Saturday, September 18, 2010

FIFA rankings: September

For a time, the only thing I could be bothered to care about on this blog (before I had readers) was football, as in soccer, rankings. I realized by then that the FIFA rankings were deficient, and obsessed (as much as posting a few times per month can be considered an obsession) over alternatives. I even went so far as to think about, but never carry out, a plan to take up a hobby of reading statistics journals in order to develop the expertise necessary to formulate my own rankings system.

Needless to say, I was underemployed at the time.

I've since developed a healthier perspective regarding the FIFA rankings. They're messed up, surely (Norway is 14th in the current edition), but they do have an undeniable effect. For Canada, which will be seeded for World Cup qualifying based on their rank within CONCACAF, it is vital to remain in the top 8 regionally between now and the draw.

So Canada's jump back into the double digits, from 101 to 88, in the latest September rankings, is good news. The friendly win over Honduras helped, but it has just as much to do with the shifting weights of older results.

Here's how things stand in CONCACAF:

RankingZonal RankingTeamPts
Sep 10
+/- Ranking
Aug 10
+/- Pts
Aug 10
181USA USA8990Equal-32
282Mexico Mexico795-3Down-58
523Honduras Honduras565-6Down-62
534Costa Rica Costa Rica5610Equal-1
705Panama Panama48727Up173
766Jamaica Jamaica4256Up53
887Canada Canada36013Up73
978Trinidad and Tobago Trinidad and Tobago327-21Down-91
1109El Salvador El Salvador253-24Down-107
11310Cuba Cuba2181Up3
11511Guatemala Guatemala2144Up13
12012Guyana Guyana1822Up-8

(There are 23 more countries but I doubt you'll mind me cutting it off here).

For what it's worth, here's where Canada stands in some of the other established alternative ranking systems:

ELO: 62nd (7th in CONCACAF)
Ziaian: 68th (7th)
AQB: 72nd (7th)

In each instance, the same 6 teams are ranked in front of Canada. Maybe FIFA's list isn't so bad after all.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Eredivisie contest update

I used to post things on occasion. I'm trying to catch up. First item of business: the final rosters for this year's Eredivisie contest, and the current scores:

Ottawa Sports Guy
PSV 13 Mounir el Hamdouai (Ajax) 4
Feyenoord 7 Bas Dost (Heerenveen) 2

Ajax 13 Luis Suarez (Ajax) 6
PSV 13 Mounir el Hamdouai (Ajax) 4

PSV 13 Ola Toivonen (PSV) 6
Ajax 13 Luis Suarez (Ajax) 6

Headhunting Canuck
PSV 13 Ola Toivonen (PSV) 6
Ajax 13 Mounir el Hamdouai (Ajax) 4

Twente 11 Bryan Ruiz (Twente) 1
PSV 13 Ola Toivonen (PSV) 6


Three of us like PSV and Ajax this year. I'm all in on Ajax, having picked two of their strikers. We'll see how it goes. Next contest update in another month or two.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

On geographic isolation

I'm from Winnipeg.

There. I said it. Regular readers of the blog will probably have figured this out by now, but it's probably best just to come clean with it for the rest of you. I'm from Winnipeg, and have lived in Manitoba all my life but for a one year European sojourn.

Don't start writing me letters of condolence quite yet. This may come as a surprise to some, but I like it here. Winnipeg is a great and quirky city, with friendly people. For anyone who enjoys the outdoors, there's a variety of attractions within a short drive. It's a city where you actually get to experience all four seasons, unlike the European country in which I lived, which had a month or two of summer and 10 months of "grey". As explained by one of those canadian guys, on their most recent podcast, it is a city that isn't so bad when on its best behaviour, questionable perogies notwithstanding.

But if you've never been to Winnipeg, you might not realize just how isolated the city really is. It's really the only city of any significance in Manitoba (sorry Brandon!). The closest city of over 100,000 people is more than 5 hours drive away, and it hardly counts since that city is Regina.

Sometimes Winnipeg can feel a little ronery.

All of this is my way of explaining, perhaps apologizing for, the fact that I've only ever attended one Canada match live. June 11th, 2000, was the date. Cuba the opponent. Canada had won 1-0 in Havana a week earlier, and the 0-0 draw that day at the Winnipeg Soccer Complex (a glorified practice field with leftover bleachers from the '99 Pan Am Games) was enough to move on to the next stage of yet another ill-fated qualifying campaign. There was little memorable about the match. Someone, and right now I'm thinking Jason Bent, hit a crossbar, and someone else, possibly Peschisolido, dribbled one off the post or just wide. I recall sitting near a group of old guys engaged in a passionate debate about a Euro 2000 match (Germany, I think) they had watched earlier that day. I recall briefly watching Stalteri and wondering why all those internet guys hated him so much.

Yes, international football was actually played here.

The other best chances for me to watch Canada live were two matches in my hometown, the 'Chicago of the North', the same year, and the only other two matches ever played in Winnipeg by the national team. Both wins. In fact, Canada has never lost in Winnipeg, a fact that might be of some usefulness if there was somewhere for Canada to play. Being still in the early stages of my soccer addiction, I didn't take advantage of the opportunity to see these matches. I might not even have been aware of the late May friendly against Honduras (a 3-1 win), and if I recall correctly, the weather for the Panama match (a 1-0 win) was too miserable to bear, considering the game was the last bit of detritus for a campaign at that point already doomed by math.

