Pop Sci has pointed us to a fascinating chart by two math professors at the University of London, which purports to show who will win the World Cup on Sunday. The short answer: Spain, because they pass 40% more than The Netherlands, and as a result are a better “network” for exploiting their opponent’s weaknesses.
The professors simply graphed all of the passes made by each team during the World Cup. (This sort of network study is usually called graph theory, and helps in planning Internet infrastructure, among other things.) They discovered that not only does Spain as a team pass more, but their top pass receiver, striker David Villa, gets 37 passes a game. That presumably means that Villa is harder to cover and deny the ball. By contrast, the Dutch pass less, and rely on the physical skills of individual players far more.
Of course, the gaping hole in the professor’s argument is whether higher passes actually correlate with percentage of games won. But they do argue that their charts showed why Germany beat England: England simply concentrated too much passing to Wayne Rooney, thus making him easy to block and render ineffective during the game.