June 28, 2010

The Appeal of Nil-Nil Draws

From my new column in Taki's Magazine:
Is the grindingly low scoring in the World Cup soccer tournament a bug or—as I’m finally starting to suspect—a feature? Could it be that the World Cup’s global popularity is not so much despite all the nil-nil draws as because of the grimness of the scores?

The three-match mini-season that opened the 2010 World Cup set a new record for futility with the 32 teams scoring only 101 goals in 96 tries, or just 1.05 per team per game.

The American team, despite seemingly not noticing that its games had started until about a half hour had gone by, was, relatively speaking, an offensive juggernaut, scoring four times in its three group stage games. The only squad the USA managed to beat, Algeria, didn’t score at all in 2010. Portugal, led by the world’s most celebrated striker, Christiano Ronaldo, tied Argentina for most goals with seven, but all were notched against North Korean famine victims. Portugal’s other two encounters sputtered out 0-0.

Six of the 48 games ended 0-0, thirteen 1-0, six 1-1, and six 2-0. In contrast, there was only a single 3-2 game, the final score that naïve American viewers would typically pick as the ideal balance of entertainment and rigor. ...

Scoring trends have diverged in the cousin sports of soccer and American football. In the American cool weather game, scores have gradually risen as competence increased. In the 1970 NFL season, for instance, teams scored 3.5 times per game: 2.2 touchdowns and 1.3 field goals. (I’ll ignore point-after-touchdown conversions as vestigial.) That was 2.4 times the 1970 World Cup scoring rate of 1.48 goals per team per match.

By the most recent year, NFL teams were up to 4.1 scores per game (2.6 touchdowns and 1.5 field goals), while World Cup teams were down to 1.05. Hence, the NFL now sees almost four times as many scores as the World Cup.

Yet, both enterprises have flourished extravagantly over the last four decades.... It seems likely that the two kinds of football, in their different but both triumphant evolutions, are giving the people what they want. Hard as it can be for Americans to believe, people like soccer’s offensive ineptitude.

The appeal of high-scoring American football—with its action, expertise, and comebacks against the clock—is as obvious as the appeal of American summer movies.

In contrast, low-scoring soccer fulfills other human desires: such as ...

Read the whole thing there and comment upon it below.

58 comments:

asdfasdfasdfas said...

Interesting article but I don't buy it. The only explanation is the world is retarded to like a game where score is 0-0.

On the other hand, maybe people appreciate something other than the score.
For example, Judo and wrestling(the real kind) are not high scoring sports. Often, Judo matches will go on with a lot of what seems like static grappling. and Greco-Roman and free style wrestling end with score of 1-0.
But for those who love the sports, like myself, the score is besides the point. Rather, what we find fascinating is the very fact that evenly matched opponents are giving it their all in terms of technique and energy to attack and defend. Because one wrong slip can lead to defeat, we sense that both sides are giving their 100% at every second. So, even if nothing dramatic happens, it owes to the fact that both guys are not only superb attackers but defenders, alert and ready at every sec of the match. So there is an electric charge emanating from the game even if there is no score. We sense the power, intensity, and the heat!

So, rather the WHO WINS, it's about WHAT HAPPENS. Even if the score remains 0-0 throughout the match in wrestling, the very sight of two hulking, supremely conditioned men with great techniques looking for that tiny advantage which can be the coup de grace is suspenseful and awesome.
To be sure, sports like Judo and wrestling are something one has to grow up with. It's not as obviously dramatic as boxing.

So, I think soccer fans are less concerned with scores than the 'beauty' and 'nobility' of great athletes giving their best almost nonstop from start to finish. They see it as a kind of ultra-celebration of speed, technique, style, energy, and even artistry. One doesn't watch a festival of dance or a stampede of horses for points. The mere spectacle is enough. (To be sure, soccer seems to me like bullfighting without the bull. Maybe each team should add a dog.)

We tend to be score- or result-centric, but soccer fans may be more process-centric. In a way, this is also true of baseball games which can be 'boring'. For baseball fans, there is always something to love in the whole ritual of baseball. (I heard in Japanese baseball, an ideal game is a tie because neither side loses face.)

Also, the low scoring creates the impression that the teams are evenly matched. Evenly matched sports may be less exciting but they are more suspenseful and interesting.
An action star in a movie beating up 100 guys is more exciting than evenly matched boxers cautiously going the distance or two top wrestlers neutralizing eachother. But, lopsided events, as dramatic as they may be, become ridiculous(and boring in their own way), like the superbowls in the 1990s where NFC beat AFC by 30 or 40 points. (Esp the SF vs Bills games). Or US basketball defeating rest of the world in Olympics looks too easy.

By the nature of its equalizing factors, soccer gives the impression that the best from the world are in evenly matched games--even when the best is playing the worst.

