Olé Olé Olé

I got up too early on Saturday morning, with our five year old, to watch the draw for the Football World Cup.  (Let me re-phrase that: he was up anyway, so I was the only reluctant one in the equation).

Thanks to the magic of MySky we skipped through the 30+ minutes of pre-match faffing around, and caught up with the live action just in time for the draw itself.

We both booed when Mexico and USA got our preferred places in South Africa’s and England’s pools respectively.  And cheered too loudly (there were others still enjoying a sleep in) when New Zealand was finally drawn – despite the mathematical certainty of that happening eventually.

Perhaps it was just relief at avoiding Brazil and Spain, the two remaining seeded teams still to come in the draw, the #1 and #2 ranked teams in the world, and obvious picks for eventual finalists (provided Portugal don’t stuff it up by winning their pool which would force them to play each other in the second round).

Some observations:

1. I think we “won” the draw.

Sure, beforehand there were an almost infinite number of permutations, some of which were much more attractive than what we got, but also very unlikely to actually eventuate.

If we just look at the other teams that were in our pot (aka the “bunny bucket”), it’s hard to argue that we’d be better off in any other pool:

We wouldn’t want to be in…

  • North Korea’s pool with Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast (ranked #2, #5 and #16 in the world).
  • Japan’s pool, with Netherlands, Cameroon and Denmark (#3, #11 and #26).
  • Honduras’ pool with Spain and Chile (#1 and #17).
  • Australia’s pool with Germany and Serbia (#6 and #20).
  • Mexico’s pool, with France and Uruguay (#7 and #19).
  • South Korea’s pool with Argentina and Nigeria (#8 and #22).

The best alternative we could hope for would be USA’s pool with England and Algeria (#9 and #28).

The reason for this is simple.  There was nobody in the draw that we would play and be confident of beating. The only other team to have qualified for the tournament with a lower world ranking is North Korea (and since they were in our pot they were never going to be in our pool).

2. Expect to be soundly beaten by both Paraguay and Slovakia.

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.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see it happen.

But to expect it would be misguided.

Paraguay are ranked #30 in the world.  Slovakia are ranked #34.    We are ranked #77, just ahead of Uganda and a place behind Uzbekistan.

To draw a comparison with rugby, the #77 ranked team is Solomon Islands.  However, that’s misleading since there are only 95 teams in the IRB rankings, compared to 207 in the FIFA rankings (there are five teams tied in 203rd= place, including American Samoa and Papua New Guinea – giving a good guide to the quality of opposition that we needed to beat out to be Oceania champs!)

So, the equivalent match ups in rugby would be Hong Kong (#34) vs Japan (#13) and Tonga (#15).

Spare a thought for the 46 countries ranked higher than us who didn’t even qualify for the finals.  Imagine if Hong Kong qualified for the rugby world cup but France didn’t – Croatia, ranked 10th in the football world will not be in South Africa, but we will.

We should consider ourselves lucky to score nil.

3. France 1, FIFA 0.

I know that Frace played poorly in the qualifying tournament, and were lucky (pronounced “cheat-y” in Irish) to be there at all.

However, having qualified they should have been a seeded team.  They are ranked #7 in the world, ahead of Argentina (who hardly strolled through qualifying themselves), England and South Africa who were all seeded.

I can understand that the organisers wanted to ensure that South Africa played at pre-determined venues and in pre-determined matches, but there are lots of other ways they could have orchestrated that – for example, simply by mandating that whichever pool South Africa was drawn in would be considered Pool A, swapping place with whatever pool they were naturally drawn in.

France got screwed by the FIFA seedings, so the fact that they ended up as the strong favourite to win their pool anyway can only be put down to karma.

4. England, optimistic as ever.

Here is my favourite quote from coverage of the draw, from The Guardian:

“In the last two decades England have limped home from Italy (1990), traipsed back from France (1998), stumbled west from Japan (2002) and sounded the retreat from Germany (2006), where Wayne Rooney as sent off in a quarter-final defeat to Portugal.  Next summer’s competition therefore presents a fresh opportunity: to be knocked-out on a whole new continent, in winter time, rather than the clammy temperatures that help redden faces, along with the tears.”

I know we like to think that the All Blacks are the rugby equivalent of Brazil, but you have to admit, when it comes to the supporters’ expectations especially there are a lot of similarities with England too.

