France v Portugal

by Brian on July 5, 2006

Kieran has been complaining about mixed metaphors, but at least the mixer avoids directly contradicting themselves. Which is perhaps more than can be said for Paul Kelso writing in the Guardian blog.

bq. Few would bet with confidence against Scolari coaxing another odds-defying performance from his side.

I’m not as confident as several of the commentators here that prices in betting markets are a good guide to the truth, but even I think they are a decent guide as to what people will bet, and even bet with confidence, on.

Consider this a France v Portugal open thread. Everyone else I know is cheering for France, with good reason, but I still feel a little bad for the Portugese fans after they missed what must have seemed like a golden opportunity to win Euro 2004. So I’m probably going to feel bad for whoever loses, which is always a great way to watch a football game.



Ray 07.05.06 at 10:39 am

As much as I like Zidane, I don’t think I can cheer a team with Thierry Henry and Patrick Viera in it.


K. Williams 07.05.06 at 10:46 am

What does it mean to say that you’re not “confident” that prices in betting markets are good predictors of what will happen (which I assume is what you mean when you say “a good guide to the truth”? At least in sports, there’s a long empirical record of betting-market predictions and outcomes we can look at to determine whether prices are good predictors or not. And that record shows that in sports like horse racing, college basketball, and professional football, bettors do an exceptionally good job of assessing the probability of victory (and, more than that, of predicting margins of victory, too). I don’t know what the evidence shows with regard to soccer, but I’m sure someone has studied it. So why is this a question of faith — which I think is what “I’m not as confident” implies — rather than science (using that term in a loose way, to be sure)?


Chris Bertram 07.05.06 at 10:54 am

I don’t think K. Williams can have watched much soccer. The odds might somewhat reflect the probabilities over a run of games between two teams, but the variance in results is much higher than in most other sports. Soccer _leagues_ are highly predictable, but individual games are very risky items to bet on.


Brian 07.05.06 at 10:58 am

Three quick things about betting markets.

First, I wish there was a market on things like “One of the first comments will be a throwaway line about betting markets” attracting one of the first comments. I’d like totally clean up on those.

Second, I don’t think markets in sports are as good as k williams suggests. I thought (and I don’t have refs to hand, so I could be wrong) that there was evidence that long shots are systematically overpriced by the market.

Third, the comment in the post was quite deliberately not about sports. (So I get to appeal to evidence like earlier posts about arbitrage possibilities in the papal betting market.)

The reference to the commentators was about previous threads on betting markets. Some commentators think that the success (such as it is) of naturally occuring markets means we should try and set up artificial betting markets on things like “There will not be a terrorist attack in Peoria in the next 18 months”. And I’m persuaded by the arguments that artificially constructed betting markets (i.e. betting markets set up not for various people to make money, but for the purpose of aggregating information) won’t work as well as natural betting markets.

So all in all I think it’s a bit rude to say I’m appealing to faith rather than science here, since there have been quite a lot of good arguments (on both sides) put forward on CT over the years.


Dan Kervick 07.05.06 at 11:12 am

Well I’m rooting for Portugal.


reuben 07.05.06 at 11:41 am

I’ve noticed in some conversations that France are still seen as being an “Arsenal side”. Someone I spoke with yesterday, for instance, said she couldn’t support France because she hates Arsenal too much. But of course there are now more Man U and Chelsea players on France than Arsenal ones. (Newcastle and Arsenal actually have the same number: one. Slight difference in quality between the two players, though.)

Despite my misgivings about cheering for a side that is 17% ManU+Chelsea, I’ll be supporting France, because I think they have the capacity to play the better football and offer us a better final.


W. W. Mayfield 07.05.06 at 11:43 am

The uniform manufacturers’ championship will be decided today. Giving each manufacturer 3 points for a win and 1 for a draw, Nike is currently two points up on Adidas (49 to 47) with Puma a close third (45).

If Portugal win then Nike wins the championship and if France win then Adidas takes the championship.

An Portugal win today followed by an Italy win in the championship match would lift Puma past Adidas to finish third.



Isabel 07.05.06 at 12:02 pm

Allez, les concierges!


Justus 07.05.06 at 12:17 pm

I thought (and I don’t have refs to hand, so I could be wrong) that there was evidence that long shots are systematically overpriced by the market.

According to studies done by Gil & Levitt (2006), Golec & Tamarkin (1991), Gray & Gray (1997), and Levitt (2004) there is a bias toward the favorite in sports betting markets.


C Ronaldo 07.05.06 at 12:21 pm

Maybe most people you KNOW are rooting for France (if they are English, that is understandable, but worrying – next will be Argentina?);
but most of the COUNTRIES I know (just search the web, or better yet, check with Portuguese embassies around the world getting thousand of messages of support) want a Portuguese victory.
Anyway, for Portugal this is already a victory; and the jealousy…


Chris Bertram 07.05.06 at 12:28 pm

… my guess is the Dutch are also rooting for France.


tony 07.05.06 at 12:41 pm

I hope they both lose. Only kidding.


