Weekend Open Thread: Midway Through the World Cup

[Author’s Note: Those of you who follow certain Facebook pages already know that my brother-in-law, Onassis “Oni” Yumul, died on Thursday evening after a long battle with cancer. He is survived by his husband, my then-and-forever brother-in-law Jeff Letourneau; by both of his parents in the Philippines; by his sister, my wife Josephine Diamond, two other Californian sisters and their husbands, and one brother in the Philippines and his wife; by more nieces and nephews and grandnieces and nephews and cousins and aunts and uncles than you could shake a stick at; by an innumerable number of friends and admirers; and by the dog he and Jeff have shared, Otis. I’m finding it hard to write a fitting tribute, but plan to finish it by Sunday or early Monday. What follows is something I like to do at the halfway point in the quadrennial World Cup, and frankly it gives me a break from sadness — so you’re getting it served to you, though you don’t have to consume it.]

Soccer’s World Cup is composed of 64 matches. The 32 national teams are assigned to eight groups of four. In “group play,” each team in each group plays each of the other teams in their group once — a “round robin”; each group thus has six games, for a total of 48 games. The top two teams from each of the eight groups then proceed to a 16-game “knockout” tournament. (The 63rd of the 64 matches is for “third place,” between the losers of the semi-finals.)

The FIFA World Cup (yes, it’s officially “football”) stretches back to 1924; in 1934, it switched from Olympic to non-Olympic even-numbered years. This is, arguably, the most broadly competitive tournament since the move to eight rather than six groups in 1998. The last one with six groups (and the top four third-place competitors joining the knockout rounds) was the 1994 World Cup, played primarily in Los Angeles. That World Cup was first introduced the “three points for a win” rule, which makes the game strategy far more interesting, because the increment between a tie and a win is twice as large as that between a loss and a tie — leading teams (most of the time) to have to play for a win.

The reason that I call this tournament the most broadly competitive is because this is the first one since the expansion to 24 teams where no team has won all of its group matches. Win all three group matches, since 1994, and you get 9 points. Every tournament from 1998 through 2018, at least one team (and generally a few of them) has earned 9 points. This year, the best record — once the tie-breaker for “goal differential” (“goals for” minus “goals against”) is applied — went to England, with 7 points and a goal differential of 7, edging out the Netherlands (with GD of 4) and Morocco (GD of 3.) The only flaw in England’s record is their draw with the United States which — to set aside my objectivity for a moment — is pretty cool. No “9” is a mark of parity; having only three squads get to 7 is a further one.

One thing that we can do, now that we’re between stages, is rank all of the teams in the tournament so far. (And, for the bottom half of them, the number will stick.) So — let’s do it!

As noted, our top three teams are England, the Netherlands, and Morocco. So they’ll lead our list. After Goal Differential (or GD), the next tiebreaker is Goals F (GF), because offense is exciting. (We’ll stop there.)

  1. England: 7 & GD=7
  2. Netherlands: 7 & GD=4
  3. Morocco: 7 & GD=3
  4. France: 6 & GD=3, GF=6
  5. Argentina: 6 & GD=3, GF=5
  6. Portugal: 6 & GD=2, GF=6
  7. Brazil: 6 & GD=2, GF=3
  8. Senegal: 6 & GD=1, GF=5
  9. (tie) Switzerland: 6 & GD=1, GF=4
  10. (tie) Japan: 6 & GD=1, GF=4
  11. Australia: 6 & GD=-1
  12. Croatia: 5 & GD=3
  13. United States: 5 & GD=1
  14. Spain: 4 & GD=6
  15. Germany: 4 & GD=1, GF=6 x
  16. Ecuador: 4 & GD=1, GF=4 x
  17. [tie] South Korea: 4 & GD 0, GF 4 * [17]
  18. [tie] Cameroon: 4 & GD 0, GF 4 x [17]
  19. (tie) Poland: 4 & GD=0, GF=2 [19]
  20. (tie) Uruguay: 4 & GD 0, GF=2 x [19]
  21. Tunisia: 4 & GD=0, GF=1 x
  22. Mexico: 4 & GD=-1, GF=2 x
  23. Belgium: 4 & GD=-1, GF=1 x
  24. Ghana: 3 & GD=-2 , GF=5
  25. Saudi Arabia: 3 & GD=-2, GF=3
  26. Iran: 3 & GD=-3, GF=4
  27. Costa Rica: 3 & GD=-8
  28. Denmark: 1 & GD=-2
  29. Serbia: 1 & GD=-3
  30. Wales: 1 & GD=-5
  31. Canada: 0 & GD=-5, GF=2
  32. Qatar: 0 & GD=-6

The top 14 squads ranked by tie-breaking criteria all made it into the knockout round. #15 Germany and #16 Ecuador didn’t make it, while #17 South Korea and #19 Poland did manage their way in, respectively scraping past Uruguay and Mexico. Sucks to be in a tougher group, but that’s literally the luck of the draw!

Anyway, I think that the competitiveness of most of this field is awesome. Iran is 13 ranks below the U.S. — but it easily could have won.

American midfielder Christian Pulisic testicles Iran’s goalie in the knee. as a nation cheer-winces.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)