Thursday, October 8, 2009

UEFA Group 4: Russia - Germany Preview

I may be overreacting to Euro 2008, but Russia - Germany is likely to be the best match in all of qualifying. We're getting a possible final in the qualifying round. While neither would be a favorite, I think both teams are in the second tier of countries that have an outside shot at winning the World Cup.

The Situation

Germany currently sit one point ahead of Russia. Both teams are expected to win their last match. Germany host Finland while Russia travel to Azerbaijan. Assuming they both get the win Wednesday Saturday's match will decide the group. If Russia win then they win the group and qualify automatically. If Germany get a result then they win the group. Both teams are guaranteed a playoff spot even if they lose their last two matches.


History is on Germany's side. Russia, as Russia or the USSR, have never beaten Germany or West Germany in a competitive match. I personally think that means nothing as it relates to how this match will turn out, but it is an interesting anecdote given the nonfootball history of the countries. More relevantly, Germany are up a point because they beat the Russians 2-1 in Dortmund a year ago. Here are links to the goals from that match: Podolski Ballack Arshavin. (Sidenote: what's up with the shhh celebration when you score to put your team down a goal?). In that match, Germany dominated the first half, going into the break up 2-0. While Russia were the better side in the second, it wasn't enough to overcome their deficit.

The Ground

A big story related to the match is that it will be played on artificial turf in Moscow at Luzhniki Stadium. That should help the Russians because they will be, at least in theory, more accustomed to the surface plus they play more of a short passing game. I personally think that artificial turf should not be allowed, but maybe it is cheaper so some smaller countries have to go with it. Russia is not such a country and it seems bizarre that they are playing on an artificial surface. I suppose it could have something to do with the snowy and icy conditions in the Russian winter but the forecast for Moscow is for above freezing temperatures.


For Russia, there seem to be no injuries that will keep a player out of the match. The biggest injury story is Andei Arshavin, who has been battling a knee injury. Based on his recent performances for Arsenal, including a goal in the 6-2 thrashing of Blackburn last weekend, I'd say the knee is fine.

Germany are less lucky. They will not have the services of starting goalkeeper Robert Enke who is sick. René Adler is expected to replace him. Adler has little experience at this level, though he did play in the previous match against Russia and recorded clean sheets in qualifiers against Wales and Azerbaijan. Given the intensity of the match and the likelihood of plenty of chances for Russia, it'll be interesting to see how the young keeper handles the pressure.


I'll mix it up and give my personal thoughts before going with the objective predictions of my current best model. Russia is a very good attacking team that plays a pretty aggressive style to begin with. They have now mathematically locked up second place can count on a German win Wednesday over Finland so they a draw does them no good compared to a loss. This will cause them to push even harder to score. Germany are solid at both ends of the pitch so I expect the match to be extremely entertaining with plenty of chances for both teams. For a scoreline prediction, I'll say that Russia win 2-1.

The PLM predicts a lower-scoring, less-exciting affair. Again the usual caveat applies. The model just uses results, it does not include differences in motivation and incentives compared to previous matches. As I argued above, Russia get little from a draw and a lot from a win so they should be more attack oriented than they have been in previous matches. With that said, the model predicts a 36.5% chance of a win for Russia, 27.7% chance of a German win and a 35.8% probability of a draw. The most likely scorelines are 1-0 and 1-1, each with about a 15% likelihood. This goes in line with the overall prediction, which is Germany to go through top 74% of the time and Russia 26%.

I don't have strong feelings either way about either of these national teams, but Russia is in my opinion one of the most entertaining teams to watch play so I am hoping for a home win.

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