Wednesday, October 14, 2009

CONMEBOL Final Matchday Preview

Unfortunately I won't be able to give this region, and in particular Uruguay - Argentina anywhere near the writeup they deserve.

I'll go backwards and start with the PLM prediction and its validity. The model predicts the following for each team:

4th - 34.9%
5th - 61.0%
6th - 4.2%

4th - 65.1%
5th - 32.5%
6th - 2.4%

4th - 0.01%
5th - 6.55%
worse - 93.44%

In other words, it gives Uruguay about a 65% chance to win tonight and Argentina a 35% chance at a result. In the other match, it gives Ecuador about a 7% chance of getting a win.

I'll start by discussing the last prediction. I think it's way off but it's difficult to say exactly how much. Chile's motivations are at best going to be somewhat lacking and at worst they may actually prefer to lose! While I'm sure it's not the entire Chilean population, I think it's safe to say that most Chilenos aren't too fond of Argentina and wouldn't mind making their life difficult by letting Ecuador have these three points. The players will talk about being professionals and the like, but even if they don't actively try to lose their mixed emotions will surely play some role.

Some may be surprised that the model predicts a win for Uruguay nearly 2/3 of the time. Personally, I think it's pretty reasonable if you remember that the model is based only on results. In other words, it doesn't see the apparent gap in talent in favor of Argentina, it just sees their struggles through their bad scorelines. Because this is the last matchday, the two teams have played the same schedule and have played each other once. That match was in Argentina, so Argentina have actually faced a slightly easier schedule than the Uruguayos. Uruguay have scored 28 goals to 22 for Argentina, a difference of more than a third of a goal per match. That's a big difference. In a full league season like in the English Premier League or Spanish Liga, that would translate to over 13 more goals scored. On the defensive side, Argentina have conceded 20 and Uruguay 19. That's not much of a difference, but again keep in mind that Argentina's schedule is a bit easier as well.

So looking at just the results of this qualifying campaign we have a team that is a lot better at scoring and very close but maybe a bit better defensively than their opponent. Also important, the team that is better at both ends of the pitch is playing at home. In that kind of situation, the home side is a big favorite not only to get points but to win outright.

The natural objection to the above is that Argentina will be better this match because it matters so much. My initial thought was similar - "they have to turn it around at some point!". Thinking about it more rationally though, there isn't much evidence of this. Their last two matches have been very important and they failed to impress in either. Against the worst team in the confederation they won in the dying seconds on a goal that should have been waved off for offside. Granted, the conditions were absurd because of the weather and they were the better team on the day but failing to dominate and win by 2 or more goals there is a pretty bad sign. A month ago they got thoroughly outplayed by Paraguay and were lucky to lose by only a goal. They certainly have the skill, and therefore the potential, to take over and dominate against Uruguay, but I see no reason to think that Argentina should be a favorite to get any result. It's certainly not there when looking at the results alone and less so from watching them play.

My Prediction

As I said above, I agree with the PLM that Uruguay win this game more often than not. I also expect Ecuador to win suspiciously comfortably in Chile. Combining the two, if you want a single prediction out of me I'll say that Uruguay go through automatically and Ecuador get to the playoff against Costa Rica or Honduras. That leaves Argentina out and further tarnishes the reputation of the greatest footballer ever to live.

Whether that all comes about or not, you can expect a lot of drama.

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