World Cup (3)

Posted in sports by jrahman on June 26, 2010

World Cup is about to get into the knockout phase.  Time to do some more reposting (first two instalments are here and here).

Last time I noted that football is unpredictable.  As a result, upsets can happen all the time.  Hence we shouldn’t be surprised that both the finalists from 2006 are already out.  Similarly, in 2002, the defending champions failed to score a single goal even.

This unpredictably, together with the fact that so many more countries play it than rugby, cricket or hockey, would suggest that many more teams will be successful at the World Cup football than in other sports.  For example, there are less than a dozen countries (at most, being charitable to some weaker teams) that make the pool of potential winners in cricket.  This is also the case in rugby and hockey.

And yet, the pool of finalists, no matter what the sport is, is actually quite small.  No more than half a dozen country has made it to the final of any world cup in my life time.

As Zafar Sobhan says, betting on World Cup football is easy money.

But what about club football?

Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal between them have won all but one English premiere league since its inception in 1992-93.  AC Milan, Juventus and Internazionale have won the Serie A all but twice in these years.  Barcelona and Real Madrid won it all but four times in that period.  If you know nothing about football but predict that one of these teams will win the next league, you will have a pretty good chance of being right.

Compare this with American sports.  A dozen teams have won the Superbowl since 1992-93.  You may not know anything about baseball, but you still probably have heard of the New York Yankees.  The Yankees have won the World Series only five times since 1992.  Nine teams have won the World Series in that time.  NBA appears to be more like European football leagues.  The most iconic sport team of the 1990s must be the Chicago Bulls under Michael Jordan.  But even the Bulls won only five NBA titles since 1992, and seven teams have won the championship in that time.

Predicting the winner in an American league is pretty hard if you knew nothing about the sport.  And learning something require resources.  I’m no psychologist, but I’d hazard a guess that it is difficult to pick up a new sport after your 15th birthday.  If you don’t know anything about basketball, rooting for the Bulls on the basis of Jordan’s name is no use as they haven’t made the last 12 finals.  Perhaps this is why football is so popular in Bangladesh — all you need to do is to root for Brazil or Argentina to have a good time.

Rolling prediction (at the end of first round)

Semi-final 1:      Brazil vs Uruguay

Semi-final 2:      Argentina vs Spain

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  1. zafar said, on June 29, 2010 at 11:54 am

    jyoti, the reason that victory is more democratized, for want of a better word, in american sports is as simple as it is delicious. socialism! pro sports in america have a draft system, whereby incoming young talent do not get to choose who they play for (which, in european football leagues, for instance, in effect, allows the bigger teams to outbid everyone else), but must go to the team that drafts them, and the draft order is determined, roughly speaking, in inverse order of the last season’s standings, i.e. the worst teams get to pick first.
    in addition, in most sports there is also a salary cap, different in different sports, that limits how much a team can pay an individual and how much the total wage-load can be. it is these rules that bring about parity in american sports.
    interestingly enough, most commentators in america decry the dominance of the big teams and complain that salary caps are too easy to circumvent and that big teams continue to leverage their financial advantages (playing in a large media market like new york or los angeles, for instance) for unfair gain and believe that the odds are still unfairly stacked against the smaller-market teams.
    even more interestingly, a blue-ribbon panel appointed to look into the problem of big-team dominance and stuffed with rock-ribbed capitalists such as george will and paul volcker recommended even more socialism (e.g. greater revenue sharing) as the only way to save baseball!
    if you haven’t already, you should read moneyball by michael lewis, a sensationally good book about the finances of baseball.

    • jrahman said, on June 29, 2010 at 1:54 pm

      Bro, you’ve just destroyed my punchline! This was going to be the subject of the next post on this, before the quarter-finals.

  2. Mukti said, on July 1, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    […] of football, and the second one about the difficulty in quantitative analysis of the game.  The third post noted that, contrary to expectations, and unlike American sports, football is dominated by a few […]

  3. World Cup (4) « Mukti said, on July 2, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    […] of football, and the second one about the difficulty in quantitative analysis of the game.  The third post noted that, contrary to expectations, and unlike American sports, football is dominated by a few […]

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