(I wonder how a men vs women soccer game would turn out. It'd prolly more competive than men vs women football.)

Anonymous said...

The American mind is more advanced than we tend to think - and by "American" I mean "white male".

Cameron said...

Why was scoring down in 2010?

Possible reasons:

-Altitude sapping the players.
-The ball seems to balloon, reducing the effectiveness of free kicks and crosses.
-Most top players play in Europe now, making them better defenders.
-Tactically many teams, especially the underdogs, are playing with two holding or defensive players in midfield. Formations make fights in soccer.
-Those horns are really annoying.

It's been a dull World Cup and I think there will, finally, be some rule changes before the next one.

In American sports the table is calculated via winning %. In soccer it's done via points, and you get 1 point for a draw. Time to get rid of points for a draw.

Ingerland Ingerland Ingerland said...

the grimness of the scores

Haha

In the book 'Fever Pitch', Nick Hornby describes football (soccer) as "misery as entertainment".

Nick Hornby is a genuine hard core football (soccer) fan, and so speaks from experience.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fever_Pitch

Every World cup I am reminded of the far sighted wisdom of my decision to mostly lose interest in football when I was about 12 years old.

Much of the pleasure of the World Cup comes from seeing national stereotypes validated

Hmmmnn...

I'm not sure I like this line of reasoning. ;^)

Steve Sailer said...

Here's one way to think about how low scoring in soccer keeps hope alive in fans of the losing team during mismatches. If NFL teams score almost four times as much as World Cup teams (with NFL scoring being about 5/8ths touchdowns and 3/8ths field goals), then being down 1-0 in a soccer game is like being down roughly 23-0 in a football game.

Yet, as a fan, it's easier to persuade yourself that you can come back from a 1-0 deficit (all we need is one lucky break!) than that you can come back from 23-0 (all we need are three touchdowns and a field goal!)

LemmusLemmus said...

Uh-oh.

8 groups, 6 matches per group equals 48 matches, not 96. Assuming you counted the number of goals correctly, this would mean the average number of goals is 2.1, which sounds about right.

Tom said...

Steve,

I really enjoy reading your blog and I used to think you know what you're talking about at least most of the time. But this strange football obsession of yours kinda makes me question my assumption.

In football (soccer) to equate the quantity of goals with the quality of the game is just beyond ridiculous. It's like judging a poem on the number of words used to write it.

There is nothing wrong with you not liking the game, but your poor analysis reflects badly on your other posts.

Howard Hughes said...

I think you nailed it - the ending passage pretty much describes the sport. However, it should be noted that a lot of Europeans, Africans and South Americans also like a high-scoring game.

1958 was a nice year. Pelé was playing, Sweden got silver, some French dude poured in goals.

Cameron said...

Steve, even the soccer fans are saying this has been a dull World Cup. Low scoring is fine, and adds to the tension, if your team is playing but it's no good for t he neutrals.

Fred said...

That scores in NFL games have gone up doesn't necessarily imply an increase in competence. It could also imply a decrease in the competence of the defenses. In truth though, it's mostly the result of NFL rules changes designed to increase scoring (e.g., the stricter enforcement of pass interference penalties).

Similarly, low scoring in soccer is in part the result of the increased competence of defenses, and rules (e.g. their hockey-like off sides rule).

David said...

>soccer fans are less concerned with scores than the 'beauty' and 'nobility' of great athletes giving their best<

Soccer playing's beauty and nobility is less evident than its almost unique awkwardness and futility.

Nanonymous said...

soccer’s offensive ineptitude

Steve, get a clue, will yah?

Also, do keep up. In the 1/8th so far, 16 goals, that's 2.7 per game, hardly low.

Your main thesis is correct - low scoring chances make high-level soccer less predictable. But that's not why people like watching soccer. I'll take tight 0:0 quality game over 7:0 goal fest any time.

bjdouble said...

You could play a basketball like tennis is played, and each team has to win three quarters (if there's a tie at 2-2, then play overtime). That would make each quarter worth something. Of course, the game might be over by the third quarter. Then you play the final quarter on a total points basis, ie if one team outscores the other (but loses on quarters) they play an overtime.

DanJ said...

Great, another soccer thread! A few random observations:

"Much of the pleasure of the World Cup comes from seeing national stereotypes validated (methodical Germans, fun-loving Brazilians, etcetera)". As of late, the Brazilian team is as organized as they come, while the Germans offer fun and improvisation. But these stereotypes refuse to die.

One great advantage soccer has as a spectator sport is the deeply human drama on display. Because the players have normal human proportions, and are not wearing paddings or helmets, we can all instantly relate to their feelings and body language.

There is also a display of religion that you don't see much in other sports, with hands and eyes raised to the sky the (latin) player often starts the celebration of his goal. This too is a genuinely human element of the (world's greatest) sport.

