E&T World Cup blog: the Predictions Final

So that’s it, World Cup 2010 is over. Spain have gone home with the trophy (the very next day, in fact, no lounging around the hotel pool for them), while Holland have gone home with a wholly inappropriate sense of injustice, blaming Howard Webb for everything. Aah, what would football be without an unhealthy dose of jingoistic antagonism?

Anyway, with the World Cup over, what of our predicting panel? With the final Final whistle blown, who has topped the group table and who is on a metaphorical early plane home? After 25 games, what are the final scores?

This snappy graphic lays it out nicely:

Scores on the doors: our panel's final tally
Scores on the doors: our panel's final tally

As you can see, senior lecturer in statistics Dr Ian McHale is our champion gold medal winner, with 16 correct predictions. Joint silver medallists are professional goalkeeper Chris Day and psychic, artist and pin-up Laura Daligan, both with 14 correct predictions. The bronze medal goes to Ladbrokes PR head David Williams, with 10 correct predictions.

What conclusions can we draw? It is reasonable to suggest that applying a statistical analysis model to football results has proved the most successful approach, although it is not infallible. And given the respectable tally for psychic Laura, with no knowledge of football whatsoever and who based her predictions on criteria entirely unrelated to past performances, when it comes down to a 50/50 choice, you can be right more than 50 per cent of the time.

As many of the results from this World Cup show, in what is effectively a game of chance – with at least 22 unpredictable human beings exerting some influence over the result, exacerbated by key decisions made by managers and match officials during the match – almost anything can happen.

It is also true that there were many matches where half the panel got it right and half got it wrong; next day, the positions would be reversed. Some days only one person got it right; other days, only one person got it wrong.

Interestingly enough, over 25 games the entire panel was wrong only four times. Everyone went for Argentina to beat Germany in the quarter finals (0-4) and back in the group stages no one expected Japan to beat Denmark (3-1). The other two games featured a divergence of opinion, all of which proved misguided:  Uruguay beat Mexico (1-0), which no one saw coming, and Ghana didn’t beat Australia (1-1).

One curious aspect of totting up the scores this morning was looking back at games and teams that seemed so important at the time, but which have long since dissolved in the collective memory in such a short space of time. Were Australia really at the World Cup? England? Greece? How soon we forget, eh?

But that’s the beauty of the World Cup. Why else would we watch enthralled as Ghana take on Australia, New Zealand play Slovakia or  Switzerland take on Honduras? Stick two pins in a world map and pit two teams chosen at random against each other. Until 2014, we’ll have to make do with our PS3s, Wiis and iPhone simulations, as real World Cup football shuts up shop for another four years.

E&T hopes that everyone has enjoyed reading our World Cup blog and we would like to extend our sincere thanks to all the panel for taking part in our match predictions experiment.

We’ll be back to our regular engineering and technology posts on this blog from now on. We hope you’ll continue reading.

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