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#21 [url]

Oct 7 16 9:21 AM

ctr wrote:
Guinea – a real rise and fall in the 1970s (any idea why?), afterwards a period of stagnation, then participation in the overall development.
I think Guinea had some sort of "golden generation" in the 1970s, at least according to the African Player of the Year podium:

1972: two Guinean players were respectively first and third;
1975: a Guinean player was third;
1976: a Guinean player was second;
1977: a Guinean player was second;
1979: a Guinean player was third.

Probably, once that golden generation faded away, the Guinean football began to slope down. And this is also evident in club competitions: Hafia won 3 editions of the African Cup of Champions Clubs in 1972, 1975 and 1977 and got second in 1976 and in 1978, while Horoya Conakry won the Cup Winners Cup in 1978. In the following decades, their results were always negative.

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#22 [url]

Oct 7 16 12:22 PM

Guinea's success came from having a concentration of Hungarian coaches in the mid-1960s onwards (and training visits to Eastern Europe), and the centralised building of a generation of players who played together for club and country (Hafia/Conakry I was basically the same as the national team). Post-Nkrumah, Toure's Guinea kind of took over Ghana's position in this sense, to some extent, i.e. if Nkrumah had not been overthrown one could expect Ghana to follow a similar trajectory in the 1970s but better. Guinea's best results were qualifying for the Olympics in 68, and reaching continental finals in 73 and 76 which they probably should have won. Indeed in 1973, interestingly, the team was kicking ass but then flew home to Guinea for a briefing from Toure on the day before the final, and then flew back to Nigeria and played by all accounts a half-assed game in the final - the implication was that Toure had told them not to humiliate the hosts.

The end of their golden era coincided with the change in Guinea's foreign policy in the late 1970s towards favouring Western rather than Communist allies, and also the retirement of the first golden generation which was not really replaced.

For decades in African football, the qualifiers for tournaments were mostly home/away knockout on a semi-regional basis. Thus teams did not get many competition games (I refrain from saying "competitive") unless they kept winning. This means that for teams with strong neighbours it is hard to get a true picture of their ability. A good example of this is Libya, who were regularly drawn against their stronger neighbours like Algeria and Egypt, as I mentioned briefly above, so even when they were fairly strong on a continental scale, they could not qualify nor hardly win a game, and results-based ranking would not accurately reflect their real strength because their fixtures were "too hard". Whereas, say, Sudan often had only to beat the weaker East Africans to qualify.

Also African teams could not easily call upon any foreign-based stars, so once a player left for France etc, he was generally unavailable. This hampered teams like Mali and particularly Senegal at international level. It is a sort of "brain drain", an inverse effect of the modern one that is repeatedly highlighted by CTR which is that nowadays the best players of all countries can play in top leagues *and* play for the national team.

Ethiopia's graph confuses me - my perception was that it should be stronger in the 1960s and early 1970s and then fade away dramatically thereafter. Perhaps they are overranked due to their fixtures being easier (due to facing mostly the East Africans) and also a lot of their home success was helped by altitude. But even so I am still confused. From about 1972-83 Ethiopia hardly won a meaningful game against a decent opponent, and hardly ever won away from home - though away wins are hard in Africa.

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#23 [url]

Oct 7 16 3:34 PM

> Thanks also for ‘retranslating’ the graphs in words.

Well this is a sort of survival tactic in my profession; you have to pretend you understand what the numbers mean.  Otherwise they will think that they can replace me with a computer, or an engineer.

In considering our questions, did you find a way to solve the inverse problem to identify for each question the best example?  Or does this just involve plotting every country's graph?  I presume you also plotted some other graphs of my other suggestions where the intuition failed or the effect was weak, and you had the grace not to expose my idiocy in those cases :-)

Actually that might be a fun "app" to produce - we could work out some sort of formulae and then incorporate a "Sim City" style "Sim FIFA" game where players can introduce their own political upheaval and other development factors to see what the effect on the rankings would be - you can market it to budding national FA administrators as a sort of industrial diagnostic tool. 

Alternatively it may even be worth writing some sort of proper academic paper based on this combination of statistical modelling and football/geopolitical historical guesswork.  We just need to put in a bibliography and maybe add some more facts on top of the intuitive hand-waving.

