Saturday 29 July 2017

Australia's FIFA World Cup qualification struggles

I was about to do a write-up on the Socceroos' struggles to qualify for the World Cup over the years but it looks like I've been beaten to it:

In any event, I'll just summarise for my own benefit.

Tables are courtesy of Wikipedia.

Note: Australia were part of the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) until 2006, but many of their qualifiers involved Asian Football Confederation (AFC) countries.

1966 Qualifiers (Africa, OFC and AFC)

Incredibly, Australia lost 9-2 to North Korea on aggregate. And we played in Phnom Penh, Cambodia of all places for both legs. How does that work?!

The North Koreans were the only team we had to beat after the African nations boycotted the tournament and South Korea withdrew.

South Africa were banned due to apartheid.

The African nations were not happy that they were not given a direct qualification route so they boycotted in protest.

Mind you, this was the same North Korean side that would upset Italy 1-0 and take a 3-0 lead against the Portuguese in the Quarterfinals, only to be denied in part by a Eusébio double hattrick.

1970 Qualifiers (OFC and AFC)

We won arm-wrestles against South Korea and Japan; beat Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) 3-1 in a playoff after we drew twice with them; then lost to Israel in Tel-Aviv. Israel qualified for the first time in their history.

1978 Qualifiers (OFC and AFC)

Iran were too good in this mixed Asia-Oceania qualification campaign. They made history qualifying for their first World Cup.

Although we put in good performances against South Korea and Hong Kong in the final round, we lost home and away to both Iran and Kuwait.

Unfortunately, the Socceroos weren't even close.

1982 Qualifiers (OFC and AFC)

New Zealand were too strong for us in the first round, beating us 0-2 at the SCG. We also lost to Indonesia in Jakarta and drew to Taiwan in Taipei.

Interestingly New Zealand would go on to beat China 2-1 in a 1981 playoff in neutral Singapore as these two sides sat on the same number of points and goal difference in the final group stage of qualification.

Kuwait qualified in top spot.

This is probably unsurprising given that they won the 1980 Asian Cup after beating the winner of the South Korea-North Korea derby semi-final. They also scored a memorable goal at the 1982 World Cup (who could forget the moment when their Sheikh came onto the field to ask the referees to reverse a goal awarded to France).

It should be noted though that Iran did not participate in these qualifiers.

However this shouldn't dampen Kuwait's achievement - Kuwait had knocked out South Korea in an earlier group stage on their way to the 1982 World Cup, certainly not an easy feat because that would be the last time that South Korea failed to qualify for the World Cup at the time of writing.

This was probably Kuwait's and NZ's best eras in world football.

1986 OFC Qualifiers

Only 4 teams were involved at first.

Australia topped a group containing Israel, NZ and Taiwan/Chinese Taipei.

Unfortunately in the UEFA-OFC playoff we lost to a Scottish team containing Dalglish and Souness 2-0 on aggregate (0-0 in Melbourne).

1990 OFC Qualifiers

It appears that only 3 Oceania teams (Fiji, Australia and NZ) entered the competition, plus Taiwan and Israel.

Fiji and Taiwan were knocked out by Aus and NZ respectively in the first round.

Israel topped the group to play 3rd placed in CONMEBOL Colombia, but they lost 0-1 on aggregate.

1994 OFC Qualifiers

Australia beat Tahiti and Solomon Islands in the group stage; then beat NZ 0-4 on aggregate; then beat Canada on penalties after a 3-3 aggregate draw.

Then they lost to Argentina 2-1 on aggregate due to an unfortunate Alex Tobin own goal.

1998 OFC Qualifiers

Australia beat NZ 0-5 and lost 3-3 on aggregate on away goals to Iran.

This defeat to Iran was particularly devastating.

In the second leg, at the MCG, the Socceroos were leading 2-0 (3-1 on aggregate) thanks to Kewell's home and away goals and a Vidmar goal too.

Just after Australia's second goal, social disrupter Peter Hore ran onto the pitch and cut up Iran's goal net, halting play and largely reversing Australia's momentum.

Iran came back to draw 2-2, making the aggregate score the same.

Since they scored 2 goals in Melbourne, as opposed to our 1 goal in Tehran, Iran proceeded at our expense.

2002 OFC Qualifiers

Australia pipped Fiji to the top of the OFC group but lost 3-1 on aggregate to Uruguay.

A Kevin Muscat penalty in Melbourne was not enough for an Okon-led Socceroos to overcome three goals scored by their opponents in Montevideo.


