Friday, December 03, 2010

FIFA WWC Draw: Group of Death?

The big news out of FIFA this Monday was the result of the drawing for the groups of the 2011 Women's World Cup finals in Germany. For some reason, most of the buzz lately has been in reaction to some other recent FIFA announcement.

Much ink has already been spilled on the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 men's World Cups to hosts Russia and Qatar. In order not to add too much to the flood, let me restrict myself to a tweet-sized helping of commentary:

That will be my final word on that, save for the unlikely circumstance whereby I still happen to be blogging in 2018.

But what you really all care about are the groups for the 2011 women's tournament. As often seems to be the case, Canada has been drawn into a tough group, along with #2-ranked but likely world-best Germany, a tough France side ranked just ahead of Canada at #9, and the top qualified African team, Nigeria.

A pretty reflexive move for Canadian fans is to immediately begin bitching about being placed in the Group of Death.

(I certainly did that when the 3 semi-final groups were drawn for CONCACAF qualifying for South Africa. I still stand by my claim that Canada could have qualified for the hex from either of the other two groupings, but the blow was softened somewhat by the fact the team never played well enough to give hope of advancing beyond that point.)

A lot depends on how you define a Group of Death. If it must include 4 strong teams who all have a strong shot of finishing top 2, there is no group of death among the 16 teams in Germany. But if it's a group with 3 strong teams, where one will be on the outside looking in after all is said and done, then there are some possibilities. This seems to be the definition most prefer, since the Brazil/Portugal/Cote d'Ivoire group at the World Cup earned the label, despite also including one of the worst World Cup squads ever (Yes, I'm looking at you, North Korea. Even with your so-called Asian Rooney -- who scored exactly as many goals in South Africa as the real guy -- you were still garbage.)

Any way you spin it, it's Group A and C that are the strongest. Both include 3 top 10 teams, and are topped by one of the two favourites to win the whole thing. A quick look at the numbers:

Group A Rank Pts
Germany 2 2153
Canada 9 1974
Nigeria 27 1672
France 8 1998
Averages 11.5 1949.25
Top 3 only 6.33 2041.67

Group B Rank Pts
Japan 5 2036
New Zealand 23 1764
Mexico 22 1781
England 10 1973
Averages 15 1888.5
Top 3 only 12.33 1930

Group C Rank Pts
USA 1 2185
Korea DPR 6 2005
Colombia 32 1611
Sweden 4 2063
Averages 10.75 1966
Top 3 only 3.67 2084.33

Group D Rank Pts
Brazil 3 2116
Australia 12 1945
Norway 7 2002
Equatorial Guinea 62 1396
Averages 21 1864.75
Top 3 only 7.33 2021

Any way you slice it numerically, and as hard as I might try to make a case for Canada falling victim to the Group of Death curse, Group C is tougher. The top 3 teams are all closely matched, and each would likely qualify without too much difficulty from Group B or D.

Much also depends on whether you believe that Korea DPR is deserving of its #6 ranking, which has been the subject of some debate. I had a look through their results over the last year or two. They regularly beat their Asian opponents, save for matches against Japan which were fairly even. Unfortunately they didn't face much competition from outside the region.

If only there were some contest that brough teams from different parts of the world together to determine who is best . . .

Canada's fortunes, if all else goes as expected, likely depend on the match-up with France. This falls on June 30th, 2011. Mark your calendars.

One last point. I wrote a post a few weeks ago lambasting some of the flaws of the much-flawed FIFA men's rankings. I also did a drive-by smear of the women's ranking table, dampening my celebration of Canada's climb into the top 10. I have been reliably informed, however, that the women's rankings are much closer to the ELO ratings formula, and considered much more accurate by the statistics community.

For this reason that I use the FIFA women's rankings in this group of death discussion without any irony.


Lord Bob said...

Ah, but the consensus is that North Korea is massively overrated; probably the most overrated team in the history of women's soccer. Colombia, amazingly, is also held to be overrated. Nigeria is somewhat underrated but still by far the fourth-best team in the group. Germany is generally accepted to be better than the United States, or at least to have the advantage in this tournament what with the home soil.

By FIFA rankings, group C is the Group of Death. The problem with the FIFA rankings is that they rank past results fairly heavily: group A is clearly better on current form.

Not to say that group C is a tip-toe through the tulips, mind you.

J said...

I'd love for our man Edgar to wade into this discussion and explain how the women's rankings are different, and why they're better. He is a rankings maven, and I trust him more than I do myself in these matters.

In any case, there is fairly broad consensus that the women's rankings are less flawed and are not so heavily weighted towards past results.

Canada may have the hardest group, but it's certainly not an open-and-shut case. Sweden is probably the best team of all the probable 2nd place finishers, certainly better than France or Canada.

In short, Canada will have to win an important match to do well at the World Cup. Who knew?!