Saturday, 8 July 2017

The Disgrace of Gijón (1982) - match fixing and game theory

Angry crowd holding up paper notes - no doubt accusing the Austrian and West German teams of scandal/bribery.

Picture courtesy of this site.
Background - Algeria upsets West Germany

On 16 June at the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain, Algeria shocked the world by defeating West Germany, one of the favourites for the title.

Prior to this Group 2 match, the West Germans were confident that victory was assured - to the extent that none of the team had bothered to view the footage of Algeria's previous matches. In fact, the West German manager Jupp Derwall confessed that he did not ask his players to watch the footage out of fear that they would laugh at him.

But they laughed anyway.

According to the Guardian, there were reports that one German player quipped that his team would dedicate "the seventh goal to [their] wives, and the eighth to [their] dogs." Algeria's full-back Chaabane Merzekane also stated that one German allegedly said that he would play against the Algerians with a cigar in his mouth.

With an assembly of superstars in their squad, including Uli Stielike, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Paul Breitner, such was the confidence of the West Germans.

As history would have it, the match incredulously ended in a 2-1 upset to the Algerians.

However this happy surprise was only half the story. The other half was quite simply a tragedy.

Prelude to final group matches


The Algerians lost 0-2 to Austria in their second group match before defeating Chile 3-2 in their final group match. Germany defeated Chile comfortably 4-1 in their second group match.

However, up until 1982, all final group matches at the World Cup were not played simultaneously.

Algeria had played their final group match on 24 June 1982, the day before West Germany would meet Austria in their final group match.

The Disgrace of Gijón

On 25 June 1982, the West Germans and Austrians entered their crunch match at Gijon, Spain, knowing that a 1-0 or 2-0 win to Germany would result in both teams entering the next phase of the World Cup at the expense of Algeria - based on a superior goal difference.

The West Germans are said to have furiously attacked for the first 10 minutes, which successfully resulted in a goal by Horst Hrubesch.

With the Germans 1-0 up, there became a (perhaps) spontaneous realisation and understanding between the two teams that this was a mutually desirable outcome for both.

From then on, the team in possession often passed between themselves in their own half.

Save for one or two serious attempts at goal by West Germany, and barring the efforts of Walter Schachner - who was the only Austrian player attempting to play competitively - neither team attempted to have a proper shot on target.

Ie. Both teams didn't play to their best ability.

The spectators were not impressed and were certainly not afraid to voice their disgust against both teams by chanting "Argelia, Argelia" ("Algeria, Algeria"), amongst other chants.


The media and various high-profile observers criticised both teams, not that they really cared. Both teams progressed at Algeria's expense as shown in the table above.


The Economics of Match-Fixing

Interestingly, Raul Caruso wrote a paper called The Economics of Match-Fixing (May 2007) which focused on this very match.

On page 15 of his paper, Caruso notes that the bargaining positions of the two teams was dictated by the West Germans being:
  • a) in a precarious position of elimination; and
  • b) clearly the stronger team having won the European Championship two years before.
In those circumstances it was arguably not for the Austrians to contest this "silent arrangement" that the match should be fixed at 1-0 to West Germany.

On page 16, Caruso essentially describes the agreement as follows:
  1. The West Germans agreed to not play their best (ie. not aim to win by more than 2 goals, which would knock the Austrians out); and
  2. In consideration for this, the Austrians agreed to lose the match and hence forfeit their ability to compete for first place in the group.
I have obviously not done the specific working out (I can't remember my game theory from Commerce!), but based on the above, it would appear that the Nash equilibrium was for the Austrians and West Germans to keep the scoreline at 1-0 to West Germany.

I really do wonder whether this agreement was spontaneous or premeditated. If it was spontaneous, that makes the situation even more interesting.

Regardless of whether the various scenarios were discussed internally or between each team, and regardless of how disgraceful the above situation was, it is understandable why the teams did the above as the agreement offered safe and certain passageway for both parties.

Legacy

The Algerians may not have progressed to the next round, but their impact in that tournament and indeed, world football, is undeniable. The scandal of 1978's six-nil drubbing by Argentina against Chile had been bad enough, outraging most Brazilians. But Algeria's heartbreak was the tipping point.

As a result, commencing from the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, all final group matches would take place simultaneously - this measure, of course, ensured that it would be more difficult (although not impossible) for a match to be fixed by scrutinising the results of the other final group match.

Let us also not forget that Algeria were the first African team to defeat a European side or win two matches in a row at a FIFA World Cup (the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon would only make their mark 8 years later despite appearing at the 1982 finals).

Interestingly, Algeria were one of only a handful of teams to give Germany a hard time at the 2014 World Cup (the others being Ghana and Argentina). They put up a good fight in the Round of 16 but ultimately could not exact revenge for the Disgrace of Gijón.

Thankfully..

Italy defeated West Germany in the 1982 final thanks to Paolo Rossi and co.


Interestingly, Italy had drawn 3 times in the first Group Stage...and still progressed.

Andre Lim

* As several online articles have no doubt already contemplated, query whether the Disgrace of Gijón will repeat itself at the 48-team 2026 World Cup where 16 groups of 3 teams means there will always be 1 team left on the sidelines while 2 other teams duke out their final group match knowing what is the required result?!

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