It's clear that we have had our fair share of disappointments.

Iran and Israel were each responsible for 2. But other countries have at different stages of history thwarted our forward march.

The lesson is that Australia should not take World Cup Qualification for granted because qualifying is a very precious accomplishment.

For example, we certainly need not discuss the 2005 match against Uruguay (our gateway to the 2006 World Cup) as that is something written into Socceroos and Australian sports folklore.

The road to the 1974 World Cup was also interesting because we topped a group containing Indonesia, Iraq and New Zealand; then beat Iran 3-2 on aggregate; then we beat South Korea 1-0 in neutral Hong Kong after tying with them on aggregate.

Qualification is not supposed to be easy. But long may it continue...

Andre Lim

Sunday 23 July 2017

Most consistent FIFA World Cup performer?

By World Cup wins

Brazil - 5:
1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002

Germany - 4:
1954, 1974, 1990, 2014

Italy - 4:
1934, 1938, 1982, 2006

Argentina - 2:
1978, 1986

Uruguay - 2:
1930, 1950

England - 1:

France - 1:

Spain - 1:

By reaching the grand final (top 2)

Germany - 8:
Runners-up in 1966, 1982, 1986, 2002 + winning 4 as above

Brazil - 7
Runners-up in 1950, 1998 + winning 5 as above

Italy - 6
Runners-up in 1970 and 1994 + winning 4 as above

Argentina - 5
Runners-up in 1930, 1990, 2014  + winning 2 as above

Netherlands - 3
Runners-up in 1974, 1978 and 2010

Czechoslovakia - 2
Runners-up in 1934 and 1962

Hungary - 2
Runners-up in 1938 and 1954

France - 2:
Runners-up in 2006

Uruguay - 2 as above

Sweden - 1:
Runners-up in 1958

England - 1 as above

Spain - 1 as above

By reaching the top 4 or semi-finals

(West) Germany - 13
8 Semi-finals: 1934, 1958, 1970, 2006, 2010 + 5 above

Brazil - 11
4 Semi-finals: 1938, 1974, 1978, 2014 + 7 above

Italy - 8
2 Semi-finals: 1978, 1990 + 6 above

Uruguay - 5
3 Semi-finals: 1954, 1970, 2010 + 2 above

Argentina - 5

France - 5
3 Semi-finals: 1958, 1982, 1986 + 2 above

Netherlands - 5
3 Semi-finals: 1998, 2014 + 2

Sweden - 4
3 Semi-finals: 1938, 1950, 1994 + 1 above

Austria - 2
Semi-finals: 1934, 1954

Czechoslovakia - 2

England - 2
Semi-final: 1990

Hungary - 2

Poland - 2
Semi-finals: 1974, 1982

Portugal - 2
Semi-finals: 1966, 2006

Spain - 2
1 Semi-final: 1950 + 1 above

Yugoslavia - 2
Semi-finals: 1930, 1962

Belgium - 1
Semi-final: 1986

Bulgaria - 1
Semi-final: 1994

Chile - 1
Semi-final: 1962

Croatia - 1
Semi-final: 1998

Russia/USSR - 1
Semi-final: 1966

South Korea - 1
Semi-final: 2002

Turkey - 1
Semi-final: 2002

USA - 1
Semi-final: 1930

By reaching the QF or Top 8

It's at this stage that Wikipedia does all the work...

By reaching knockout stage from 1986 onwards

Brazil - 8
1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014

(West) Germany - 8
1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014

Argentina - 7
1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2006, 2010, 2014

Mexico - 7
1986, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014 (Banned in 1990 for fielding overage players in U-20 cup)

England - 6
1986, 1990, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 (did not qualify in 1994)

