All entries for Saturday 10 December 2005

December 10, 2005

On maths and football

And how they don't go together

I promised a rant about the World Cup seeding, so here we go. Intuition tells you the toughest teams in the world at the moment are Brazil, Argentina, Czech Republic, England, and the Netherlands. Germany need more than one world class player [Ballack] to belong in that group, and the fact that PSV has beaten Milan twice this year says all about the current state of Italy. I just don't know the Mexican team well enough to say anything about them, but I think if you wish to include them, then include South Korea as well – they've actually made an impact!

But that's just [reasoned] intuition.

Here comes what I guess FIFA call maths and stats. The seeding list is half based on the country's world cup history, and half on the country's world ranking over the past few years. Let's pretend that ranking makes sense and see what happens next.

The ranking points

Ranked first by the end of the year gives you 32 points, second is worth 31 and it goes like that for a while, though the lowest ranked teams [somewhere beyond the 50th spot] still get a point. Since the world ranking system is a bit shady, and the top 10 teams are usually of about equal strength, this seems a fair enough allocation of points, and indeed gave fair results [with Germany and Italy indeed ending up lower, though the USA would have been seeded if only ranking were considered. Maybe a more scaled system would be better for this ranking? Say, if you beat a team higher you get more points and if you draw with a team lower you lose points or something. Anyone got Sepp's number?]. From the top of my head seeding based on ranking only would have given Brazil, Czech Rep, Argentina, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Mexico, USA. Seems the ranking's got a dislike of England…

World Cup history points

Only 1998 and 2002 counted towards these points, which kind of makes sense. There's no reason to include any older tournament, and as some '98 players [Cocu, Beckham, Zidane, Ronaldo] are still going strong, there's no reason to exclude that tournament [also, exclusion would skew the results even worse than they are now]. Brazil is the obvious number 1 in this case, being runner up and winner over those two games. But then what happens?

To compare the results to the ranking points, the max is 32 for winning the tournament. Then, as past performance do not guarantee future results, a ratio of 2:1 for the 2002:1998 games is applied, which sounds fair enough [supposedly, this is where the Netherlands were screwed, but don't worry, worse is yet to come]. The point allocation then is 32 for the winner, 31 for the runner up, 30 for the 3rd spot etcetera. Indeed, they manage to distinguish between the teams who reached the quarter finals, and even those who only reached the second round still gain a significant amount of points. Thus, England get an astronomical 20-odd points for reaching the second round in 1998 [sorry about picking on England, it was just a result that sticked out], hardly less than Argentina who beat them, or the Netherlands who beat Argentina, and less than 10 points apart from France, who won the trophy! And it gets worse.

The worst team advancing from the group stage still gets 17 points, equivalent to being ranked 16th of the world. Even ranking third in the group stage gives you 9 points, and being last is still worth 8. Thus, for merely being in the world cup, you can boost your total by 8 points. Hence we got an average team like Paraguay leaping past Portugal and Czech Republic.


I can't say I can think of a better system, but a ranking with Spain being 6th and their group winners Serbia and Montenegro somewhere in the 40s can't be right. I already suggested a heavier penalty for losing to or drawing with a lower ranked team. Points of the rich will go to the poor! Or maybe some sort of ladder system. Taking the ranking at a specific point [December] of the year is also unfavorable to teams who play more during the summer. An average rank over the past few months would be fairer.

The World Cup history system is even more ridiculous. It implies that if a country is to win a Cup and the next run doesn't manage to enter the tournament [quite likely for a European team], it will gain as many points as a team that didn't enter the first tournament, but reached the second round in the latest tournament. Kind of like the Netherlands and, say, Senegal [or Sweden, for that matter].

A system more discrete such as the Grand Prix credits would make more sense. The winner should get considerably more points than the runners up – if only because of the added value of actually winning the cup. Then semifinalists definitely should get far less points than the two finalists, and the same disparity should go between them and quarterfinalists. And why the distinction between quarterfinalists themselves? Why do Japan deserve 7 more points than Paraguay for reaching the second round in 2002? I don't remember one team any better than the other.


It doesn't really matter. It makes sense the Netherlands get some penalty for not being there in 2002 [and hence causing it to be the most boring tournament in history], and they're in an amazing group now so I don't really mind. Rather this than having been seeded and ending up with, say, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Poland. A Grand Prix like system with a similar ratio between the two cups might have landed the Netherlands in the unseeded group as well. Still, if you decide to publish the draw pot procedure online, have some common sense and make sure your system does as well.

Wishful thinking

A social gathering watching the World Cup draw live on TV. Why can't that silly EA Games FIFA 200whocares never stop talking? "I am now going to ask Jo- he is now going to ask Johan Croive to yack yack yack. Anyway. Minor annoyance.

After England got Sweden, and the focus shifted to group C for Argentina, I actually surprised myself wishing out loud they would draw Holland [yes, the Netherlands]. We were bound to draw a big team [pretty obvious, being unseeded and all, but more about that later] and we might be able to beat each of them, most have at least as much chance of beating us, and being big teams, chances are high it will be a dull game. With Argentina, something tells me it won't be dull, which is probably why I hoped to join their group. I was also happy to see Holland with Ivory Coast, as I'm not sure when was the last time they played a subsaharan country, and it sounds like a more exciting game than idunno a match against Ecuador.

