Category Archives: Soccer

About the World Cup Final

By Murphy Powell


I will be very open with you all. I understand some soccer from a general standpoint, but I know almost nothing about international soccer, and “almost” is probably giving me too much credit. I have enjoyed watching, though, and have come to understand a little about the final match: The Maestro (Lionel Messi of Argentina) vs. the Machine (Germany).

After Germany boatraced Brazil in Tuesday’s semifinal match, the home team dropped from first in ESPN’s Soccer Power Index (SPI) to fourth, and the Germans took the top spot. According to that same index Germany has the best offense in the entire World Cup by some margin, while Argentina has the best defense. And it’s my understanding that most fans believe Messi doesn’t have many contemporaries, even if they believe he isn’t the best. (FiveThirtyEight researched Messi and found that he basically doesn’t have a comparison in the soccer world.)

My goal here is to see how the final two teams have performed based on what was expected of them, so maybe we can see what to expect Sunday. I’ll check projections for each group and elimination game from Bloomberg*, which is the only place I could find that made projections about the tournament that weren’t betting-related. Bloomberg’s information actually looked a little different than the SPI did. Folks over there rated Argentina as a slightly worse defense and offense than Germany.

*That page is pretty interesting. Keep that open if you clicked the link; I’ll be referencing it pretty frequently.*

Argentina:

xx Game 1 Game 2 Game 3 Rd of 16 Rd of 8 Semifinal
Argentina 2-1 W, Bosnia 1-0 W, Iran 3-2 W, Nigeria 1-0 W, Switzerland 1-0 W, Belgium 0-0 W in PK, Netherlands

Argentina was actually projected to win each of its three group games 2-0, and those wins were to come by a large margin. Argentina kind of lucked out because it was definitely the best team in the group, even if the results make that look a little unconvincing. The team ended up scoring the 6 goals that were projected, though it gave up 3 more than the zero it was “supposed” to.

Argentina actually was projected to beat the Swiss 1-0, and had an 83% chance to do it. The match against Belgium was actually projected to be a 0-0 draw, though Argentina was expected to eventually win that one as well. Bloomberg projected a 0-0 draw with the Netherlands where Argentina would come out ahead, and that’s precisely what happened.

So Argentina performed exactly as it should have in the group stage – which isn’t a surprise – and in the Round of 16 game against Switzerland. The team over performed against Belgium, and did just as it should with the Netherlands. So Argentina did almost exactly as it should have, though the defense was a little less than perfect in the group stage.

The Argentines definitely have the best player on the field for Sunday’s match, but Germany will know Messi is coming. Of course there are other strong offensive players (Di Maria, Aguero, Higuain), but the offense will probably need to flow through Messi at some point.

Germany:

xx Game 1 Game 2 Game 3 Rd of 16 Rd of 8 Semifinal
Germany 4-0 W, Portugal 2-2 T, Ghana 1-0 W, USA 2-1 W, Algeria 1-0 W, France 7-1 W, Brazil

Of course Germany overdid it in game 1. Anyone would be crazy to have expected a 4-0 win over a highly touted Portugal squad and Christiano Ronaldo. Bloomberg had it as a 1-0 winner for the Germans, and the closest game either team would have played. Germany made up for that overperformance by taking Ghana a full 120 minutes and ending in a tie. The projection was the same for that game as it was for USA-Germany: a 2-0 German win. In terms of offense, we could say Germany played a bit over their heads in game 1, right where many expected them to be in game 2, and they probably did a little less than expected against the USA. Statistically speaking, there wouldn’t have been much motivation for the Germans in that last game because they had very nearly locked in a bid for the Round of 16, but it seemed like they played at least pretty close to full-force – keep in mind this is to my untrained eye.

Defensively… well it wasn’t too bad, I guess. The Germans did well in games 1 and 3, but struggled in game 2. Ghana’s offense was considered to be in the middle of the pack by both ESPN’s SPI and Bloomberg, so this might have been a bit of an anomaly. Not quite the freak occurrence that the semifinal against Brazil was, but an anomaly nonetheless. Bloomberg, and much of the world from what I can tell, had the Algeria game as a near-lock for the Germans, and they played pretty close to how they were expected. France went how Bloomberg projected, and the Brazil game… I mean, good Lord. That’s bananas.

If it weren’t for the Brazil game being such a blowout, Germany might not be considered the best team, and it still may not be. But it’s the best that’s left, even if Argentina has the best player.

Bloomberg projects the game to get to a 1-1 draw before Germany wins it in PKs. Those folks have been pretty good so far, and, while we can’t really predict sports – see: a 7-1 Germany win over Brazil – an exciting match like that would leave few fans upset with the Cup Final.


Murphy Powell is a creator of Scouts Alley. You can follow him on Twitter @MurphyPowell.

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