World Cup Fever: Descriptive statistics and all-time records

With the World Cup taking place simultaneously as the beginning of my vacations, I may have spent the last week binging on football matches. One thing I’ve noticed is how the games in this edition of the World Cup have been so far more exciting and fun to watch in comparison with South Africa 2010. And it’s not just me, as soon as you start to Google news and articles on Brazil 2014, you will realize that there seems to be a consensus among sports journalists on how team’s tactics have changed, how the plays have become more offensive, and how the teams are now scoring more goals per matches (an average of 2.8, according to FIFA’s official website). In fact, as I am writing this, 7 goals were just scored in the Switzerland vs. France match (France: 5, Switzerland: 2).

Another interesting thing about this World Cup is how some Latin American “underdogs” have surpassed previous expectations with regards to their performance in the group stage. Obviously, they have the close distance advantage, which probably makes it easier for their fans to travel to Brazil to support their teams (one case where it was obvious was the Chile vs. Spain match, where you could hear loud and clear the presence of Chilean fans chanting to their players); but also, they have been playing surprisingly good football, making their presence felt in the field even while being the David to other European Goliaths. The most vivid examples so far have been Chile’s victory against Spain, and Costa Rica’s victory against Italy, both of which have served to qualify the respective winner for the next round. Nevertheless, we have also seen amazing performances by other European giants, such as Germany’s 4-0 against Portugal, and the Netherlands’ 5-1 against Spain.

Before the official kick off, I had the hypothesis that Brazil was going to be the indisputable champion of this World Cup. I mean, even though I myself am not an avid Brazil fan, the fact that they are regulars in the World Cup winner’s podium, that they have such big names in their roster, AND that on top of that they are the host country should somehow work in their advantage. However, this then got me thinking: Well, does the fact that Brazil is a host country actually make it more likely for them to win the title? And, can the outstanding performance of many Latin American teams be explained by the fact that the World Cup is indeed taking place closer to home? And, finally:  Even though some European countries have also been displaying solid performances, what are the actual odds of an European country winning a World Cup in Latin America?

Of course, these questions led me deep into a spiral of looking of World Cup stats and facts (I have way too much time off). Unfortunately, the small sample size (only 19 World Cups) and the actual limits of my commitment to this topic make it hard, if not impossible for me to perform any serious form of econometric analysis, but I still find that there are some pretty interesting facts, descriptive statistics, and all-time records worth sharing below, for your personal enlightenment:

  • The first World Cup ever was in Uruguay in 1930, in which only 13 teams played. Uruguay was chosen as the host country due to the fact that its football team had retained the title in the 1928 Olympics, and also to commemorate the centenary of its first constitution.
  • Of the 32 countries playing in this World Cup, only 8 of them have ever won the title: Brazil (’58, ’62, ’70, ’94, ’02), Italy (’34, ’38, ’82, ’06), Germany (’54, ’74, ’90), Uruguay (’30, ’50), Argentina (’78, ’86), England (’66), France (’98), and Spain (’10).
  • Out of a total of 19 World Cups, the host country has been the champion in 31.6% of them, and has played in 42% of the final matches. So, it is actually not even THAT likely that Brazil HAS to win.
  • As a matter of fact, Brazil did NOT win the World Cup the only other time it hosted it, in 1950 (Uruguay did).
  • 47.37% of the World Cups have been won by a Latin American country, while the remaining 52.63% have been won by a European country.
  • The farthest a non-European or a non-Latin-American team has even gotten to in a World Cup is to the Semi-Finals stage (the U.S. in ’30, and Turkey and South Korea in ’02).
  • Now, all of the 6 World Cups hosted in Latin America have been won by a Latin American country, and, out of the 10 World Cups hosted in Europe, 9 have been won by an European Country. Maybe playing in your same hemisphere does make a difference, after all.
  • Brazil is the only non-European country to have won a World Cup in Europe.
  • Brazil is also the only country to have won a World Cup in more than one continent: America, Europe, and Asia.