Overall I agree with almost everything you wrote, so I've just picked out a few points of interest.

> Assuming, T & T and Jamaica have managed to organize the inclusion of in Diaspora living professionals this would correspond to the diagram

This and also, the "dedication" (or self-interest) of the administrators towards getting the national team to succeed, by tightening up a fairly lax and amateurish attitude previously.  In otherwords, a new motivation.

> In respect of Venezuela but I'm not sure that the main reason of the 2nd development phase (amazing in its extent) was really the changing of the qualifying format. Well, the change of the format might have favored the motivation to start ‘activities’...

What it brought was continuity.  Before this the World Cup qualifiers were short bursts, and very little in between (the Copa America was almost dead before the 1990s).  So the South Americans, even including the big 2, did not necessarily run an ongoing national team with consistent coaching etc, instead only ad hoc arrangements and long gaps between meaningful fixtures.  Now, perhaps this should not produce a strong effect on actual ability, since the playing standard would be more dependent on club football which was ongoing, but possibly just a lack of regular chances to gain ranking points was itself a handbrake.  

> [Venezuela] Oil money was available to provide at least basal structures to develop football.

Football was popular only with immigrant communities, and there were some foreign professionals but it seems the locals did not benefit much.  Maybe Venezuela is/was a bit like some of the Gulf countries, especially before Asian football became properly continental from about 1974 (Eastern dominated beforehand).

By the way, under "epiphanies" I forgot to mention Iran from the late 1960s onward, although perhaps this will not show up well on a plot because they had very few matches before this, and then also, post-revolution, the success dried up in the 1980s.  But nonetheless it may be interesting, we could see two (small) ephiphanies in the same graph (beginning ~1964 and 1996), something like Mexico's graph?

> For many years the US fell in relation to competitors further and further back – but not by a decreasing level, but because the competitors improved.

Yes this is an important point - you are plotting skill level, not ordinal ranking, so a standstill in your graphs corresponds to a failure to improve which we may interpret as relative decline because as you say competitors (most countries) improve in skill level over time overall until saturation; in other words, a failure to keep up.  [even ignoring the dynamic scaling you discussed]
Plotting just ordinal ranking would show additional noise due to third party effects e.g. other results from similarly ranked teams, and new teams joining FIFA (most visible 1950s to mid 1970s).  

> For Asian teams a very different course. Extremely erratic

I think this is an artefact reflecting the erratic nature of Asian football's makeup until the mid-late 1970s.  Also the large number of matches, and the fact that most ranking systems would not correctly rate the importance of the various tournaments in the region to the different nations involved, calling them all just "friendlies". To some degree this applies to Africa also.  Although perhaps I have mistaken assumptions about the system used.

Malaysia's golden era (1970-82) corresponds to a unique generation and a well organised administration with stability relative to others in the region (though maybe the importance of that is overestimated).  Here we can also see a country where professionalism (early 1990s) did not impact on the development at all - Malaysian football was already de facto full-time with organized coaching long before official professionalism, with a standing national team playing almost continuously.  In Indonesia (early 1980s) professionalism had more of an impact.

Indonesia's early rise and subsequent dip is partly a "head start" effect, evolving before the "true" leading teams in Asia had got into shape.  Some other former colonial teams should show a similar effect (e.g. Hong Kong, or in other continents maybe Curacao or Mauritius for example).

The Singapore graph appears to show the power of one star individual (Fandi Ahmad), the graph from 1979-97 reflects well his presence/absence from the national team (perhaps Wales has a similar Bale effect).  Probably just a confirmation bias on my part, as Fandi was one of my favourite players growing up in South East Asia, but anyway we can ask a new question: which country's performance was most dependent on one player?  Perhaps George Weah?   This is a very difficult inverse problem.

