Analysis of the 2014 World Cup

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FIFA WC 14

On Friday, December 6th, the entire world awoke with childlike anticipation, mentally preparing themselves for the results of the 2014 World Cup draw. In short, it was incredibly unkind to the U.S. My feelings about our group can be expressed by this Ron Swanson GIF:

swansonchair

To get a better sense of which groups are the toughest in 2014, I first calculated averages within each group based on FIFA world rankings. After struggling through basic math for roughly an hour, I found a chart online showing the same thing (only more organized and aesthetically-pleasing). Here it is (via Guardian U.K.):

wc groups

Group A: The Brazilians, with their immense talent and home field advantage, should advance easily. Supporters will expect to see Brazil’s characteristic trifecta of pace, ball control, and relentless attack in 2014. But the Brazilian defense shouldn’t be overlooked. Pound-for-pound, they have one of the most experienced and talented back lines in the world. Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, and Marcelo are all starting players on top clubs in their respective leagues. The midfield has young talent in Lucas, Oscar, and Ramires. As well as veterans, like Kaka and Ronaldinho. Rising star Neymar won MVP at the Confederations Cup this summer, where Brazil defeated Spain 3-0 in the final. They’ve already proven they can capitalize on home field advantage. And they’ve already proven they can beat the best team in the world.

Croatia, Mexico, and Cameroon, are all average. However, Croatia and Mexico are likely more favored. The Cameroon squad failed to even qualify for the 2013 African Cup, which doesn’t bode well for their prospects in the World Cup. Likely, Croatia and Mexico will face a dogfight to advance.

Top 2: Brazil/Croatia

Group B: Spain, #1 in the world and defending World Cup champions, are the easy favorite in Group B. Like Germany, the Spanish squad boasts incredible depth, with few (if any) weaknesses. Their defense is slower but arguably tougher and more experienced than Brazil’s. Spain’s midfield, however, is where their power lies. The Spanish squad boasts an unrivaled surplus of world class talent in the middle of the field. Veterans Xavi and Iniesta have both frequented the shortlist for FIFA Player of the Year as of lately:

Fifa ballon d'or

There’s also Juan Mata, David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Jesus Navas, Santi Cazorla, and Isco (i.e. ridiculous). Forward David Villa won the Silver Boot (2nd most goals) in 2010. He’ll be returning in 2014. Also returning are the 6 players named to the all-tournament team in 2010 (the 11 best players of the competition). 6 of the 11 were Spanish. All are returning to Rio.

The Chilean squad has one of the toughest center midfielders in the world with Arturo Vidal. Chile advanced to the knockout round in 2010 and could repeat their efforts if they can at least defeat the Netherlands. But that’s a big “if”. The Dutch were World Cup finalists in 2010 and boast a threatening attack with veteran forwards Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben. And of course, there’s Wesley Sneijder, who played stellar in South Africa. In 2010, Sneijder won the Bronze Boot (3rd most goals) and was awarded the Silver Ball (2nd best player overall) and, deservedly, was named to the all-tournament team. That was 4 years ago, however. A scrappy Chilean squad could easily surprise the Dutch in 2014.

Top 2: Spain/Netherlands

Group C: This is one of those groups where any two teams could possibly advance. But Columbia is the clear frontrunner with a brutal attack in Monaco teammates Falcao and James Rodriguez (who are already accustomed to playing with one another in club football). This should serve as an advantage come 2014. Young talents like Luis Muriel and Victor Ibarbo further strengthen Columbia’s attack. In 2012, FIFA awarded Columbia the “Best Mover of the Year” award (the team who progresses farthest in the FIFA world rankings). The 2014 squad will be keen to continue their form.

Greece, Ivory Coast, and Japan, seem evenly matched. Greece always proves to be a wildcard. In 2004, they shocked Europe by winning the UEFA Cup. Yet, they failed to make it past the group stage in the 2010 World Cup. Ivory Coast also has the potential to surprise. They boast a strong roster with Yaya Toure controlling the midfield and captain Didier Drogba upfront. Rio will likely be Drogba’s last World Cup appearance. If the team rallies around his goal-scoring ability, Cote d’Ivoire have a good chance of continuing to the knockout round. Japan advanced in 2010 but showed lackluster results recently in the Confederations Cup, losing all three matches in the group stage.