Unfortunately, the powers that be didn't grant my second wish when I pleaded not to gives us Serbia and Montenegro. Although, it is a team we have beaten before, and it is a team able give Argentina some resistance, so maybe not a bad draw after all. Whatever happens, Holland will be playing at least three interesting games this summer!

Sure, I hope Holland will win the World Cup, but I truly want to see every single part of the Dutch team shine. Beauty over result. After all, sports should be about entertainment. Oh dear, I feel a rant coming on [let me change the tags...].


I'm from Eindhoven, and was raised in a Philips environment. Unfortunately, I only became aware of the world of football [that is, watching football, rather than playing it. Never really got that part of the game] in 1990, that is after Holland won the Euro Cup and PSV won the EC I, though luckily I didn't see any of the dreadfulness that was WC 1990 [or even EC 1992. Must have been on holiday then]. The first match I really remember watching was PSV Eindhoven - IFK Gothenburg in 1992. Gullible as I was am, I thought that if I wouldn't pay enough attention, or wouldn't support PSV enough from in front of the telly, they would lose horribly. Eventually, they ended last in their EC group with only a draw. And it wasn't with Gothenburg.

It sure seemed to be the worst time to be an emerging PSV fan, as soon Ajax would rule European football, and with that would dominate the Dutch team. Yet, it was all good with the formidable master classes the likes of Litmanen, Bergkamp, Kluivert, Finidi George, Babangida, De Boer & De Boer, Van der Sar, would give each week. If it weren't for a few amazing matchups PSV got in the UEFA cup [2-2, 3-2, 2-2, 2-2 against Barcelona, 5-3 against Leeds] and some pretty great talent in the Philips stadium itself [Ronaldo, Nilis, and later Zenden, Cocu] I'd probably have lost interest.

To the point, I don't watch football because the team I support gets result, I watch the sport because it's exciting, it's thrilling, because every second some player can decide to change the game. OK, it got a bit boring when Ajax became too good and would just play the ball around between the defenders for half the match, or frustrating when PSV hadn't reached the second round in the Champions League for 1500 years. But still, there were always a few in a team that made you want to watch it.

Last year, PSV finally advanced from the group stage in the Champions League, and managed to do the same again this year. Last year, they had Park, Van Bommel, Vogel, Cocu, and Gomez. Hardly the world's most famous players, and though creative, often not skilled enough to change a game. Not to discredit the team, but the reason you want to see PSV play these days, is to see the discipline Hiddink has brought into the team. It's the same discipline that brought South Korea to the semi finals in 2002 and that has just brought the Socceroos to group F in 2006.

Every report is the same. Sure, some goals are scored, but most remarkable of each PSV match is the efficiency with which the team plays. Everyone does what is expected, and the result will be optimal. Sounds almost like something Cruyff would say. Ugh! I had a point, and I lost it!

Oh yes, entertainment. See, it entertains me that PSV do well. And I'm sure it entertained most of you when they gave Milan a hard time last year. But delve into that memory and remember the striking performances PSV has put up in the recent past. Most exciting event I, self-proclaimed PSV-fan, can come up with? Kezman's goal against ManU, about 5 years ago. With the PSV squad forced to be rebuilt every year that's more than a lifetime ago.

[and I promised myself this wouldn't be a long entry]

Back to the wishful thinking. Assuming each team will give what they got, these are the matches I hope to watch:

England – Trinidad & Tobago [could be anything, really]
Any group C match [apart from maybe Ivory Coast - Serbia and Montenegro - indeed, the group with Holland and Argentina]
Portugal – Mexico [sounds like a great match for a quarter final]
Any USA match [with Italy, Czech Rep, and Ghana, group E is arguably as tough as group C, but I couldn't care what the other three teams do - I just expect the Americans to fight]
Brazil – Australia [green and yellow, how nauseating will the stadium look? But seriously, no better way for Australia to get back to the world stage!]
Togo – France [it just sounds good. France better up their game, before Togo follow Senegal's example]
France – South Korea [chance for both to prove the world they're (still) a top squad]

As you can probably tell, I haven't been watching that much lately [mainly coz Holland wasn't in WC 2002] and don't really know who's from where anymore [detail: Ivory Coast player Kalou could end up playing for Holland if the judge rules he's integrated enough]. Hence, I can't tell which players I expect a lot from. Although I can say it won't be Rooney. Yes, he'll probably score a few goals, some maybe even magnificent, but if anyone will bring you the World Cup, it'll be Lampard, or even Beckham [if he'll ever get back to earth]. I can't explain the Dutch success, as it's probably again the trainer's tactics rather than individual class that makes them work. Though I hope for Ruud he gets his chance to perform before he's too old!

The seeding rant will have to follow tomorrow, futile as it may be. In the end, I'm more than happy with the draw, and think the FIFA did a great job mixing the countries and making it a World Cup!

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