Monday 30 June 2014

World Cup Observations 16: Round of 16 Round-up Part 1

Brazil v Chile
  • Woke up for the second half (about 3am)
  • Looks like I was quite wrong about how close this match would be; I knew it would be close but not THAT close
  • The game looked incredibly open, with lots of pace and space. 
  • Was Hulk really handling the ball? On one view it looked like it hit his shoulder; on another view it looked like it hit his arm. Did his huge biceps have anything to do with the decision, depending on the angle looked upon?
  • It was a real shame that the Chilean number 9 couldn't have sealed the deal against the Brazilians at the last-gasp in injury time.
  • Some are saying that this match will be harder than the match against Colombia; others are saying Colombia has a good chance of upsetting Brazil. I'm not really so sure about either opinion, given that the way Colombia plays seems to be quite different to Chile
  • Brazil don't look like a champion team, but as I've said before, in a knockout competition all one needs to do is to scrape through each match no matter how ugly it is.

Colombia v Uruguay
  • I watched the first half and a bit of the second half
  • Didn't really observe anything extra special from the Colombians besides the obvious star they have in James Rodriguez (and his consistency in scoring)
  • I don't really have anything to say apart from the fact that they seem to be a consistent all-round team, and Cuadrado seems to be in good form.
  • My scoreline prediction was correct, but it was a bit fortunate given the nature of the first goal

Netherlands v Mexico
  • Woke up for the second half (about 3am)
  • Netherlands left it a bit late, but they got there - that's what matters! Despite tipping them, I didn't think they would be able to recover in truth.
  • To me the Dutch only looked threatening with set-pieces or corner kicks - they struggled to get the ball up the park
  • When that corner kick was given I remember saying to myself "It really is now or never for the Dutch", and sure enough they scored through a Huntelaar assist to Sneijder!
  • Apparently Robben deserved a penalty in the first half, and dived for another. Perhaps the penalty awarded was justified in that context, although it still looked like a penalty/clumsy challenge to me.
  • The REAL talking point for me however is why on earth did Mexico substitute Giovanni dos Santos off for what seemingly was part of a defensive manoeuvre or strategy to hold the 1-0 lead (but I'm not sure exactly what Aquino plays as though). This negative thinking probably led to Mexico's downfall.
  • The last gasp penalty reminded me of the way Italy won in the last minute against Australia in 2006!! The Mexicans must feel robbed 

Costa Rica v Greece
  • Woke up for the second half, again (about 7am)
  • Ruiz's first goal was incredibly slick and accurate, the goalkeeper seemingly unsighted
  • The 2nd yellow card leading to the red card was ridiculous - it nearly cost Costa Rica
  • Greece seem to always be a last-gasp side, as demonstrated through the equaliser with Papastahopoulous (who apparently, booked his wedding on the 5th of July presumably because he didn't expect Greece to make it that far?!!). However when it mattered most - when they had a 5 v 2 counterattacking situation in extra-time - they made some bad decisions and could not find the winner when they really should have
  • Cool penalties from all the Costa Rican lads. Tremendous saves, in normal/extra time and the shoot-out, from Navas. Gekas shouldn't be blamed
  • Surprisingly my scoreline prediction was correct

Comments on Tipping

As a sidenote, I tipped 28/48 for the group stage , which is actually quite a horrible score, even if it is in the top 4% in Australia (which is approximately in the top 4000).

A respectable score would probably be somewhere around 33 to 35 (48 less all the draws and less all the surprising results from Costa Rica = 48 - 8 draws - 2 surprising results = 38 less again "close" matches. I haven't counted what these close matches are so I'll just round down to the nearest 5).

In deciding what's respectable, I make the assumption that guessing a draw is unreasonable in most, but not all, situations [they are reasonable perhaps in the last round of group matches and where the opponent is perceived to be a difficult one]: this is because draws are (probably, though I have no proof) less likely to occur than either a win or a loss combined so a tipper would be unlikely to guess a draw. It usually takes tremendous skill and a large amount of "luck" to correctly guess a draw.

