# Tag Archives: soccer

## Forecasting 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia

This a short post to share my forecast for the coming football 2018 FIFA World Cup to be played during the following five weeks in Russia.

As I introduced in a similar post four years ago for the 2014 World Cup (here), I have a work colleague who not only is a tremendous aircraft salesman but also has a great sense of humor and manages in his free time late in the night to set up a contest for office staff to try to guess winners, matches’ scores, top scorers, etc., of major international soccer competitions. The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, which will start this week, could not be missed. Nacho managed to set up the contest in time.

I have approached the game of forecasting this World Cup with the same method as previous times, as I have not watched a single match of national teams’ football since the previous World Cup and I have no clue of who is who and how they come to the competition. I have relied on ESPN rankings, and used its offensive and defensive coefficients to build with a simple algorithm all the scores of the competition:

• taking into account the coefficients of both sides
• when the difference between them was narrow, I put a draw, if resulting coefficients were high 2-2, if low, 0-0.
• the same for victories, if the difference was high 3-0, if small and low coefficients, 1-0.
• I also checked the numbers that different scores were repeated in the group phase in the previous two World Cups, as the most repeated ones are 2-1, 1-0, 0-0, in order to assign them in similar proportion.
• I also checked the amounts of goals scored in the group phase of previous 2 World Cups (100 and 136 goals), to adjust the overall number of goals I would distribute.
• Checked the goals the previous top scorers managed in World Cups to a assign a similar number.

What did I forecast?

• A World Cup won by Brazil against Spain in the final in the penalty shootout.
• An oddity: the algorithm provided that Spain would face 3 shootouts in this World Cup, we will see.
• The forecast also provided that England would beat Colombia in a shootout, that may be even odder, given the historical bad luck of England at shootouts.
• As top scorer I put Neymar (Brazil) with 6 goals.

2018 FIFA World Cup Russia forecast.

Filed under Sports

## Forecasting France Euro 2016

I have a work colleague who not only is a tremendous negotiator and aircraft seller but also has a great sense of humor and manages in his free time late in the night to set up a contest for office staff to try to guess winners, matches’ scores, top scorers, etc., of major international soccer competitions. The France Euro 2016 which starts this afternoon could not be missed. Nacho managed to set up the contest in time.

In this post I am going to explain how I went about forecasting the results of the UEFA Euro 2016.

“when in doubt, build a model”, Nate Silver.

The readers of this blog may already know how much I do like to build models to produce forecasts, guesstimates, etc. In relation to forecasting this UEFA Euro 2016 there is some background that has shaped my mind in relation to the subject in the recent years, let me give you some hints:

Having shared this background, you may understand that I tried to remove all the beauty of guessing and my football knowledge out of the forecasting process (1).

• ESPN Soccer Power Index (SPI) ranking, introduced by the economist Nate Silver. I used its offensive and defensive scores plus weight for each of the scores based on a tip indicating that in competitive matches the defensive factor tends to be slightly more important (see “A Guide to ESPN’s SPI rankings”) (2).
• The frequency of different scores in the group phases of the Euro 2012 and the World Cup 2010, the in the round of 16, quarter finals and semi-finals.

• A few simple rules about how to allocate results given the difference between SPI ratings of the two nations playing each match. (3)
• The total number of goals during group phases the latest Euro and World Cup. In order to cross check that the total numbers of goals that my forecast yielded was in check with previous competitions.

It may sound very complex. It is not. It requires a bit of reading (which most of it I did years ago), retrieving the latest ratings, giving it a bit of thought to set up the model and then, not even looking at the names of the teams, you go about allocating the scores based on raw figures. Let’s see how my forecast fares this time! (4)

Les grandes personnes aiment les chiffres” (5), the Little Prince.

(1) In fact I have not watched a single national team football match from any country since the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.

(2) See here the blog post I published yesterday in which I made a more thorough review of the ESPN SPI index.

(3) I set up rules like “if the difference of the combination of indices of the two nations is below this threshold, I take it as a draw, if it is between x and y as victory by 1 goal, if higher…”, etc.

(4) This way of forecasting allowed me to finish 4th out of 47 in 2010, 15th out of 87 in 2014. As it removes biases it allows to be better than the average, though it prevents you of guessing outliers, gut feelings, etc.

