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A Swede in Germany

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German World-Cup debacle / Follow-up: Poor decision making

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As I wrote recently concerning the World-Cup game between Sweden and Germany:

As can be seen, the correct decision/the ideal outcome of the game cannot be determined without information that is not knowable at this time. In effect, this game is “unrootable” for me, and the interesting events will largely take place in the respective last of the three games each team plays.

(What is the most likely scenario? Well, on paper Germany is a clear favorite against Sweden, and will likely end up second in the group, behind Mexico, while Sweden and South-Korea are eliminated. How it plays out in real life is yet to be seen.)

By now I am left almost shocked: Germany very, very barely defeated the Swedes, on overtime—but…

…Sweden won the group and Germany ended up last(!), something almost inconceivable before the tournament.*

*Germany is not only the defending champion, but also came of a long line of good results (until the last few preparation games, where things started to fall apart).

That Sweden, in today’s third round, could beat Mexico was not entirely unexpected, after the two teams having similar showings against Germany* and South-Korea; however, the 3–0 was highly surprising. Germany, in turn, should have beaten South-Korea, and that would have made the dream scenario of both “my” teams advancing come true—a scenario that seemed quite unlikely after the initial German failure against Mexico. Unfortunately, Germany continued a trend of not actually scoring, even being the superior team in terms of play; the result at 90 minutes was 0–0; and during the desperate** German attacks during stoppage time, South-Korea scored twice…

*While Mexico won, it was mostly a matter of luck; while Sweden lost, it was on a last minute action during stoppage time.

**Even a one goal victory, given the Sweden–Mexico result, would have been enough for advancement; any non-victory implied non-advancement.

This leaves us with an absurd situation, with Germany trailing even South-Korea and having the likely worst result in its World-Cup history—despite beating the eventual group winner and despite being the better team in all three of its matches.

As for Sweden, I note that it has now been part of the elimination of three supposedly strong teams: After beating out the Netherlands (2014/“reigning” World-Cup third-placer) for second place in its qualification group, multiple champion Italy was beaten in a play-off, and now reigning champion Germany is gone too. (Although, admittedly, Sweden was the only team not to beat the Germans…)

An interesting observation is that Sweden has mounted reasonably successful teams before and after the national-team career of Zlatan, but not during it. Unlike some other greats, he never really delivered in the national team, and the depth behind him appears to have been lower than before and after.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 27, 2018 at 5:39 pm

Follow-up: Poor decision making

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Sometimes it is impossible to make a good decision, even with a sound attitude and complete knowledge of the knowable facts. My current dilemma regarding the FIFA World Cup is a good example*:

*Except in as far as following sports and/or basing team favoritism on factors like nationality can be considered irrational: I could always decide to not care at all…

My native Sweden and my adopted Germany are in the same group and will presently play each other. Which team should I root for?

In the four-team group with two teams advancing, the ideal would be that both “my” teams advance. However, this is tricky: Germany unexpectedly* lost against Mexico, while Sweden expectedly won against South-Korea. Should Mexico (as expected) win against South-Korea**, the only way to get both teams in would be for Germany to win both its remaining matches (including against Sweden), Sweden to win against Mexico, and having the goal difference play out fortunately between the three 6-point teams. More likely, considering the presumed weakness of the South-Koreans, one of the teams will make it and the other fail.

*In such statements, I go by the official seeding, which had Germany 1st, Mexico 2nd, Sweden 3rd, and South-Korea 4th.

**The match was completed during my writing: Mexico did win.

In that scenario, however, which team would I rather see advancing? Sweden is a little bit closer to my heart, but Germany has a far better chance at being successful in the knock-out phase. What if Sweden were to advance, only to lose immediately in the next first knock-out round?

Also, if Sweden* is the team that advances, it would beneficial to be the group victor. For that to happen, a loss against Germany would be very problematic. On the other hand, if Sweden were to beat Germany, the dream scenario of both teams advancing is pretty much ruled out. A draw is not that good either, because it (a) means that only two points (instead of three for a victory) are awarded, (b) could lead to Sweden simultaneously missing the group victory and Germany being eliminated.

*Ditto for Germany, but their chances of a group victory are currently smaller.

Then again, should South-Korea upset Mexico, we have a completely different set of scenarios to look into.

As can be seen, the correct decision/the ideal outcome of the game cannot be determined without information that is not knowable at this time. In effect, this game is “unrootable” for me, and the interesting events will largely take place in the respective last of the three games each team plays.

(What is the most likely scenario? Well, on paper Germany is a clear favorite against Sweden, and will likely end up second in the group, behind Mexico, while Sweden and South-Korea are eliminated. How it plays out in real life is yet to be seen.)

Written by michaeleriksson

June 23, 2018 at 7:13 pm

Lack of perspective on men and women in sports

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A very sad example of how easy people lose perspective can be found in a recent debate in Sweden:

In a short time-span male soccer player Anders Svenssonw and female soccer player Therese Sjögranw set new records for most games played in their respective national team. The former was rewarded with a car; the second was not. The predictable Swedish sexism debate started…

What few people considered was that the female soccer players are on a very different level from male players when compared on equal levels of “numerical” accomplishment. Its not just a matter of men being bigger or having other physical advantage—but the competition in and development of women’s soccer is far weaker. Women should have equal pay for equal accomplishment—not for a considerably weaker accomplishment.

