Saturday, June 05, 2010

Australia v USA and Betting

It is just a little bit tempting to be distracted by tonight's tennis game. I gaped in awe at the news that Sam Stosur actually beat Serena Williams, as I thought that could only ever be done by a Serena Williams clone. Note to any future genetic engineers: if you're going to make a sporting superhero, make sure you make two, so the competition can stay interesting. The Williams sisters definitely give the impression that a genetic engineer has got my memo already, along with another more technical memo about a time machine. Anyway, of course it took a Queenslander and tonight Stosur has a shot at winning the French Open. The game competes with the football, and I will not be any further distracted, but from Football Down Under, Go You Queensland Woman!!!!!!!

Australia vs United States
10.30pm tonight. Australia v United States. Third and last warm up friendly before the World Cup games. Live on Fox 3.

A training run or a rare opportunity to bloody Uncle Sam's nose? It's within the question that we could play the United States in the Round of 16 incidentally, but can we let a chance go by?

As a fan I am presented with these two potentially contradictory pathways, which I'm sure is a tension in the team itself, although our Dutch coach wouldn't be having such problems. In a way it would be better to have these friendlies against teams we'd never heard of, as then they could be unambiguously for training. For when Australia plays the United States (and New Zealand for that matter), it is hard not to feel obliged to concentrate purely on the slaughter.

Australia, I can't help thinking, has a patriotic duty to defeat the yanks, regardless of any other circumstances. The fact is that doing so would bring enormous national joy regardless of any other World Cup results. However it's also hard not to be aware that that's exactly how the Kiwis felt about playing us a week ago, and it didn't work out for them (they lost and picked up an injury).

Winning is more fun for David than it is for Goliath, after all, but riskier.

Without bringing too many factors into play the only real inequality between the USA and Australia as nations is that the former has 51 states in their federation and we have six and a half. The similarities in language, culture, income, institutions and the soccer environment are clear enough. Soccer of course, as it is played between countries with equal rules and equal personel with an impartial referee, is the equalising competition, unlike war, that ugly, dangerous, archaic, environmentally destructive approach to international conflict. In the case of these two countries, with no home ground benefit for either, we might expect the USA and Australia to look equal on the football pitch. And so it is the case.

Just a brief word on international ranking. On the official FIFA ranking table Australia are currently at 20th and the United States is at 14th - a significant difference, though within a pretty tight part of the table. That table is updated monthly, so this 26th May calculation will be the one referred to for the whole World Cup period, regardless of any of the friendly warm up games occurring now, or any WC games to come. Quite aside from the fact that it isn't updated game by game, FIFA's ranking system is inordinately complicated, calculating factors from up to five years old and, frankly, doesn't always reflect what's going on.

No system can really see everything of course, but there is a better system. The ELO Rankings are based on the ranking system for international chess, annotated with soccercentric factors. That they're updated game by game, and you can see on the page the calculator's impact from each game, is helpful in itself. I often use this page just to get a quick list of the latest international games.

When Australia was about 38th in 2006 on the FIFA table and that was clearly too low, ELO reflected that. Then when we hit the lofty heights of 14th on the FIFA table, with which most commentators were openly uncomfortable, ELO reflected that as well. A lot of the table looks about the same of course, but the differences are distinctive (Portugal ranking 11th rather than 3rd for example) and, in my own engagement, better reflect an attentive observer's intuitions.

This might be useful information, but the reason I bring it to attention now is very superficial. On the ELO table Australia is currently 18th and the USA is at 22nd. There's still not a lot of space between us but Australia has the edge. Once again, this edge in Australia's direction better reflects my own intuition, though the betting totalisers support the FIFA model. No doubt the FIFA table has a real bearing on the totalising as well.

There is no other possible conclusion from these two sets of data except that Australia and the USA are about equal.

As usual I have not the slightest idea who, if anyone, will win tonight. Craig Foster, in that book that I am still excrutiating my way through, claims that, a) he has powers of observing a football game parallel with the powers of Keanu Reeves character in The Matrix to read the matrix, and, b) that after about 10 minutes of a given game he basically knows what's going to happen. If this was the case, even to a degree of 5%, people like Craig Foster would not be reading the sports news (watch his face very carefully when he reports on AFL and rugby - he cannot conceal the grimace) but would be the wealthiest men in our society.

Just to reinforce the observation that noone really has a clue, some readers will remember the tipping competition I conducted on this blog for an A-League season and a half, The Blogger's Cup. As a set of data, the main conclusion you can draw from these soccer bloggers' attempts to predict the games (they range from experienced analysts to rank amateurs like myself) is that none of them did much better than they would have if we had of had a sweep from a hat, and the mean was about the same. The leaders tended to be those whose teams were winning. (No taking away from Mike Salter, who won so strongly in the end that perhaps he should consider devloping a betting system to retire with. Hope you enjoyed the single malt trophy mate. :))

I'm going to raise a challenge to the universe. I'm going to bet $50 on Australia to win by one goal. If Australia wins by one goal I am going to place another $50 bet on Australia to win each of its World Cup games by one goal. As far as I can see the most I can lose is $50, and the emotional journey of winning or losing will smother any impact of the outcome of the bet anyway. And if Australia doesn't win tonight, my betting at this World Cup is over.

Now betting with totalisers is a fool's game, since they are carefully constructed to win and for you, statistically, to lose. I actually love gambling, but only when I sense the odds are in my favour - I guess that's the basic instinct of a businessman. To bet with a betting agency is so transparently a poor investment vis-a-vis risk that it is remarkable that anyone does it at all. So I'm not investing $50 at all. I'm spending $50, that I reckon I can afford, for what I reckon is about $50 worth of fun.

Beyond the moralising, if you must have a bet, consider this blog's one and only sponsor, linked to the right, PartyBets. I am under no obligation to plug them but it seemed a juncture where it would almost be odd not to mention them.

I couldn't find any good blogs reviewing the game properly, but News Limited's David Hall gives a little bit of insight. If I find good stuff during the day I'll link to it here.

I'll be watching the game at the Pig n Whistle.



Anonymous JoshTov said...

Am hugely excited for the World Cup and cannot wait to place a few cheeky bets myself (why the wife isn't watching). Part of the fun is having some money at stake! If only we were all Craig Foster - this upcoming month would see us all retire as millionaires!

June 08, 2010 12:54 am  
Blogger Hamish said...

Good luck Josh! I'd probably avoid my tips if I were you. Cheers.

June 08, 2010 8:15 am  

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