> The reasons in the case of Mexico are not in my mind at the moment

Hmm. I can't think of strong enough political reasons other than general incompetence* so I thought only about results-based reasons.  I would guess at weak neighbours (few competition fixtures against strong opponents from which to gain points), and also a general lack of competition fixtures in the era (?).  The first peak roughly coincides with staging the World Cup (and the Olympics), a trough follows. Around this time CONCACAF decided to merge its championship with World Cup qualifying - this cuts down the competitive fixture list.  No real motivation to run a continuous national team.  Then in the early 1980s, suddenly a new incentive again as host in 86.  Then another depression followed by the age-cheating ban and an underperformance in 94 & 98.  Though I would have expected more impact from the invitation to join the Copa America in the early 1990s.  And all this is just unjustified waffle anyway.

* Mexico post 1970 did suffer an economic drop due to a dramatic internal welfare program and other realignments (offset briefly by a kick from oil) but this kind of bungling was commonplace in Latin America so I don't think we can lean on it here.

Just an aside: if I was asked to draw by hand England's graph (of dynamic ability), without thinking hard, I would draw a similar shape to your Mexico graph :-)  Albeit less exaggerated and with more of a decline from 2006 to now.

Other graphs I would still like to see:
 Libya (reasons as mentioned above)
 Iran (ditto)
 Israel (may reflect interesting features of football history, or just random noise)
 Thailand (somehow they escaped the SEA humilation episode above ;-)
 Costa Rica (maybe some resemblance to Mexico, if my thoughts above were valid)
 Bermuda (just for fun)

And yet another question just to finish off : which country has the most ideal (sigmoidal) graph, i.e. the smoothest classical development?  Above, the best were USA and Panama.  Others could be (idle guesses)... Jordan? Burkina Faso? Republic of Ireland?

Or, which has the most consistent linear growth?  Above the best were Japan and possibly Qatar.  Others could be... Nigeria? Vietnam post 1989 ?

[OK OK, those were two questions...]

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#24 [url]

Oct 8 16 9:16 AM

ctr wrote:
Sweden is a prime example of teams with strong oscillations and sudden dramatic changes in level (in the past).
Some countries, especially in the 1950s, refused to call up all the footballers playing abroad. Sweden was one of them. In the earliest 1950s, almost all their best footballers played in Italy and some of them are still considered legends here. But they were not called up for the 1950 and 1954 World Cups. One of the best Italian journalists, Gianni Brera, always stated that if Sweden had called up champions like Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl, Nils Liedholm and Nacka Skoglund for Switzerland '54, they could have won the World Cup.
The same applies for Argentina. They dominated the 1957 South American Championship, but collapsed one year later. The reason was that their best players had come to Europe and were therefore excluded from the 1958 World Cup squad.
What I mean is that in several cases the real value of a National team was "falsified" by self-imposed rules that caused evident falls.

ctr wrote:
Uruguay: world champion 1950, last four: 1954, 1970 …long break … 2010 → fall and rise.
The cyclic falls of Uruguay are easily explained by the scanty dimensions of the country and of the population. If Uruguay were as big as, say, Peru or Colombia, "La Celeste" would be ahead in every ranking, and its competitors would fight for the second place in almost every tournament.

ctr wrote:
From 1950 – 78/79 the level of the USA was equivalent about the level of a selection of amateur teams. And in the 1920/30s they were not better.
But, paradoxically, in 1930 they achieved one of their best results ever: the World Cup semifinal. Football paradoxes...

nfm24 wrote:
Otherwise they will think that they can replace me with a computer.
Aren't you a computer already, Neil?! smiley: eek  After reading your thorough analysis above, I begin thinking you are!

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#25 [url]

Oct 8 16 11:24 PM

Luca wrote:
nfm24 wrote:
Otherwise they will think that they can replace me with a computer.
Aren't you a computer already, Neil?! smiley: eek  After reading your thorough analysis above, I begin thinking you are!

Actually I see myself more as a monolith.

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#26 [url]

Oct 8 16 11:25 PM

The diagrams are free. The text follows a little later…

diagram 1israel_plus_....png

'Costa Rica is by far the most stable country in the region,' some say ... Sometimes they are even compared to Switzerland (I do not know if this is still considered an honor today.)… Compared to Mexico: very different state → very different graph.

Israel is especially important...! They and Kazakhstan have a lot of (also) competitive matches in two continental associations (Asia/Oceania is considered as one 'continent'). Israel had qualified in 1970 with an Asia-Oceania ticket and is therefore assigned to Asia.

diagram 2
Wales and Northern Ireland, but also Ireland – without own competitive leagues – were always dependent on players from other leagues... No one knows where path will lead…The ‘Irish style’ will annoy you - it does not annoy me. Why should not I have also a dull part in my soul?