Anonymous said...

" scoring only 101 goals
in 96 tries "

How come there are more goals
than attempts. If one attempt is
successful it counts as 1 goal.
If 96 attempts are all
successful the result would be
96 goals.
Please someone explain to me!

George Pal said...

While watching the players on the Ghana team, couldn't help thinking 'soccer - what a waste of athleticism'.

Anonymous said...

Is the grindingly low scoring in the World Cup soccer tournament a bug or—as I’m finally starting to suspect—a feature? Could it be that the World Cup’s global popularity is not so much despite all the nil-nil draws as because of the grimness of the scores?


The three-match mini-season that opened the 2010 World Cup set a new record for futility with the 32 teams scoring only 101 goals in 96 tries, or just 1.05 per team per game



You know, those two paragraphs completely contradict each other. The first refers to "all the nil-nil draws" while the second noted that on average every team has scored about a goal per game, meaning the average score is 1-1.

In actual fact there have been very few scoreless draws in this World Cup. In the seven games played so far in the knock-out stage, there have been no nil-nil draws. There has not been a single penalty shootout yet in any game.

There have been 54 games in total played in this World Cup, and only six of them have ended with no score.

kaka said...

asdfasdf... has the most informative comments on the issue. As implied, "scores" are simply arbitrary quantized abstractions of to differentiate between team/individual play.

I doubt any neutral observer would find 6 day test cricket matches the most exciting sport due to their extremely high scores. Similarly, basketball is often more boring than American football due to it's quick and high scoring nature (the first 7/8th of the game is usually meaningless to the outcome).

Even with the many bad goal calls in this World Cup's low scoring matches, I can think of no example where the better team did not prevail or pass through to the qualifying round. Soccer results are far from random and good defense at the expense of offense is indeed a feature in this WC (even for the Brazilians).





Although no expert on soccer, I've lived abroad enough to pick up the game and understand the skill and appeal. Now as a parent, it appeals to me as a uniquely athletic skill sport where the entire spectrum of humanity can field competitive teams.

Anonymous said...

Here's one way to think about how low scoring in soccer keeps hope alive in fans of the losing team during mismatches. If NFL teams score almost four times as much as World Cup teams (with NFL scoring being about 5/8ths touchdowns and 3/8ths field goals), then being down 1-0 in a soccer game is like being down roughly 23-0 in a football game.


I see where you're going here.

If the Lords of Soccer only have the wit to say that a "goal" will henceforth be know as "20 points", the American "sports fans" will be duped into thinking its a higher scoring game than it actually is, just as they are with the NFL.

It's diabolical, but brilliant!

Melykin said...

When I read "The Appeal of Nil-Nil Draws" I thought the article was about a Star Wars character or something like that. I lost interest after discovering it was about soccer.

Luke Lea said...

High-scoring basketball, by contrast, is a reducto absurdum at the opposite extreme. Making a basket is so ho-hum the game has lost all interest, especially at the pro level, where the players look to be just going through the motions.

At least the college game still has intensity (like the World Cup in this regard) -- though stripped now of its best players after freshman year, it, too, as lost interest, at least for this viewer. I think the pro game also suffers from this change; we no longer see future stars blooming before our eyes the way we did with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Kareem, etc.

I admit I have become a soccer fan in my old age. The game still surprises me with moves I have never seen before, and the athletes by any objective measure are the best in the world. Also the best looking with the possible exception of female sprinters. All this in my personal opinion of course.

Luke Lea said...

I should add about soccer that the element of luck and the importance of bad calls by the refs lends verisimilitude to real life, which is chancy and unfair. (Anybody can win!) Plus the players are not allowed to complain! As if to say "it's just a game" in the original English amateur sports tradition.

Anonymous said...

The American team, despite seemingly not noticing that its games had started until about a half hour had gone by, was, relatively speaking, an offensive juggernaut, scoring four times in its three group stage games.



When you say "relatively speaking", relative to who?

Here are all the games played thus far, with their scores. It's a shame you did not look up this information before writing this article.

tyg said...

Interesting, but I think the popularity of soccer is more path dependence (industrial revolution, elite boys schools, British Empire, etc, etc). Happenstance led soccer to be the #1 global sport, and people adjust their justifications as the sport changes. If scoring was up they'd like that, if scoring is down they'll justify liking that.

I think better fitness and training cause lower scores. 90 minutes used to be past the physical stamina of even world-class-athletes -- so more dumb plays get made, and more defense is half-hearted. This allowed the few supreme athletes (Pele) to stand out more.

Athletes today are fitter throughout the match and can keep running and playing solid defense the full 90 minutes.

kaka said...

One thing that could help Americans understand the skill and athleticism of soccer would be more close up camera work on the players with/near the ball.