5. Predictions.

According to the TAB, England are now third favourites, behind only Spain and Brazil.  Yes, they have a relatively easy pool, which they should top.  And, provided that Germany finish top in Australia’s pool they will have a second round match they will expect to win too – most likely against Serbia.  But, from there it gets a lot tougher.  Their quarter final opponent would probably be one of France, Nigeria or Argentina (the ol’ nemesis).  Two other teams on their side of the draw, and likely semi final opponents, if they get that far, are Netherlands and Brazil.

I think that either Netherlands, currently paying $13, is a better bet than England at $7, but wouldn’t it be good to see them prove me wrong!

If results go according to rankings, the later knock out stages will be:

Quarter Finals:

France v England
Netherlands v Brazil
Argentina v Germany
Italy v Spain

Semi Finals:

France v Brazil
Germany v Spain


Brazil v Spain

I guess I shouldn’t plan on too much sleep during July next year then?

Here’s a question for you: next year, if you could attend one of a) Winter Olympics, b) Commonwealth Games, or c) World Cup, what would it be?

Thug vs Role Model

A quick re-cap of today’s rugby news…

  1. All Black hard man Brad Thorn praised for  “bruising tackles”
  2. Security guard under investigation for a bruising tacking on an idiot who chose to run onto the field
  3. All Black Kevin Mealamu suffers a deep cut in the opening minutes and plays the remainder of the match with blood soaked head bandage
  4. French player Mathieu Bastareaud requires four stitches to his head after being badly injured in assault, Police seek witnesses

The difference between thug and role model is not as wide as you may think.

If the security guard had used “more force than was necessary” against the people beating up Mathieu Bastareaud would he be under investigation, I wonder?

Either way, I hope the Police find the scumbags who beat up the French player outside the stadium, so we can get back to focussing on the heros who beat up the French players inside the stadium.

Swimming vs. Athletics [Guest Post]

This is a guest post written by my brother Brad, who has his own blog about nutrition and sport at kitchenpt.com. Enjoy!

When Michael Phelps won 8 gold medals at the Beijing Olympics he broke 7 world records.  The only event he missed out on was the 100m Butterfly – he was too slow by just 0.18 of a second and only broke the Olympic Record. To achieve all of this he had to swim 17 races in 9 days.

Compare this to Usain Bolt who ran in only 9 events (he did not run in the heats of the relay) over 8 days, winning 3 golds and breaking 3 world records in athletics.

It seems there is no competition between these athletes: Phelps is clearly superior. Or is he…?

How was Phelps able to win so many events, and more importantly overcome the cumulative fatigue that heats and semi-finals in all those events bring? Was it simply because swimming is lower impact than running, and therefore swimmers can compete in more events?

Recently an extraordinary number of swimming world records have been broken. It seems at every major competition you would be unlucky to win and not break the world record. As an example of how quickly swimming records are coming down, in one of Phelps’ events (the 4x100m), the first 6 places all broke the world record for the event (as it stood prior to the Olympics). Imagine swimming faster than anybody ever has in your event, at the Olympics, and finishing in sixth place. Sixth for goodness sake!

In Beijing there were 25 world records broken in 15 events in the pool.  And, on the track, just 5 world records broken in 5 events. So why are so many world records in swimming being broken recently?

It turns out there are lots of reasons:

Many swimmers and commentators cite the new swim wear as the primary reason. But can it all be explained by a pair of togs?

What about drugs? Why are drug cheats virtually unheard of in swimming? Can you ever name a swimmer being stripped of a medal and kicked out of any major competition in the world?

I think there are other factors at play that can at least partly explain why Phelps (and swimming in general) achieved “greater” success than athletics.

The first part is the recent evolution of the sport as we currently know it.  As an example of how far swimming had to grow, before 1936 swimmers did not use the tumble-turn between lengths nor begin races on starting blocks, and before 1976 swimmers at the Olympics participated without goggles!

It seems that athletics has evolved further earlier due to its relative simplicity. This has allowed swimming to appear to be moving forwards at a faster rate, whereas in fact the case may simply be that it had further to move.

The second reason is accessibility to pools and competition. There is no doubt track and field athletes compete against a far greater number of people who have tried their hand at their sport. Think of yourself and everyone you know: How many times would have you raced someone over the playground at school or at the beach with friends? Compare that with the number of times you have raced those same people in backstroke or butterfly.

