So the World Cup is going on now. The Big Names of Football (aka Brazil, Argentina, England and France. Nobody else. read on and you’ll understand why) have made waves for either flattering to deceive or deceiving to flatter. So of course, a significant proportion of water-cooler-conversation involves the WC. (pun intended, very much).
I came across (via Facebook) this excellent link on the New York Times detailing the stats of all the teams so far in the World Cup. I was mighty impressed by the fact that this sheet, in addition to the good ole’ goals scored, goals against, and points stats, also captures the less-tangible but no less important stats on possession, game control and attacking proficiency. It can be difficult to really see the significance of some of those numbers at first glance, so I will leverage my slightly professorial bent of mind to give some meaning to the numbers.
I’ve been reading Nicholas Nassim Talleb’s (the ever-effervescent NNT) Black Swan for the 2nd time recently, and the timing couldn’t be better with FIFA 2010 in full swing.
For those unfortunates yet to be enlightened by the unknowledge of NNT, a ‘black swan’ is an ‘unknown unknown’ with potentially enormous effect on the future course of events. The very nature of human cognition and memory makes us especially prone to forgetting the existence of Black Swans. I lack the requisite articulation to teach you more than that, so go read the book. It’s brilliant. Completely.
If I may be so bold as to attempt to apply his ideas to sport, I would say that football generates multiple black swans a minute, bearing more similarity to a barbarian melee than to a sport in the sheer dynamism and complex nature of the interactions of 22 wiry-muscled athletes, a sphere and very complicated physics.
Update: Chile score 2 minutes into the 2nd half. IT’S ON. VIVA FUTBOL!!!
So far. Even as we speak.
Spain are the European Champions. Playing far and away the best quality of football of any team in the tournament. (unless they’re being stomped on by the Swiss). In their last 50 games, they have won 45, drawn 3 and lost 2. They are THAT good.
And Chile is giving as good as they get. (well, almost). Most teams are given the Great Go-around by the Spanish tiki-taka, with opponents left with loose-hanging jaws, glazed eyes and scratching heads as the ball pings here, there, everywhere and back here in maze one-touch/many-move football. Most teams are left chasing shadows, then the ball and finally the game.
Not this game. As I write, for every smooth flowing move Spain put together, Chile make one of their own. While lacking the cirque-du-soleil synchronicity of the spaniards, the Chileans have asked very very hard questions of the spanish defense, with no little skill and poetical football of their own.