In fact, there are a number of facts and figures that proves just how noticeable Brazil’s performance has been throughout all the World Cups:

  • Brazil is the only team to have participated in all 19 World Cups (Followed only by Italy and Germany, who have participated in 17 World Cups each).
  • Brazil is also the team to have scored the most goals in the World Cup, with a total of 210 goals (Followed by Germany with 206, and Italy with 126).
  • However, if we average the number of goals by the number of matches, Hungary is the team with the most goals scored per match (2.72), and Brazil stands in second place, with 2.16 goals per match (Germany takes the third place, with 2.08 goals per match).
  • Brazil is also the team with the most successive wins, winning in 11 consecutive matches between the World Cups of 2002 and 2006 (Mexico is the team with the most successive defeats, losing 9 consecutive times between the World Cups of ’30, ’50, ’54, ’58).
  • Brazil is one of the only two teams to have ever won two consecutive World Cup titles (’58, ’62). The other team is Italy, winning in ’34 and ’38.

As for other interesting World Cup facts:

  • Mexico is the team that has had the most losses in the history of the World Cup (24 in total). Followed by Argentina and Germany with 20 losses each.
  • The World Cup of 1954, which was hosted in Switzerland, has been one of the most impressive in terms of record-setting. It set the record for highest average goals per game overall (5.38), most goals scored by a single team (Hungary, with 27 goals), highest average goals scored per game by a single team (Hungary again, with 5.4 goals on average per game), and most goals scored in total a single game (Austria: 7, Switzerland: 5). Also, it was the very first World Cup with television coverage.
  • The greatest margin of victory in a single game has been 9 goals, scored by Hungary against South Korea in 1954, and later equated by Yugoslavia against Zaire in 1974, and Hungary against El Salvador in 1982. (What ever became of Hungary’s national football team?!)
  • The largest goal deficit ever overcome in a win has been three goals. Once in a match between Austria and Switzerland in 1954, where the score went from a 0-3 in favour of Switzerland to a 7-5 in favour of Austria. This is the same match that set the world record for the most goals scored in a single match. In fact, this match is known by its German name: Hitzeschlacht von Lausanne (roughly translated to “The heat battle of Lausanne”), due to the high temperature that it was played under 40°C (104°F).
  • Portugal equaled this record in 1966, when it ended up defeating North Korea with a score of 5-3, overcoming an initial losing score of 0-3.
  • Bolivia and Algeria are the two teams that hold the record for having played the most matches without scoring a single goal (5 matches each).
  • Finally, the most World Cup encounters any two teams have ever had is 7 (Brazil vs. Sweden, and Germany vs. Yugoslavia).

Naturally, these figures do not yet account for the currently ongoing World Cup, which, as cliché as it is to say it, might be full of surprises. In fact, this initial group stage has hinted that perhaps we may see a new face among the World Cup champions. I am personally more interested to see whether the precedent of having a Latin American country win a Latin American-hosted World Cup will stand. Even though the odds would suggest that it is highly unlikely, remember that the odds are based on a very small sample, and that both the sport of football and the World Cup itself have changed over the years, becoming increasingly more globalized, and challenging any preconceived notions we might have on who is “objectively” more likely to win the title. Anyways, the upcoming weeks will end up showing just how groundbreaking (or not) this World Cup will be, and in the meanwhile, we can all just continue enjoying from the greatest football feast in the world.


P.S.: The post-match memes have been amazing.


Lluvia Londinense

La lluvia londinense no moja. No es como esos aguaceros de Santo Domingo que dejan las calles inundadas, convirtiéndose en la peor pesadilla de carros y peatones por igual. Nadie se arremanga los pantalones para saltar los charcos que deja la lluvia londinense, nadie se cubre la cabeza con una funda de supermercado, y nadie barre los gazebos o las terrazas para evitar que se repose el agua. La lluvia londinense no anuncia que ya se acerca con una caravana de truenos, ni hace a las aceras gritar cuando las gotas se arrojan violentamente hacia ellas. Qué va, la lluvia londinense cae con cierta gracia sobre el pavimento, con esa actitud tan british de evitar a toda costa ser la causa de una molestia.

A lo mejor mis amigos y familiares en Santo Domingo no se dieron cuenta de este contraste cuando les dije que me mudaba a Londres. La reacción era siempre la misma: “Pero ahí llueve todo el tiempo”, como si se tratase de una lluvia inhabilitadora como la de Santo Domingo, y no esta pobre excusa de disturbio atmosférico. “Me compro una buena sombrilla y punto” respondía siempre, a sabiendas de que no me podría importar menos qué tanto lloviese o no.

