Wednesday, June 28, 2006

WC: Straight Shooting (II)

More thoughts on WC’06 and How to spot a Great WC when you are watching one ?

Could this be the biggest world cup in the last two decades? There is a very big chance that we are watching the best world cup in the last 20 years. It may not be looking like it, due to the lack of “great” games so far, (even mildly entertaining games are hard to come by!). But check out this formula for judging the “size” and the quality of a world cup.

We can rate the teams in three groups based on their quality of play, results in major competition (euro cups), star power and international fan base over the last 20 years:

Alpha teams: Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Italy, France. (3 points)
Beta teams: England, Holland, Spain. (2 points)
Gamma teams: Sweden, Denmark, Portugal. (Conditional 1 point).

Starting from the round of sixteen on, every time there is a contest between two teams from the above groups, the match is awarded points according to the above point system. Example (If Brazil meets Italy at any elimination stage, that game is worth 3+3= 6 points, If Brazil meets Sweden, the match is worth 4 points on the condition that it is a “worthy” Swedish team during that particular cup (judgment call). The game for the third place does not count.

Here are the results from 1986 until 2006





2002: ENG/BRA , BRA/GER (11 PTS)


Now if Italy beats Ukraine (as expected) that is another 6 points. The other quarter final has the potential of 3-5 more points. And that will tie or exceed the previous high of 1998. France’ 98 was a great world cup and this one may come close to being as so.
Now, I understand that the quality of games is not precisely considered in the above formula, but note the following:

1. World cups hardly ever feature more than 3-4 “great quality matches”. The drama and excitement could be there, the intensity is always there, but I am talking about great play, exchange of chances and attacks, and constant action. I examined all the games from 1990 until today and tried to recall the great games in each world cup and that number was 2-3 “good” games per cup. Only 1998 world cup featured 5 games that were all above average. In 2006 we already have one very good game (POR/NED), one good game (FRA/SPA) and two slightly above averages (AUS/JAP , ITA/AUS).

2. People watch the world cup to follow their favorite “big” teams and their all-star lineups featuring the best players in the world. Sweden/Romania could play a great quarterfinals-game (1994), and nobody would care. Senegal/Sweden in the round of 16 (2002) featured some football skills and exchange of shots on goals that I have not seen for a while, and I cannot find two people who remember that game. But mention any of the above match ups and probably every fan will remember exactly what happened, and where exactly did they watch it. The 1990 world cup for example scored exceptionally high according to this formula, despite being the lowest scoring world cup ever (2.2 goals/game). However I will take its minimal scoring over the 2002 cup that featured Turkey and South Korea in the Semis.

3. The match ups between the elite teams in the above groups ARE the games with the highest potential to be the best games. This WC is another proof to the theory that soccer games never live up to their hype and expectations (The disappointment factor). However, the odds for a good game increase if the game is featuring too alpha teams with their super-stars and their passionate fans.

For those blessed with a short attention span and already forgot what is this all about. Consider that this year’s final 8 teams feature all 5 of soccer legendary teams (Group A) above. That has not happened since 1982 when the second round was not a single elimination but group play. This is just a reminder that despite the high number of bookings (I agree with 95% of the bookings in spite of the high number), and the usual referee mess ups (that sometimes changes entire games), we could be watching (missing!) one of the best tournaments in a while.

Here are a few thoughts from the round of 16:

-If you still has any doubt that life is not fair, and that god is not interested in the outcome of sporting events, check out the following teams:

Mexico: They surprise the overconfident Argentina early, but could not hold the goal for more than a few minutes, but they do not back off, and controls the tempo of the game by slowing it down. They get robbed on the worst call of the round, the yellow card to Heinze (6) should have been an ejection based on the “last defender” rule, (the same one that was used to eject Italy’s Materazzi (23)). And after almost of 100 minutes of grinding they lose on a fictional impossible goal.

Ecuador: The worst game in the round featured two chances. EXACTLY one for each team. Ecuador gets theirs early, on a chance that has 85% of being a goal (C. Tenorio (21) is face to face alone with the keeper), only to have Ashley Cole sprint all the way from midfield to partially block it into the cross bar!!! England gets a chance that has no more than 50% of being a goal (even if Mr. Spice is taking it, he does not make 50% of them, no matter how much he pukes), The ball moves side to side, top to bottom to an impossible low corner, and the game is over.

