French Malaise

Last night France fell abjectly to defeat against Mexico in the World Cup to leave them needing something close to a miracle to progress to the next stage.

The recriminations are vast and too many to list in a blog.  How have the French now exited three of the six major tournaments since their World Cup and European Championships double of 1998 and 2000 at the first stage?!  Why did they stick with a poor manager after exiting Euro 2008 at the group stages?  Why were they seeded in the Play-Offs for this World Cup, helping ensure they got here (and they still needed a handball to get here!)?

It leaves an interesting situation in Group A though: France lie 3 points behind Mexico and Uruguay now, who are in the two qualification positions.  This suggests that Mexico and Uruguay, who face each other in the final match, might conspire to play out a boring goalless draw (as happened in an infamous match between West Germany and Austria in a previous World Cup).  But will they?

The second place team in Group A will face Argentina, who appear to be picking up steam after their 4-1 win over South Korea: Not an easy prospect.  The winners of Group A will face one of Nigeria (least likely), South Korea (more likely) or Greece (hard to say): A much easier prospect.  If Mexico and Uruguay play out a dull goalless draw, Uruguay tops the group and gets the easy match in the second round and Mexico gets the tough assignment of Argentina.

So, and excuse my game theory ignorance, but is this something of a prisoner’s dilemma?  If the teams conspire/collude for a goalless draw they both qualify (albeit with different rewards after qualification).  It’s a safe passage through to another game.  But Mexico may feel they want to go all out for the win to avoid Argentina – but the risk with that is they may leave themselves exposed and could lose.  If they lose and France beat South Africa (not necessary any more…) then it is possible that France could still progress.  So the potential risks of gambling on victory for Mexico or Uruguay are elimination from the tournament.

The more I write, the more I realise it’s far from a prisoner’s dilemma, but nonetheless it’s an intriguing situation…

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