Currently I sit on 32/52, but I am quite sure I will get a few more wrong along the way. (As another sidenote, It bothers me that I didn't physically lock in Uruguay to win against England - I wrote it down on my wallchart but I didn't actually tip them on footytips for some reason)

Saturday 28 June 2014

World Cup "Observations" 15: Predictions and Comments on the Knockout Stages

My first comment is that, in terms of predictions, it seems to me that most matches here, perhaps with the exception of Germany-Algeria (and if I'm allowed to stretch it, Argentina-Switzerland), should be fairly competitive.

My second comment is that, the bookmakers are generally correct and, purely as an indication of probabilities of winning, one wouldn't (and shouldn't) venture too far away from their odds: the top most name in the fixture is usually the favourite. This is also intuitive, given the relative strength of each country and how they fared in the Group Stages.

Thus, due to this second point, my predictions will be rather obvious but even then I propose to talk and share my thoughts about each fixture separately.

At the outset though, I will highlight that the Costa Rica v Greece matchup has the bookmakers most uncertain; whilst Belgium v United States could also be quite interesting.

I now divide the draw into a Top-Half and a Bottom-Half, and each Half is in turn divided into "Quarters".


Possibly the more "standard" half in the tournament; arguably the chances of an upset here are less probable.

First Quarter Bracket: King of the South American Playoffs

This Quarter Bracket, with the exception of Argentina of course, will see who is the best out of all the South Americans. Winner is quite likely to play France/Germany in the semi-finals.

Brazil v Chile
  • I expect this to be a competitive match. 
  • Chile is an all-out attack team, with a more porous defence as they leave behind open-space when going forward. Brazil to some extent is like that too but sadly I think the home team wins here despite Chile being the form team of CONMEBOL. 
  • I would really like someone to knock Brazil out, even if it destroys the party
  • Brazil to win 2-1. (This is one of the fixtures where I hope my prediction is wrong)

Columbia v Uruguay
  • With Luis Suarez gone, and the camp in a bit of a frenzy after all that has happened with their "talisman", I anticipate that team morale will be low and Colombia should win this. 
  • It must be said though that Colombia came from an easier group. However, there is a reason why they finished 2nd in qualifying and Uruguay had to qualify via the playoffs (if CONEMBOL Qualification is anything to go by)
  • Colombia to win 2-0.

Second Quarter Bracket: Standard Round of 16

This Quarter Bracket sees the seeds expected to win in what is a "properly seeded" contest, but it doesn't mean that the matches will be easy.

France v Nigeria
  • I am supporting Nigeria.
  • However, France has considerable tournament experience and Nigeria have never made it past the Round of 16
  • I expect this to be fairly closely contested but Nigeria have issues with their defence.
  • France 2-1
Germany v Algeria
  • On paper should be a walkover for Germany
  • However the Algerians have held their own (albeit in their rather weaker Group), especially in that match against Belgium, so there will be moments of challenge for Germany.
  • Germany to win 3-1


As alluded to above, two to three of the fixtures here may have a possible upset on the cards.

Third Quarter Bracket: Hipster Semi-Finalist (An Easier Ride)

As mentioned in a previous post, this Quarter Bracket sees 4 non-World Cup winners play off for one Semi-Final berth. It's the one I'm most looking forward to. All the teams here, except perhaps Mexico (though they would probably still be happy), will be happy about this draw as it is comparatively easy.

Netherlands v Mexico
  • We have seen how defensively solid Mexico has been in Group A, though they are capable of scoring as well.
  • We have also seen how attack-minded Netherlands can be with Robin Van Persie and Robben.
  • This should be an interesting match
  • Netherlands 2-1
  • This is a match that I don't want an upset in.
Costa Rica v Greece
  • Obviously anything can happen here, and is a most generous fixture for the two teams who have never made it to the Round of 16
  • This may go to penalties, but I expect Costa Rica to go through given how well they have played against Italy and Uruguay.
  • However, Greece do have vast amounts of experience and they are quite good even when they don't have much possession (due to their defence and counterattacking ability).
  • I will propose a 1-1 draw, with Costa Rica to win on penalties.

Fourth Quarter Bracket: Mixed Bag

In this quarter we have nothing that I can really give a name to - there is one seemingly standard match and the other is a potential upset.

