June 19, 2006

Soccer? On this blog?

Yep, it's that time again. For most Americans, getting excited about soccer is a once-every-four-years phenomenon (unless you have young children, in which case it's once a week and you get to cut up a lot of oranges). But, as the excitement rises with more World Cup success each quadrenium, the publicity and magnitude of the tournament itself is sinking in a little more into the American conscience.

The great thing about the tournament layout is the fascinating outcomes that arise from each "groups" of four nations in the preliminary round. Each team plays the others in a round robin format, with teams getting 3 points for a win, 1 point for a tie, and 0 points for a loss (along with various death threats if you hail from Europe, and God help you if you were the keeper). The Americans, or "The Star and Stripes", are in an incredibly tough group, having to face the Czech Republic (the second-ranked team in the world), Italy (a three-time Cup winner and historically one of the strongest national teams in Europe), and Ghana (easily the best team to come from Africa in a long time despite this being their first entry into the tournament). The top two countries from the group will then move on the second round.

Here are the results from the first four games:

Czech 3, US 0.
Italy 2, Ghana 0.

Ghana 2, Czech 0.
Italy 1, US 1.

With one game left for each team (US v. Ghana, Italy v. Czech), the points stand as such:

Italy 4, +2
Chech 3, +1
Ghana 3, 0
US 1, -3

The numbers to the right of overall points note the goal difference for each team, i.e. how many more goals they've scored than their opponents. This is the first tiebreaker in the event that two nations have the same number of points, something fairly common since there are only 3 games to play in the round.

So, what do the Stars and Stripes need to go to move on? Well, they can't win the group, since the most points they can get is 4, as the winner of the Italy/Czech Republic will have 7/6 points respectively, and if there is a tie, Italy will have 5.

So, the US is playing for second. In order for them to make second, they MUST BEAT GHANA. This will give them 4 points and eliminate Ghana from the group. In all likelihood, they will also need help in the form of an Italian win, leaving the points as such:

Italy 7
US 4
Czech 3
Ghana 3

However, thanks to the tiebreakers, ther is a way that USA can seal second even without needing help in the second game -- BLOW OUT GHANA BY FIVE GOALS. As of right now, the Czech Republic holds a goal differential advantage of 4 (as 1 - (-3) = 4). If the US beats Ghana by 5 and the Italy/Czech game ends in a tie, the standings would be as such:

Italy 5
US 4, +2
Czech 4, +1
Ghana 3

Further, as it stands now, Italy holds a goal differential advantage of 5 (as 2 - (-3) = 5). If the US beats Ghana by 5 and Italy loses, the points would look like this:

Czech 6
US 4, +2
Italy 4, <2 (since it'd be 2 - (goals lost by))
Ghana 3

We can see now that a blowout win for the US means they're in by points if Italy wins, in by differential advantage over Italy if the Czech Republic wins, and in by differential advantage the Czech Republic in the event of a tie. So, by beating Ghana by 5, the Stars and Stripes will assure themselves a place in the second round no matter the outcome of the Czech/Ghana game.

The last set of results key in on a US victory, by not by a bundle. Let's say the US wins by 3 (which is still somewhat of a blowout for soccer, but not nearly the scale we looked at earlier). That would leave them with this line:

US 4, Even

If Italy beats Czech, US is in by points. If the game is tied, Czech is in by tiebreaker (as they would have a net +1 goal differential). However, if the Czechs can beat Italy big enough (in this case by 3), the Italians' goal differential will sink below the Americans' and push Donavon +10 into the second round thanks to these standings:

Czech 6, +4
US 4, Even
Italy 4, -1
Ghana 3, -3

So, even winning moderately well still gives America another chance to get to the second round outside of an Italian victory. Of course, if they do make it into the second round, they have to face Brazil, historically and currently the strongest 'futball' nation in the world. So, that's nice.

If you've read this far, you either love soccer, have too much time on your hands, all of the above, or just really like me, which I appreciate. I just really enjoy game theory as well as writing about sports, and since the Braves haven't won in a week and a half (my eating crow post is coming soon; worry not, Dad), I thought this would be a fine topic to discuss, especially in the occasion of our nation finding hope in a sector where we've never had too much success before.

Good luck on Thursday, Star and Stripes. I've shown you what has to happen -- now go out there and do your part!


At 10:22 AM, Blogger Phil said...

Oh well, there's always 2010.


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