I have reviewed Ethiopia's graph again. Sometimes, despite all "precautions", problems can temporarily arise when transitioning into the free-oscillating system. In the case of Ethiopia, however, such a problem is not apparent.

diagram 3ethiopia_-75.pngThe actual results (blue dots) and the "expected values" based on old results (green line) are accumulated. The games until 1961 are summarized. A deviation of the actual results from the green line results in a change in the rating. Larger corrections were not necessary, as Ethiopia was playing at about the same level. Ethiopia never experienced a crash. After the competitors developed, their position deteriorated.

BTW, what do you mean exactly with 'which has the most consistent linear growth?’

Last Edited By: ctr Oct 8 16 11:36 PM. Edited 1 time.

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#29 [url]

Oct 9 16 8:39 PM

nfm24 wrote:
Luca wrote:
nfm24 wrote:
Otherwise they will think that they can replace me with a computer.
Aren't you a computer already, Neil?! smiley: eek  After reading your thorough analysis above, I begin thinking you are!

Actually I see myself more as a monolith.

Ancient Greek: μονόλιθος (monólitho) → Latin: monolithus → English: one stone → German: ein Stein …
In this case, German sounds best!

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#30 [url]

Oct 9 16 11:08 PM

Costa Rica and Iran's graphs are essentially similar examples of two-stage developments.  I suppose a naive explanation could be the maxing of the first amateur development, and then a later secondary phase of modern or professional development (or foreign-based pros influence).  Whereas Mexico and Tunisia seem to be sudden interruptions of the same longer development process. 
In Iran's case it would have been interesting to know how things would have looked without the revolution, which came at the peak of their success - would they have plateaued then anyway, or was there higher to climb?

Libya's graph was pre-empted to some extent - true strength is not well measured by tough fixtures and relatively few of them (a lack of variety) and a system which doesn't consider goal-difference is against them (losing 0-1 in Egypt or Algeria is not too bad).
1978-79 the breakthrough (beating twice Tunisia and Algeria at their peak) and reaching the final at a home championship in 82, but they weren't really much worse in actual ability than this from the late 1960s onwards - this golden era continued until the mid-80s but the apparent drop-off after that is really an artefact of the fixtures again, since Libya hardly played from 1985-97.

Similarly, Israel's graph does show the importance of fixtures/opponents.  The jumps are basically correlated to the occasions when they had a chance to show themselves against well-ranked opponents (I realise this is a tautology when talking about a results-based ranking), whereas the fall after 1984-ish is clearly due to the isolation in Oceania (I know you say they are one continent for the model, but it is a lack of competitive crossover).  Interesting that Israel is consistently above Iran in the 1970s - probably mild hysteresis?

Thailand showed what we knew, they have been the only consistent improvers in SEA overall (compare to Malaysia and Indonesia above, who had head starts and good eras but could not gain long term). The general progression ends 2000, to kick on again they need to get some stars in major foreign leagues.

> Wales and Northern Ireland, but also Ireland – without own competitive leagues – were always dependent on players from other leagues...

And therefore dependent on just a couple of key players, so results are more erratic - overall progress does not really exist, as there is no well-defined inherent ability of the country itself.  The Republic a bit steadier overall, with the Jack Charlton epiphany mentioned above boosting above the expected growth-rate in that era.

> Ethiopia never experienced a crash. After the competitors developed, their position deteriorated.

Ethiopia stagnated (or developed early...) and then suffered political problems while Africa as a whole improved a lot in the late 70s-early 80s [Havelange power, you might say].  Still surprised that this is not more pronounced. 

It is also worth mentioning something I thought about before - quite a lot of African results in the 1960s-70s are missing from databases, mostly but not entirely friendlies and affecting some countries more than others, and also a large number of the African nations qualifiers are given with completely wrong dates (and a few wrong scores), sometimes as much as 9 months out.  Overall it should not screw things up too much, but it could have some effect within the era, I suppose.

> BTW, what do you mean exactly with 'which has the most consistent linear growth?’