Argentina v Switzerland
  • Though Argentina have shown weaknesses, they should be able to dispatch of the Swiss.
  • Argentina 2-0
Belgium v United States

  • Potentially anything could happen here. The United States remind me a bit of Greece because they make good use of the ball when they have it.
  • A lot of people are calling for an upset here, and I can see it happening.
  • My tip though is Belgium to win 2-1


As alluded to above, most of my tips are for the favourite so I have obviously not said anything special or insightful. That being said, with the exception of the Netherlands, I would be happy if I got all my tips wrong as that would make for a very unusual and interesting World Cup. 

Of course, I highly doubt that will happen.

World Cup Observations 14: Group Stage Round-Up; Suarez ban too much?; Asian teams out; Algeria shock the world (with lasers?); Portugal and Ghana extremely disappointing; Regional Strike Rates

The first thing on my mind that I have to mention is this: Portugal and Ghana really do not deserve, nor did they look like they wanted, qualification to the Last 16.

Both were dreadful in their match. They played as if the last game didn't matter to them, and the quality of the game was just not there. There was very little drive and commitment which I found astonishing. For example, Ronaldo missed a few sitters and Ghana were just sloppy all round, both in front and at the back. Had Ronaldo put away all of his chances, Portugal may have had a chance to go through on Goals For.

 United States31114404
Ghana blew their chance - given that Germany beat USA by 1-0, any win over Portugal would have sufficed. Instead they scored an own goal and gave a gift of a goal to Ronaldo.

However, I am told by this article in the Guardian that other issues revolving around money destabilised the Ghanaian team. If it's true, that is definitely a sad (but unavoidable, I suppose) reflection on the game.

Let's just say that, after waking up at 2am in the morning in a motel-like place to watch the match, I was very disappointed with both sides. 

Group H and the African Teams

Russia, and in particular their goalkeeper, have only themselves to blame. Had they not conceded so cheaply against South Korea and Algeria, they would be through to the knockout stages just like that. I feel for the Russian goalkeeper in the Algerian match as lasers were fired in his eyes from the crowd; whether that is a proper excuse however is another thing, but one can imagine that it would be extremely difficult to defend your goal from a set piece when your eyes are partially blinded. No fan should tamper with the performance of a player on the pitch and I quite dislike that sort of hooliganism.

Algeria (like Greece) have qualified for the knockout stages for the first time in their history, even after losing their opening match of their campaign (as Greece did again and as Uruguay has done).

I watched some of the the Nigeria-Argentina match (and filled my remaining lack of knowledge with highlights) and saw Musa cutting through the Argentinian defence quite easily. Argentina look like they have some problems at the back.

Where draws have been important this World Cup

That reminds me.

In an earlier post I remarked that I couldn't immediately think of an example where a draw was vitally important. Two now-obvious candidates have just resonated in my head: ten-man Greece v Japan and Algeria v Russia. In both matches, the draw was absolutely vital for the team that qualified for the Round of 16. For example, had Greece lost to Japan, assuming all other things remained equal, Ivory Coast would have won on goal difference.

Final Group C Table
 Ivory Coast310245−13
Another way of looking at this is simply by observing the absence of the draw in Nigeria v Bosnia Hercegovina. Had the referee not disallowed Džeko's goal, it would be Bosnia sitting on 4 points and Nigeria relegated to 2 points. In short, Nigeria was quite lucky to steal a win from Bosnia Hercegovina.

Final Group F Table
 Bosnia and Herzegovina31024403

Suarez Ban

I won't go into too much here, but even the victim Chiellini thinks the ban is too crazy. The harshest aspect of Suarez's ban is the fact that he's not allowed to have any relationship with football ("football-related activities" as quoted by another media outlet) for 120 days!

Strike Rates - Asian Teams a disappointment

Finally, I express some disappointment that all Asian teams have been eliminated from the tournament. In particular, the torch-bearers Japan and South Korea performed horribly. But that is the realistic standard of Asian (and Australian) football.

