Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What is a Good Draw?

THE USUAL arguments have erupted since the draw for the 2014 World Cup Finals finally held last week in Brazil. Soccer fans can’t seem to agree on whether the draw that pitched Nigeria with Argentina, Bosnia Herzegovina and Iran in Group ‘F’ is “good” or “bad” for the Super Eagles.

I was at the OSMI Studios for the live broadcast of the draw alongside presenter Paul Bassey and my co-analyst, former Super Eagles captain and head coach, Austin “Cerezo” Eguavoen. All three of us agreed that Nigeria had come off with a fairly good draw. We also agreed that with the right preparations and luck on our side, the Eagles  are capable of advancing from that group into the second round. This is a “factual” analysis based on the strengths of our team and those of our group opponents.

Naturally, there are those who disagree with this conclusion. To them, Nigeria’s group cannot be described as “good’ because there is no guarantee that we will qualify for the second round. In my opinion, that argument is rather myopic.

A good draw is NOT a guarantee for automatic second round qualification! A good draw is only a relative classification signifying that your chances of qualifying are brighter than they may otherwise have been. And that exactly is the situation for Nigeria in Group ‘F.’

Working on the assumption that the seeded teams in each group (in our case, Argentina) are favourites to pick one of the qualification tickets, determining whether a group is good or bad becomes a function of the potential threats posed by the other teams in the group for the second ticket. Nigeria got World Cup debutants Bosnia Herzegovina when we could easily have drawn veterans such as Holland, England, France, Russia or Portugal from pot 4. We also got Iran who are one of the lowest ranked teams in the entire tournament (45th in the October FIFA monthly rankings) from a pot that also had dangerous teams such as Mexico, United States and Japan. Yet, some people think we didn’t get a lucky draw? Come on!

Indeed, I think Nigeria has been very lucky throughout the 2014 World Cup draws. During the draw for the African qualifying first phase, we got minnows such as Kenya, Malawi and Namibia which afforded coach Stephen Keshi’s new team the liberty to fumble and wobble on several  occasions and still qualify for the final play-offs. And in the draw for the final play-off, we got Ethiopia, the weakest opposition overall, while our rivals were “killing” each other in some really tough duels. How luckier can you get?

Now that the finals draw is over, though, the hard work must start for a good showing at the World Cup next year. Even after we surprisingly won the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa in February this year, the concensus of pundits was that the Eagles were not yet “Super.” Keshi admitted, too, that his team was still a work in progress and that probably explains why they continued to struggle during the World Cup qualifiers that followed.

At the finals in Brazil, there can be no more excuses because not only have we got a good draw, we got a good fixture schedule as well. The Eagles will play their weakest group opponent (Iran) first. Victory in that game one will boost their confidence against Bosnia in game two before they have to confront their perenial nemesis, Argentina, in game three. By that time, their second round ticket should already be in the bag.

A winning start will be crucial if Nigeria wants to advance to the second round from Group ‘F’. If we slip up, it won’t be because the draw was “not good.” Rather, it would be because we were not good enough to take advantage.

Between Hope and Expectation

TWELVE years ago as Nigeria prepared for the 2002 World Cup finals in Korea/Japan, I wrote an article with the above heading in which I analysed what should be the reasonable hopes and expectation of Nigerian fans when the Super Eagles faced the world in the Far East.

In our World Cup group that year were Argentina, England and Sweden. I used 10 indices to analyse Nigeria’s chances and concluded that the Super Eagles would NOT advance beyond the first round. They did not. That is the science of football: Predictable!

However, I had also analysed, using the same indices, that Argentina would win our group that year. They also did not. That is the art of football: Unpredictable!

