Page last updated at 08:30 Asia/Manila, Thursday, 07 August 2014 PH
The billions of people all over the world who watched the last World Cup matches had their respective favorite national teams. The vast majority supported their home nations for those whose national teams qualified to play in the Cup. Others rooted for the teams of their favorite players. As I wrote in a column in the business section of this paper, a few took a very scientific approach, such as some analysts working for the investment bank Goldman Sachs that predicted that Brazil would win the Cup. These economists used an econometric model based on a regression analysis that took into account the results of all of the competitive matches the teams had played since 1960. The model was able to predict three of the semi-finalists, i.e. Germany, Argentina and Brazil but failed miserably as regards Spain that was eliminated very early in the competition.
Without using any sophisticated model, I did my own forecasting on the basis of pure sentiments. At the beginning of the Cup, I was cocksure that Spain would retain the championship. The reason was purely sentimental. The Philippines has strong cultural ties with Spain. I lived for three years of my life in Spain, most recently in 2007 and 2008 where I got hooked to football, thanks to my very close exposure to FC Barcelona (Barca) whose Camp Nou was right in front of the apartment in which I lived. In addition to my idolizing Lionel Messi as the best football player ever, there were other Barca players whom I considered among the best in the world in their time: Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fabregas, and Pedro Rodriguez. These six were all playing for the Spanish national team. My sentimentalism overlooked the fact that a good number of them were rapidly aging and frequently injured, which explained why Barca did quite poorly in the last season in Europe, winning no title at all. I also ignored the obvious fact that Iker Casillas, formerly known as the best goal keeper in the world, is in his mid thirties and losing his touch.
The rest is history. Spain suffered a very humiliating defeat from the hands of the Dutch in their very first game, 5 to 1. Then Chile struck the fatal below in Spain's second game in its group, 2 to 1. The joke then was "Messi was carrying Argentina; Neymar was carrying Brazil; and Iberia was carrying Spain!" After the inglorious exit of Spain from the Cup, I then started to try to be more scientific in taking sides. I decided to rely on the Goldman Sachs prediction that the finalists would be Brazil and Argentina. I began to root for Brazil for additional not-too-scientific reasons. First, I used again my Barca hat in choosing Brazil: Neymar is one of the star players of Barca. Second, as an economist, I thought that if the Brazil team won, its country would be given a big economic and political boost, rewarding the leaders who took a big risk in deciding to host both the World Cup and the Olympics one after another. As an advocate of the emerging markets, I needed to prove that BRIC is still very much alive. Brazil is the B in this acronym for the leading emerging markets as first defined also by Goldman Sachs economists.
Then the unexpected happen. Neymar was seriously injured in the Brazil-Colombia game. Brazil suffered from a catastrophic defeat in the hands of the Germans, 7 to 1. What next? Whom should I support for the finals? Argentina or Germany? I chose Argentina again for a sentimental reason. Lionel Messi played for Argentina and he is the star striker of my favorite team. As it finally turned out, Germany outclassed Argentina because of their very scientific approach (as Bloomberg reported before the start of the World Cup) and the greater perseverance of their players (in the last minutes of extra time, the Argentinians seemed to have been relaxing waiting for a penalty shoot out while the Germans kept attacking till the very last second, giving substitute Mario Goetze the opportunity to execute a sensational goal).
In the audience with me as I watched the finals at 3 a.m. on July 14 (Manila time) were some engineers and scientists from the University of the Philippines. They were rooting for Germany for no reason known to me. After the game ended, I did an informal survey of why they supported Germany. One said that he has a German consultant in his company. But the others gave probably the most scientific reason I could get from football fans. They said that as engineers and scientists, they are impressed with the scientific culture of Germany and that the German team evoked this aura of a scientific and technical approach to everything. I am sure Chancellor Angela Merkel would wholeheartedly agree to this assessment. For comments, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.