Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A well-oiled and greasy guide to EURO 2008

Euro 2008.
While the smell of corporate jollies is far less obvious than at the World Cup, that still has not stopped ten brands from trying their best to muscle in on the Beautiful Game again.

A credit card company, villains of the 2006 World Cup, when they managed to persuade FIFA to deny bearers of any rival cards from using them to buy tickets, are one of the terrible ten at EURO 2008, as are an American fast food giant, purveyors of the sort of diet that will never make you a footballer.

The most visible around town have been a German tire manufacturer, decking out their female staff in black and gold livery from dawn to susk, while their all-black coaches with tinted windows cruise sinisterly around Vienna.

Castrol have been given an inordinate amount of publicity in FIFA literature around EURO 2008, allegedly because of their revolutionary ‘Index’, which is the latest electronically-generated performance analyst tool.

Personally, I can’t see much of interest in the CastrolIndex which is not already available in ProZone or similar existing programs.

Like an cyborg Wing Commander Reep (the progenitor of the English long-ball fixation), the Index furnishes the fan with such indispensable minutiae such as:

The Netherlands and Russia’s attacks ran at an exactly average speed of 28.72kmh in their quarter-final....Portugal hit the woodwork five times in the tournament, more than any other team, and were also first for being offside....Five nations have had more shots on goal than semi-finalists Turkey....Luca Toni has shot wide more times (12) than anyone else in EURO 2008
What do they know? Their stats rate the best goalkeeper in numbers of saves as Petr Cech, the same chap whose blunders let the Turks overturn a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2 and eliminate his country.
Likewise, Castrol’s best midfielder is Spain’s Xavi, but the criteria are only completed passes. Why then did Aragones sub him for Cesc Fabregas yesterday? Because there is more to being a midfielder than horizontal passing.

To confuse matters further, another page is called ‘Top Midfielders’, where the prize goes to….Tranquillo Barnetta of Switzerland, who is streets ahead of his nearest challengers Michael Ballack and Wesley Sneijder, according to Castrol.

The closer to goal the higher a player scores with a pass, shot or tackle, while a long pass is worth more than a short one (Reep’s ghost lives).

No computer analysis seems that satisfying at the end of the day, as it views data cumulatively and not empirically. Or, in other words, it has no feel for the game, and leads to the drawing of erroneous conclusions.

For instance, Russia beat Holland 3-1 because they made 124 fewer completed passes, which could be interpreted as direct football beats possession football. But the stats also show the four semi-finalists rank in the top seven nations at the finals for keeping the ball – Spain (1st), Turkey (4th), Germany (5th) and Russia (7th).

The only smiles I drew wading through the figures were from learning that the tournament’s biggest fouler has been none other than Ballack and the most offside player was Poland’s Euzebiusz Smolarek, or ‘Offski’ to his mates.

Incidentally, who would you think Castrol deems the top striker so far? - David Villa with his four goals, Lukas Podolski with his three, or maybe Russian bear Andrey Arshavin? None of the above. Arshavin is a poor eighth in the Index, far behind shooting star Ivica Olic of Croatia. Podolski came 35th while Villa was 44th. Right....

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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