Without playing the game beyond kiddy levels it's hard to appreciate the skill, physicality, speed and endurance the sport requires. Perhaps a split screen with both a wide angle field view and a closeup of the players near the ball would inform Americans like Steve how demanding the game is.

Something exceptional about soccer is how it appears to be the most HBD-inclusive physically demanding team sport in the world. Where else could Latin America and Asia outperform Europe and Africa in the qualifying rounds? Where wealthy and advanced Germany, Japan and S. Korea be as obsessed as sub-Saraha Africa about the same game?

Ingerland Ingerland Ingerland said...

Here's one way to think about how low scoring in soccer keeps hope alive in fans of the losing team during mismatches. If NFL teams score almost four times as much as World Cup teams (with NFL scoring being about 5/8ths touchdowns and 3/8ths field goals), then being down 1-0 in a soccer game is like being down roughly 23-0 in a football game.

Yet, as a fan, it's easier to persuade yourself that you can come back from a 1-0 deficit (all we need is one lucky break!) than that you can come back from 23-0 (all we need are three touchdowns and a field goal!)

Yes. That seems self evident.

But its not just as a fan that these things count.

When Lampard equalised in the recent England-Germany game I really did think I might be watching one the most entertaining World Cup games ever.

The goal gets disallowed and team moral, already strained from being 2-0 down, collapses.

I don't follow NFL. But a similar argument to yours could be made of rugby versus soccer.

Although no doubt rugby fans will say that rugby players are made of sterner stuff.

And that might be true.

headache said...

During the Germany-England match it was obvious that the Germans started pulling off their scorers to save them for the next game once the 2-goal lead was in. Same for Brazil vs. Chile. In professional soccer a 2-goal lead seems sufficient. Teams such as Brazil can probably also last on a 1-goal lead, however that would be too tight for the Germans and their dynamic game-style.
So it seems the motor here is that you need only 1 to 2 goals to win, and after that you buckle down to save yourself for the next game. Obviously draws suggest that both teams are of the same caliber. With modern defensive techniques a professional team will mostly prevent scoring unless it is overpowered by a much stronger team.
What pops out for me is that the teams seem divided into clear competence strata, and teams within a stratum either score a draw or only just win (fluke), whereas with teams from different strata the one dominates the other and settles down after achieving a comfortable lead.

Anonymous said...

By the most recent year, NFL teams were up to 4.1 scores per game (2.6 touchdowns and 1.5 field goals), while World Cup teams were down to 1.05. Hence, the NFL now sees almost four times as many scores as the World Cup.


Yet, both enterprises have flourished extravagantly over the last four decades.... It seems likely that the two kinds of football, in their different but both triumphant evolutions, are giving the people what they want. Hard as it can be for Americans to believe, people like soccer’s offensive ineptitude.



The logic of this position is that all sports fans should stop watching the NFL, with it's pitiful 4.1 scores per game, and switch to basketball, where teams score closer to fifty times per game!

But then, even the basketball fans really ought to stop watching basketball (with its scoring ineptitude) and follow tennis instead, where scoring 100 times per game by the winning player is the norm and scoring 200 times is not uncommon.

Or we could drop this whole idiotic line of discussion and appreciate different sports for their differences.

airtommy said...

The World Cup hasn't even started yet. The Group Stage and the Round of 16 are just warmups, an extension of the endless qualifying matches. The quarterfinals are when the real World Cup begins.

Italy had an aging defense with no strikers. So why did the media make it out as if Italy's failure to advance past the Group Stage was an epic collapse? Because the media was tacitly admitting that the Group Stage itself is a joke and no self-respecting soccer country could imagine failing to advance past it.

Anonymous said...

"(I wonder how a men vs women soccer game would turn out. It'd prolly more competive than men vs women football.)"

The women get destroyed. It isn't even remotely competitive. Men are simply too much bigger, faster, and stronger than women in soccer. It's very similar to men vs. women in basketball: the difference in size and power is overwhelming in favor of men.

During the 1990s when the USWNT was defeating most other women's national teams by lop-sided scores, they would routinely lose to men's teams in practice matches, even lowly men's high school soccer teams, or youth boys soccer teams, would beat the women, and it wasn't even close.

"Interesting article but I don't buy it. The only explanation is the world is retarded to like a game where score is 0-0."

You don't get it, so it means the rest of the world is 'retarded'. Yeah, great logic there. I have a better idea: you don't get liking 0-0 draws because you don't get it. You're clueless. So to protect your fragile ego (because you can't admit you don't get it) you conclude that the rest of the world is retarded.

Some of the best soccer matches I have seen have been 0-0 draws. Two closely matched sides battling each other for 90 minutes, balancing on the edge of a knife; coming close to scoring many times but the other side stopping them. What's not to like?