The indices of analysis that I adopted that year were as follows:
1. World Cup predigree
2. Recent World Cup experience
3. Outcome of previous confrontations between the                    group  opponents
4. Quality of players
5. Quality of team
6. Manner of World Cup qualification
7. World rating by neutral observers
8. World ranking by FIFA
9. Element of surprise
10. Element of luck

I scored the teams between one and four marks in each category. Overall, Argentina had 31 marks, England 23, Sweden 19 and Nigeria 18. While Nigeria “lived up” to  expectation by finishing last in the group, Argentina were a big shock crashing out in the first round as well.
lFOUR years ago, I scored a bulls-eye after I made a slight adjustment to my indices of analysis for the  2010 World Cup in South Africa. I replaced “previous confrontations’ (indices 3) with “quality of coaching” and also replaced “element of surprise” (indices 9) with “quality of preparation.” Again, I scored each team out of four  marks in each category and arrived at the following overall score:    

    Arg     Nig     Gre    S/Ko
1. World Cup pedigree        4          2          1    3
2. Recent W/C Experience     4          2          1    3
3. Quality of Coaching     1          4          4    2
4. Quality of players     4          3          3    3
5. Team quality     2          2          3    4
6. Qualification     2          2          1    4
7. World rating     4          2          3    1
8. World ranking     4          2          3    1
9. Preparation     3          1          3    4
10. Element of luck             1          1          1    1
    29        21     23    26
All four teams finished in the exact  order that I had predicted: Argentina 29, South Korea 26, Greece 23 and Nigeria 21. Argentina and South Korea advanced to the second round while Greece and Nigeria were eliminated.

FOLLOWING my 100% success rate in analysing our group at South Africa 2010, I have retained the same indices that I used on that occasion for my 2014 analysis. However, I have not scored the teams in “quality of preparation” (indices 9) because the real preparation for the Mundial is yet to begin.  

    ARG    BOS    IRN    NIG
1. World Cup pedigree     4    -     2     3
2. Recent W/C Experience     4    -     2    3
3. Quality of coaching    2    2    3    2
4. Quality of players    4    3    2    3
5. Team quality    4    3    2    3
6. Qualification    3    3    3    3
7. World rating    4    3    1    2
8. World ranking     4    3    1    2
9. Preparation    -    -     -    -
10. Element of luck    1    1    1    1
    30    18    17    21

The above table shows that Argentina (30 marks) will win the group clearly. The fight for second place will, however, be very close as Nigeria (21), Bosnia (18) and Iran (17) are only separated by a few marks.
This implies that any of the three can actually grab the second qualifying ticket. But the Super Eagles are the most favoured to get it if they play to their full potential.

Playing the Octopus

Paul Bassey asked me and Austin Eguavoen to play the Octopus and pick the likely two qualifiers from each of the eight first round groups at Brazil 2014 after the draws were completed. Following are my own tips.
Group A: Brazil, Mexico to qualify. Cameroun,  Croatia to be eliminated.
Group B: Spain, Holland to qualify. Chile, Australia to be eliminated.
Group C: Ivory Coast, Colombia to qualify. Japan, Greece to be eliminated.
Group D: Uruguay, Italy to qualify. Costa Rica, England to be eliminated.
Group E: France, Switzerland to qualify. Ecuador, Honduras to be eliminated.
Group F: Argentina, Nigeria to qualify. Iran, Bosnia Herzegovina to be eliminated.
Group G: Germany, Ghana to qualify. United States, Portugal to be eliminated.
Group H: Belgium, Russia to qualify. Algeria, South            Korea to be eliminated.
* Now, we await the surprises in June 2014.

Dear readers, your favourite column SOCCERTALK goes on break today following a hectic 2013. See you next year 2014, insha Allah (by God’s grace). Peace and... Love!

1 comment:

  1. If not for Keita's madness i think S.E would have qualified from the grou in 2010.We were leading Greece 1-0 and we were not playing poorly before the sabotage.Well with adequate preparation luck and no injuries treat to any of our players S.E will make us all proud during and after the wcup in Brazil 2014.Enjoy your holiday oga Mumini and God willing see you next year in good health.Thompson.