Russia pulled ‘the easiest group in modern World Cup history’

All in the Game: Ray Wilkins not so coy about Rangers job, quotes of the week and more

Fifa president Gianni Infantino enjoys a glass of champagne with Russian president Vladimir Putin and Diego Maradona. Photo: Getty Images

Fifa president Gianni Infantino enjoys a glass of champagne with Russian president Vladimir Putin and Diego Maradona. Photo: Getty Images

 

So, Russia – the lowest-ranked team in the competition – did rather well in the World Cup draw, ending up in a group with Uruguay, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Exactly how well did they do? American website FiveThirtyEight, run by legendary number-cruncher Nate Silver, set about finding out in a rather determined fashion. They analysed every World Cup group since the tournament expanded to 24 nations back in the eighties and applied an ‘Elo rating’ to each team (“a measure of a team’s quality that takes into account factors such margin of victory, game importance and game location”).

Their conclusion? Russia got “the easiest group in modern World Cup history”. The only one that came close was Group H at the 2014 World Cup which was made up of Belgium, Algeria, South Korea and, well, Russia.

“Compared with all of the potential ways Russia’s draw could have played out, its group ended up being among the easiest 2.2 per cent of all possible combinations,” they told us. How’s that for luck? FiveThirtyEight give the hosts a 74 per cent chance of advancing to the knockout stage, although such was the eyebrow-wiggling tone to their findings, you sensed they really reckoned their chances are around the 110 per cent mark.

Wilkins not so subtle on Rangers job

Does Ray Wilkins want the Rangers job? Let’s see.

“They have to get an ex-Ranger. They have to have somebody at the helm that knows what this club means, not only to them personally but to the people of Glasgow as well. This isn’t a football club. This is a huge global institution.” Hard to tell.

“I have experienced some of the finest times of my life at Ibrox with some of the finest people I have met in football. They are not getting the enjoyment and, trust me, the joy of being at a club like that is absolutely incredible. We need some people in there that know what it’s like to play for Rangers.” Hmm, maybe?

“You have Alex McLeish, Ian Durrant, Barry Ferguson, Terry Butcher, Ally McCoist out there. These guys have seen it and done it and want to do it again - myself included. I’d love to be able to help a wonderful football club get back on its feet.”

It took a while, but it turned in to the mother of all come-and-get-me pleas.

(Frankly, since the day he uttered the immortal line, “look at the fans behind the goal, nobody’s appealing for a Villa penalty – okay, they’re QPR fans, but…”, Wilkins should get any job he wants).

Sorry not enough

When players makes costly mistakes in games that lead to goals, more often than not they’ll take to Twitter, apologise, and promise to do better next time. But Lanus’s Jose Luis Gomez, who made his debut for Argentina earlier this year, clearly felt a tweet wasn’t enough after his mistake in the Copa Libertadores final led to a goal for Brazil’s Gremio and, ultimately, defeat.

Jose Luiz Gomez badly needs a hug.
Jose Luiz Gomez badly needs a hug.

“I’m hurt, I feel bad. This was a mistake that I did not have to make. I’ll think about it, I’m a boy, but this does not have to happen. I feel guilty. I did not have a good night, I want to apologise to all the fans of Lanus, fans who deserved to be champions, but because of a mistake of mine the game was opened up.”

And: “I’m thinking of leaving football.”

Someone give that fella a hug.

Quotes of the week

“Not even England can mess that group up! It could be our year!!” – Sheffield United old-boy Curtis Woodhouse on that World Cup draw. You’d be having half a notion this quote might be dusted down next June.

“I closed my eyes and dived like a goalkeeper, not a striker.” – Benevento goalie Alberto Brignoli on his 95th minute equaliser against AC Milan that earned his club their first point of the season…. after 14 defeats. Wacky old game.

“For Milan fans, maybe it would’ve been better to get stabbed than concede this goal.” – Gennaro Gattuso a bit on the down side after Brignoli’s equaliser brought to a less than satisfactory conclusion his first game in charge of AC Milan.

“I would stick to him, show him who I am, bite him, make his life difficult. But would it be sufficient to stop such an armada?” – Former France manager Raymond Domenech’s advice to Strasbourg on how to handle Neymar ahead of their meeting with Paris St-Germain on Saturday. It worked, PSG lost their first league game of the season, Strasbourg stopping the armada. Happily without sinking their gnashers in to the Brazilian lad.

“I’m not looking forward to turning 40 because it means I’m getting closer to 50. It’s the next decade ahead, so it’s not a nice thought. It has gone through my head that my 30s are over and I’m heading into my 40s, and the next stop is 50s.” – Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe’s 40th birthday party on Friday must have been a right laugh.

“He used to wonder why his car was impounded 27 times… because it was painted in camouflage and he parked it on double yellows outside San Carlo restaurant in the middle of Manchester every day. I opened his locker after he left and all his parking tickets just fell out.” – Former Manchester City kitman Les Chapman on Mario Balotelli and why it was always him.

“Both for Juventus and for the national team I have always considered myself a soldier. Even when I’m 60 I could never turn down any call because I have in me the concept of nation.” – Rumours of Gianluigi Buffon’s international retirement were, then, greatly exaggerated. He’s got another 21 years in him.

“I was hoping it would be a bit easier, to be honest.” – David Moyes on the less than comfy early days of his West Ham reign.

“When I started playing football I played as a left-back, but I was too lazy to run after the opposition’s attacking players so I asked the coach to put me in goal.” – Manchester City’s Ederson explaining how he became a goalkeeper – it was too much like hard work outfield. Wise lad.

By the numbers

To most, 2003 seems like a fortnight ago, but it was the year of the birth of Connor Byrne, the 14-year-old goalkeeper who made his debut for Glenavon in the Mid-Ulster Cup win over Portadown last week. Strewth.

Chicago Fire set for world stage

You might recall this exchange from back in March when Chicago Fire unveiled new signing Bastian Schweinsteiger at a press conference.

Derek Henkle (AFP): “Is it a fair expectation to see a clear pathway towards a World Cup competition come out of Chicago?”

Schweinsteiger: [Mystified]

Henkle: “Let me rephrase – do you expect now that you’re here, Bashty, that World Cup goal for Chicago Fire is a realistic expectation?”

Schweinsteiger: “Em...”.

Poor old Derek, then, got a right ribbing for thinking Schweinsteiger had the power to lead Chicago Fire to the World Cup. Nine months on, though, you’d imagine his cheeks had stopped sizzling. Until Germany’s English language Twitter account tweeted a list of the nations in Pot 4 for last week’s World Cup draw. Yes, that’s Chicago Fire in there. Rascals. “Ha! AWESOME,” replied Derek, who possibly now thinks he was right all along.

Chicago Fire will be ready to take on the world next summer.
Chicago Fire will be ready to take on the world next summer.
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