Sunday, June 08, 2008

Football Myths - De-mystified

Football fever gripping the world from remote (to me, in India) Europe, a lot of stuff has been written about football. The more arcane of them that I came across was a scientific / statistical look at football myths. Let me admit, the claim that there are so many myths itself sounded like a myth to me. Let me list some of them and then the findings of scientists.

  1. Football is chancy
  2. A game lasts 90 minutes
  3. One fouled against should not take the free kick
  4. A goal just before half time is more important than one at the beginning
  5. The danger of a goal against a team increases immediately after a goal by that team
  6. A new trainer brings more wins
  7. 40 percent of all goals are accidental
  8. The goal keeper can manipulate the shooter from 11 meters
  9. A team in a red jersey wins more often
  10. Ball shot with a swerve defeats the mind
  11. The team playing at home has an advantage

  1. Eli Ben-Naim of the Los Alomos National Laboratory analysed the scores of 300,000 games, including 43,000 from the British Premier League, and found that a surprising 45% of the time the team considered to be the underdog won. So the ‘myth’ is not a myth but reality!
  2. False! Sports scientists from the Augsburg University analysed the games from the finals of the 2006 World championships and found that the ball is in play, allowed by the referee, on an average for 55 minutes a game. Just the average 39 free kicks per match takes away about 14 minutes.
  3. False! On an average when the player fouled against converted 73% of the time and others 75%. This difference is statistically insignificant.
  4. False again. A goal just before half time had no significant influence on the course of the game. This was the result of the analysis from the games of the British Premier League done by Peter Ayton from the City University London
  5. False too. The theory is that the while the team is still celebrating a goal there is a goal against them. This was also analysed by Ayton and found that there is no basis for this belief.
  6. David Forrest from the English University of Salford put under the lens, the change of coaches in Argentina. No, new brooms do not sweep better.
  7. Pre-game predictions are like weather forecasts say the scientists. Weather forecasts have a better chance of being correct than football game prognosis! 40% of all goals are accidental or happen by chance.
  8. If a goal keeper stands 6 – 10 cm to the left of the centre point between the goal posts, the shooter is 60% more likely to shoot to the right. If the goal keeper stands to one side, obviously, the shooter may see through it.
  9. Juergen Klinsman prefers red shirts. But it has no influence on the game! The percentage of teams having the following colours is: White 29%, Red 23%, Blue 21%, Red-White 9%, etc. The scientists could not, however, find a relationship between team colours and wins.
  10. A ball shot with a spin travels in a straight line for some time and suddenly swerves as if pulled by a rubber band. When a ball spins on its own axis it experiences the influence of the air around it and is described by the ‘Magnus Effect’. Scientists conducted simulated experiments with trained footballers and found that a goal keeper could not predict the path of the ball correctly.
  11. There is no such thing as home advantage, at least in football, found statistician Eva Heinrichs of the University of Dortmund. It apparently played a role in the seventies and eighties. She found that less than half of all matches were won by the home team. The statistician ascribes this to the generally lower goals per match in recent times compared to the seventies and eighties.

If this is the case for football what is the fate of cricket? The pundits use the cliché the “glorious uncertainties” of the game and still go right ahead and predict what happens to matches!!

In any case, I am off to watch Nadal Vs FedEx. I predict that Federer will win. Call me a fool? Man live by hope alone.

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