Like Moldova Beating England

In December last year I wrote:

“Italy are ranked #4 in the world and are defending champions.  Expectations will correctly be low when we play them.

But, I fear, by the time the matches actually start there will be a number of people who will expect to see the All Whites compete against the other two teams in our pool.”

Olé Olé Olé

And, sure enough… after the stunning win against Serbia on the weekend some journalists here are starting to dream the dream.

For example, Tony Smith, in this mornings Dominion Post:

“Serbia are a better side than Slovakia, New Zealand’s first-up opponents in South Africa on June 15, and are probably at least the equal of Paraguay.

Could Ricki Herbert’s class of 2010 become the first New Zealand team to win a game at a Fifa senior tournament and qualify for the second round?

You wouldn’t have thought so a week ago. But bookmakers around the world may be rapidly revising their odds.”

Serbian millionaires made to look like paupers

Dylan Cleaver in the NZ Herald, with tongue firmly in cheek, goes further and outlines the All Whites’ path to glory:

“The All Whites’ path to the semifinals is relatively straightforward.

A 3-0 win over Slovakia (they’re not even as good as Serbia), in the opening group game will be followed by a gritty, Ryan Nelsen-inspired, goalless draw against an Italian team resting its best players.  Paraguay will be no match for the aerial assault and are brushed aside 3-1.”

All Whites’ path to World Cup title

I think it’s usually better to have low expectations and exceed them.  And, especially when it comes to World Cups.  You’d think that sports journalists, of all people, would have learnt that lesson by now. Or, perhaps, the headlines they can write when the team falls short of those massively inflated expectations are better as a result – who knows?

Either way, comparing this result to “Russia beating the All Blacks” (as Tony Smith does in the article linked above) seems fanciful if not hyperbolic.

Is it?  Here are some facts:

FIFA ranks 202 countries – from Brazil at #1 to Papua New Guinea at #202.

IRB ranks 95 countries by comparison – from the All Blacks somehow at #1 (how?) to mighty Finland at #95.

So, the All Whites (current FIFA ranking: #78) beating Serbia (current FIFA ranking: #15) is the football equivalent of Moldova (current IRB ranking: #36) beating England (current IRB ranking: #7) in rugby.  Imagine that!

Or, if you want to consider the gap in the rankings between the two teams, then it’s the equivalent of Tunisia (current IRB ranking: #29) beating the All Blacks.  Russia by comparison has an IRB ranking of #19.

Either of those would be an outrageous result, even in a friendly game, and especially a couple of weeks prior to a big tournament, would be big news.

And yet the All Whites remain 1000-to-1 to win the World Cup. :-)

Bring on Slovakia, I say!  I’ll be watching.  You?

(*) On the outside chance that you’re interested in and/or confused by my maths… I just adjusted the FIFA rankings to take into account that there are less than half as many teams represented in the IRB rankings, so a FIFA ranking of 78 out of 202 teams corresponds to an IRB ranking of 36 out of 95 teams, and a gap of 63 places out of 202 teams on the FIFA list corresponds to a gap of 29 places out of 95 teams on the IRB list.

2 thoughts on “Like Moldova Beating England”

  1. Hi Rowan,

    Very interesting analysis thank you. One difference between rugby and football is the high and low points scored per game respectively. It is much harder to score a “point” in football and games are typically won by one or two “points”

    This increases the probability of “upsets” in football by lower ranked teams if the chance/random/luck aspects of the particular game means their goal goes in and the higher ranked competitions efforts hit the woodwork. A single “lucky/low probability” event might make all the difference to a football game.

    Rugby is higher scoring game so the random aspects have more chance to be evened out over a game, a single “lucky” event generally has less impact on the final score. (forward passes not withstanding :-)

    I don’t want to take anything away from the fantastic effort of the All Whites, it really is a great result. I would hazard however, the chance of Moldova beating the All Blacks in a one-off game is much lower than All Whites beating Serbia.

    Having said all that, its worth noting that 4.2% (4) of (95) IRB teams have won the RWC, whereas only 3.5% (7) of (202) FIFA teams have ever won the FWC, and that competition has had 3 times as many events (18 vs 6) over the years.

    1. The World Cup winners comparison is interesting.

      Apart from the four teams that have won the Rugby World Cup (NZ, Australia, South Africa & England) who else is a likely candidate? You’d have to say the only one is France.

      Next in line based on rankings is Ireland, Argentina and Wales. But, Wales is the only one of these teams who has ever beaten the All Blacks, and that was not in my lifetime, so they are unlikely winners.

      The equivalent list for football is much longer. The 2nd, 3rd and 4th ranked teams in the world (Spain, Portugal and Netherlands) are all possible winners, and wouldn’t be a huge surprise. That would make the comparison 5 (5.2% of IRB teams) vs 10 (5.2% of FIFA teams).

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