Australia: They played very good soccer throughout the tournament. They competed hard against Italy and even took control during some stretches, after they survived the first 20 minutes (about four missed chances for Italy, proving that both Toni and especially Gilardino are not world class finishers yet). The referee was very close and on top of the play that resulted in the buzzer beater penalty. The contact was not hard enough to take Grosso (3) down but Neill (2) definitely reached with his elbow and leaned with his back with an intention to obstruct. Just a dramatic way to exit. As for Italy, I cannot see a reason to be a fan of their boring play or style. I cannot recall a single game in the past 20 years where I said “What a great soccer game the Italians had played today”.

Ghana: The saddest part about the game, years from now, someone will read Brazil 3 Ghana 0 and will think that Brazil were in control of that game. One chance and two offsides. The problem is that Ghana controlled the ball and time of possession but without real threatening chances. The second half was an embaressement to Brazil. The only concern is that I hope FIFA is not consciously favoring Brazil because they are “good” for the marketability of the cup and attracts more casual fans. I hope not.

-Marco Van Basten was one of the best players of all time, but he has no business coaching the national team. Aside from the Van Nisterlooy decision, he was completely outcoached. His substitutions had no impact of the game what so ever, especially van der Vaart who obviously was not ready, and van Basten insisted on playing him, and he was non-existent. Van Basten never adjusted to the way Miguel (13) was defending Robben (11); the Dutch best player surrendered to close and physical marking without adjusting. The line-up did not have a leader to take charge and control his young teammates emotions, nor did they have a field leader in the form of Figo (who as I mentioned before is the best player on the Potugese squad and he was again the main reason Portugal won. Besides his outstanding play, he was shoving, head-butting and slapping opponents, leading his teammates and even overreacting to a foul that caused the Dutch second red card). Cocu (8) was the only experienced player on the squad and he is not that kind of player. Kuyt (7) did not belong at the world cup level and Ooijer (13) (32 years old with 21 caps!!) and Mathijsen (4) (26 years old with 10 caps) were completely responsible for the game only goal. Just a terrible combination of local players, and easily the worst Dutch team since 1990. The solution is easy: Guss Hiddink.

-Swiss/Ukraine, way to live down to expectations. Thanks for nothing.

- Henrik Larsson (11) ends a great career with the national team by missing the penalty kick that could have changed the game against Germany. After that miss Sweden lost hope and the game was over. On the bright side he had a great year with Barcelona and impacted the champions league final. Maybe he should have kept the dreadlocks.

-In Podolski/Klose Germany could be looking at the best forward duo since the days of Voller/Klinsman. Klose is easily one of the top three players in this year’s cup.

-One more example that cheating pays off: The immediate reaction to Henry crashing on the field hiding his face, after he was challenged by Puyol in the 83’ is “cheap shot, card him”, which is exactly what the referee saw from his position 30 yrads away from the play. The contact was incidental and to the chest, and that dive by Henry has changed the game. As for the French, Vieira (4) had another good game, and it was great to see Zidane making Spain pay just like he promised. And by the way, to win against Brazil: FREE TREZEGUET.


Anonymous said...

I find it very interesting that you claim that Toni is not a world class finisher; he is the leading scorer in the Italian Seria A playing for Fiorentina, imagine if he played with a better midfield to feed him the ball, imagine he played for Juve of Milan.

I hope that you had watched the italian game against Ukrain and Against Germany.... I hope changed your mind about one of the most deffensive football nations.


Abu Shreek said...

I followed the Italian team very closely and was not impressed with Toni at all. It does not matter how many goals he scored in Fiorentina last year:

-I think if he played for any other bigger team he won’t approach the 31 goals. Historically smaller teams does not have that many scoring options, and the offensive numbers are going to be concentrated on one player, other than spreading the scoring between three or four big name players like what happens in AC or JUve.
(ex: 04/05 season leading scorer was Lucarlli from Livorno, and over the past 5 years top scorers came from the likes of Udinese, Atlanta and Piacenza), the same apply to all European leagues.

-A lot of players (especially Italian Strikers) thrive in league and club play but cannot translate that success to their national team (like Signori, Montella, Delvecchio, even Del Piero, among others), also you can see that in other leagues (Raul).

I really did not see anything special about Toni. He is a slower less instinctive version of Vieri, who was also overrated.

Before Germany’s game Italy has been playing the most boring soccer for 16 straight years without a single decent game. As for their latest two game, Read my latest SS(III).

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