(Belated) World Cup Contest

This was supposed to go up earlier, but it turns out that thinking you selected “Scheduled” in the MT back end is not, in fact, enough to schedule the post to appear. So this is showing up after games have already begun, but nothing of consequence has happened yet, so it’s no biggie.

Anyway, the soccer World Cup has begun, making this one of the rare summers with sporting events worth watching on television. And time for the quadrennial spectacle of Americans pretending to know/care about soccer.

So, anyway, there’s a big tournament going on, and it seems only fair to offer space to discuss it. And, just to add a little competitive element to it, we’ll run a quick contest:

The entire FIFA World Cup tournament will involve 111 64 games. How many of these games will end in ties?

Because this is posting late, we already know that the answer is greater than or equal to one. There are still an awful lot of games to be played, though, so we can still run with this.

For the purposes of this contest, elimination games decided by penalty-kick shootouts count as tie games. Enter by posting your guess in the comments of this post, along with a guess as to the total number of goals scored in the tournament, for tie-breaking purposes. Entries will be accepted until 11:59 pm Eastern time Sunday. The person whose guess is closest to the actual number without going over will receive a signed copy of How to Teach Physics to Your Dog. One entry per person, and you must provide a valid email address with your comment that will be used to contact you in the event that you win.

Feel free to use this as an open thread to talk about the opening games, which team ought to win, the physics of a great corner kick, or any other topic that appeals to you.


  1. #1 Lois M.
    June 11, 2010

    Oh dear, this is going to be tough. . . but here is an attempt. How about 29 for number of games tied. . . and a total of 181 goals.

    Lois, OV_099@yahoo.com

  2. #2 Zeynep
    June 11, 2010

    Hmmm. Hmmmmmmmmmm. Hmmmmmmm—-

    Enough of that.

    If I were less busy, I would actually go look at the entire first round schedule, try to work out the subsequent schedule, and run a probability analysis taking into account the relative strengths of the teams and whatnot. Since I am busy — and since tonight, when I won’t be so busy, I’ll be lazy instead — we’ll go with the very-mildly-educated guess.

    42 games will end in ties according to your definition.

    There will be a total of 284 goals.

  3. #3 NoAstronomer
    June 11, 2010

    I’m going with 36 tied games. 197 goals.

    I found all the talk about the new ball interesting. Some players are saying it doesn’t fly ‘true’. I’m guessing that what they really mean is ‘it doesn’t fly the same way the old balls used to’. The more even surface of the ball may be limiting the amount of curve that the ball takes in flight. Supposedly Loughborough University has tested the new ball. I may have to pick up one to try it out for myself.


  4. #4 The Disgruntled Chemist
    June 11, 2010

    My guesses are 44 ties and 160 goals.

  5. #5 riemann
    June 11, 2010

    forgive me, but won’t the world cup invovle 64 games, instead of 111?

  6. #6 cisko
    June 11, 2010

    What riemann said. Only 64… and it’d be 63 except for the pointless 3rd place match.

  7. #7 becca
    June 11, 2010

    26 ties, 290 goals total (including penalty kickoff goals)

  8. #8 Natalie
    June 11, 2010

    35 ties, 222 goals.

  9. #9 cisko
    June 11, 2010

    Also worth pointing out that the 16 knockout-stage games will play 30min of extra time before going to penalties. By the rules, those would count as wins. But then again, those just go to penalties anyway more often than not.

    Based on the 64 games, I’ll pick 38 draws and 130 goals. Already one in the can today, and France-Uruguay is there at the half. First games are notorious for that, though.

  10. #10 Gene J
    June 11, 2010

    31 ties.

  11. #11 GeneJ
    June 11, 2010

    289 total points

  12. #12 Chad Orzel
    June 11, 2010

    D’oh! I was double-counting the group stage games. Yes, 64 is the right number.

    A win in extra time counts as a win.It’s only games that end in a draw or go to PK’s that count as ties for the purposes of this contest.

  13. #13 Clark
    June 11, 2010

    31 ties, 327 goals total.

    To answer riemann and cisko, the World Cup is not a simple single elimination tournament. Teams are divided into groups of 4 where each team plays the other 3. The top 2 teams from each group then advance to the single elimination part of the tournament.

  14. #14 riemann
    June 11, 2010

    well, in that case: 15 draws 135 goals.

  15. #15 Mary Aileen
    June 11, 2010

    25 ties, 100 total goals.

  16. #16 riemann
    June 11, 2010

    @clark, but none of has ever said that the world cup is a single elimination tournament, have we? we just said there were going to be 64 games, not 111. In fact if the world cup was in that format – as you assumed that we assumed – there would be 32 games (including the 3rd place game), not 64.

  17. #17 Ray
    June 11, 2010

    Is this an important indicator of anything interesting? A 3-3 draw is usually a more exciting game than a 3-0 win, after all. Why fetishize tied games?

  18. #18 Bob O'H
    June 11, 2010

    Um, there won’t be any ties. If the score remain the same, it’s a draw. Ties are for cricket (where they are rather rare).

    And time for the quadrennial spectacle of Americans pretending to know/care about soccer.


  19. #19 Jing
    June 11, 2010

    21 draws, 110 goals.

  20. #20 Chad Orzel
    June 11, 2010

    Is this an important indicator of anything interesting? A 3-3 draw is usually a more exciting game than a 3-0 win, after all. Why fetishize tied games?

    Because it amuses me, and is a way to have a quantitative contest while gently tweaking insecure soccer fans. Everybody wins! Or, at least, ends up with the same number of points.

  21. #21 Dale Sheldon-Hess
    June 11, 2010

    37 ties, 202 goals

  22. #22 Matt Leifer
    June 11, 2010

    12 ties, 154 goals.

    This estimate is the mean of the corresponding statistics from the 2002 and 2006 world cups. I don’t think the playing styles of the dominant teams have changed much since 2002, but I do think the correlation with statistics of earlier world cups would be fairly low. I would have put more weight on the 2006 results, but I think the fluctuations are high enough that this would be pointless.

    The other entries indicate that a lot of people either haven’t looked at the statistics, or were working on the basis of 111 games. I suggest that people who entered before Chad made the correction should be allowed to enter again.

  23. #23 Chad Orzel
    June 11, 2010

    Anybody whose early entry was based on 111 games is welcome to re-enter with a number for 64 games.

    Of course, we’ve now had two games, both ties, and a total of two goals. A simple linear extrapolation thus predicts 64 goals and 64 ties, so some of those early guesses don’t look too bad…

  24. #24 BrownAstronomer
    June 11, 2010

    23 ties, 179 goals

  25. #25 andre3
    June 11, 2010

    24 draws and 150 goals

  26. #26 Chem undergrad
    June 11, 2010

    32 ties and 180 goals.

  27. This is fun! I would say 21 ties and 134 goals.

  28. #28 Ewan
    June 11, 2010

    27 and 127. And England going out on penalties.

  29. #29 beth
    June 12, 2010

    33, and 253 goals.

  30. #30 Rajesh
    June 12, 2010

    22 and 99.

  31. #31 tumbleweed
    June 12, 2010

    22 ties, 196 goals

  32. #32 Ned Wright
    June 12, 2010

    20 ties, 192 goals

  33. #33 Ray
    June 12, 2010

    Such a terrible, and terribly meaningless, result today.

  34. #34 Tom Spencer
    June 12, 2010

    There will be only 15 ties, but 256 total goals scored.

  35. #35 Andy
    June 14, 2010

    35 ties, 121 goals

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