In my previous two postings [here and here], I’ve outlined the draw for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, attempting to work out which of the eight groups is the hardest. I’ve also used two methods to try to work this out, which I’ve described as “Group Type” and “The Minnows’ View.”
In this posting I look at the two other indicators I deployed for this exercise, which I call “The View From The Top” and “Mind The Gap.”
Just to recap, here are the first round groups:
|Group A||Group B||Group C||Group D|
|Group E||Group F||Group G||Group H|
|Japan||New Zealand||Ivory Coast||Honduras|
The View From The Top is the average ranking points of the bottom three teams in a group, therefore it is a true perspective of how it should look to the seeded team (apart from Group A, where unseeded France is the highest-ranked team).
Here’s how they look, using this indicator.
Group A: 736.33, equivalent to Columbia, the average would be ranked in 40th place.
Group B: 833.67, Bulgaria, ranked 27th.
Group C: 853, Nigeria, 22nd.
Group D: 834, Bulgaria, 27th.
Group E: 859.67, Nigeria, 22nd.
Group F: 668, Scotland, 46th.
Group G: 835.67, Denmark, 26th.
What the “View From The Top” indicator shows: This time Group H is the highest rated, this was also the case with the “Group Type” indicator (which established the average strength of each group). So the joint favourite, Spain, also ranked world number one, would seem to have the toughest average opponent in the first round. This is perhaps the least reported assessment from the World Cup draw to date and defies apparent wisdom.
The weakness of this indicator is that, like all averages, it gives no account to the range of teams. In a three-game contest, the prescence of two closely-ranked teams at the top would seem more complicated (see Group G where the 2nd- [Brazil] and 5th-ranked [Portugal] teams are drawn together). However, it is important to recall that the top two teams qualify for the later stages of the competition.
Perhaps this makes my final indicator worth a look: Mind The Gap. This is worked out by calculating the gap between the top and bottom teams in each group.
Group A: 745 points, equivalent to the gap between 1st-placed Spain and 21st-placed Australia.
Group B: 460 pts, equivalent to the gap between Spain and France (7th).
Group C: 307 pts, the gap between Spain and the Netherllands (3rd).
Group D: 431 pts, the gap between Spain and Portugal (5th).
Group E: 570 pts, the gap between Spain and Croatia (10th).
Group F: 782 pts, the gap between Spain and Israel (25th).
Group G: 1,193 pts, the gap between Spain and Uganda (78th).
Group H: 884 pts, the gap between Spain and Honudras (38th).
What the “Mind The Gap” indicator shows: The narrower the gap, the more likely there will be a “shock” result, e.g. the lowest-ranked team getting a draw or a win over the top team. Here, England’s Group C is the most interesting, which shouldn’t be a surprise. At ninth place, England is the weakest team to be the top in a group, while Slovenia at 33rd are the strongest of the minnows.
Because of the tendency of English soccer fans to assume that, because they haven’t drawn Germany, Brazil or Argentina in the first round, then naturally “we’re going to win it,” I think there’s a very strong reason to fear that, Algeria, for instance will be totally understimated. This is especially problematic when one considers that England will be the least well-suited team in Group C to play in the South African climate next June.
However, I don’t think the situation is quite as bad, given that the last thing I expect the Italian manager of England, Fabio Capello, to do is either fail to prepare his squad physically or allow the exuberance to turn into mindless arrogance.