I caught one semifinal in a pub and we’re having friends over for The Big Game. Which feels like the right way to do it. That’s the good news; then there were the semifinals.

I should say thanks to all for reading these World Cup pieces; it amazes me how much response they get, and they’re fun to write. I’d say thanks to the organizers except for they’re disgusting corrupt scum. They produce something better than they are themselves, though; something we should all aspire to.

Soccer ball

Brazil 1 Germany 7 · Astonishing, but everyone’s already said so. The “what” is pretty easy: Brazil’s defense just wasn’t there. On that very first goal, a well-taken corner: Müller ditches his mark and is standing free in front of a third of the goalmouth, right where the ball’s coming down. Well-run defenses don’t let that happen. The Germans might’ve been just a touch lucky on one or two of the next two or three, but it’s the kind of luck that happens when the backs aren’t where they’re supposed to be.

Weirdly, as I tweeted some point before the second goal, the Brazilian midfield had been doing a better job of disrupting Germany’s previously-untouchable passing-sequence magic than any other club had. Which doesn’t help you when your back line breaks down.

So that’s the “what”; as to the “why”, I have no idea. Brazil has lots of world-class talent on that back line, so either Scolari got it really wrong or Leow saw something no other manager had.

A note on prediction · The big meta-story was “How did 538 get it so wrong?” Their model liked Brazil and kept liking it until Wednesday’s apocalypse began. Their own take on it is entitled The Most Shocking Result in World Cup History; although, to be fair, back on July 1st they called the semifinalists correctly.

It seems to me that everyone who actually paid more-than-casual attention to the games was shaking their heads at Brazil’s favored status; the team just didn’t look that good. I published some bonehead-simple analysis based on goal-differential and goals-against that to my eyes made that status look crazy. Brazil’s very first game, against Croatia, had many rolling their eyes.

So I think the models should probably place a far higher weight on what happens at the tournament as opposed to the history going into it.

And I have to note that some people over at my former employer, posting on the Google Cloud Platform Blog, have been running a model which has so far got 13 out of 14 games right. (The exception? Germany/France.)

Netherlands 0 Argentina 0 · I had to be downtown right after the game, so I went to a random pub-with-big-TVs, and it turned out to be Netherlands-Fan World HQ; the orange was retina-melting. It was great fun; well, until towards the end.

The match was depressing. The Dutch had their game plan, which was to advance to midfield and pass back and forth looking for openings; but there weren’t any. Argentina had theirs: Fast passes down the right wing and try to find Messi. It worked better, but Holland’s back line just wasn’t letting anything through.

Toward the end of the game, a couple of Dutch midfielders tried running the ball forward and both times they got something happening in the box. But no, back to the game plan. It made me want to scream.

I guess you have to call it a fair result; neither offense could score, and Argentina’s keeper won the penalties minigame.

The Final · Germany obviously have to be favorites, and I think they’ve won a lot of hearts along the way, so a championship for them wouldn’t be a bad outcome. But Argentina hoisting the Cup would also be entirely unsurprising, and satisfying in its own way. Don’t know if you noticed, but Argentina hasn’t been scored on in the Elimination round, and let in a total of three goals in the Group stage, which it’s not obvious they took 100% seriously. Germany: two in Group, three in Elimination.

On the other hand, Argentina hasn’t scored much either; six goals in Group and only two in Elimination (Germany is seven and, uh, ten).

Remember, Ghana scored twice on Germany (I missed that one) and Algeria frightened them in the round of 16; one of the event’s best matches, I thought. So if you can move the ball forward really fast and get someone dangerous loose in among the German backs, you can get them in trouble. I hope Argentina does.

I’d like surprises. I’d like there to be heroes. I’d like the number of goals to be higher than two, with a winner by one goal.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Hugh Fisher (Jul 12 2014, at 05:19)

I don't think the Dutch had a game plan going into the game against Argentina. They'd won their previous games mostly from Robben and van Persie finding a way to run through the defence. Here, the midfield as you say just knocked the ball back and forth. I don't think that was the plan, because Robben certainly wanted to get a move on the few times he had the ball, either with foot or from throws.

Were the Dutch shocked by the result yesterday? Maybe too many of the players were thinking "We can't let that happen to us"?

Or, perhaps the credit is due to Argentina and their excellent tempo football. I thought they did a great job of slowing the game down, irritating though it may be to spectators. By flooding back defensively they encouraged the Dutch to hold possession and pass sideways and backwards, not charge forward. The Argentine thinking would be that in a game of very limited opportunities, Messi was more likely to produce a moment of brilliance than Robben or van Persie. Worst outcome would be a penalty shootout, which they got.

For the final, I'd like to think that the Germans paid attention and won't be likewise suckered into slow motion football, instead taking advantage of their conditioning and running the Argentines off their feet.

I thought the German defence was slow too, but they've reorganised and held up just fine against France. Not starting Mertesacher (sp?) helped: he's a perfectly good centre back, but the kind of centre back you want in wet conditions against tall forwards, not fast little guys.

Should be a very interesting final!


From: Osvaldo Doederlein (Jul 12 2014, at 09:37)

On #BRAvsGER, I think you (and many commentators) make a mistake trying to understand that as a "normal" game. The fact is that after the second goal, perhaps even the first, the Brazilian team suffered a collective breakdown. The combined pressures of having to win at home, and missing two critical players, and taking a couple goals early in the game, was too much for that team. Otherwise, any rational team would have at the very least retreated to a packed defense, at least for some time to contain the damage. Even the coach Scolari seemed to be paralyzed, taking no action until the half-time interval.

I'm sure we would have lost in any scenario; Germany was better even before the first goal and also in the average of previous matches, we'd probably lose even with both Neymar and Tiago Silva playing (or at best, I'd say that we might be able to "play to not loose" like both teams did in the other semi). But this doesn't mean that one can fit that particular game in any models or judgements about the quality of each team or player–unless you consider emotional factors, which are hard to measure until a team is tested like that.


From: Osvaldo Doederlein (Jul 12 2014, at 15:08)

Writing now after the 0x3 against Netherlands: now, THAT was the kind of fair result that we'd also have in a normal game against Germany. Even with the terrible referee helping Netherlands (first goal = invalid penalty, second = irregular position, and later didn't see a penalty favoring Brazil), Brazil was clearly inferior and deserving to lose, good thing they scored at least one honest goal in the end. Our defense was significantly better with Thiago playing again, but not "world cup class" good yet; and attack was hopelessly unable to finalize any goals, losing several easy opportunities. Team weak even for corner and free kicks close to goal; it seems Felipão had built a team that was completely dependent on Neymar for finalization.


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July 11, 2014
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