99 07.05.06 at 1:01 pm

Is anyone else having trouble connecting to TVU? I had a somewhat stable connection until about 1PM EST. But now I’m getting error messages.


david 07.05.06 at 1:10 pm

The Dutch should be hanging their heads in shame instead of bitching about Portugal.


Randy Paul 07.05.06 at 1:34 pm

I’m going with Portugal mainly because of Felipão. He’s a terrific coach with an excellent track record.


yabonn 07.05.06 at 1:56 pm

Well, now the public in France has turned and it’s on again with the team, the coach, footbal ; the politics have started making folksy footbalistic noises, and the team itself seem to be more comfident.

Nevertheless, i think they may make it.


Brian 07.05.06 at 2:03 pm

Thanks to justus for the info!

I wish France were playing two up front. I thought they looked much better that way the one game they played, and it would really open the match out. But I guess that’s why I don’t get paid to coach the team…


yabonn 07.05.06 at 2:17 pm

Portugal dominates the early game, at least. The french are talking to each other a lot – hope they can find the key.


K. Williams 07.05.06 at 2:30 pm

Chris, I’ve watched a lot of soccer, and I’d be interested to know what your evidence is for the variance of results (do you mean who wins, or what the score will be?) in soccer. Given the fact that there’s significantly more parity in the NFL or even major-league baseball than in, say, the Premiership, for instance, I’d be intrigued to know why there’d be more variance in wins/losses. But if odds on soccer are systematically mispriced, that would tell us something important.

Brian, your post is about trying to predict whether France or Portugal is more likely to win today’s game. Why would the inaccuracy of the papal betting market be relevant to this question?

Finally, Levitt’s work on the overpricing of favorites in NFL betting markets doesn’t actually tell us anything, because the betting market he was looking at wasn’t actually a market in which bettors collectively determined the odds.


Frenchdoc 07.05.06 at 2:49 pm

Every french victory is a slap in Le Pen’s face since the team is a great mix of immigrants.


P O'Neill 07.05.06 at 2:51 pm

Why did the Portuguese fans begin the match thinking it was a good idea to jeer Zidane? The Spanish fans tried that — “au revoir Zidane” — and the rest is history.


Chris Bertram 07.05.06 at 2:56 pm

Higher likelihood of upsets in “soccer”:

now back to the match ….


Brian 07.05.06 at 3:12 pm

Er, I’ve got no idea what I said that could be interpreted as scepticism specifically about betting markets *in football*. Certainly that wasn’t how I intended it. Being unfairly criticised for something I didn’t write … another great day on the blogs :)

Two great saves by Ricardo to start the second half, or this could be out of reach for the Portugese already.


Chris Bertram 07.05.06 at 3:55 pm

Wasn’t aimed at you Brian, but at K.Williams.


a 07.05.06 at 3:59 pm

Agh! We have De Villepin on TV now gloating about the victory.


Anderson 07.05.06 at 4:01 pm

Came here looking for a post on this:

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) – Radical Islamic militia fighters in Somalia shot and killed two people who were watching a banned World Cup soccer broadcast, a radio station reported Wednesday.

The hard-line Muslim fighters, who have banned watching television, opened fire after a crowd of teenagers defied their orders to leave a hall where a businessman was showing Tuesday’s Germany-Italy match on satellite television, according to Shabelle Radio, an independent local station. It said the businessman and a teenage girl were killed.

Think about *that*, sports fans.


Isabel 07.05.06 at 4:01 pm

Oh, well… The proletariate never stood a chance with the bourgeoisie, did it?


yabonn 07.05.06 at 4:03 pm

Poor Saha, but Thuram was magnificent.

Now Italy. They definitely have scores to settle with the french team, and they’re a pain in the back to play against. Ah well : on est en finale! :)


a 07.05.06 at 4:05 pm

I’m glad to the extent that Italy vs France should be a good final.

But Zidane looked tired again – is Brazil the only team that challenges him? And evil tongues would say that Henry took another dive to get the penalty.

Oh damn there go the horns honking. I hope I get some sleep tonight.


K. Williams 07.05.06 at 4:07 pm

You write a post headlined “France v. Portugal,” in which you quote someone talking about the odds on Portugal winning, and write that you’re not confident that prices in betting markets are a good guide to the truth. But you think that it’s unfair of me to assume that you’re implying that the odds on football matches are not a good predictor of their eventual outcome? What are we, back in the Chomsky thread again?


pp 07.05.06 at 4:13 pm

Don’t you bet soccer on a moneyline?
Betting is never a predictor of who will win, just who statistically needs “help” to score the same.