What about the number of events? There are 47 athletics events at the Olympics, and only 34 swimming events. So on the face of it swimmers have a slight disadvantage when it comes to winning medals. However, it is the similarity of the events that gives swimmers the advantage (more on this shortly).

On top of Phelps’ undoubted phenomenal talent, it was Phelps’ versatility, and the ability of his team members, that saw him capture so many golds:

  • Three of his golds came from medley events: Individual Medley (200m and 400m), and Medley Relay;
  • Two more came from team relays: The Freestyle Relay (4x100m and 4x200m);
  • His other three golds came in individual events: Butterfly (100m and 200m) and Freestyle (200m).

Bolt’s world records by comparison came in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay. So on individual performances the score seems to be Phelps 3 vs Bolt 2.

However, between swimming and athletics there seems to be some disproportion in events.  For example, I see no logical reason why inferior methods of getting from point A to point B are included in major competitions other than:

  1. “That’s the way we have always done it”, and/or
  2. Sponsorship/TV ($$$)

Specifically backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly make as much sense as running backwards, 1-leg hopping, and racing on all fours have in athletics. And before you dismiss these “sports” as outrageous, you may be interested to know that the record for the 100m run backwards is 13.6 seconds, and for the marathon 3:43.39 – times not to be scoffed at! If I were the world record holders of these events (which I am not before you cry conspiracy theory) I would feel hard done by when there are backstrokers, breaststrokers and butterfly swimmers who are enjoying the benefits of inclusion and recognition far beyond what these “Retro-Runners” ever will.

And so, given that Bolt was not allowed to compete in the 100m backwards running, hopping, or ‘all-fours’ events we should discount Phelps’ golds in the butterfly. And this now gives us a fair comparison of achievement at the Beijing Olympics:

  • Phelps: 1 gold, 1 world record vs Bolt: 2 golds, 2 world records.

There we have it, Bolt is the better athlete.

And for those that are interested: The 4x100m Retro Running world record being broken.


Comments from Rowan:

In case it isn’t obvious, Brad is more of a runner than a swimmer!  

Here are some more posts from his excellent blog that I’ve enjoyed over the last couple of years:

Also, if you’re interested in writing a guest post here about something you’re interested in or working on please feel free to get in touch.  My email address is on the right hand sidebar.

Science of Sport

One of the best new blogs that I’ve started reading this year is Science of Sport by Jonathan Dugas and Ross Tucker from South Africa.

Over the last few weeks they have published an excellent “Top 8 of 08” series, covering their top sports science related stories from the year:

The pic above comes from #7, and shows the final lunge for the wall in the men’s 100m butterfly at the Olympics. 

The winner of this race, incredibly, was Michael Phelps, who is on the left.


Bring Back The Bowl Off

For the second time in as many matches, yesterday’s Twenty-20 cricket international between New Zealand and the West Indies ended in a tied match.  

Last time they used a bowl off to determine the winner, with bowlers from each team bowling at unprotected wickets.  Hit and miss!  It was fantastic.

However, this time around they used a new system.  Once again this was apparently the first time this system has been used, and there seems to be some confusion about what it’s called – either The Eliminator, or The Super Over.  

I would suggest The Shambles.

When you have a tied match there are a couple of possible options which would all make much more sense than this crazy system.

To keep it simple they could come up with some other measure by which to determine a winner immediately – e.g. the team who has lost the fewest wickets, or the team who has hit the most sixes or boundaries during the match, or the team with the highest individual scorer … whatever, there are hundreds of candidates.

If they insist on a tie-breaker then there are three important criteria:

  1. It needs to be quick – Yesterday it took more than 30 minutes from the end of the match to determine a winner.  In proportion to the length of the whole match, that’s too long.
  2. It needs to be decisive – Giving each team another over is not necessarily going to produce a clear winner, so there is a reasonable chance that you go through this whole process and still end up picking a winner by some arbitrary measure (see above).
  3. It needs to be obvious – I don’t know how well they explained what was going on to the crowd at the ground, but I’m assuming that there were lots of people who were totally lost.  The commentator on TV read out the full list of rules, and confused more than he clarified.  

The model here should be the penalty shoot-out in football.  Sure it’s a terrible way to determine the winner, but it’s immediate and dramatic, and at the end one team is the winner and one team is the loser – and the poor bugger who missed the decisive shot is devastated.  Perfect!

Frustratingly, there is an obvious method they could use which would meet all of these criteria. 

Bring back the bowl off, I say!

What do you think?