Italy - 6
1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006

Netherlands - 6
1990, 1994, 1998, 2006, 2010, 2014

Spain - 6
1986, 1990, 1994, 2002, 2006, 2010

Belgium - 5
1986, 1990, 1994, 2002, 2014

Uruguay - 4
1986, 1990, 2010, 2014

USA - 4
1994, 2002, 2010, 2014

France - 4
1986, 1998, 2006, 2014

Paraguay - 4
1986, 1998, 2002, 2010

Nigeria - 3
1994, 1998, 2014

Chile - 3
1998, 2010, 2014

Denmark - 3
1986, 1998, 2002

Ireland - 3
1990, 1994, 2002

Romania - 3
1990, 1994, 1998

Sweden - 3
1994, 2002, 2006

Switzerland - 3
1994, 2006, 2014

Bulgaria - 2
1986, 1994

Colombia - 2
1990, 2014

Costa Rica - 2
1990, 2014

Ghana - 2
2006, 2010

Japan - 2
2002, 2010

Portugal - 2
2006, 2010

South Korea - 2
2002, 2010

Yugoslavia - 2
1990, 1998

Algeria - 1

Australia - 1

Cameroon - 1

Croatia - 1

Czechoslovakia - 1

Ecuador - 1

Greece - 1

Morroco - 1

Norway - 1

Poland - 1

Russia/USSR - 1

Saudi Arabia - 1

Senegal - 1

Slovakia - 1

Turkey - 1

Ukraine - 1

By appearances at World Cup

Thank you again Wikipedia..

*1930 and 1950 did not have a quarter final or round of 16 - straight semi-final and top 4 round robin respectively

**1934 and 1938 were automatically Round of 16 tournaments; there was no group-stage

^1954 did not have a Round of 16

#1974, 1978 were weird - no knockout stage but a further group stage

1982 - had semifinals but a round-robin second round


Brazil wins in terms of World Cup wins and appearances.

Amazingly, Brazil have never failed to appear at a World Cup - they have a 100% record of 21 out of 21 (2018 included). It should be noted that this stat is slightly diminished by the fact that the competition was not exactly open or accessible to all countries in its early era.

Germany appears to be the most consistent at reaching the Round of 16 (at least from 1986 onwards, tied with Brazil), the top 8, the semi-finals or top 4 and the grand final.

Andre Lim

Sunday 16 July 2017

Varig flight 254: the price of complacency

Have you ever made a blunder at work but decided to delay fessing up?

Have you ever let a distraction get in the way of your work responsibilities?

Do you just assume that your boss or leader is correct and follow whatever they say? 

The curious and tragic case of Varig Flight 254 is an excellent case in point that deals directly with these issues.

Importantly it covers the topics of human error and systemic error - both of which are all too common in the workplace.


In or around 3 September 1989, Varig Flight 254 was due to depart from São Paulo to Belém, both located in Brazil.

The 8-hour flight involved numerous stopovers, but the final stopover was at Marabá. Marabá to Belém represented the final leg of the flight.

The estimated flight time from Marabá to Belém is roughly about 1 hour.


You will see from the above maps that Belém is north north east of Marabá.

At that time, the procedure for starting up a flight involved the captain punching in the location of the destination. The captain's co-pilot also had to verify the coordinates.

For this last leg of the journey (from Marabá to Belém), the flight plan provided by the aircraft company told the pilots to use the following true bearing:


True Bearing 

In order to understand what happened I may have to briefly explain what true bearing is.

True bearing is a way to measure where one location is in relation to another using the angle created by imaginary lines.

For example, with the help of, I have found that Brisbane sits at approximately 14.1º from Sydney because the imaginary line from Brisbane to Sydney makes an angle of 14.1 degrees with the imaginary vertical line protruding from Sydney as below.

So if you want your plane from Sydney to fly West as a further example, vaguely towards Perth, you'd very roughly be flying at a true bearing of about 270 degrees as per the below diagram.

Systemic error compounded by human error

Back to the flight plan.

The pilot had assumed that his instructions of 0270 meant 270 degrees true bearing.

Unbeknownst to the pilot, the airplane company had recently changed their system of providing flight plans.

Previously all flight plans contained a true bearing that was three digits long.

The new flight plans contained a 4-digit true bearing.

The fourth digit was actually a decimal column!

The pilot was allegedly on vacation when this change happened and had not been briefed on this new system.


was actually meant to read as:


And this makes sense, because you will see that Belém sits above Marabá, presumably creating an angle of about 27 degrees with the vertical.

So the pilot punched in 270 degrees instead!!!

Brain in 'robot' or 'autopilot' mode at work

How many of us have just blindly followed instructions without questioning them? That is what happened here.

The flight from Marabá to Belém was due to occur at 17:20, when the sun was setting.

Many of the passengers observed that the plane was flying directly into the sun, that is, in a westerly direction!! Which matches a true bearing of 270 degrees.

These passengers even asked the air stewardess why they were flying west!! The air stewardess just assumed that the pilots knew what they were doing and the message was not passed on.

The pilots did not think to question why they were flying West when their destination was North.