Pero qué más da, si al final uno se acostumbra a todo. A los días grises, a andar en esas guaguas rojas de dos pisos, al “cheers mate”, “lovely”, y “brilliant”, y hasta a pagar aproximadamente el equivalente a 80 pesos dominicanos por un mango desabrío. A los apartamentos claustrofóbicos, la mala comida, y la agotadora logística inglesa. A los vagones apretados del tube en hora pico, las distancias exageradas, y a pararse a la derecha en las escaleras eléctricas. De hecho, creo que casi me acostumbro a mirar al lado contrario antes de cruzar la calle.

Y todo suele ir bien entre rutina y rutina. Pero de vez en cuando, surgen esos inútiles monólogos internos sobre qué se supone que es “el hogar”, y particularmente, en cual hemisferio del mundo está el mío. Dudo que sean pocos los estudia-fuera que no se pregunten lo mismo en algún punto. Claro, están los que siempre han sabido que volverán, los que toman por sentado que no volverán, y los que dicen que flotan y que van a ver dónde acaban, aún sabiendo, bien en el fondo donde preferirían estar. Aún así, los planes de asentamiento futuro todavía no son más que un horizonte lejano, y por lo tanto no inmunizan a nadie contra ese familiar virus de nostalgia.

Como cualquier otro virus, la nostalgia viene por temporadas. Mis observaciones y experiencia propia me sugieren una cierta correlación entre un aumento en la frecuencia de síntomas y la llegada del invierno. En especial, esas primeras semanas de diciembre, cuando todo parece girar en torno a los planes navideños . Es ahí cuando la distancia verdaderamente empieza a adquirir peso. Luego del Año Nuevo los síntomas suelen contenerse por un buen tiempo, aunque claro está, uno que otro domingo te pueden tomar por sorpresa.

Como aquel fin de semana que me encontré cocinando un mangú de plátanos, y no pude evitar pensar si me encontraba en medio de un ejercicio de cocina, o un ejercicio de memoria. O aquel otro fin de semana cuando estaba escuchando música en casa, y de repente vino a caer “El Niágara en Bicicleta”, canción que sólo sirvió para arrastrarme a una espiral de éxitos del clásico Juan Luis, en un intento de evocar los sonidos familiares de la isla. A veces esa misma nostalgia me lleva a pasar horas muertas mirando fotos de años atrás, mucho antes de que se me evaporara el sol de la piel y se me suavizaran los rizos con el cambio de clima. Años atrás, cuando estas cuestiones metafísicas y preguntas existenciales no tenían relevancia aguna.

Sin embargo, a veces me pregunto cuál es el punto de esta nostalgia. Pondero si quizás no sea más que un ejercicio de Rosy Retrospection, o de pintar la memoria cómo nos gustaría guardarla. Recordar en rosa la supuesta armonía de las relaciones que se quedaron en la isla, en turquesa aquellas icónicas playas infinitas que supuestamente dejé atrás, y en amarillo el brillo de un sol que calienta pero no ahoga. En fin, recordarlo todo como lo pintan los anuncios del turismo: como si no fuese más que sonrisas, alegría, y merengue.

Pero claro, esa memoria selectiva es el síntoma principal de la nostalgia. Sea cual sea la realidad está ya a 7,023 kilómetros en algún lugar del Caribe. De vez en cuando me tropiezo con una que otra noticia que me llama la atención, pero las tormentas en el trópico se convierten sólo en brisa al llegar al norte. Y claro, mientras más enterada estoy me doy cuenta de la paradoja: todo está cambiando, pero todo sigue igual. Me pregunto entonces si ya a este punto seré satélite de otra órbita, o si la isla todavía ejerce su fuerza gravitacional sobre mí. Me pregunto qué tanto cambiará el significado de la palabra “volver” con los años, y si alguna vez estos vuelos de ida serán vuelos de vuelta. En fin, la nostalgia disfruta de las preguntas capciosas, de poner a prueba nuestra decisión de echar alas y no raíces. Sólo hay que esperar que los síntomas bajen. A veces toma algunas horas, a veces días, en algunos casos ha durado semanas… pero bueno, el virus siempre termina volviendo a la atmósfera, esperando ser lavado por una lluvia que no moja.