Consider the excitement of the USA's 1-0 victory over Algeria last week. For 90 minutes, the USA were going to tie and fail to make it out of the group stage. The USA had a goal disallowed on a bogus offside call in the 1st half. The tension builds, and builds, and builds, as the USA attacks and attacks and attacks the Algeria goal but fails to score. Finally, in the last possible moment, on a play from one box to the other, the full length of the field, from GK Howard to Donovan to (IIRC?) Altidore to Dempsey to a rebound to Landon Donovan who scores and the USA wins the group. It is an incredible release of tension; an orgasm; a release. There's nothing else in sports like it.

Nick Hornsby is quite correct: it is misery, exquisite misery, but we endure it for that one transcendent moment that comes along occasionally that makes it all worth it.

"On the other hand, maybe people appreciate something other than the score."

Well, no sh!t, Sherlock. You are getting close.

@Steve Sailer: You are forgetting that gridiron football awards scoring opportunities for failure: fail to score a touchdown, and you still may get a shot at a field goal.

If you simply compare goals vs. touchdowns, the number of goals per minute in soccer is comparable to the number of touchdowns per minute in gridiron. Remember, your average NFL games goes on for over three hours in real time; less than two hours in real time for soccer. So "waiting for a goal" in soccer is not any longer a task, in real time, than "waiting for a touchdown" in real time in gridiron.

You don't notice this because you get fooled by all those multi-point scoring, extra points, and field goals - rewards for failure. Soccer is more binary: you either score a goal, or you don't. There's no scoring for "coming close" in soccer.

You're getting closer, Steve; starting to figure this thing out. World Cup isn't the best way to learn, though. Teams are thrown together at last minute, playing conservatively in order not to exit the tournament early. You get a better idea of what to watch from following the Premier League, La Liga, Champions League, etc. World Cup is a different beast from club soccer.

Florida resident said...

Dear Mr. Sailer !
Would you like to comment on the USA - Ghana play from the position of yours: that soccer is is white man's game (requiring more endurance), as opposed to football (American one, requiring fast spurts, like 100 meter dash), or basketball ?
Respectfully yours, Florida resident.

Matra said...

but the Italians have been disconcertingly devoted to winning ugly. Rather than playing like Benvenuto Cellini-style supremos showing off individual brilliance while plunging into collective anarchy, Italian teams have traditionally emulated a contrary regional archetype: the cunning, miserly peasant family.

The Italian catenaccio does reflect one aspect of Italian character: cynicism.

John Foot's book on Italian football ('Winning at All Costs') at Google books - see page 134 - mentions this "particularly Italian" cynicism in football involving everything from play-acting and other tactics, both on and off the pitch, to evolutionary theories about Italian physical inferiority. (If you think your opponents are physically superior you must win with guile).

This cynicism can also be observed in Italian attitudes towards government, whether it be ideology, tax evasion, or official explanations for events (they're big on conspiracy theories). The recent match-fixing scandal that saw numerous Italian teams demoted and punished in other ways probably did not come as much of a surprise to the average Italian who just assumes things aren't on the up and up. If that is your attitude then good sportsmanship and playing by the rules is just hopelessly naive.

LemmusLemmus said...

Um, was I talking through my hat in my comment above or did you change it from "1.05 per game" to "1.05 per team per game"? If it's the former, apologies.

On the men vs. women question, a few years back the German women's national team played VfB Stuttgart under-17s in preparation for the World Cup and lost 3-0. They then went to the World Cup and won. (In fairness, I think Stuttgart under-17s were German champions that year.) I would think the differences are even bigger in gridiron, though, but that's a sport I don't know much about.

Gorilla said...

Rule changes to the NFL that have given more and more protection to the quarterback probably account for most of the increased scores. Also the salary cap era makes it hard for a team to continue to build its defense year after year while remaining under the cap and signing the offensive weapons fans insist on. Teams tend to have defenses that start young, get good, and then get old and give up a ton of points before needing to be scrapped.

The rest of the Anglophone world plays cricket, which is an even bigger exercise in statistics than baseball. And many American football statistics are spurious: a team can easily win a game despite having 25% of the time of possession and quarterbacks who throw for 300+ yards only win 50% of the time. Defensive stats, sacks and half-sacks are as sparse as goals and assists in soccer.

Glad to see you write so much about soccer though.

Steve Sailer said...

"Consider the excitement of the USA's 1-0 victory over Algeria last week. For 90 minutes, the USA were going to tie and fail to make it out of the group stage. The USA had a goal disallowed on a bogus offside call in the 1st half. The tension builds, and builds, and builds, as the USA attacks and attacks and attacks the Algeria goal but fails to score. Finally, in the last possible moment, on a play from one box to the other, the full length of the field, from GK Howard to Donovan to (IIRC?) Altidore to Dempsey to a rebound to Landon Donovan who scores and the USA wins the group. It is an incredible release of tension; an orgasm; a release. There's nothing else in sports like it."

