World Cup 2022 Spoiler Alert
We have analyzed and predicted every game in the cup from the Group Stage through the Knockout Stage, to the final. But we may be completely wrong about most of what we wrote for a myriad of reasons. Soccer is the hardest sport to predict because our sport is…inherently unpredictable—it has been clearly shown statistically that the favorite wins a little over 50% of the time. But aside from that, there are other known and unknown specific reasons that could mitigate against even the best analyses and predictions. Let us begin to unravel the web.
The 2022 World Cup could be won by a team we may not even consider a favorite right now or it could be won by one of the usual suspects. Given the cup has only ever been won by Brazil (5 times), Italy (4), Germany (4), France (2), Argentina (2), Uruguay (2), England (1), and Spain (1), predicting one of these past champions to win should not be a stretch. But our sport has so many caveats that accounting for them all is a tricky thing to attempt.
World Cup Spoiler Caveat-1: injuries
The first among the caveats is that injuries change a squad—if Sadio Mane is hurt, Senegal is no longer Senegal. The same can be said for Messi and Argentina, Neymar and Brazil, Mbappe and France, de Bruyne and Belgium, Modric and Croatia, de Jung and Holland, Pulisic and the USA, and so on. Seeing as an injury can occur just prior to the tourney (Diogo Jota, 2022) as easily as during it (Pele, 1966), predicting outcomes becomes particularly perilous. And there is more.
World Cup Spoiler Caveat-2: favored teams getting suspect advantages
There are caveats even when the favorites win—West Germany was a pre-tourney contender but not the best team in 1954 when they first became champions, they won by employing a double tricky and unsportsmanlike strategy (fouling Ferenc Puskas out of the match and using a second string team when they met earlier in the cup); host England, a top six contender at the time, “scored” a fluky goal that has never been proven actually occurred to win the cup in 1966. France scored on a Mandzukic own goal off a non-foul awarded to Griezmann in the 2018 World Cup final, altering the match’s outcome instantly.
World Cup Spoiler Caveat-3: occurrences outside our sport on the pitch
Jorge Videla, Argentina’s dictator, struck a politico-economic deal with Peru to ensure his national team would make the 1978 final which the dictatorship subsequently won with at best the fifth-best team at the cup. France were the host when cup favorite Brazil’s Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo Nazario de Lima had his mysterious seizures the night before the final the hosts would go on to win surprisingly easily in 1998. In 1994 Diego Maradona was kicked out of the cup for failing a drug test and soon after Argentina crashed out of the cup.
World Cup Spoiler Caveat-4: occurrences known to be common to our sport
And then we have our sport’s overall caveats. Soccer, data analysts tell us, is a 50-50 game. The favorite barely wins more than 50% of the time and the weakest player on the pitch will likely have more impact on the outcome of the match than the stars present. Half of all goals are scored when team A regains possession in the opponent’s (team B’s) half. A goal is scored, on average once every nine attempts on goal. Thirty percent of regained possessions in the opponent’s half result in shots on goal.
- Change of possession leading to a shot on goal
And then we have our current game’s most common tactical issue—attempting to regain possession immediately after losing it. The holy grail of so many global soccer systems (Barca et.al.) is predicated on the understood advantage that by regaining possession immediately after losing it (in your opponent’s half in particular) if you can subsequently turn it into a goal-scoring opportunity by setting up a shot on goal, you are giving yourself a sizable advantage.
- Illegally obstructed change of possession
But when the change of possession is obtained via an uncalled foul, or when possession is not obtained but a called foul obstructs one’s opponent from progressing, a similar advantage has been obtained and similar damage has been inflicted on one’s opponent.
If, for example, team A loses possession and immediately fouls either the man from team B who intercepted or the man who is about to receive the first pass off of the man who intercepted, the newly in possession cannot capitalize on the advantage that change was supposed to confer because their opponents have fouled them to stop the action.
- Non-call on an Illegally obstructed change of possession
If the referee is not aware and/or does not act to stop that strategy the statistical advantages mount until the illegally affected team succumbs. The outcome of such a game would not be a sporting success, it would be an unsportsmanlike one and a refereeing failure. Whichever team gets away with the unfair strategy may thus become the winning side. It is very difficult to predict such a situation.
World Cup Spoiler Caveat-5: known situations of great karma in our sport
When two teams are evenly matched, luck and game day form are the deciding factors. Often the outcome of a match hinges on the weakest link on a team. In 1990 and 2014 Argentina and Germany were evenly matched and played very even competitive cup finals. In both the winning goal hinged on a simple, single play which would have had no further relevance had it not been the one that broke the stalemate and declared the champion. What is of interest in both finals though is that Argentina’s penchant for unsportsmanlike behavior played a key role in their dual demise.
In the 2014 World Cup final, Italian referee, Nicola Rizzoli, missed the outrageous foul Argentine defender Ezequiel Garay committed on German midfielder Christoph Kramer. The shoulder hit to the head at the 16:16 minute mark was so ferocious Kramer fell to the ground holding his head and neck for several minutes moving in and out of semiconsciousness. He was still unable to clear his head 15 minutes later and was seen stumbling around the pitch dazed and confused until he finally asked Rizzoli a simple question in passing “are we at the World Cup?” The ref, who only then realized something was wrong, let captain Philipp Lahm and his German teammate Bastian Schweinsteiger know and they relayed the message to the bench. In came substitute Andre Schurrle.
The match had been tough yet, surprisingly, mostly fair with each side getting two yellows and both teams creating unfinished chances galore. After regulation time concluded, and the first period of extra time had also ended, and most subs had come in, the retributory karma from that unsportsmanlike 16th-minute assault took place.
In the 113th minute, 97 minutes later, well into extra time, Schurrle chipped a cross from the left wing to substitute Mario Goetze, who was cutting in toward the middle of the Argentine penalty box. Goetze chested and volleyed the ball in a quick one-two motion that caught Argentine keeper Sergio Romero by surprise. That was the match’s only goal.
The Argentines—save that moment of madness from a player who became the pitch’s weakest link—would have been every bit as deserving champions, but in the end, the Germans actually had one more plus on their side, they did not have a player steeped in the national and team ethos that declared anything (Hand of God) is acceptable to obtain your objective.
Take them with a grain (or ton) of salt, for even if you think the analyses were sound or the predictions worthy, they were all subjective interpretations of the facts in evidence at the time of writing, they were provided via the prism of the current and historical biases of the writer, and they were fed by the flights of fancy of a soccer fan—all of which are subject to the vicissitudes of fate, the above-mentioned caveats, and plain, dumb, unexplainable luck.
Enjoy the cup!
Photo: World Cup 2022 logo, Shutterstock ID 2173194619, by Justes.