Top 2: Columbia/Ivory Coast

Group D: This group highlights an interesting phenomenon within the psyche of World Cup fans. If you’re American (or anyone else in the world besides a Brit) you agree that Group G is obviously the “group of death”. However, if you’re English, you tend to disagree. I partially sympathize with them. Group D will certainly be difficult. But I would trade Ghana for Costa Rica any day of the week.

The average world ranking of Group D is 14 overall. The next toughest is Group C with an average of 20. There’s definitely a wide gap. Both Italy and Uruguay are top 10 in the world and will prove to be very tough opponents for England. The Italian squad were finalists in the 2012 Euro Cup and advanced to the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup this summer, only losing to Spain in penalty kicks. They’re clear favorites, with good results in recent competition and a squad with a lot of experience.

Uruguay, on the other hand, is a top squad hiding under the radar. If you don’t closely follow the sport of football, Uruguay is a team that can be easily dismissed. Because, when you think of elite South American football, most people think Argentina and Brazil. But to discount this team would be foolish, for two reasons. First, Uruguay were nearly finalists in the 2010 World Cup, losing a close match to the Netherlands 3-2 in the semi-finals. They were also semi-finalists in the 2013 Confederations Cup. Second, Uruguay arguably has the strongest striking duo in the world, aside from Argentina. Luiz Suarez and Edison Cavani will be a nightmare for defenders.

England’s biggest opponent, however, is England. They have a lot talent, albeit young talent (Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Danny Welbeck, Oxlade-Chamberlain). The veteran players are world class but mostly past their prime. Rooney is only 28 but always proves to be unpredictable. Gerrard and Lampard are both mid-30s and will likely be appearing in their last World Cup in 2014. Joe Hart, at least, will be reliable in goal. We shouldn’t expect the same antics we saw from England goalkeeper Robert Green in the group stage against the U.S. in 2010. Although, as an American, I will always be grateful for this epic fail:

RG gif

My favorite club team in the world is Everton, so I’m predisposed to liking the England squad. I honestly want to see them win. But something is telling me they face an early exit in 2014. In South Africa, the U.S. and England both narrowly advanced to the knockout stage. I have a sneaking suspicion that, once again, we both are destined to the same fate. This time, in the form of defeat. That being said, with England’s abundance of youth prospects, they should find themselves back in the top 10 come 2018.

Top 2: Italy/Uruguay

Group E: Switzerland is the most surprising squad in the top 10, with scarce big name talent. Granit Xhaka (21) and Xherdan Shaqiri (22) are exciting youth prospects. The Swiss will rely on them in 2014. Switzerland went undefeated over 10 games in the World Cup qualifying round (7-3-0). Then again, the toughest team in their group was Slovenia (#29 in the world). The Swiss are probably the weakest top 10 team in the world. However, in a group like the one they find themselves, expect to see them advance.

Normally, France would be favorites in Group E. But lately, the French national team is anything but normal. Stunningly, they barely qualified for this year’s World Cup. They find themselves uncharacteristically outside the top 10 (#19 in the world). And let’s not forget about the drama that unfolded at the 2010 World Cup, when an argument between captain Patrice Evra and an assistant coach led to a team revolt.

The French have the personnel to go far. But their still the French. Like England, France is their own worst enemy. Thanks to an easy group, they’ll likely advance. But the sweet 16 might be as far as they go.

Top 2: Switzerland/France

Group F: Argentina will undoubtedly have the easiest path to the knockout round (as if they needed it). Lionel Messi (4-time back-to-back FIFA World Player of the Year) shares the attack with Sergio Aguero (together, two of the top 10 best strikers in the world). Mascherano and Di Maria add depth in the midfield. Wingers Lavezzi and Palacio further bolster an intimidating attack. Argentina’s defense is nothing to write home about. But they clearly compensate for it. If Messi and Aguero get hot, the Argentines could win the cup.