Well said.

And that illustrates the final point I made: it's easier to remember a stirring yet comprehensive narrative description of a 1-0 soccer game than of a well-executed NFL game simply because the soccer game is simpler in outline.

Compare that 1-0 game to the 2009 Super Bowl won 27-23 by Pittsburgh over Arizona. Because the two NFL teams scored a total of nine times in the game, it's very hard to remember a narrative of the game. News stories about it typically mentioned the final touchdown pass, then quickly went into statistics (Kurt Warner 31-43 for 377 yards, Ben Roethlisberger 21-30 for 256 yards) to summarize the complex action.

Personally, I like statistics, but they aren't of first order appeal to most human beings: David v. Goliath was a 1-0 fight, and that's what people like.

David Davenport said...

... Two closely matched sides battling each other for 90 minutes, balancing on the edge of a knife; coming close to scoring many times but the other side stopping them. What's not to like?

North Americans who think that way can watch a hockey game.

Plus, hockey has some fights and violece.

BamaGirl said...

"(I wonder how a men vs women soccer game would turn out. It'd prolly more competive than men vs women football.)"

The women still lose, but not by as great of a margin as they would in football. Women are more relatively competitive with men in sports like tennis and distance running than they are in soccer. (Of course even then as a rule the best men always beat the best women)

Justin said...

Seems a lot of denigration of soccer comes from people who just haven't tried to play the sport competitively. Like all sports, only a former player can appreciate the skills demonstrated by the pros.

In fact, the declining skill level of pro basketball and football players in the NBA and NFL has been noted by many. Many players are in the league NOT because of their skills, but because of their size and speed.

In soccer, that is inconceivable. The pro soccer play is a physical specimen of the highest order, but no one can get by without the highest level of soccer skill. Their accuracy with the ball, playing at such a fast pace under constant pressure, is truly amazing to watch.

But if you haven't played soccer competitively, I guess it doesn't seem to register.

Gorilla said...

Also, think about Arena Football. I watched a few minutes of a broadcast on NFL Network recently. If I recall correctly, the commentator mentioned that the record for touchdowns in the last minute was nine!

But it should be the more popular football right? High scoring games where most teams get 50+ points, no lead is ever safe, quick comebacks, and more physical play. But it's not, and the game is a just a spectacle that gets boring within minutes. With defense made so pitiful and useless, there's no accomplishment by the offense (and, yes, it's because the players are NFL-rejects too).

adsfasdfasdf said...

I say make the goal just one yard wider so that most scores may be 3-2 than 1-0.

asfasdfasdfasdf said...

"However, it should be noted that a lot of Europeans, Africans and South Americans also like a high-scoring game."

They certainly do but they still prefer a low scoring game where they team wins or loses-not-too-badly over a high scoring game where their team gets its ass kicked to the moon. I don't think North Koreans enjoyed losing 7-0, which in American football would be like losing 200 to 0.

Besides, people got used to thinking, as Steve said, low scores = 'we have a solid defense' and 'our offensive players are up against a powerful defense,' which is an ennobling feeling.

When scores start shooting way up high, people are more likely to wonder, 'what's with the shit defense??' than 'what a great game!'

Hockey is like soccer too in that sense.
And best chess games are ones where little happens between great players. Why? Because both sides know just about all the tricks of the other.

Paradoxically, better the opponents in a match, more 'boring' the match will be, at least for the uninitiated. But if you know the the nature of the sport and how it's played, it's not boring. For real fans, a boring game is like Portugal beating North Korea 7-0. It goes from GOOOOAAALLL to goal, goal, goal, zzzzz.

Similarly, a great judo wrestler will do dazzling things with a lesser opponent, tossing him left and right. But two evenly matched wrestlers will appear to be doing very little when, in fact, each is psyched 200% at every second.

Soccer is also, in some ways, more like a classical music symphony. The entire field is in play at all times. Just as a soccer ball can from point A to point B or C with a sudden kick, an orchestra can go from quiet to loud, from strings to brass, from horns to drums, etc.

Most sports are more like pop music, where our focus is narrower: to a single point of action or melodic line. There are long passes in football but every play presents a specific focus of attention: quarterback hands ball to runner or passes to receiver.
The ball moves around a lot in basketball but usually remains on one side of court until the shot is made or rebounded by the other side. It is essentially a half court game.

Baseball is more symphonic with pitcher functioning like a conductor but even there the action is pretty well-focused between pitcher and batter.

In soccer, the entire field is almost always in play, as the ball goes here, there, everywhere.
For the uninitiated, classical music is 'boring' cuz quite often there is no easily identifiable beat or melody. Rather, there are series of sound waves intermingling and creating new realities and situations.