Note: In the blog post from yesterday I mentioned that the latest complete ranking from the ESPN SPI index that I could retrieve dated from October 2015. That is the one I have used, therefore, Germany results as winner. Of the latest ranking, covering the Top 25 nations, only 13 countries of the 24 competing at the Euro 2016 are included. I could have set up an hybrid ranking taking the latest rankings and ratings for the top 13 from June and using the October figures for the lower 11 teams. I decided to go on with a single set of data. If I had done so, the maing changes would have come from the semifinals onwards. France would have appeared as winner instead of Germany. We’ll see if that was a good decision.

## Forecasting 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

I have a work colleague who not only is a tremendous negotiator and contracts’ drafter but also has a great sense of humor and manages in his free time late in the night to set up a contest for office staff to try to guess winners, matches’ scores, top scorers, etc., of major international soccer competitions. The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, which will start tomorrow, could not be missed. Nacho managed to set up the contest in time.

To set up the background as to how I have approached the game of forecasting this World Cup:

• I had written a review of the book “Soccernomics“, which among other things advocates the use of data in order to make decisions in relation to football transfer market, forecasting, etc. This book relies somewhat heavily in “Moneyball” another book which I read some months ago with a similar scope but with baseball as the theme sport.
• When the draw of the World Cup took place last December, I wrote a couple of blog posts discussing what was the so-called “group of death” basing the analysis on FIFA and ESPN rankings.
• During the last year, I read a couple of books which approach how we make decisions and how to remove different kind of biases from the thought processes of making them: “Thinking Fast and Slow” (by the 2002 winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics Daniel Kahneman) and “Seeking Wisdom“.
• Finally, last year I followed the open course “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior” by Dan Ariely (though I missed the last exam due to my honeymoon and could not get credit for it).

Having shared this background, you may understand that I tried to remove all the beauty of guessing and my football “knowledge” to the forecasting process. I rather made use of  ESPN Soccer Power Index (SPI) ranking, introduced by the economist Nate Silver. I used its offensive and defensive scores plus the tip indicating that in competitive matches the defensive factor tends to be slightly more important (see “A Guide to ESPN’s SPI rankings”).

Once I plugged in the numbers from the index and used the referred tip on the defensive side, I built a simple model to guess each of the World Cup matches. Once you take this approach you will find that the model gives you plenty of results such as Nigeria 1.32 – 1.53 Bosnia… What to do with it? When the result was very tight I resolved it as a draw, otherwise a victory for the team with the highest score.

In very few instances I forecast that a team would score 3 or more goals in a match. I bore in mind that in the 2010 World Cup 80% of the matches ended up with scores of 1-0 (26% of the matches), 2-1 (15%), 0-0, 1-1 or 2-0 (each 13%).  That a team scores more than 3 goals in a match will certainly happen in some games, but I did not bother to guess in which ones, the odds are against.

The prize pot of the game organized by this colleague is not particularly big (few hundreds euros). The main point of the game is enjoying the chit-chat with work colleagues. My second main point is putting this rational approach to work and see how it fares.

Finally, what did I forecast?

A World Cup won by Brazil against Argentina in the final. With Spain beating Germany for the third place (in the penalties). For my English readers: England defeated by Colombia in the 1/8 of final. For the ones from USA, it doesn’t make the cut from the group phase. We will see along this month how well do I fare.

2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil forecast.

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Filed under Sports

## The origin of football in Spain

One of the sports introduced by the British working at the mine of Rio Tinto (post about the visit to it I made the last week here), was football.

Welcome to Minas Riotinto (“Birthplace of Spanish football”).

I didn’t expect anything special as I had not researched the topic beforehand but I hoped there would be something knowing that the origin was there. This was immediately confirmed as there is a signpost at the entrance of the village about the relation of it with football.

But then, there was nothing else but the statue you can find below in front of the local football club field (playing in who knows which division).

I asked at the mining museum whether there was something to be visited about football and its origin in Spain. There wasn’t. “The town hall has a project of building a local museum of football, but today there is nothing”. What a pity. I guess I am not the only person who when travelling is searching for this kind of places and memorabilia, thus I guess it could have some potential.