In defense of Economics

Last week I ran into an article that really caught my attention. Students from the Economics faculty of the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid were submitting a petition to change the way that Economics is currently being taught to them. What was bothering them? How the teaching of Economics is pretty much centered around the views of the“New Classical” school, how these models are of little use in today’s policy-making, as proven by their inability to predict and manage the financial crises of the past decade, how Economists like to forget sometimes that we are, in fact, a social science, and not an exact science, and how a broader view of Economics, comprising the teachings of authors such as Marx, Keynes, Smith, and other classical and contemporary authors should be included in the curriculum. Fair Enough.

Of course, as a former Econ undergrad, their claims resonated with innumerable classroom debates and discussions I had back in the day. In fact, I remember how in my very last Economics class, when we were having our “wrap up” discussion, I commented at how impressed I was at the fact that there is so much energy wasted in Economics in the incessant questioning of the raison d’être of the discipline. I mean, the claims in this protest were not exactly a novelty, and there is, in fact, a dense body of literature from top-notch economists that is dedicated to the critique of the way Economics is taught: Are we teaching university students the right models? Is this really useful for policy-making? Are the Neoclassical models the way to go? Why did we even have to go from a Keynesian world view, to an RBC world view? Why is it that NONE of these models can actually predict why crises have to happen? Can we even model crises? Are we making the right assumptions? Is it really our fault that the world is going to pieces? Etc etc etc…

Having done my major in the Liberal Arts faculty, I obviously could not identify myself perfectly with the concerns of these students signing the petition. Thinking back about my program, I find that there was a lot of flexibility in the subjects you could choose (although I am aware that many other of my former classmates would probably not feel the same way), and the only subjects that were really “compulsory” were intermediate micro, intermediate macro, and statistics. In fact, you could  get your Economics major without even taking a single class of Econometrics (although I chose to take it, because I’m a geek of course). Point is, the North American Liberal Arts Economics program probably does not feel as claustrophobic as its European and Latin American counterparts. Talking to my fellow Economics student friends from the DR, I see how my program requirements seem very “wishy-washy” next to their math-cantered-mostly-compulsory-classes one. But hey, at least we got to read a lot, and write papers, and work our “analytical mind” muscles (‘cause that’s what Liberal Arts is about, right?).

Anyways, my intention here is not to undergo a comparison exercise between both systems (I mean, how could we even design a counterfactual to test under which one did we actually end better off?), but rather to revisit some of the reasons why Economics, as a “science” gets so much trash from inside and outside of the field. First off,  I have heard many times the complaint of why Economists can’t just be humble.  You know, like Anthropologists, or Historians, or Philosophers… who are well aware of the limits of the precision of their findings, and do not claim that highly-stylized models that are built with the cement of unrealistic assumptions could hold the truths to the Universe.

Well, unfortunately you do not see protesters on the streets complaining about how a biased retelling of their country’s history made them lose their jobs, or how, because of the state of their nation’s philosophic thinking there is no food on the supermarket shelves and their children are starving. Because, you see, the “mistakes” of other social sciences don’t usually make the front pages of the newspapers, and they probably do not have such a tangible impact on people’s lives. This is precisely what puts Economics in such a tricky place: It’s not that we’re posers wanting to hop on the “exact sciences” bandwagon, but the scope of the task that has been entrusted to us, and the high expectations that we will, indeed, succeed as finding the answers, is even ridiculous, if you think about it.

I mean, bottom line, we have to figure out how individuals and governments make decisions, and how those decisions can snowball into either economic prosperity or economic crises. Do you see the problem there yet? We’re dealing with the choices of human beings…. How on Earth can you make an accurate mathematical model based on the behaviour of human beings? Do you think we all just act in the same way, and that you can accurately predict the extent to our reactions to certain events? Of course not. And yet, we just carry on by assuming that we’re all rational, forward-looking and optimizing individuals who will make maximizing economic choices.

