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.]


Argentina advances! A fun day of games

June 18, 2010

Argentina advances. Dale! Well, actually, I thought Argentina advanced, but my father-in-law informed me at dinner that technically it is possible for Argentina to not advance. Even so, it’s gotta be like 99%.

1. I am less sanguine about Argentina than most. South Korea really should have scored when the game was 2-1. If they do, this is not a 4-1 game. Argentina beat Nigeria by 1 goal and South Korea by 3, where 2 goals were scored relatively late. Perhaps it is my experience rooting for Holland, but

2. Nigeria. Sigh. I was impressed by Nigeria in the 94 World Cup and have had a soft spot in my heart for them in World Cups since. I have few doubts that they are the second best team in this group. And even though they have 0 points, they still have a chance to advance if they can get it together and beat South Korea. They play well, but a stupid red card put a massive dent in the hopes of advancing for the 8th most populous nation in the world. Still, Argentina should beat Greece, so if Nigeria beats Korea, then Nigeria would advance. All is not lost, but they need to get it together.

3. Have I mentioned I don’t like Angel Di Maria? Of course I have, many times! He’s so overrated. After today, I don’t even think it’s opinion that he is having a terrible disaster of a World Cup (Maradona left Jesus Datolo and Ezequiel Lavezzi off the roster, dumb dumb dumb). My father in law agreed with me at dinner tonight, and liked my off the cuff suggestion to move Tevez into Di Maria’s slot. Aguero or Milito can play forward.

That’s the sick part of being Maradona. He just has so much talent available.

4. Have I mentioned I don’t like Jonas Gutierrez? Indeed I have. That yellow card was just stupid, an unforced error. Still, there is some reason for Gutierrez when Juan Sebastian Veron is playing, to cover Veron’s lack of mobility. However, he was out hurt today, and Maxi Rodriguez (who I would start in many tactical situations) was in his place, so there’s no conceivable excuse for having Gutierrez in the game.

5. Gonzalo Higuain scored 3 right-place, right-time goals. Hey, I’m a Higuain fan even if I don’t like River or Real Madrid: I criticized Maradona for months for keeping him out. Some people have the gift of being in the right spot: Martin Palermo generally does, Higuain does.

6. Maradona introduced Kun Aguero into the game at the perfect moment. My father in law mentioned this tonight. I hadn’t thought of it, but he is right.

7. Messi took for himself a deeper-lying playmaking role. To be honest, I didn’t have a problem with it. In the interview I saw with Messi, he made it sound like it was how he felt like playing at the moment. If it was Maradona’s idea, I give the Diego credit. I don’t really know that it was, but it softened the blow of Riquelme’s absence.

8. Nigeria’s goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama (not gonna look it up now) had a little bit of a Robert Green moment. A shame for him, as he had perhaps been the best player of the World Cup until then.

9. Mexico! Raymond Domenech seems to be a worse manager than Diego Maradona, but vamos Mexico! France had the ball more often, but not by a lot, and never in very compromising positions. Mexico created the chances and today was absolutely the better side. I would like to point out that I yelled for Javier Hernandez to be introduced until he finally was…and quickly scored the first goal of the game. Amazing timing on his run to beat the offsides trap.

10. More importantly, Mexico looked to be a team focused on winning. As the Argentine announcers said after the game, they played directly. This has frequently been Mexico’s problem, but today it wasn’t, and beating France by 2 goals is a huge victory for Mexico and even for CONCACAF.

11. Mexico’s second goal was a penalty. The Argentine announcers (generally quality commentators) both repeated ad nauseum that it shouldn’t have been a PK, which nearly gave me a heart attack. I do not understand how any sensible person could possibly consider this. Que estupidez total!

12. No Henry, Raymond Domenech? Yet lots of Govou? I do not like. No me gusta para nada.

13. It is close to certain that Uruguay and Mexico advance. That means Uruguay v Mexico will determine who is able to avoid playing Argentina. Interestingly, Argentina beat Uruguay to force Uruguay into playing Costa Rica for the final World Cup spot, and Argentina beat Mexico in the round of 16 in the last World Cup.

14. The US needs a win against Slovenia tomorrow. I’m surprisingly nervous. All the games tomorrow (Germany v Serbia, US v Slovenia, England v Algeria) are quite interesting from my perspective, but probably because I’m an American.


Nigeria’s goalkeper:Vincent Enyeama

June 13, 2010

One thing I meant to note in my post below, but forgot: while Nigeria goalie Vincent Enyeama deserved to be Man of the Match (as did USA netminder Tim Howard), Enyeama made all his saves as a result of  cheating far post.  Strangely, I have not seen this commented on anywhere.

It worked!  I have personally noted that Leo Messi will almost always go far post if he is shooting, and perhaps Enyeama picked up on this from watching video.  However, if Enyeama keeps leaning far post, someone is going to notice and fire in an easy one on the near post.

Enyeama made some fantastically athletic saves, no matter how you look at it.


Argentina v Nigeria thoughts

June 13, 2010

1.  Argentina created a ton of chances.

2.  Argentina needed Juan Roman Riquelme out there for free kicks and for playmaking.  Of course, he wasn’t because Maradona treated him badly.

3.  Maradona loves Angel Di Maria.  Alot of people, including Real Madrid, love DiMaria.  I do not, and have said it loudly for a long time (sick goal he scored against Canada though).  Di Maria is one of those flashy wingers who can’t finish and can’t cross.  He will advance the ball down the wing only to lose possession.  Argentina can do better, and today Di Maria was completely invisible.   My wife’s cousin at the 40 minute mark yelled, “when did they substitute Di Maria?”  He was being serious; that’s how invisible he was.

4.   Lots of folks have remarked that Martin Palermo probably shouldn’t be on Argentina’s roster.  Maybe not, but Palermo might have had 3 goals today.  Although he played for River (I’m a Boca season ticket holder), I like Gonzalo Higuain and thought he should start.  He missed a bevy of giftwrapped opportunities today though.  Palermo would have put those away.  He is the master of being at the right place at the right time and converting.

5.  Nigeria is missing a few players, right?  A decent performance from them.  Uche missed an opportunity to make himself famous.

6.  I wonder how much of a home-field advantage the African teams have.  Probably not much.  Would make for an interesting empirical look.

7.  Obviously a win is a win, and Nigeria is probably the second best team in Group B.   Somehow it was very unsatisfying though.  There were just so many chances that weren’t put away, and Nigeria had a couple great chances to tie it.  After the start and the beautiful goal by Heinze, no one would have guessed 1-0.

8.  This game supported all of my contentions: Jonas Gutierrez should not be on the 23 man roster, much less a starter for Argentina.   Di Maria should not be a starter.  And to be honest, I don’t like Juan Sebastian Veron starting either, but largely because Maradona should have humbled himself and asked Juan Roman Riquelme to return.


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