Statue celebrating the origin of Spanish football in Minas de Rio Tinto (Huelva).

It is not the first time that I get this disappointment. You may remember that I had the same feeling when searching for the roots of football at the Freemasons in London. I would love to see such museum like the one about golf in St. Andrews, I hope that one day I will be able to do so. To date, the closest to that is the one-page text below, found at the mining museum:

Page about the introduction of football in Rio Tinto by British RTCL workers.

Filed under Sports, Travelling

## Soccernomics

Soccernomics.

If you love football (soccer) and have read one of the books of the “Freakonomics” saga or any book from Malcolm Gladwell, then “Soccernomics“, by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski (430 pgs.), will be a great read for you.

The book is written in the same style as the other books mentioned above: using economics’ techniques, plenty of data, statistics, citing several papers, studies, etc., in order to bring up uncovered issues about football or refocus the attention about other ones. Some examples:

• Mastering the transfer market. Departing from the example of Billy Beane in baseball, described in “Moneyball“, by Michael Lewis (of which a movie was also made starring Brad Pitt), the authors show how pouring money in transfer markets doesn’t bring titles. The key issue is to have a balanced net investment (sales/acquisitions). In soccer the main example would be Olympique Lyon which will “sell any player if a club offer more than he is worth”, for which each player is previously assigned a price (much like value investing).
• The more money is paid to players the better (in salaries). Instead of buying new expensive players it seems to make more sense to pay well and ensure the adaptation of the stars already playing for the team.
• The market for managers is not yet very open (e.g. no black coaches in main European teams), thus many of them do not make a real difference. There was even an English team Ebbsfleet United who dispensed the coach and allowed subscribed fans to vote the player selection for each match.
• The book, written at the beginning of 2012 forecasted that soon teams from big European capitals would win the Champions’ League, being those capitals: London, Paris, Istanbul and Moscow. Few months later Chelsea won its first one, let’s see the others.
• The main factors for the success of football national teams seem to be the experience (international games played by the national team), wealth and population.
• The authors give much weight to Western Europe dominance of football due to the interconnectedness of continental Europe. Explaining the rise of Spain in the ’90s and ’00s due to its growth in population, improved economy since joining the EU, more experience and exchanges of styles with coaches of other countries.
• The authors claim that future national football will be dominated by countries such as Iraq, USA, Japan or China.

As you can see there are many different topics, all with some data to support them (even if sometimes you doubt about the consistency of their claims, e.g. their statements on industrial cities as dominating football, dictatorships, etc.). I marked many pages with some anecdotes or papers that I would like to read.

One final anecdote: tips given to clubs and teams in KO competitions in case they face a penalty shoot-out. In the Champions’ League final of 2008, Chelsea and Manchester United reached the penalties. An economist had given Chelsea a study of Manchester goal keeper and penalty-shooters. Once you read the book and the tips the economist provided (“Van der Sar tends to dive to the kicker’s natural side”, “most of the penalties that Van der Sar stops are mid-height, thus is better to shoot low or high”, “if Cristiano Ronaldo stops half-way in the run-up to the ball chances are 85% that he shoots to his natural side”…), it is quite interesting to actually see that penalty shoot-out and how the different players acted.

[Pay special attention at Van der Sar’s reaction at 09’40”, when it seems he noticed about Chelsea having been tipped]

I definitely recommend this book to football fans. I also recommend two other books about which I wrote in the blog some time ago: “How soccer explains the World” and “Historias del fútbol mundial“.

## The origins of football and The Freemasons Arms

As a fan of football (soccer) and having read in the book “366 Historias del Fútbol Mundial“, by Alfredo Relaño (in Spanish, 768 pages – I posted about it here), about the English pub in which the Football Association was founded on the 26th October 1863, I set out to visit that place in my last trip to London.

On that first day the first rules for the game were drafted, such as the ruling out of the use of hands for the field players. That moment marked the departure between football and rugby.

A view of what and how it happened can be seen in the documentary “Fútbol, el nacimiento de una pasión”,  by Jesús Sánchez (2005, in Spanish – an acquaintance of the family), which covers the origins of football from prehistoric games.

The explanation given by the book has an error. It states that the creation of the football association took place at The Freemasons Arms located at Great Queen Street. That pub in fact is not there but in other street: Long Acre street, about 100 metres away.