First-timers Bosnia and Herzegovina will be looking to make a name for themselves on the international stage. They’re the second highest ranked team in the group but it doesn’t necessarily make them favorites to advance. #36 in the world Nigeria won the 2013 African Cup. This shouldn’t count for nothing. It’s entirely possible for the African champions to knockout higher-ranked Bosnia/Herzegovina. Iran, on the other hand, will be lucky to earn a single point in this group.

Top 2: Argentina/Nigeria

Group G: If you’re familiar with the World Cup then you’re probably familiar with the term “group of death”. If you’re unfamiliar, then get familiar with Group G. In 2014, the U.S. will face the toughest group in the tournament. Germany (#2 in the world) is an absolute powerhouse and favorites to win it all. I could name their top players but I would have to name their entire starting 11. Germany s good. Period. But let’s not forget about Portugal (#5 in the world) and Christiano Ronaldo. Love him or hate him (hate him), he’s one of the best players in the world. In 2013, Portugal were the biggest “movers” within the FIFA top 20 (shifting nine places within the rankings from #14 to #5).

Last but not least, in some cruel twist of fate, the U.S. will be playing Ghana. F***ing Ghana. If you watched the 2010 World Cup, you understand why Americans are apprehensive. The U.S. were eliminated by Ghana during the knockout round in a heartbreaking loss in extra time. Now, a rematch is inevitable, alongside the likes of Germany and Portugal. Group G is unquestionably the “group of death”. Alas, if the U.S. want to be taken seriously in the eyes of international football, this is their chance. Lucky for us, the Americans have a secret weapon…

Aston Villa v Everton - Premier League

TIM HOWARD’S BEARD

Top 2: Germany/Portugal

Group H: Expect the Belgians to sweep the group stage. Aside from Uruguay, they’re the most underrated team in the tournament. Belgium will likely be top 5 in the world come 2018, with some of the best youth prospects in football. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is only 21 and already on his way to becoming world class. In the midfield, there’s Dembele, Fellaini, Witsel, Eden Hazard, and De Bruyne (with an average age of 24). Belgian’s attack is young and talented as well, with Mirallas, Lukaku, and Benteke (average age of 23). And let’s not forget about 17 year-old forward Zakaria Bakkali (rumored to be Belgium’s next wonder kid). In the back field is where Belgium’s maturity lies, with Vermaelen, Vertonghen, and Kompany on defense (still, all three are under 30).

If the Belgians play to their full potential, they have the ability to compete for the cup. But their inexperience will likely cost them in the knockout round against veteran squads like Spain and Germany. Despite their talent, Belgium is unpredictable. They dropped 6 places in the FIFA world rankings prior to the draw, falling farther than any other team in the top 20.

Advancing to the knockout round alongside Belgium will likely be Russia, who finished top of their table in World Cup qualifications (above Portugal).

Top 2: Belgium/Russia

wc match by match

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Money Don’t Buy Happiness: Analysis of the Happy Planet Index

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HPI

Since the beginning of our short-lived history, America has branded itself as the homeland of freedom. It began with the Puritans before the American Revolution (escaping religious persecution) and continues with immigration today. This constant influx has spawned the notion that America is a beacon for everything right in the world (despite how untrue that is). Like Galileo mistaking the Earth as the center of the universe, Americans are privy to egocentrism–the idea that the United States is the center of the world. Economically speaking, this may be true. However, money don’t buy happiness. Isn’t that the message of every country song ever written? Apparently it’s true. The U.S. accounts for the highest GDP in the world year after year. Yet, according to the Happy Planet Index (HPI), when it comes to our happiness, Americans don’t even break the top 10 list. In fact, we don’t even break the top 100. What can the Happy Planet Index tell us about our world and the definition of what it means to be happy?

HPI equation

The HPI is the leading global measure of sustainable well-being. It is much more than a superficial opinion poll on “happiness”. The index measures what matters in the context of being happy: the extent to which countries deliver long, happy, sustainable lives to the people who live in them. It accesses a countries performance based on a combination of factors concerning quality of life and environmental impact. We are products of our environment. Thus, it only makes sense  that our happiness is also a product of our environment.

