Sunday, July 06, 2014

On Predicting Future Events, such as the World Cup

Man, man, your time is sand
Your ways are leaves upon the sea.
--Al Stewart, "Eyes of Nostradamus"

So starts the chorus of one of my all-time favorite songs, a selective poetic recitation of some of the 16th-century French seer's greatest calls (interpreted to include Charles II, Napoleon, Francisco Franco, Hitler, and the Kennedy saga).  Nostradamus himself is a topic for another day (his shotgun approach did hit a few targets out there in the Days of Future Passed), but I will credit Stewart with the insight that it is the detritus, the residual stuff that floats to the top, in mankind's future activities that is much more readable than to predict the details.

As a case in point, we take the 2014 World Cup semifinalists.  A year ago, when the draw was announced, I indicated what four teams would make it to this point. I got three right (Brazil, Argentina, and Germany), and, most importantly, I identified a key first-round game (Spain - Netherlands) which would likely determine the one I got wrong.  So, if I had been inclined to do a parlay on the four finalists, I would have bet the three I got right and probably three or four teams for the other spot (Spain, Netherlands, Chile, and maybe Italy).

So what, you say, those were the top-rated teams.  Actually, they weren't.  They were the three which the brackets had set up as the most probable winners, with a big question mark/branch point in the fourth. There were a lot of individual events along the way which were unpredictable, but the sweep of the event and the teams' merits carried those (and Holland, once it had destroyed Spain's bracket chances in that critical first game) to this conclusion.

Now what?  OK, I also predicted, way back then, Brazil-Argentina in the final with Brazil winning.  I will stick with that prediction, though I have plenty of doubts.  Some of the quanta have not lined up properly.

Brazil-Germany:  Neymar getting injured and Thiago Silva suspended for the next game make this a challenge even greater than the one Colombia presented for Brazil.  I have to say that they rose to the occasion vs. Colombia, with the first half being their best performance yet, and they will need to do it--find the right people to step up--to beat Germany.  Germany is a team without any weaknesses, but I have the feeling the Brazilians will find something in their bag of tricks.

In particular, I look at the habit of the German goalie, Neuer, to come out of the box aggressively as something Brazil may find a way to exploit, even though he has been very successful doing it so far.  It will require a breakaway with a secondary plot element--get him to come out, then pass laterally (and back, if necessary) to break the angle and find an open goal in front.  That's one goal, but they will need two.  The second thing they will need is some kind of scoring from Fred, their center forward (or if not from him, from his replacement)--he has scored once so far, and he was clearly offside on that one.

Argentina- Holland:  I give great credit to the Dutch for maintaining their poise, after that frustrating 120 minutes with Costa Rica, to bury all their penalty kicks, but they will need to come up with something different than the Robben down the right/Van Persie offsides down the middle offense they showed (when it wasn't Sneijder's lethal, but slightly off-target, free kicks).  Otherwise, Argentina will be glad to frustrate them and rely on a little Messi Magic to get through.

My overall bracket predictions were not great because I missed on some of the minutiae, as I described before, and my round-by-round fell by the wayside because I failed to put in my picks for the quarterfinals (I would have had all 4)--system blocks on my computer for "games" didn't help!

Wimbledon:  No system block on's bracket prediction game.  I did pretty well in the Men's side--had Dmitrov, Nadal going out, Djokovic--but the key switch point which I got wrong was the Wawrinka-Federer match (I had Djokovic-Wawrinka in the final).   I did much worse in the women's side--basically I had a scenario which was totally off-base (the Williams sisters re-emergence), so despite identifying Halep, Bouchard, and Kvitova as strong contenders, I did poorly.


Chin Shih Tang said...

Brazil-Germany, the Day After: Worst defensive effort I have ever seen by a professional team, and Germany, very professionally, took advantage. Clearly it was the absence of Thiago Silva which destroyed their defensive coherence, and a very bad strategy from their coach. Fred, though he did nothing in the whole Cup, was somewhat unfairly scapegoated for the disaster. David Luiz was clearly a bad choice as substitute captain: I know him well from his Chelsea performance, and he has value (see his goal vs. Colombia?) but he is not a guy to build your defense around--he makes critical mistakes. Julio Cesar was a disaster in the first half, too, though he made some important saves to keep Germany's score in single digits. Oscar came out looking the best of the bunch, until he started crying afterwards: that was one time, if any, to be manful.

I do not follow the line of thinking that Germany automatically wins the final because of this: this was one game and a freakish one at that. I would make them about a 60:40 favorite over either Argentina or Holland (assuming the winner does not suffer a Brazilian-type two-sided catastrophic loss while winning) on overall merit.

Meanwhile, the US' 1-0 loss is looking pretty good, no? (rubbing it in)

Chin Shih Tang said...

Time to comment on the upcoming Germany - Argentina final.

First thing to reference is The Rule: When the host nation is in the Western Hemisphere, a South American team wins (it has happened 8 times), when it's in Europe, a European team wins (9 times)--there are no exceptions, though the finals held in Asia (2002, won by Brazil) and Africa (2010, won by Spain) have clouded things a bit. Still, if The Rule means anything anymore, Argentina will win.

It's certainly not impossible--Argentina has played solid defense and scored (or converted penalty kicks) when it needed to, though Germany should be favored on the merits of its performance in this tournament.

I will stick with The Rule: Argentina, 2-1, in extra time.

July 13: 11:08 a.m. Central Europe Time