Strike Rates for each confederation, defined as the proportion of teams that have survived through to the knockout stages, relative to the number of teams entered from that respective confederation,  are stated below:

  • Asia (AFC): 0/4 = 0% [somewhat "normal" for Asian teams, though there is a fluctuating variance.  when they did their best in 2002 and 2010 with a 2/4 strike rate]

  • Europe (UEFA): 6/13 = roughly 46% [Italy, Portugal, Russia, Spain, England, Croatia and Bosnia Hercegovina all out; their equal lowest strike rate given that a strike rate of roughly 10/14, 9/15 or 10/13 was fairly common, with the exception of 2010 which was just as bad as this current campaign]

  • North and Central America (CONCACAF): 3/4 = 75% [their second highest ever strike rate, but their highest came from 1994 where America hosted the World Cup and in that case only two CONCACAF teams entered - arguably this is the greater achievement thanks to Costa Rica]

Wednesday 25 June 2014

World Cup "Observations" 13: Predictions for the balance of Group Matches (E, F, G, H)

As I'll be away from home Thursday and Friday, I've decided to launch my predictions for the balance of the Group Stage:

Current Group E Table
  • Switzerland to beat the heavy-tackling Honduras 2-1
  • France to beat Ecuador, 2-1
  • Thus this sets up a potential France v Nigeria match-up and Switzerland to play Argentina. The Switzerland v Ecuador match "was thus" critical.

Current Group F Table
 Bosnia and Herzegovina200213−20
  • Argentina to beat Nigeria 1-0, someone apart from Messi to score (should be a closely fought contest).
  • Iran to keep their compact defence, drawing to Bosnia and Herzegovina 1-1 (and scoring their first goal at this World Cup?)

Current Group G Table
 United States211043+14
  • Germany to win a closely fought contest, say 1-0
  • Ghana to win by 1 goal, say 2-1
  • On that basis, Ghana would go through on Goals Scored (5 vs 4). However, if Germany beat USA by 1 goal and the USA also score (eg. 3-2 or 2-1), USA would either win on Head-to-head or Goals Scored. 
  • My scorelines above seem less likely, so I think, as a matter of probability, USA will be going through rather than Ghana, despite the Ghana win.

Current Group H Table
 South Korea201135−21
  • Algeria have shown they can hold their own against South Korea. But that was against South Korea, a team that had horrible defending. I think the Russians will have learnt from their lesson against South Korea, and given that the Belgians struggled to break them down, I think Algeria will have an equally difficult time. 
  • Hence Russia to win by 1 goal, say 1-0.
  • Belgium to give South Korea a small thrashing, say 2-0.

World Cup Observations 12.5 (Continued): Colombia rampant

I forgot to mention that I caught the highlights reel of the Colombia-Japan match (I was too sleepy to watch this match live, after the Uruguay/Italy match ended at about 4am). It appeared to be utter domination, with Jackson Martinez bagging a brace. If Suarez is banned from the World Cup, I think Colombia should be able to deal with Uruguay relatively comfortably.

I didn't watch the Costa Rica-England match; I only watched bits and pieces (flipping from the Uruguay/Italy match from 3.30am onwards). But no one can fault Costa Rica for drawing it out, even if it was scoreless, given their two wins in previous matches. Apparently England created a lot of chances but I didn't see them.

I look forward to Greece-Costa Rica, as it's anyone's game.

World Cup Observations 12: Suarez bite?; Nigeria, Algeria and Ghana the last hopes of Africa + how the Greeks surprised everyone; and the "hipster" semi-finalist bracket

Was it a bite?

Social media has gone crazy.

On one view, Suarez bit Chiellini, in the causative sense that his teeth went into Chiellini's shoulder. There is an alternate theory, however, that, given how deep the marks looked on Chiellini's shoulder, Chiellini pushed his shoulder blade into Suarez's teeth.

But perhaps it is both. Perhaps Suarez intended to bite Chiellini but at the same time, Chiellini abruptly and forcefully jerked his shoulder in response to Suarez's movement. What is clear is that there is some kind of mark on Chiellini.

