to Denmark and Japan. They have a bad coach who put one of the best strikers in the world at right midfield. Enough said? I still thought they played attractively, and — I know I already said this, but… — are probably the second best team in their group (can we replace the manager please?)

Ivory Coast: Tied Portugal, but most agree that they had the better run of play against Portugal. I think they got a little unlucky against Brazil, although it is clear Brazil was the better team that day. They won’t advance unless Brazil beats Portugal and they score something like 8 goals against North Korea. They won’t advance, but I’d also consider them a bit unlucky. Again, they replaced their manager right before the World Cup, have had some internal strife, etc etc. Picking Sven Goran Eriksson as your manager doesn’t help.

Ghana: They control their destiny right now. If they win against Germany, they advance. I think they probably won’t, but let’s keep in mind that they are missing Michael Essien, someone I rate in the top 20 footballers in the world.

In short, I think it’s a more than a little dismissive to say African teams aren’t good. They’ve gotten very unlucky so far, and seem to be a bit riven by internal dissensions and frequently bad coaching.

It is a mistake to draw conclusions from small sample sizes. One World Cup is an extremely small sample size, and we aren’t even 75% done with group play yet! There’s alot of luck in football, especially when the teams are relatively even…as they seem to be this year. And using data from other World Cups is fraught with statistical danger. You are making an apples-to-oranges comparison and essentially assuming your conclusion.

So, I don’t really know how far Africa has come. Obviously not far enough for their teams to have alot of success. Yet some of the African teams seem to lack in the coaching department, and I think perhaps depth might be an issue as well.

[And yeah, I don’t think there are more surprises this World Cup than normal. Most of the world powers will still advance to the next round…although we will see in the next few days.]


Stéphane Lannoy is a disaster

June 21, 2010

The French are in ruins, having mutinied against their joke of a national team coach today. But perhaps even worse was the performance of French referee Stéphane Lannoy. Despite looking in another direction, the fact that Kaka did nothing, and the fact that it was all an act.

Lannoy handed out the red card. Technically, the second yellow, but the first yellow was almost as undeserved as above.

I’m still going to call taking back the US goal as the Worst Call of the World Cup, but Brazil and Ivory Coast was the worst refereed game of the World Cup so far.

Here’s an abbreviated list of egregious refereeing errors:
1. Luis Fabiano’s goal where he committed a handball foul TWICE. Keep in mind that I almost never in agreement with calling unintentional handballs, which many referees call. Not calling either handball is absolutely unforgiveable.
2. Drogba’s jersey being pulled twice in the box on the same play, extended away from body. Sorry ref, I hate calling penalties because I believe referees should never decide matches, but that was a penalty.
3. The first Kaka yellow card.
4. The second Kaka yellow card.
5. The foul on Elano that went without a yellow card when a red was probably more appropriate.
6. Lots of Ivory Coast reckless challenges that went uncarded.
7. The acting by Brazilians that started before the Kaka red card.
8. Losing complete control of the game in a way I rarely see in any level of football. If this had been a mere league game and not the World Cup, I think a brawl could’ve been a possibility.

I read around the web about what a great victory it was for Brazil. I agree, because Ivory Coast has alot of great talents. I think that just because the score was 3-0 before Drogba scored an amazing late goal, people look at it as a big Brazil victory.

It’s pretty hard to do counterfactuals in football, but I personally feel like that fact exagerates the fact that Brazil’s 2nd goal shouldn’t have counted. So 2-1 Brazil. Given Ivory Coast either the penalty I think the ref should’ve given or the header Drogba missed from the 6 yard line…I think calling it a big Brazil win is overrating it.


Ivory Coast v Portugal

June 15, 2010

Who knew Ivory Coast would “fall apart” the moment Didier Drogba was introduced as a substitute?  Until that point, Ivory Coast had the better of the scoreless draw.  Afterwards, Portugal had the better of the game.

And Jorge Larrionda?  Well, he didn’t give out any stupid red cards or penalties, so while he made a number of strange calls, and he fell for a couple Cristiano Ronaldo dives… for his standards I think you judge the game a success.

Drogba really should have scored in the first minute of extra time.

Portugal gets North Korea next while Brazil takes on the Ivory Coast.  I think that’s advantage Portugal, because if Brazil wins, they will have already advanced and have a little less motivation against Portugal in their final game.


Interesting games tomorrow, Ivory Coast, Brazil, Portugal

June 15, 2010

Italy’s 1-1 draw with Paraguay wasn’t completely unexpected.  Paraguay beat Argentina and Brazil in qualifying, and led all of South America for a long time during qualifying.  They are good on the counter, organize well defensively, and actually have a ton of attacking talent.  Oscar Cardozo, Lucas Barrios (who is actually an Argentine), Roque Santa Cruz…

* At one point during the Italy Paraguay game, there were two Argentines from Buenos Aires on the field, one for each team: Lucas Barrios and Camorenesi.

It was a little disappointing that there was so much rain, but there’s no doubt Italy controlled the game.  The goal for Paraguay came against the run of play, although I didn’t find it surprising, having seen Paraguay play.  Italy had to press, but to my mind they didn’t really create that many clear chances.  When they get behind, the lack of a playmaker like Giuseppe Rossi is pretty apparent.  Italy got its goal by what was basically a goalie error.

All this leads into tomorrow’s first game: Slovakia v New Zealand.   Those are two of the biggest minnows of the World Cup and are very unlikely to advance.  Still, Marek Hamsik is someone who could definitely help himself get to a big club in Europe with a solid performance.

Following that is probably the best game of the “first games” of the first round.  England v US was pretty big, but Ivory Coast and Portugal is pretty massive.  The other two teams in that group are North Korea and Brazil: arguably the worst and best team to qualify for the World Cup finals, respectively.   I would argue that Ivory Coast is probably one of the most underrated countries heading into the World Cup, although they have had alot of recent adversity, including the injury to Didier Drogba and replacing their coach with…yikes, Sven Goran Eriksson (not someone I rate).

Portugal has had a couple important injuries recently as well, but still boast a team that doesn’t have too much pressure on it, has Cristiano Ronaldo and his diving ability, and pretty well rested.  Compare that to a squad like England and Portugal has some intangibles on its side.

To date, African teams haven’t seemed to have any great home advantage, but it will be interesting to see the crowd tomorrow.   It will be a killer if FIFA doesn’t allow Didier Drogba to play (although the play in which he injured himself was his own fault as he essentially karate scissorkicked the opposing player).

Finally, it’s not impossible that Brazil, Ivory Coast and Portugal end up in something of a three way tie, so beating North Korea by alot could be key for goal differential.  I would expect Brazil to pump in 5 goals or so, which could help determine who scores the most goals in the World Cup.

To tell you the truth, I think Portugal is likely to have the edge, in large part because of manager, but I will be rooting for the Ivory Coast.


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