A country with a consistent steady improvement per year (or decade) in approx linear proportion, confounding the sigmoid model of development.  At least over a substantial period of time.  Or something.

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#31 [url]

Nov 17 16 10:00 AM

I must admit I don't have a lot of skill in this subject yet, so I might say a non-sense, but I presume Nepal are having an interesting climb in 2016, registering a total of 8 matches, with 4 wins, 4 draws and 0 losses. They also won the Solidarity Cup, their very first AFC title.

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#32 [url]

Nov 17 16 12:31 PM

It's a good run of form, but apart from the possible exception of Maldives, none of the other teams they have beaten have been notable (Brunei .Macau, Sri Lanka) and the teams they have drawn against have been of similar or worse level (Laos, Bangladesh, East Timor). In comparison, Philippines (who were previously about the same level as Nepal) have managed to beat teams in the "middle" level of Asian football.

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#33 [url]

Nov 17 16 1:05 PM

Yes, they moved into a smaller pond to find minnows relative to their own level. I fear Scotland will soon do the same, perhaps joining the Muratti or even the Solidarity Cup.

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#34 [url]

Nov 17 16 1:50 PM

yes, can someone explain the fall of Scotland.....? I do not understand it and is an evolution of years.... A poor league is not the cause because N.Ireland and Ireland do not have strong leagues either..

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#35 [url]

Nov 17 16 1:57 PM

I think the fall of Scotland is due to the lack of new ideas. Football is the most popular sport by far in Scotland, but there does not seem to be any concentration on "skill" (i.e. being able to get round/go past people, show some neat touches like "Latin" and/or "Germanic" players do). It seems the focus is on stamina and a "workhorse" ethic. "He ran tirelessly for the whole match" is not very useful if his team lost. Some reasonable passing, but Scotland lose the ball too easily, and do not seem to know what to do in the final third of the pitch.

I don't remember the last time Scotland has a recognised skilful attacking player. Our best player at getting forward and running round people with pace is Ikechi Anya. He was played in defence against England...

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#38 [url]

Nov 17 16 2:26 PM

Scotland's problem is an overall lack of pace but particularly the lack of competent defenders who can do more than just trudge around and head balls away. Usually we have two agricultural centre-backs who have no pace and cannot play with the ball at feet, so the defence is normally so deep it is effectively like having two sweepers. Then the two central midfielders have to fall back so far to be almost defenders themselves. This means the whole team is stretched, and the attacker(s) isolated - hence any buildup play is slow and predictable. It also means that the formation is basically guaranteed to be a 4-5-1 at all times, until losing sufficiently to bring on another forward. At any given time there are one or two decent attackers e.g. McFadden, Anya, James Forrest who are crowd pleasers and can make things happen, but then the coach inexplicably leaves them out of the side. At coaching level there has been a general lack of impetus to attack the opposition (particularly supposedly weaker teams), normally a more pragmatic approach with the inevitable outcome. The general attitude that a draw is not a bad result seems to date back to the 2-points-for-a-win days, and really has not been addressed properly.

The best games Scotland have played in recent years were at home to Italy (which they lost 2-1) and vs Poland 2-2. In both games, Scotland conceded a goal in the opening minutes, then dominated for practically 80 minutes, vigourously attacking, before conceding goals with the last action of the match. Hutton against Italy was probably the best performance in a Scotland jersey in the last 10 years (followed by Barry Ferguson in various games). While both these results were bad in the end, the football content of the games was far better than in any of the sneaky 1-0 wins we got by defending with 10 men and pinching a goal out of nowhere. It is rare that Scotland outplays the opposition, of any stature, but when it happens I will approve it regardless of the result.

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#39 [url]

Nov 18 16 10:45 AM

This year Nepal also won the South Asian Games. They didn't send their "A" team, as only the Under-23 + 3 overages teams were eligible, but it's a good result that shows their good moment. And in January they also captured the Bangabandhu Cup, a tournament against clubs, "A" and Under-23 National teams. It seems they have a very good generation nowadays.

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#40 [url]

Nov 18 16 1:44 PM

They have raised their level from awful to mediocre, while the other teams in the region have remained awful. Surprising given the recent earthquake.

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