Is it possible for me to be a diehard Canada fan, a Voyageur, without having been to more than one match? I did miss a 'gimme' when the 2005 U20 World Cup was held in the same country I happened to be living in at the time, but given the results, perhaps it was best I spent those days travelling elsewhere in Europe. Any match that has taken place in Canada over the last 10 years would have required commitments of time and money that I was not in position to make, due to various combinations of school, work, and lack of funds. The closest I came to seeing Canada in person again was serious consideration of an epic train ride to Edmonton to watch Canada-Mexico in October 2008, a masterpiece by Radzinski and one of my favourite Canada matches.

So in weeks like these, with two matches in central Canada over 4 days (yes, I'll give you central Canada, even if the real centre of Canada is 50 km from my house), I am envious. Envious of those who, for reasons of geography, comfortable wealth, or mental illness, are able to go out and watch these games. It's a bit disheartening to read the full range of excuses for skipping out on these friendlies, but it's a bit hypocritical coming from a guy who watched his second favourite national team in the World Cup final on tape delay because he was sitting in a canoe in Ontario when it was played live.

It won't get any easier. While I'm now established in a career that gives me all of July and August off (take a guess!), it seems Canada rarely plays at home during those months. Perhaps a Gold Cup roadie could be in the works. But now that Edmonton, because of a new artificial surface at Commonwealth, is out of the picture, I'll have to jump half a continent away to watch Canada play at home. Does it make me less of the fan if this only happens once or twice? I'm not sure.

I am sure that I'm missing something of the live experience, the diehard support that will make its presence known at BMO and Saputo, but didn't really seem to be present that evening in June 2000 on Waverley St.

After all that, I will be making a long drive this weekend to watch a sporting event in a big city. Twin Cities in fact. What New York is to Toronto, Minneapolis is to us denizens of the Murder Capital. But all I'll get is baseball. Does that count for anything?

Eredivisie contest 2010-11: Reminder re-post

In lieu of directing you to a link that most probably won't be bother to click on, here is a reminder of this blog's Eredivisie contest. It closes Labour Day, September 6th, which is a short time away. But the good news is that the transfer window has also closed. From an Eredivisie perspective, nothing really happened. All the big names (Suarez, el Hamdaoui, Ruiz, Toivonen) stayed put. So get your entries in. We only have 3 so far.


Last year marked the debut of the Out of touch Eredivisie contest, my attempt to turn my singular obsession with Dutch football (which I come by honestly, I promise) into something with a broader following among the rather narrow readership of this blog. For 2010-11, there is already added interest, with arguably Canada's best midfielder, Atiba Hutchinson, signing with PSV Eindhoven, one of Holland's top teams.

I wouldn't say last year's contest was a smashing success (there were only 4 entries), but it did cause some to pay attention to a league they wouldn't have given a second glance. In the end, I claimed a narrow win.

To my mind, at least, that gives the contest enough momentum to try it again. It's really quite simple:
  • You select 2 teams and 2 top goal scorers.
  • You collect 1 point for each point gained by your teams in the league table
  • You collect 2 points for each goal scored by your selected scorer.
Entries can be submitted by email or in the comments. There will be a prize!

The deadline will be Labour Day, which falls on September 6th, which gives you some time to do your research and examine the early returns from the first month of league play.

I am prepared, though, to offer some help.

For picking teams, the bookmakers usually have a pretty good idea of things. This table gives a pretty good idea of which teams are expected to finish near the top. With few exceptions, the order of the top 5 is given as 1) Ajax; 2) PSV; 3) FC Twente; 4) AZ; 5) Feyenoord.

I haven't yet found odds for Eredivisie top scorers (let me know if you've seen this anywhere), but you could do worse than to look at last year's top strikers:

1Luis SuárezAjax35
2Bryan RuizTwente24
3Mads JunkerRoda JC21
4Mounir El HamdaouiAZ20
5Marko PantelićAjax16
6Bas DostHeracles14
Balázs DzsudzsákPSV
9Tim MatavžGroningen13
Ola ToivonenPSV

A few notes on the players in this list, starting from the top:
  • Luis Suarez, who you might now have heard of after a certain high-profile incident, may not remain with Ajax for long. He is the rumoured target of several different EPL teams, and could move in winter if he doesn't in August.
  • Costa Rican Bryan Ruiz will remain at Twente, and is a good bet to have a good year.
  • There's nothing sexy about Mads Junker, but he will be staying put.
  • Mounir el Hamdaoui has made the move to Ajax, a team that scored over 100 goals last season. He'll get his share, especially if Suarez moves on to greener pastures.
  • Marko Pantelic is currently un-signed by any team.
  • Bas Dost is only 21, which makes his 16-goal performance of last season remarkable. We'll see if he can repeat that performance.
  • Everton is one of those relatively anonymous Brazilians you see in 2nd tier leagues around the world, but last season was his best ever for Heracles.
  • Balázs Dzsudzsák is hard to spell, but if PSV have a strong season, he and Toivonen will be responsible for much of the scoring load (with support from our man Hutch?)
  • Tim Matavž is a 21-year old Slovenian who plays for Groningen and despite the fact he finished in the top 10 scorers last season I don't remember seeing his name before.
As always, the risk in this part of the contest is selecting someone who transfers out at the Christmas window, like the unfortunate Lord Bob's selection last season of Keisuke Honda.

Choose wisely, my friends.