Unfortunately Varig flight 254 ran out of fuel and an emergency landing was required. Apparently 13 passengers out of 54 occupants died from the crash.

After waiting 2 nights for rescue to arrive, a group of brave survivors decided to venture out into the Amazon forest to look for help - and they found some farmers who helped them make contact.

Actual flight path

Aircraft crash investigators were shocked to find that the plane was in a completely random location, nowhere near the intended destination of Belém.

The plane flew west at first; as their flight time was 30 minutes longer than anticipated, the pilots then thought they had overshot the airport so they performed a u-turn.

The head pilot saw a river and took this to be the Amazon. So he followed it because the Amazon was a familiar landmark to him, as he had used it on previous occasions to guide him north tBelém. 

But this was not the Amazon. The river was in fact the Xingu river that led the plane south.

The full flight path is listed below, courtesy of a few blogs.



The plane crash site was located some ~1200km away from the destination city.

Errors made

I won't go into the full details here, but here are some of the hiccups that occurred:
  1. The company did not remind the head pilot (captain) of the new numbering system for the flight plan. Or they did not check whether he had been trained with the new system.
  2. The head pilot assumed 0270 meant 270 degrees true bearing rather than 27 degrees true bearing and punched that into the plane system.
  3. The co-pilot was supposed to verify the correct true bearing of '0270', but due to some psychology bias, just went along with what the head pilot had put in. It is possible they had flown together before and trusted his head pilot or he just preferred to defer to his superiors. Or he made the same mistake. Fail-safe completely subverted!!
  4. Both pilots did not question why they were flying into the sunset, when their destination was north.
  5. Apparently the head pilot realised his mistake mid-way through the flight. The head pilot apparently did not wish to admit he was wrong during the flight and tried to find 'other ways' of getting back on track, including finding and following a radio signal from a commercial radio station which he assumed came from Belém.
  6. When the pilots contacted the communications/control tower in Belém, they used high frequency radio waves, which in itself was a warning sign because the use of those waves implied that the usual communication channels could not work due to distance. 
  7. The person in charge of the Belém control tower was too pre-occupied with the World Cup Qualification Match between Brazil and Chile which was being played at the same time, so did not report any of the irregularities he spotted as quickly as he could have - including the failure of the plane to land on time, the pilots indicating that they had issues finding the runway and that high frequency radio waves were being used.
  8. In an example of confirmation bias, the head pilot tried to find a familiar landmark to assure himself that he was on the right track. He found a river which he assumed was the Amazon heading North into Belém. It was in fact the Xingu River, which was leading him south.
  9. (It is rumoured that both pilots were also distracted by the WCQ football match being broadcasted on radio)
  10. The emergency beacon signal - which is released when the plane crashed - was not located because the aircraft crash investigators did not think to look so far south for the signal.
  11. The air stewardess did not pass on the concerns of the passengers to the pilots.

In my view the key culprit would have to be the system, at point number 1.

The system should be as fool-proof as possible. If it's true that the pilot was not updated of the new numbering system, it's quite understandable why someone would enter that true bearing in and not question it -- although a more alert pilot might start to question this decision after take off.

The head pilot was arguably also at fault for not swallowing his pride and advising the communications tower at Belém of his mistake.

I think this is a great example that is directly applicable to the workplace. Just because you are given instructions to do something does not necessarily mean you should just blindly follow those instructions. I think we need to at least ask the right questions.

Andre Lim

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.


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.


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?!

Saturday 1 July 2017

Eunice Ku

In late May, I was looking to get some flowers for someone special.

Now, for the record, I'm a bit clueless with flowers...

Thankfully (!) a kind friend connected me to Eunice Ku, who is based in Sydney's eastern suburbs.

Eunice was kind and flexible enough to arrange and discuss details for the bouquet over WhatsApp.

Eunice is friendly and helpful, offers plenty of flower suggestions and is willing to accommodate special requests such as delivery and/or a message to accompany the bouquet.

In my case, the original plan was for me to pick up the bouquet from her on a Saturday, but there was a slight change of plans/schedule -- thankfully Eunice was proactive and offered to deliver the flowers.

I was very grateful for her help.

The particular bouquet she prepared is pictured below.

Other examples of bouquets she has done are also found below.

My special someone was very happy with the flowers and I would recommend Eunice to anyone interested in doing something similar for theirs.

Eunice also enjoys designing flowers for weddings and special occasions.

If you’d like Eunice to arrange your bouquet, please contact her on 

Thanks Eunice!!

Andre Lim