For instance, the Swedish Wikipedia page on women’s soccerw:sv claims that women make up 29 % of all Swedish players. In other words, there are more than twice as many male players and the competition for spots on the national team is more than twice as hard. (Factoring in that men tend to be relatively more competitive and women relatively more interested in playing “for the fun of it”, the numbers likely understate the difference on the level of the national team.)

According to the same page, only one in 12 (10 million out of 120 million) players is a woman world-wide. This has at least two important implications: Firstly, women’s soccer is not competitive with men’s soccer even after correcting for physical differences between the sexes. Secondly, the far higher proportion within Sweden puts the successes of the female national team and individual female players in perspective: They are internationally successful because the rest of the world lags in the relative size of the women’s soccer sector—not because they would be truly great players.

However, women’s soccer trails men’s soccer by even more than these numbers imply: Watch a few games and compare the way the play, even natural physical differences aside. To say that there is a difference of one “league” would be extremely kind, even in Sweden two or three could easily be the case—world-wide there is no comparison. In contrast, female tennis players often have a technique and “feel” for the game that is comparable to male players, losing ground through their smaller stature, weaker arms, etc. Conversely, male athletes in sports that are considerably smaller globally than soccer are still more accomplished: In a match-up facilitated by magic, the Swedish national team in bandyw would likely have an easy time against the women’s national soccer team.

To take another perspective: Cars cost money. Which of the two is the better money maker? (And therefore the more reasonably rewarded from an economic point of view.) Comparing individuals could be very tricky; however, if we look at groups we can get at least a good indication. In 2012, the highest Swedish men’s divisionw:sv had a per game average number of visitors of 7210; the highest women’s divisionw:sv just 836.

Very recently, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of the world’s most successful soccer players in recent years and the team captain of the Swedish national team, spoke out about this affair, correctly pointing out that women’s soccer is not comparable to men’s and that there is no unfairness in giving only the male player a car. He also correctly points out the absurdity that he is internationally compared to the likes of Messi and Ronaldo but nationally to female players of a far, far lesser calibre.

The result (and what prompted me to write this post): He is attacked from every direction and seen as a sign of how unfairly maligned women’s soccer would be or how much undue prejudice there would be. (Cf. e.g. one of many Swedish news itemse). In the defense of his detractors, he could have formulated himself more diplomatically; however, that does not change the underlying issues or that he is correct in these underlying issues.

This debate points very clearly to some recurring problem with the current Swedish attitude towards “gender issues”:

  1. Actual accomplishment and equality of opportunity is less important than equality of outcome and a highly subjective and extremely superficial take on “fairness”.

  2. There is little will and/or ability to actually think an issue through. Instead reactions are based on emotions, what people want the world to be like (as opposed to how it actually is), simplistic assumptions, …

  3. Criticizing attempts to create or assert pseudo-equality borders on a crime—even when the criticism is objectively justified.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 26, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Freakish coincident in soccer (and Sweden wins a medal)

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Soccer is normally a sport I find boring and tend not to follow. However, the ongoing U17 World Cup has caught my attention through the rarity that my native Sweden has done exceedingly well—the bronze medal here is arguably the best a Swedish team has managed since 1994. (When they won a bronze in the, obviously far more prestigious, “adult” World Cup.)

Now, this would not be of any major interest to most non-Swedes—but the almost absurd circumstances could be:

The tournament was divided into two stages: First, a group stage where twenty-four teams divided into six groups tried to qualify for the next stage. Second, a knock-out stage between the twelve teams who placed first or second in their respective groups supplemented by the four best third-placers.

Sweden did poorly in the group stage, scoring one victory, one draw, and one loss—and qualified as one of the best third-placers.

In the knock-out stage, they met Japan in the round of sixteen—a team coming of a flawless 3–0 record in the group stage. To everyone’s surprise, Sweden won 2–1.

This was followed by a quarter-final where Honduras was beaten 2–1. (While Honduras’ record was no more impressive than the Swedish, they had at least been second in their group, trailing only Brazil.)

Combined with the success of the other two teams (Mexico, Nigeria) from Sweden’s group, this led to the very weird situation that all three teams stood in the semi-final—three out of four, while the other five groups between them had one team left (Argentina, an undefeated group winner).

After a 3–0 semi-final loss against Nigeria (following a group-stage 3–3 draw), the Swedes went on to take their clearest victory of the tournament against Argentina (4–1)—ensuring that all three medals landed in the same group, eventually in the exact order of the group placings. I cannot recall seeing something like this ever happening (although it bound to have over the many championships in various sports). The most I have seen is two teams from the same group going in the medals on a few occasions. (Which in a weird coincidence was the case in 1994, where Brazil and Sweden finished first and second in the same group and went on to win Gold and Bronze respectively—Sweden’s only loss in the tournament being against Brazil. Other parallels include the easy, 4–0 instead of 4–1, Bronze-match victory, and that the respective tournament winner only ever failed to win one match—drawing against Sweden in the group stage.)

Written by michaeleriksson

November 9, 2013 at 12:39 am

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