The Wikipedia provides a plausible explanation: the foundation of the Football Association took place at the Freemasons’ Tavern, but that pub apparently was demolished and to continue its business the Freemasons Arms was built, which is not the same but apparently claims the legacy of the former. The Freemasons’ Tavern would have been indeed located at Great Queen Street where the new Freemasons Hall is located today. If that is the case, the Wikipedia article or the book may have another error since one states the foundation took place in 1863 and the other says that the original pub was demolished in 1860

I went there to check the pub and to enjoy myself worshipping the origins of such a game as football.

I was quite disappointed with what I viewed; as there is only a small shrine in a wall with some pieces remembering the relation of the pub with football. I asked one of the bar tenders and she barely had an idea of what the relation was.

Sadly, a piece of history seems to be lost.

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## ¿Y si el Real Madrid bajase a Segunda?

Como muchos de vosotros sabéis, mi hermano Jaime es seguidor del F.C. Barcelona mientras que yo lo soy del Real Madrid. Hace años, discutiendo en broma le decía a veces “el Madrid no bajará nunca, y si lo hiciese, la Federación tendría que cambiar la Primera División por la Segunda… la Primera sin el Madrid no tiene sentido”. Una fanfarronada, diréis.

La realidad supera la ficción. Mirad lo que está ocurriendo en Argentina con el River Plate tras su descenso:

Quilombo por el descenso de River Plate.

Por cierto, River es mi equipo favorito en aquel país ;-).

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## Historias del Fútbol Mundial

Tengo la costumbre de, siempre que paso por un aeropuerto, visitar la tienda de libros y revistas, a ver si encuentro algún libro. Siempre que vuelo ya llevo algo de lectura conmigo y estas visitas a la tienda de turno las hago por si encuentro algo interesante. A veces lo encuentro.

El año pasado antes de emprender un viaje a Holanda, cuando se estaba jugando la Copa del Mundo en Sudáfrica, encontré en Barajas el libro “366 Historias del Fútbol Mundial”, de Alfredo Relaño. Tras ojearlo un poco, lo compré pensando que estaría bien como complemento al evento futbolístico del momento que tan bien acabó para España. Digamos que para imbuirme un poco más del espíritu futbolístico.

El libro no tiene un hilo argumental, sino que está estructurado a modo de calendario. Ordenadas según los meses del año, el libro tiene una historia por cada uno de los días del mismo. Cada historia una hoja, dos páginas. Perfecto para tener en la mesilla y leer unas pocas historias de vez en cuando.

Muchas de las historias son muy conocidas, algunas casi contemporáneas, y otras tantas no tanto. Por ejemplo, en estas semanas de abril y principios de mayo, cuando se van a vivir tantos partidos entre Real Madrid y Barcelona, en el libro aparece una historia con bronca entre ambos equipos en las semifinales de copa de 1916 tras la cual estarían hasta 10 años sin volver a enfrentarse. ¿Qué diría la prensa durante 10 años sin un partido del siglo cada semana?

Otras historias de estas semanas:

• El plante del Barcelona en la vuelta de la semifinal de Copa del Rey contra el Atlético de Madrid en el año 2000.
• La victoria de España en la Copa del Mundo Sub-20 en Nigeria, con Xavi y Casillas. Preludio de lo que ocurriría 10 años después un poco más al sur.
• El nacimiento de la expresión del “miedo escénico” del Bernabéu en la final a doble partido de la UEFA contra el Colonia en 1986.
• El accidente que acabó con el Torino en el monte de Superga en 1949.
• El nacimiento de la Copa en 1902, cuya primera edición duró 3 días y ganó un equipo conjunto formado por jugadores del Athletic y el Vizcaya de Bilbao (que más tarde se fusionarían); o del Scudetto en Italia, cuya primera edición duró 1 día y ganó el Génova.
• La derrota del Barcelona en la final de la Copa de Europa en Sevilla frente al Steaua de Bucarest.
• La aparición de las tarjetas amarillas.

Y así hasta 366…

Todavía no he terminado de leer todas las historias del libro, pero las que llevo leídas (algunas releídas) ya me permiten recomendar el libro sin miedo a equivocarme.