The HPI utilizes three components to determine an overall score: experienced well-being, life expectancy, and ecological footprint. The scores are color coordinated based on a ‘stop-light’ system: green=happy, yellow=good days/bad days, red=miserable

First and foremost, experienced well-being was quantified based on answers given in response to a specific question on the Gallup World Poll–a global census. The question–“The ladder of life”–asked respondents to imagine a ladder where 0 represents the worst possible life and 10 the best possible life, and report the step of the ladder they felt they currently stand on. It also serves as the main variable of the Happy Planet Index.

Unlike life expectancy and ecological footprint–both quantitative–experienced well-being is based on qualitative data–that is, subjective in nature. A common criticism of the HPI is that personal opinion leads to biased results. For instance, how does one quantify an emotion? (i.e., how can Iraq have a higher score on the HPI than the U.S.?) (It does) However, if we consider that emotion is subjective by nature, as is happiness, it makes sense to incorporate qualitative data with quantitative, in order to compensate for the ambiguity. The definition of happiness is not universal so how can we expect the data to be? “Happiness” in the United States is usually reflective of the “American dream” –wealth and status with a white picket fence. Relatively speaking, I doubt that’s the case in Iraq. Or Vanuatu (an island nation in the South Pacific with a population less than 225,000. Ranked #1 on the first HPI taken in 2006.).

HPI-exp well being

HPI “experienced well-being” by county

Life expectancy scores were calculated using data from the UN Human Development Index: a composite statistic involving life expectancy, education, and income.

HPI-life expectancy

HPI “life expectancy” by country

Lastly, the ecological footprint is a measure of a country’s resource consumption: per capita measure of the amount of land required to sustain a country’s consumption rate.

HPI-eco footprint

HPI “ecological footprint” by country

This is where America falters and is ultimately the reason why our country continuously ranks low. According to the HPI: “The USA’s HPI score reflects a high life expectancy and high levels of experienced well-being, but is brought down by an extremely high ecological footprint.”

HPI-u.s.a.

The U.S. accounts for some of the best quality of life in the world. In contrast, our ecological footprint is one of the worst. This can be partially attributed to having one of the largest populations in the world. Although, China and India both have populations in the billions and both significantly outscored the U.S on the HPI. In reality, the blame can be placed on free enterprise: America’s love affair with capitalism. Which leads us to the inquiry: how does money correlate with happiness?

The following are the world’s top 10 GDPs based on PPP (purchasing power parity)

  1. United States (HPI score: #105)
  2. China (HPI: #60)
  3. India (HPI: #32)
  4. Japan (HPI: #45)
  5. Germany (HPI: #46)
  6. Russia (HPI: #122)
  7. Brazil (HPI: #21)
  8. United Kingdom (HPI: #41)
  9. France (HPI: #50)
  10. Italy (HPI: #51)

Not one of the top 10 richest countries in the world finds itself within the top 10 happiest countries in the world, let alone the top 20.

In comparison, the following are the world’s top 10 happiest countries according to the 2012 HPI:

  1. Costa Rica (#1 in 2009 and #3 in 2006) (Michael Jordan of the HPI)
  2. Vietnam
  3. Columbia
  4. Belize
  5. El Salvador
  6. Jamaica
  7. Panama
  8. Nicaragua
  9. Venezuela
  10. Guatemala

Notice a pattern? Besides the fact that they are all mostly from Central America (and warm climates), the happiest countries tend to not be the richest. In fact, they tend to be relatively poor. Many countries that the average American would not expect to be “happier”, are in fact, much happier than the U.S. For example, Cuba is #12 in the world. Pakistan is #16. Iraq, with a GDP less than 10% of the U.S., records a HPI score of #36. Syria, with a GDP less than 1/10th of a percent of the U.S. and in the midst of a civil war, still edges half the countries with top 10 GDPs, with an HPI score of #47.  So is this all bullshit? Or are Americans actually miserable?

hpi sade keanu

Don’t be sad, Keanu.

The answer is yes and no. In other words, our happiness is up for interpretation. As mentioned previously, if you take the United States and base the HPI solely on “experienced well-being” and “life expectancy” then we would undoubtedly score higher on the list. In fact, if you take the HPI based only on those two factors, the top 10 lists are completely different.

