By: T.R. Slyder, TRSlyder@yahoo.com, @AndyDisco on Twitter
Horse Racing Lesson #1: Recent Form Means Everything
Why it favors Germany: Germany won their last two games, 4-1 and 4-0. Spain won their last two games 1-0 and 1-0 with David Villa scoring both goals. Hmmm, that looks like a pattern, does it not? Germany scores 4 a game, and Spain 1. 1 David Villa goal to be exact. Who on Spain has PROVEN they can beat you if Villa doesn't? No one. Spain may have better passing, a deeper team, and a Euro 2008 and trophy, but zero people find their last two wins more impressive than Germany's.
Horse Racing Lesson #2: The Fewer Changes for a hot Horse/Team, the Better
Why it Favors Germany: This could be a wash, because Mueller is out for Germany as well, but with Spain benching Torres, we don't know how that will disrupt their (delicate) offensive rhythm. What if this throws off David Villa? Who else will score? What if Germany just loads up on Villa and lets the new guy beat them?
Horse racing taught me to take a pass on a horse trying something new for the first time at a high level. For instance, if Rachel Alexandra (a dirt horse) ran on grass against elite company, I would bet against her. If she started running sprints (she prefers longer distances) against elite company, I would bet against her. The only way I'd bet a horse trying something new is if they did so against far lesser competition.
Spain is making a change and it is against elite competition. I'd bet Rachel Alexandra on the grass in an allowance race, but not in the Arlington Million. Sorry, Spain.
You don't change horses midstream, if there is any current.
Horse Racing Lesson #3: History is a Factor, Even if you are Unsure why or how.
I'm in a relative hurry to get this post published before the soccer match starts, so I can't research this as much as I would have liked. But certain trends in horse racing can be hard to ignore. When I first heard about these trends I was very skeptical of them because I couldn't explain them, nor could anyone else. For instance- European horses do disproportionately well in Breeder's Cup grass races, and the Arlington Million. Other than Street Sense, the winner of the Breeder's Cup Juvenile hadn't went on to win the Kentucky Derby in a very, very long time. In the last decade, The Arkansas Derby has produced significantly better horses than the Wood Memorial.
Can I offer some explanations for those trends? Yeah, kinda. But I can't paint the whole picture, and I don't think anyone can. As I've gotten a bit better at horse playing, I have learned that the question is NOT "WHY is that the trend?" the question really is more simply, "WHAT is the trend?" and follow it.
I don't think Native Americans could explain why three-leaved ankle-high plants resulted in an itchy rash after touching it, but they ignored those poison ivy plants, nonetheless.
The World Cup tie-in here is that Germany has the history here. They have won three World Cups and Spain is in their first ever semi-finals. Do I know why that is? No. Can I profit from that phenomenon, without being able to explain it? Yes. Historically, Germany has found a way to win and Spain hasn't. That is objective and is there for us to observe. I don't know exactly what about capsaicin on our papillae makes chili peppers taste hot, but I know they are. That's really all I need to know.
Horse Racing Lesson #4: Don't Be Afraid to Pick Against the Experts
Spain seems to be the slight betting favorite in this match. It's about a half-notch below a "Pick 'em", but Spain is favored, albeit slightly. Alexi Lalas picked Spain over Germany though and he knows a ton more about soccer than I do. Shouldn't I be concerned?
Not really. He cited his rationale for why he thought Spain would win, but he could have picked them for reasons we don't know. Maybe he has a Spanish wife or girlfriend. Maybe he thinks Germany will win, but Spain is the trendier pick to make, and he doesn't want to go against trendy soccer thinking. Maybe he believes Spain will win, and is simply incorrect.
Horse Racing Lesson #5: Avoid the Results That Would Make you Feel the Most Stupid
This sounds stupid, but has been done me a world of good at the track. Here it is in practice. I think Germany will win. They scored 4 goals against an ok England team, 4 goals against a very strong Argentina team, and more impressively, held Argentina to just one (garbage time) goal. They shut down Messi and Tevez, so why can't they shut down only David Villa? If Germany won this game 4-1, wouldn't you think, "Well, yeah. I shoulda seen that coming, both teams were trending in that direction." and you would feel stupid if you took Spain.
Taking Spain, essentially, represents your thinking that Germany will, for some reason, score 3 or 4 goals LESS than usual and Spain will probably score more than they usually have been. Doesn't that seem like a big departure? A lot of trends have to end for that to happen. If you DID assume that, and it didn't happen, wouldn't you feel like kind of a dumbass? Let's go over the 4 possibilities and how I see it.
Your Guess/Actual Winner.......Thoughts afterward
Spain/Spain.....Hot Damn. Spain scored a lot more/Germany scored a lot less than they have been trending, and I predicted that correctly. I know my soccer.
Spain/Germany....Goddamnit. I got talked into Spain. I mean, of course I knew Germany looked unbeatable. I just assumed some trends would do a 180, Germany would randomly suck and Spain would score more goals against Germany than they could muster against Portugal. Any monkey with eyes could tell you that Germany looked to be playing better. I just incorrectly predicted a major trend reversal.
Germany/Spain.... Goddamnit. Can't blame me for that one. Germany's last two games were against solid opponents and they had an 8-1 goal differential. Spain? 2-0 overall goals versus Paraguay and Portugal. I took a stand, bet the on-the-field trends, and ignored a lot of experts and the betting odds. I guess they knew something I didn't afterall. Next time I will have to weight their arguments more.
Germany/Germany...Hot Damn! I told you! I told you! I told you! Germany has too stout of a defense, too creative and multi-faceted of an offense, too much history and no reason to think that train was going to screech to a halt against its will.
What option makes me feel the stupidest? The first one of four, so I have to avoid that in favor of the last one.
We'll see how I do. The game is about to start.
That's how I roll.