Monday 23 June 2014

World Cup Observations 8: Snatching a draw from the jaws of death

A last-gasp equaliser can be a beautiful thing.

Whilst obviously not as impressive as a win, the importance of the draw should never be underestimated.

A draw produces two effects:
  • First, and most obviously, it awards a point to both teams
  • Its second effect is arguably more important and equally obvious: it steals or blocks a rival from obtaining the full 3 points. In effect, "you" deduct two points from "them", and they you.
USA were leading 2-1, until Ronaldo sent a brilliant cross for Varela's equaliser in the very last minute of stoppage time. Had the USA won, Portugal were absolutely gone and Ghana were probably gone as well. The draw gave both teams a prolonged, but flimsy, lifeline, rescuing them from the jaws of imminent death.

I thought that the USA played a very quiet and unsuspecting game; in the first ten minutes it looked as if the US were content to just sit back and counterattack. But they are certainly more dangerous than teams expect them to be. Their danger lies in their ability to produce a surprise goal almost from nowhere, sometimes against the run of play. In the end, it all came down to the fact that they just made the most of their chances; in particular the curler by Jones was fantastic. 

 United States211043+14

This scenario is probably not the best example to illustrate how powerful a draw can be, given that even now Portugal only has a sliver of a chance to progress to the next stage. But it must be remembered that a sliver of a chance is obviously infinitely better than having no chance at all. And the draw also had the side effect of massively increasing Ghana's prospects of qualifying.

However, the task is still immensely difficult because it is now out of Ghana's and Portugal's hands. 

Both Portugal and Ghana must rely on Germany and USA to ABSTAIN FROM REACHING A SLY COMPROMISE TO DRAW WITH EACH OTHER. A draw would eliminate both Ghana and Portugal instantaneously.

Though, that being said, you couldn't hold it against either of them or accuse them of being unsportsmanlike for seeking the draw (so long as they played to the best of their ability - oh wait, is there an inherent contradiction in that?!); after all, this is a competition where both teams want to proceed as far as possible. If either of Germany and the US win, Ghana and Portugal both have a chance and the chance is better if Germany rather than USA wins (as the US has the lower goal difference).

In the "worst" best case scenario, the United States would lose 0-1 to Germany, giving them a goal difference of 0. Hence, Ghana would need to win by 2 goals and Portugal would need to win by 5 goals to top the USA on goal difference. Either is very unlikely, given the quality of Ghana and Portugal. Imagine if a secret alliance was formed such that one of the two let the other win just to give the other a shot? Unlikely, but it is an entertaining thought. 

At this stage, one could easily imagine the US or Germany happily taking the draw, no matter how dodgy it would appear, though of course there must be nothing untoward or in the nature of an overt agreement to play to a stalemate for that is likely to be illegal. (I seem to recall a rule that says "all teams must play to the best of their ability"?)

Going for the win in the case of the US may seem wise to avoid Belgium (likely winner of Group H), but it may prove to be costly if Germany go on an (unlikely) rampage against the US. The US could very well shock Belgium, given their recent performances.

Other news in Group H

 South Korea201135−21

  • A haphazard match produces a somewhat surprising result of Algeria downing South Korea 4-2. It's good to see an African nation have a good chance going into the knockout stages and they are certainly proving that they are capable of scoring many goals - though South Korea isn't exactly the best indication of how good they are. A draw is likely going to be good enough for Algeria, but a Russian win will take them through in the likely event of South Korea not winning against Belgium. If they do get through, they will likely lose convincingly to  Germany/USA - although, I may end up eating my words given the nature of this World Cup.
  • Belgium score late to qualify for the second round. I didn't watch this or the Algerian match but all I will say is that a win is a win.

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