July 02, 2010

Netherland(s) 2, Brazil 1: The least-popular Brazilian team in memory gets bounced in the quarters again. Bye, bye, Brazil...losing by a goal doesn't have the same descriptive ability that losing by a run has in baseball, or by a point in football or hoops. It's the same thing in the so-called "real world": when the Supreme Court rules 5-4, that's a strong indication that the court is hotly divided on the subject, and will be revisiting the issue soon; politicians and constitutional scholars tend to give greater weight to cases that are decided 9-0, or even 8-1 or 7-2, because such decisions show a public consensus that will not quickly be shaken, as well as a powerful Chief Justice who can build consensus. When a political race is decided by one percentage point or less, well, that's a good sign that the victor should tread very carefully in the near-future. As with 5-4 legal decisions, it's a good idea to write the results in pencil.

Because of its inherent low-scoring nature, a one-goal victory in soccer is different. One-point wins are not that common in basketball or football, but in soccer, it's the most common result, so it can be less of a benchmark in revealing what really happened in a game. The back-and-forth, free-swinging play in the Ghana-U.S. game was decided by the same margin (same score, in fact) as the ugly, one-sided Holland-Slovakia game. One game was decided in OT, whilst t'other was close only because the losers scored a penalty kick on the game's final play. If you want to get a feel for what happened, you have to look at the numbers behind the scoreboard.

In this instance, we're talking about two different games. Brazil scored inside of ten minutes, and toyed with their opponents for the rest of the half. Going into today, Brazil had never lost a World Cup game when leading at halftime, and had lost only twice before when scoring first (v. Norway in 1998, and v. Uruguay in the 1950 "final"). In the second half, the opposite happened, as Brazil proved unable to defend set pieces, then lost a player (Felipe Melo, btw, who had earlier scored on a beautiful header to tie the game up...for the Dutch, the first own goal ever for Brazil in the tourney) on a thuggish kick to all-around Dutch wuss Arjen Robben (wrong target!!). So two one-sided halfs add up to...a statistically evenly played game: both teams had the same number of shots, same number of fouls, and nearly identical time of possession, leading to a 2-1 win for Holland.

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