Wednesday, 16 July 2014

World Cup 2014 Wrap-Up

Yes, I know I'm running late with this. Had a couple of dates to go on between when the final aired and now, so this is actually the first chance I've had to sit down and think about the World Cup final, between Germany and Argentina.

So anyway: Germany wins, becomes first European team to win in Western Hemisphere, finally fulfills the promise of the last 8 years. Lots of newsworthy stuff in this one, eh?

OK, don't call me Statto anymore

If nothing else, this World Cup taught the transience of statistics. My initial guess, that Brazil would win the entire tournament, was based on the home region and home country advantage. This was because South American teams were the only ones who'd ever won in either North or South America. More to the point, I figured that Brazil would be hungrier to win it since the Maracanazo of 1950.

Problem is, as I believe they say in the army, skill beats will every time. Hunger to win is the decider when two teams are evenly matched - but as Germany proved in the semi-final, they were on a completely different planet than Brazil.

To give the guys from the Guardian their due, they did discuss this, and how there was strictly speaking no reason for European teams' inability to travel well. As I acknowledged, the stats were against Germany winning, because no European team had ever managed it. But now that it's happened, there's no reason to expect that it can't happen again, or that a South American team can't go on and win in Europe (again).

In this case, it's worth remembering the old adage from investing: past performance is no guarantee of future results. Stats on whoever has won or never won at a certain stage are only stats, and betting too heavily on them will probably leave you broke. This even holds true for the Dutch team, of course - there's no reason for them to constantly fail at the last hurdle, but they always do. And when they finally don't, that stat will be meaningless.

German engineering

In fact, the German win might give the Dutch a nice boost of confidence. Much was made during this World Cup of how Germany has reached the last two semi-finals (and the final before that), and of how close they came in the 2008 and 2012 European Championships. It was becoming something of a cliche how they would play amazing football, but never progress beyond the semi-final.

Clearly, whatever tinkering Jürgen Klinsmann and Joachim Löw have done since Klinsmann took over after Euro 2004 finally came to fruition this year. And it's important to note that Germany has been the most consistent team of the last ten years or so - Spain may have won three tournaments on the hop, including by beating the Germans, but Germany was always there, while the other semi-finalists frequently changed.

It's debatable whether or not Germany will go on to a streak like Spain's, though. They'll surely be favorites to win the Euros in 2016, as almost all of this team will still be playing, but (and I'm resorting to stats again, but bear with me) it's been extremely rare for World Cup winners to defend their title, especially in the last few years. The fact is, a lot can happen in four years - players can drop out, form can fail, and Löw's contract is currently only good until 2016. He could very well get an extension - or he could get fired or resign.

And Germany's rivals will likely find ways to play around them. It may not be as dramatic as Spain's collapse this year, but Germany will at some point go through another dark period. It is, after all, 24 years since they last won a World Cup.

Looking ahead

In any case, if it seems silly to guess what'll happen in four years, I'm still happy to do so. It's safe to say that CONMEBOL and UEFA will continue to dominate the tournament when it comes to Russia. The very best teams will have rebuilt by then, and the mid-tier teams can also expect to book their tickets (the US, Mexico, Ghana, Nigeria, South Korea). If Klinsmann is still coaching the US, they may break their streak of never winning a competitive game on European soil - or they might not.

Of course, the next World Cup might not even be held in Russia. This is probably a bit fanciful, given all the attention on Qatar's dodgy-in-the-extreme tournament, but if Russia embroils itself in another war, it might not be safe or stable enough to hold a tournament there.

That's extremely speculative, of course. And if I'm being cynical, I'll note that Russia would likely wait until after the tournament to start back in on its geopolitical shenanigans. But it's also true that the US is generally held as a reserve host when observers complain about lack of readiness at a host country (as they did with Brazil, and if memory serves, South Africa).

I hope the US gets it again, most likely in 2022, when it's stripped from Qatar. I'd like to be able to attend in person someday, and it might be when the team finally wins it.