But other questions that need to be asked are:

"1. Yes it's a mark but is it a bite mark? (Probably, given its shape and pattern)
2. Did Chiellini get bitten before this match against Uruguay or at any time before the "Suarez incident"? (Unlikely)
3. Given that a bite mark can only come from a mouth (obviously), if it is indeed a bite mark, who else placed their mouth around that area in question? [Unlikely to be anyone else - we have to give Chiellini the benefit of the doubt - how else would he have received the bite mark and would he really have "falsely" accused Suarez of biting him? (Who would?)]
4. Is it not more probable than not that the bite mark came from Luis Suarez given that he was the only one who placed his mouth in that area?
5. If Suarez did bite him, did he intend to bite him?"

Whatever is to come of this, it is quite interesting. Suarez might get an international ban from football, which means he's less likely to be injured for the domestic club season. This may make him more attractive for club managers, provided that the international ban can't be transferred to club football (can it?). However, will any manager want to risk him given that he is, like Ballotelli, that sort of self-destruct or explode-into-many-goals sort of player? He'll either win you the game or get a red card.

Some are saying Liverpool will want to sell him because of that. Will anyone buy him when he poses that kind of risk? Possibly, it will be interesting to see what unfolds.
The best and most hilarious part of all of this was the fact that when Chiellini pulled his shirt down to show the bite mark to the referee, Gaston Ramírez (I think), bounced along like a little kid next to him and tried to pull Chiellini's shirt back up, as if trying to cover up the evidence and as if to say "Why do you want to show the ref?". I laughed like crazy.

Ivory Coast knocked out; Greece win on a last-minute penalty!!!!!!!!!!!

What a finish to Group C!!! I can't believe Greece made it through, though not without controversy.

Looking at slow motion replays, it seems as though Greece won themselves a penalty even though, upon a closer view of the replay, Samaras seemed to trip on his own foot. Though it may be argued that the Ivory Coast defender impeded Samaras' swing from behind slightly, the dominant cause of his fall appears to be Samaras tripping himself over. Therein lies the controversy. It's unclear if Samaras made the most of the situation and deliberately fell over.

However, Samaras kept his composure and the Greeks are a very dangerous and unsuspecting nation - they make the most of their chances even with less possession and their defending is generally solid (as seen from qualification and the current campaign, with the exception of the match against Colombia).

I'm a bit disappointed for Ivory Coast, them having failed to qualify three times in a row now, from 2006 to 2014. Greece have finally made it to the Round of 16 after 3 times in the World Cup.

UEFA World Cup Qualification Table Group G
 Bosnia and Herzegovina10811306+2425
See how Greece had hardly any goals conceded in their qualification campaign? However their main struggle is a lack of goals scored. But when you have a good defence, you don't need to score that many goals.

African torch bearer?

Now, it seems like Nigeria has the best chance of qualifying for the Round of 16, followed by Algeria and then Ghana. Can Algeria draw with Russia? I'll give this a bit more thought in due course and write my predictions tonight.

I hope at least two African nations make it through, preferably all three. It seems like there is no hope for Asian teams with the exception of perhaps Iran if they can pull off a 2-0 victory (unlikely) and Nigeria don't obtain a draw or better (this part is likely).

Current Group F Standings
 Bosnia and Herzegovina200213−20

Hipster semi-finalist

Courtesy of Wikipedia, as usual!

There is an exciting part of the World Cup draw and it's the bracket that leads to a potential semi-finals with Argentina or Belgium/Strong Runner-Up Group G Candidate.

Why is it exciting?

Because all of these countries have never won the World Cup before. I'd really like to see a new country win the World Cup this time. This semi-finals bracket essentially gives one of these countries a comfortable "cushion", allowing them to be shielded from the real giants and contenders at this World Cup. France and Germany potentially meet in the Quarter-Finals.

Amongst the contenders for this hipster semi-finals spot, Mexico is the prime example of consistency, making the Round of 16 6 World Cups in a row from 1994 to 2014 (being banned in 1990 and making it to the Quarter Finals in 1986 and 1970).

We all know that the Netherlands have made it very far in past World Cups. Meanwhile, Greece and Costa Rica are just happy to be joining the party (though Costa Rica did make the Round of 16 in 1990 and Greece's crowning glory has to be Euro 2004).

I don't mind any of these teams making it to the semis, but I'd prefer the Netherlands as I really want them to break their duck, mirroring what Spain did last time around.