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Brazil Bleg

2010 November 12
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by Liam Lenten

Bitter football enemies Argentina and Brazil (combined 7-time World Champions) square-off yet again in a friendly next Wednesday.  The match is in (of all places) Doha – since the match coincides with the final evaluation of Qatar’s ‘no expense spared’ 2022 FIFA World Cup bid, it is hard to imagine the reasons for the choice of location are anything other than economic! It will be the 90th all-time meeting between the two giants of South America, with the previous 89 failing to separate them, at 33 wins apiece and 23 draws (Argentina are ahead slightly on goals scored, 143-137), though Brazil have had the better of the results in recent times. The game will also be a useful tune-up for both sides ahead of next year’s Copa América, hosted on this occasion by the Argentines.

Owing to my girlfriend being from Buenos Aires, one’s loyalties in this game are cast clearly in favor of La Albiceleste.  However, I have recently been working on testing an old myth that it is unwise tactically to score too early in the game when playing against Brazil. The underlying intuition here is that doing so merely makes the Brazilian players angry (waking the sleeping giant), giving them extra incentive to attack and score freely thereafter as a ‘lesson’ to the opposition. This is not a frivolous applied microeconomic exercise, as it provides further evidence about the choice of timing of effort exertion by an underdog in a finite-length bilateral (but asymmetric) industry contest against a more favoured opponent, drawing upon inspiration from Avinash Dixit’s seminal 1987 piece in American Economic Review.

Despite an ardent belief that this myth is well-known to many fans of the game (at least in the Anglo-sphere), finding hard-source material validating it is proving more difficult than imagined. The only successes thus far are a quote in the 2000 autobiography by former Liverpool and Scotland centre-back Alan Hansen, as well as an old video of an SBS1 TV (Australia) telecast of a 1997 Confederations Cup group-stage match, where the English commentator states it explicitly.

If anyone knows off-hand of any citeable source on this one, please share with TSE readers via the comment section above. For the record, using data from 267 full ‘A’ internationals involving the Seleção between 1993 and 2010, the myth is found to be, in the words of Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman: ‘totally busted’!

2 Responses
  1. Liam Lenten permalink
    November 17, 2010

    In the end, it was a Lionel Messi wonder-strike in second-half injury time that was sufficient to give Argentina victory by the lone goal – I just wish he had have instead scored it early to provide me with an additional data point:-(

    The big result of the midweek friendlies for me was Portugal’s 4-0 rout of Spain – a record defeat of a reigning World Champion.

  2. Greg Pinelli permalink
    November 19, 2010

    This was another soccer irrelevancy played by two teams that were second tier sides at the World Cup…Messi should be putting in this time with his Club side..not scoring meaningless goals for games that serve no function..As for Portugal beating Spain 4-0…so what??? Come Brazil and 2014 Portugal will fold faster than a cheap accordian..as they always do….

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