After a while, of course, we came into the realization that we humans were not–surprise, surprise- all that rational after all. In fact, we’re not even close to rational, so we even came up with a new branch of Economics to explain all the different ways in which we are irrational, causing our conventional economic explanations to be mistaken. Of course, it was probably not the wisest move to try to amend the highly-questioned field of Economics with the only other equally-contested “pseudo-science”: Psychology (for the record, this is not my view of Psychology, but I did want to highlight the fact that back in the day, Psychology also got a lot of trash from the other disciplines because it was pretending to be “something that it was not” i.e. an actual “exact” science). Still, most of this Behavioural Economics stuff is taught (if at all) at the periphery of what would constitute the main economic curriculum, which to some, may still suffer from delusions of grandeur from its own analytic precision Utopia.

And of course, we have the cliché of all the attacks to the field:  “Why do you even study Economics, when NONE of the Economic “models” of the time could even predict the last crisis?” Ahh, if I got a penny for every time I heard that before or during my undergrad (actually, make it a nickel, because, you know… inflation). Well, first of all, a model predicting a crisis would be, in fact, an oxymoron. Crises are by definition unpredictable (if we could predict them, we would just try to do something about it and see if we could play with destiny, wouldn’t we?), and models are, by definition, ideal. Deep down, I feel that economic models suffer from a salience issue in the collective mind. Like horoscopes. Think of it this way: those who believe in horoscopes do so because they give more weight to those times that the horoscope has been correct, forgetting about the many, many times that horoscopes made a completely inaccurate prediction. Well, same goes with Economic models: we are completely torn apart by the media and non-Economic professors in every faculty whenever we miss, but hey, nobody ever gives us credit for all the plain-vainilla stuff that our models can actually predict with impressive accuracy! Because nobody cares about plain-vainilla stuff, and because plain-vainilla stuff does not make the front of the newspapers or sends protesters to the streets in Greece. Again: Salience.

And of course, our models fail whenever there’s uncertainty in the way, and that uncertainty, most of the time has something to do about human behaviour. But to me, the problem is not in the models per se. (Economic) models are abstractions, they are not supposed to be an all-encompassing explanation of how, exactly, the world works. They make up for a toolbox of possible options, rather than a definite prescription. Because Economics is not about what works, but about what works when, and models cannot replace a discretionary approach based on context-specific information. Think about how our greatest Economic theories came about: Keynesianism pretty much surged initially as a response to the Great Depression in 1929, so naturally, its models were developed thinking about a world where Government Spending can save the day. A few decades later we would have a paradigm shift, as economists stood puzzled at why the increase in inflation was not bringing a decrease in unemployment, as the Keynesian models of the time predicted. So they went on, saying how these models were “an unreliable guide to policy-making” (sound familiar?) and how we needed to be more scientific about the way we carry Economics in order to avoid similar disasters in the future. So they came up with the Neoclassical models, which worked for some time, but of course, eventually, other macroeconomic events took place that made other economists question those models too, etc etc etc…

Point is, the story is always the same: something seems to work… until it doesn’t. Because economic models are context-specific and not universal, and there is no way we could learn all the possible policy-making scenarios and potential crises in the short span of an undergraduate career. So yes, maybe the complexity of economic phenomena limits the knowledge that we can ever attain, and maybe we should all learn to embrace the uncertainty that permeates economic events. Of course, it’s easier said than done, as this implies renegading the comfort of having an absolute truth on which we can sleep at night. But hey, it comes with the job, and it is about time that we start accepting the shortcomings as well as the virtues of the field, and stop with the whole “you-cannot-predict-crises” shaming.

Finally, I did not want to end without making the note that indeed, I am writing this while still in my “Look-at-me-I-graduated-from-Economics” phase, which means that I have yet to reach my “Sh*t-just-got-real-I-actually-work-as-an-Economist-now” phase. So obviously, there may be still some perspective missing from my story, which only time will be able to calibrate. Still, I do have faith in progress, and I do believe that we are continuously finding new explanations for human economic behaviour. And it’s fascinating, because, who knew that we were so complex, and unpredictable? I mean, our models don’t work sometimes because of us. We are the loose cannons in models that we, ourselves have built. Who knew that our greed could be so powerful? Or that our collective panics could escalate so aggressively to bring corporations down with it? Will we ever possibly be able to capture key human phenomena like this in an accurate economic model? Probably not. But we’ll keep tying.