E&T World Cup blog: day seventeen, England vs Germany

So here we are: the big one, le grand match, el matcho enormo. England vs Germany. Oh, the history. Two world wars and one world cup. Two penalty shoot-outs, where England fired one too many blanks each time. Is this it? Is it England’s time to turn the tide of sporting history back in its favour?

Novelty England hats: acceptable for one day only
Novelty England hats: acceptable for one day only

Just in case the game goes to the inevitable, England would do well to heed the advice of Dr. Gert-Jan Pepping (I like him already), Sport Scientist and lecturer in Human Movement Sciences at the University of Groningen. Dr. Pepping (great!) has done research in to the psychology of a penalty shoot-out and has concluded that, “The more convincingly someone celebrates their success with their teammates, the greater the chances that team will win.”

The theory is that such contagious behaviour is important from an evolutionary standpoint. Dr. Pepping cites the example of a school of fish, whereby “synchronizing with each other, that is, doing exactly the same thing as much as possible, [increases] their chances of survival.” Copying behaviour also allows creatures to learn from each other, all of which implies that we communicate goals via movement behaviour.

So what exactly do the societal mores of the humble sardine have to do with football? Dr. Pepping investigated whether the way soccer players express their delight at a successful penalty influences the final result of a penalty shootout: “What’s nice about a penalty shootout is that the individual aim of scoring a penalty directly serves the group aim of winning the match.”

Pepping and his research group (Moll, Jordet and Pepping, 2010) studied a large number of penalty shootouts during important soccer matches, but only as long as the score in the shootout was still equal. After every shot at goal, the player was assessed on the degree to which he expressed happiness and pride after scoring. This revealed that the players who expressed this clearly, for example by throwing their arms up into the air, usually belonged to the winning team: “This enthusiastic behaviour infected the team with a positive attitude. Also important, the opposing team was made to feel that little bit more insecure.”

Dr. Pepping also concluded that it was equally important to celebrate a successful penalty with the people you want to enthuse. “If you cheer facing the supporters after you’ve scored a penalty, the supporters will get wildly enthusiastic,” says Dr. Pepping. “That’s all very fine, but they’re not the ones who have to perform at that moment. Your team members on the pitch are. It’s very important to celebrate together – that’s what makes scoring contagious.”

Anthropological mumbo-jumbo or England’s key to the quarter finals? It’s probably safest to hope that today’s game doesn’t go to penalties and if it does that the German team hasn’t taken on board Dr. Pepping’s findings. But hey – Dr. Pepping, what’s the worst that could happen?

Here are today’s predictions from our panel:

  • Dr Ian McHale, a Senior Lecturer in Statistics at the University of Salford: “I could hedge my bets and back Germany but I cant bring myself to do that so I will go with England to beat Germany.”
  • David Williams, head of PR at Ladbrokes: “England will beat Germany.”
  • Chris Day, goalkeeper for Stevenage FC: “1-1 after 90 minutes. 2-1 to England after extra time.”
  • Laura Daligan, ‘psychic, artist and pin-up’: “I do see England’s game being unstable and I feel Germany will play a better game.”

Not a ringing endorsement of England’s chances, but hope clearly springs eternal. These are just predictions, of course – what will the reality be? Why not add your comments and predictions below? Yesterday’s predictions recorded a 50/50 triumph for the panel, following Ghana’s hard-fought victory over the USA. Go Black Stars!

Remember: this is just for fun and all predictions are for entertainment only. Any mortgages lost or other sums squandered based on the information supplied are your own responsibility! And yes, I will keep mentioning this every day, here in WordPress’ green and pleasant land.

Incidentally, if you want to read our magazine feature on the science of football prediction, I can heartily recommend it. If you’re not much of a reader, wear your eyeballs out on the accompanying football predictions video.

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One thought on “E&T World Cup blog: day seventeen, England vs Germany

  1. The bell tolls for England: DUNGGGGGG

    The team got everything it deserved overall, but I would be interested to see what scientific conclusions can be drawn from the controversial disallowed goal. Would England have played with greater confidence? Would Germany’s youngsters have crumbled?

    It’s for the winds now, but the statistical somersaults these kinds of episodes throw up would be fascinating. I’d like to see a follow-up feature from Dr Ian explaining on reflection how the stats would have coped with this.

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