Today’s footie

July 2, 2014 • 5:42 am

None, and thank Ceiling Cat for that! Believe me, I need a break. Try polishing a huge book manuscript and watching two World Cup games at the same time!

But play resumes on Friday, with two cracking matches. I will somehow need to watch both:

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Make your predictions, if you wish. Mine (I don’t dare to predict scores) are Germany and Brazil. That’s not too hard, but of course the outcome of all games are unpredictable (though completely determined ages ago)

We all know by now that yesterday the U.S. lost to Belgium 1-2, but it was a splendid game, with the U.S. playing their hearts out in the overtime. I’m only glad it wasn’t settled by penalty kicks. Argentina also beat Switzerland 1-0 with a beautiful pass from Messi to di Maria.  All in all, it was a great day of football. And so it will be on Friday.

Here are the highlights of both games; click on the screenshots to go to them:


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Belgium/US (Dempsey almost tied it up at minute 114):

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There’s no Google Doodle, of course, but I want to call your attention to an essay showing, with statistics, that Messi is not only the world’s best player (it’s also my opinion and that of my friend Seamus Malin, who’s seen all the greats of our time), but is an impossibly good player. Reader Hardy called my attention to this piece by Benjamin Morris at FiveThirtyEightSports called “Lionel Messi is impossible.” It’s an eye-opener, and loaded with stats. Here are two I found interesting, with Morris’s commentary (indented):

To make all those unassisted shots possible, Messi has to take on a lot of defenders one on one. There’s a stat for that, and in my view it’s one of the most revealing, reflecting both Messi’s skill and style, and the relationship between the two. Of all forwards in our data set who’ve played 100-plus games, he “takes on” defenders the most, and he’s the most successful at it.

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Scoring by distance:

If we break this down using shot-location data, it’s clear that Messi is highly efficient across a wide range of distances.

The percentage of shots Messi makes from outside the penalty area is absolutely stunning. He scores almost as often per shot from outside the penalty area (12.1 percent) as most players do inside it (13.1 percent).

Of 8,335 players in our dataset who have taken at least one shot from outside the box, only 1,835 have scored from that distance at any point. There are 47 players with 50 or more attempts from outside the box without a single goal, and about 500 with at least 20 attempts and no goals. Messi leads the world with 21 goals from outside the penalty area, on just 173 shot attempts.

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For many of the stats, of course, Ronaldo is up there with Messi, and both are way ahead of the rest of the pack. You may argue with Morris’s analysis, but his analysis, which I highly recommend, has a ton of statistics, and statistics don’t lie. Watch Messi closely from now on: you may be seeing the best player in history. And I hope Argentina makes it to the final match.

Finally, for LOLz, reader George called my attention to a piece on Mashable that has 15 pairs of gifs using cats to demonstrate the US/Belgium game (there’s also a video at the end). Here’s one pair:




29 thoughts on “Today’s footie

  1. For people outside the US or who want to see more highlights (the links you gave are restricted), here are some long, high quality highlights with English commentary (from the BBC or iTV usually):

    The US-Belgium game was indeed great and Tim Howard (US goalie) made history with the most attempts blocked by a goalie in a single WC game (at least since we started counting them in 1966 or something), with 16 (!!)

    Allez les Bleus ! 😉

    1. Howard is probably the reason we did as well as we did. Without trying to take away from the accomplishments of the other players, IMO he’s truly the MVP of the US team.

    2. Enjoyed the Belgium v USA game very much. The better team won but the I doubt whether I’ve ever seen a more committed team than the Americans. Their physical effort was immense.

  2. Agreed that Messi is clearly better than Ronaldo, you don’t need statistics to show that (and I’m a statistician).

    Ronaldo has always been something of a flat track bully, very good in a league where it is all about consistently beating the weaker sides, usually less effective when he comes up against better opposition as in the later stages of the not-Champions not-League.

  3. Cool analysis. Question (maybe better directed at Morris): do we have video of past games that would allow a comparative analysis of players from other eras? How does Messi statistically compare to Pele?

    1. That would be interesting and I think World Cup games may be available since perhaps 1966? To that end, all players should be analysed, which will allow us to compare the moderns with other luminaries, such as Maradona, Cruyff, Beckenbauer and Charlton, as well as those not so luminous, like Terry Fenwick.