Since the soccer field is twice as large as a football field, there's an epic quality. Maybe soccer is liberating for that very reason in smaller countries where people are crammed into tiny living quarters than in the big vast USA.
For people from small or poor countries, kicking the soccer ball in a huge field may feel like globe trotting, like conquering the world.

And it must be said nothing is more therapeutic than kicking a ball. In basketball, you shoot to make the goal, which isn't very relaxing. In football, you carry the ball like a burden or pass it to nail the receiver. It's nerve wracking. But much of kicking is soccer is just to kick the ball down the big wide field.

Most of the time, people use their hands to do practical work. To kick is a more a primitive urge--like angry people kicking their dogs to release their frustration. Well, it's certainly better to kick a ball than some poor animal.

Anonymous said...

"Much of the pleasure of the World Cup comes from seeing national stereotypes validated (methodical Germans, fun-loving Brazilians, etcetera)"

Actually this world cup this is the total opposite of the truth. Germany has a very creative side full of flair and scores large numbers of goals. Their midfield consists of two box-to-box midfielders (Khedria and shwinestieger) and one great young offensive technician (ozil). Their central striker, Podolski meanwhile has a reputation for laziness. The one negative is diving, already two german players have been booked for diving.

By contrast the Brazil team is led by Dunga a man known as a player for his methodical defensive play, and he has built his side along those lines, his striker Luis Fabiano is a poacher who scores off mistakes and rarely scores spectacularly. His midfield has two purely defensive midfielders (felipe melo and Gilberto silva) and one attacking midfielder (kaka). Kaka is far and away Brazil's best player and far from fun loving he is a devout christian who criticized his coach in 2006 for allowing other players to have sex during the tournament.

Of course if we are talking about national stereotypes it should be noted that the new attacking creative German team is a diverse one with the majority of players coming from immigrant backgrounds. While the new hardworking defensive Brazilian team whose players spend their nights studying the bible rather than partying has occured at the same time as Pentecostalism took off in Brazil.

jody said...

it's more accurate to analyze soccer league play. there's more scoring in regular season, regular league soccer play. then the comparison between soccer and american football would be more apples to apples.

i read that in the bundesliga, which was the only soccer league to start using the new ball 1 year ahead of time in anticipation of the world cup (smart germans are smart), scoring was about 3 goals per game both before the new ball and after.

world cup play is the ultimate "play not to lose" scenario. for the weaker teams, a 0-0 draw is infinitely preferable to a 1-0 loss. a draw gets you 1 point, a loss 0 points. effectively, you can win by not losing.

many sports have a problem with "play not to lose", but they incrementally put in rules to force action. MMA for instance is in the middle of having a massive problem with "play not to lose". this problem mainly occurs in UFC action where the stakes are highest, but can happen anytime in MMA.

the NBA had perhaps the worst "play not to lose" problem of any US sports league, which led directly to the invention of the shot clock.

Edward said...

Steve is comparing a national competition with a club competition. What he should really do is compare a club competition - NFL - with another club competition, like La Liga or Premier League, or Champions League football. Average scoring is higher in those games.

He should also remember international sport is unique because unlike at club level managers cannot buy in talent to get the most out of a star player. They have to work with what they've got, which is often 1 star player plus 10 jokers. Thus I think international football is system orientated - the individual is suppressed for the good of the team - whereas club football more often star orientated. Chelsea gets the most out of Lampard, Liverpool Gerard, Man U Rooney, Bayen Munich Robben, Barcelona Messi etc.

So Steve is comparing apples to oranges... sorry, knock out punch not yet landed.



Dear Mr. Sailer !
Would you like to comment on the USA - Ghana play from the position of yours: that soccer is is white man's game (requiring more endurance), as opposed to football (American one, requiring fast spurts, like 100 meter dash), or basketball ?
Respectfully yours, Florida resident.


I thought that to - but that's just one game. Truth should come out in the averages.

I did notice though that Ghana didn't have a good second half and had put 3 outfield substitutes on the pitch by the extra time period. The goal scored in extra time was scored on a break-away.

Fifa stats show US team ran a culmulative 148km during the match, Ghana 140km. (There were no red cards).

Anonymous said...

Men vs. Women playing American football? Women would get killed ... literally.

Dr. Naismith said...

"You could play a basketball like tennis is played, and each team has to win three quarters (if there's a tie at 2-2, then play overtime). That would make each quarter worth something. Of course, the game might be over by the third quarter. Then you play the final quarter on a total points basis, ie if one team outscores the other (but loses on quarters) they play an overtime."

This comment was off-topic, and got buried in the thread (most of the rest of the comments were fascinating), but I think this is great since I pretty much had the same idea. My idea was to make all basketball games five quarters, the team that wins three quarters wins the game. The game lasts as many quarters as it takes a team to win three quarters, some will last three quarters, some four, and some will go five quarters.