Top 10 countries based on “experienced well-being”:

  1. Denmark
  2. Canada
  3. Norway
  4. Switzerland
  5. Sweden
  6. Netherlands
  7. Venezuela
  8. Australia
  9. Israel
  10. Finland

In contrast to the top 10 countries according to HPI (central American countries, warm climates) the top 10 according to well-being follow a geographic pattern of mainly northern hemisphere and cold (and in some cases, free healthcare). Venezuela is the only repeat.

Top 10 countries based on “life expectancy”:

  1. Japan
  2. Hong Kong
  3. Switzerland
  4. Italy
  5. Australia
  6. Iceland
  7. Israel
  8. France
  9. Spain
  10. Sweden

There’s no defined pattern as there was with “well-being”. However, we do find repeats between the two lists: Switzerland, Australia, Israel, and Sweden. Hypothetically speaking, without acknowledging “ecological footprint”, we might conclude that these four countries display both qualitative and quantitative evidence that they are the “happiest” countries in the world. However, this would be a fundamental misunderstanding of the HPI.

The purpose of the index is best conceived as a measure of the environmental efficiency of supporting well-being in a given country. The HPI is founded on utilitarian principles–the philosophical approach to happiness that suggests an action is right as long as it promotes happiness, and that the greatest happiness of the greatest number should be the guiding principle of conduct (i.e. most people want to live long and fulfilling lives). The country which is doing the best is the one that allows its citizens to do so, without infringing on the opportunities of future generations and people in other countries to do the same. Hence the reason why the “ecological footprint” is relevant:

HPI-us eco footprint

The HPI is not suggesting that America is currently unhappy (nor that it’s less “happy” than Iraq or Syria or Vanuatu). It’s telling us that our consumption rate is way out of proportion with our population density and land mass. It’s telling us that we might be happy now (according to “well-being” and “life expectancy”) but in terms of conservation, America has the potential to become very unhappy in the near future. Our ecological footprint illustrates the possibility that our environment might dissipate if we continue down the same path of uncompromising consumption.

Tree-hugger, hippie, eco-warrior: I am none of the above. The purpose of this story isn’t to rally the troops into saving our planet (nor America). As I’ve said before, I’m a realist. I don’t deny global warming but I also don’t deny that humans will continue to harvest this planet for all it’s worth. In fact, I’ll be included as one of them. I’ll continue to fill my car with gasoline. I’ll continue to not recycle when I’m feeling lazy. The point is, consumption is inevitable and unstoppable in the grand scheme of humanity. Which is to say, the HPI might serve better as an indicator of what is to come.

The index illustrates a simplified, watered-down perspective on happiness in America: experienced well-being with a relatively high life expectancy, coupled with the blissful ignorance of what our country does to itself and other countries around the world. Perhaps the HPI is offering a personal message to America: most of you are happy, although, you probably shouldn’t be. 

HPI resource consumption

If money could buy happiness, the U.S. would be the happiest country in the world. In reality, happiness is defined as much more than wealth. It’s a subjective understanding of what is important in one’s life. The true meaning of “happiness” has been analyzed by philosophers since the dawn of recorded history. Their perspectives offer a poignant similarity in our understanding of what it means to be “happy”.

The Greek word for “happiness” is eudaimonia (which literally translates to “human flourishing”). The concept of eudaimonia was central to Aristotle’s philosophy. He defined it as ‘the highest human good’–to consider and experience what that was and how it could be achieved. Aristotle was one of the first to describe “happiness” as subjective in nature:

“Verbally there is a very general agreement; for both the general run of men and people of superior refinement say that it is [eudaimonia], and identify living well and faring well with being happy; but with regard to what [eudaimonia] is they differ, and the many do not give the same account as the wise. For the former think it is some plain and obvious thing like pleasure, wealth or honor…”

In Plato’s Definitions, eudaimonia is simplified:

“The good composed of all goods; an ability which suffices for living well; perfection in respect of virtue; resources sufficient for a living creature.”

What these old Greek dudes we’re trying to say is that the definition of “happiness” is ubiquitous. It cannot logistically be quantified using statistics and indexes. However, if we consider the simplest explanation for being happy, we might agree that the answer is actually quite simple:

“Living well”.