      1. There will be World Cup and other televised games but they will give you a pretty small sample size.

        One difficulty with seeking to compare players from the current era with earlier generations is the changes in the rules. Since the 1980s there have been a number of changes that have benefited attacking players, particularly to the offside rule, the rule against tackling from behind, and the backpass rule. All of these will tend to give modern players more attacking opportunities than even those of Maradona’s generation, let alone Pele’s.

        1. This is true; tackling used to be more agricultural. This short compilation shows defenders trying to bring down George Best.

          Another thing this clip highlights is the change in pitch quality and the ball. Slogging through mud with a leather ball is not something the modern player has to do. But I think limiting it to World Cups (better pitches) helps that, although it is a small sample size, I agree.

  4. France 0 – 0 Germany, France wins on penalties
    Colombia 2 – 0 Brasil

    The host is going down.

      1. You might want to examine my record of success in previous predictions before getting too worried.

    1. I agree on Colombia – Brazil result. Brazil hasn’t actually won a game against either Round of 16 opponents it had to face (Mexico and Chile), advancing with a tie each time.

  5. “Try polishing a huge book manuscript”

    Lurker’s Law #2: In any long ms., the last typo is never found.

    And for those who will ask:

    Lurker’s Law #1: In any large computer program, the last bug is never even reported.

    1. The advice I give to grad students: Every presentation contains at least one error, so put yours in the first slide.

  6. So, the USA is out, right?

    Does that mean that the jingoists are going to turn their attention elsewhere, leaving those who appreciate the sport for its own merits to enjoy it without further interruption? Or does it mean that domestic US broadcasts of the tournament are about to be curtailed?


    1. IOW, would you rather the bar be so crowded you can’t enjoy the game, or have the bar not show the game?

      Probably depends on the bar, but I expect at least one place local to me will be ideal. It’ll (a) keep showing the games while (b) not being anywhere near as crowded.

    2. “So, the USA is out, right?”


      “Does that mean that the jingoists are going to turn their attention elsewhere, leaving those who appreciate the sport for its own merits to enjoy it without further interruption? Or does it mean that domestic US broadcasts of the tournament are about to be curtailed?”

      I think the popularity of this World Cup in the US (and ESPN going all in on the broadcasting of games and highlights) will make it much easier for American soccer fans to enjoy it in the future. Prior to this, soccer was extremely rare on US TV and radio. Now it will be easier to find good matches to watch in the US. So I guess my answer is that “No, the ‘jingoists’ are not going to all turn their attention elsewhere, and for this reason ‘those who appreciate the sport for its own merits’ will be able to enjoy it much more than they could before. And no, broadcasts of the tournament will definitely not be curtailed because the US is out.

  7. Messi is God.

    Very like commenter Reginald Selkirk above:

    France 0 – 0 Germany, France wins on penalties
    Colombia 2 – 1 Brasil

    Though I want to see Brazil win.

  8. I haven’t read every one of these posts, so has anyone pointed out that “World Cup Soccer” is a tongue-twister? Say it 5 times fast. NSFW.

  9. Don’t know if this has been posted, but there are several short videos of a 10 yr old Irish kid named Ciaran Duffy (aka “Mini Messi”) on Youtube. He has mad foot skills although some of the vids show him being a bit too “cute”. Probably being egged on by an adult.

    1. The nickname “mini Messi” appears not to be exclusive. A Scot named Ryan Gauld is also being called that.

  10. Messi, Messi, Messi…..
    he wasn’t even that good in the match SUI vs ARG. Don’t get me wrong, my prediction was that Argentina will win the cup, and I base it mostly on Messi, but the Swiss were really good in that game. Don’t forget to mention what happened in the 121st minute! It must have been harder for Dzemaili to hit the post with his header, and the ball bounced back to him for attempt #2 which went wide. Unbelievable.

  11. I was hoping the U.S. would make it to penalty kicks. Although they were clearly outplayed, penalty kicks are a crapshoot, and it would have given them at least an even chance of winning. With their goalie, I had hopes. It would have been nice to see at least one upset in the round of 16.

  12. My feelings:
    Brazil over Columbia 3 to 2. (Both with solid teams, but Brazil is playing at home), and
    France over Germany 2 to 1 (France seems hot this time around)
    For Saturday Netherlands over Costa Rica 4 to 0 (Let’s be realistic), and
    Argentina over Belgium 1 to 0 (Belgium will be be on defense)
    The only outcome that seems fairly certain is Neatherlands beating the surprising Costa Rica.

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