K. Williams 07.05.06 at 4:17 pm

Chris, that’s an interesting paper, but I don’t see how it tells us anything about whether betting markets do or do not do a good job of predicting outcomes in soccer games. The authors’ definition of “underdog,” as far as I can tell, is the team that at the end of the season had fewer wins (with upsets being games in which the underdog beats the favorite). But we want to know if betting markets did a good job of identifying the underdogs or not — in other words, whether the markets did a good job of predicting the likelihood of an upset. The paper doesn’t speak to this point at all, unless I’m misunderstanding their definition of “underdog.” (And I don’t think I am — it’s unlikely they collected data on FA betting markets dating back to 1888.)


dearieminho 07.05.06 at 5:46 pm

I fell asleep.


*** 07.05.06 at 6:31 pm

Cona. cona. cona!


novakant 07.05.06 at 7:04 pm

that was booooooring, yeah, they should’ve both lost


bill cowper 07.05.06 at 7:41 pm

Nice. Blue is my favorite color.


dale 07.06.06 at 2:19 am

well, bill (36), then it’s the perfect final for you.

agree with ray (1) – hard to cheer a team with henry in it, and his diving and gamesmanship, unsupported by any great *legitimate* efforts from him demonstrated why.

italy seems to have woken up. perhaps the thought of playing in Serie C next season has spurred players on. my money’s on italy.


Ray 07.06.06 at 2:53 am

Definitely a game to make you cheer on Italy. Portugal were diving all over the place, but at least they looked liked they wanted to win. The French looked lazy (especially Henry, as always).


Chris Bertram 07.06.06 at 3:47 am

K. Williams: if you backed the market favourites on any given weekend in the FA Premier League, you would lose money. There are just too many upsets. But over the course of a season, it is entirely predictable who will do best. Partly this is a function of soccer being a low scoring sport. With 10 minutes to go a weak team that is 1-0 down will often force a draw from a dead ball situation. So I rest my case: the markets are not very good at predicting individual game but excellent at predicting the league.

Next season, for example, we can be almost certain that Liverpool will finish higher than Aston Villa (Betfair have Liverpool at 11 to win the league and Villa at 920). But, on the strength of that dominance, I predict that the markets will also favour Liverpool over Villa in both the home and away games. I also predict that Liverpool will not win both those games (and they may well not win either of them).


soru 07.06.06 at 7:25 am

39: that would be true even if the bookies had perfect knowledge of the probabilities involved.

How well they estimate those probabilities is a different question, although probably not one with an answer ‘so badly that by following a simple rule, you can beat the house take and make a consistent profit’.


lacordaire 07.06.06 at 8:22 am

More mixed metaphores, this time a selection from the host TV reporter/columnist:

Wenn man ihn jetzt ins kalte Wasser schmeißt, könnte er sich die Finger verbrennen. (Gerhard Delling)

Ich habe nur immer meine Finger in Wunden gelegt, die sonst unter den Tisch gekehrt worden wären. (Paul Breitner)

Wer hinten so offen ist, kann nicht ganz dicht sein. (Werner Hansch)

Die Viererkette ist nur noch ein Perlchen.(Johannes B. Kerner)


K. Williams 07.06.06 at 10:18 am

Chris, you now have me officially confused. No one has ever argued that the test of betting markets’ accuracy is whether favorites win all the time — of course there are upsets. Surely the test is whether the markets are better than random — or, to be more specific with regard to soccer, whether the probabilistic forecasts implied in the moneyline are accurate. But that can only be measured over time.

More to the point, I don’t understand how the two parts of your statements work together: a season is just made up of 38 individual games. If the market is bad at predicting the outcome of the individual games, it has to be bad at predicting the outcome of the season. But you’re arguing that it can be bad at the former, but good at the latter. This makes no sense to me, unless all you’re saying is that there’s more noise in the forecasts for a single game. This is obviously true, but it doesn’t invalidate the usefulness of relying on the market for a forecast.

The argument for betting markets is not that they’re in any sense infallible. It’s that they offer the best (not the optimal, but the best available) probabilistic estimate of what will happen. I think you’re absolutely right that the low-scoring nature of soccer means that that estimate for any one game is going to be imperfect. But it’s still going to be a pretty good guide to what’s going to happen.

Here, by the way, is a paper on a toy market for the Euro 2000 championships, where the market called 15 out of 21 games correctly:


hermenauta 07.06.06 at 12:19 pm

Despite the Le Pen thing (scary), I cheered to see Portugal win…me and 180 M brazilians, for obvious reasons.


Tiago 07.07.06 at 5:28 am

Portugal has much more talent than France and France, well… most of them aren’t really french…


glenn 07.07.06 at 5:57 am

But the Italians dive better than Louganis ever did? Is it me, or is this the way all Southern Europeans play their football/soccer/calcio?

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