The NBA has a huge problem with officiating, worse than any other professional sport including soccer (where the problem is also pretty bad), and that is the reason I don't watch. But agree that the games don't have any tension since scoring happens all the time, and you really only have to watch the fourth quarter unless it is a blowout.

By comparison, the low scoring in international soccer is not that bad, and they probably only need to do minor adjustments, comparable with lowering the pitcher's mound. This year they seem to have tried a different ball. I don't get the offsides rule, but before they touch that I'd like to see them introduce the concept of settling games in overtime instead of allowing teams to get points for ties or to win through penalty kicks, this probably will encourage more aggressive strategies in the international tournament.

Nanonymous said...

The women still lose, but not by as great of a margin as they would in football.

The soccer score would be more than 50:0 if men decide to play seriously. At that point the margin should be considered infinitely wide.

Women are more relatively competitive with men in sports like tennis and distance running than they are in soccer.

Maybe. Yet, a 600+ ranked chain smoking male player (Karsten Braasch) beat top female players (Williams sisters) 6:1, 6:2.

Fred said...

"I thought that to - but that's just one game."

Actually, Ghana knocked us out last time around too.

BamaGirl said...

"The soccer score would be more than 50:0 if men decide to play seriously. At that point the margin should be considered infinitely wide. "

Not really buying that. At the college level they do hold these men v women exhibition games sometimes and the men usually outscore the women by 5 to 10 goals. There is no indication that they aren't playing seriously, and if they aren't totally serious I still find it hard to believe that the margin would be "50 to 0". My guess is that elite women are on the same level as a decent but not elite high school boys team.

Nanonymous said...

At the college level ... men usually outscore the women by 5 to 10 goals. I still find it hard to believe that [at much higher level] the margin would be "50 to 0".

Let's say 10 at the college level. The point is, at the very top the difference will be larger. A reader of this blog should get the idea easily: we are talking about extreme right side of the two distributions with significantly different means.

adsfasdfasdf said...

"Men vs. Women playing American football? Women would get killed ... literally."

How about Asian men vs Black women? Timothy Nguyen vs Thelma Washington.

Anonymous said...

Really there isn't that much appeal in watching a nil-nil draw. If people knew in advance that a match will be nil-nil they wouldn't watch it. Except that they don't.

I come from a country where Soccer is popular, and I can assure you that 99% of people appreciate high-scoring games over low-scoring games. And contrary to what the first commentator, most people really are more concerned with 'Who Wins', not so much 'What Happens'. Most soccer fans don't really appreciate the fine art of defending. It just isn't very visually appealing.

Bear Bryant's ghost said...

>"scores" are simply arbitrary quantized abstractions of to differentiate between team/individual play<

Loser.

Anonymous said...

"This comment was off-topic, and got buried in the thread (most of the rest of the comments were fascinating), but I think this is great since I pretty much had the same idea. My idea was to make all basketball games five quarters, the team that wins three quarters wins the game. The game lasts as many quarters as it takes a team to win three quarters, some will last three quarters, some four, and some will go five quarters."

Five Quarters? Interesting...

Reg Cæsar said...

Baseball is more symphonic with pitcher functioning like a conductor ... --Asdf...etc. (the man with no left thumb or right hand)

This would be a most fascinating analysis, but for one little mistake-- it's the catcher who performs the "conductor" role in baseball.

Symphonic conductor, that is. I suppose the pitcher could be compared to a railroad conductor!

Reg Cæsar said...

"scores" are simply arbitrary quantized abstractions of to differentiate between team/individual play --Kaka

Loser. --Bear Bryant's ghost

If Kaka's comment makes him a "loser", BBG's makes him an anterior orifice.

I don't remember Bryant himself displaying such bad manners, or snobbery. I suspect he'd just have ignored such "Kaka-phonous" analyses.

Silver said...

Not really buying that. At the college level they do hold these men v women exhibition games sometimes and the men usually outscore the women by 5 to 10 goals. There is no indication that they aren't playing seriously, and if they aren't totally serious I still find it hard to believe that the margin would be "50 to 0".

It's so cute the way women think they are as good as men at manly things (ie at the 95% of things that matter in this world).

I don't know why they're so crushed to find out they're not, though. It's not as if men have the slightest desire to get rid of women (the way man-hating she-things want to do without men).

Chris said...

"The appeal of high-scoring American football—with its action, expertise, and comebacks against the clock—is as obvious as the appeal of American summer movies."

No wish to denigrate other people's favourite sports, but as far as I can see that appeal is only really obvious to Americans and Canadians.

I think most people outside North America find gridiron football slow and predictable. I don't doubt it has its attractions, but it's such an acquired taste compared to more accessible sports such as association football and rugby.