Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Price of Innovation in Soccer

In honor of the World Cup, here's a little tale of the sometimes unintended consequences of trying to be an innovator.

In 1994 the Shell Caribbean Cup decided to try out a new way to deal with soccer matches that end regular time in a tie. Instead of simply awarding a tie or going to penalty shoot-outs, they decided to simply play sudden death extra time until a goal was scored. The problem with this idea is that soccer games regularly go ninety minutes without either team scoring, so to encourage teams to try to quickly end this sudden death extra time, they decided that the the game-ending goal would be worth 2 goals instead of one. This could then be useful if there were to be a tie in the standings, as goal differential would be the first tie-breaker (as it is in the current World Cup). All in all this seemed like a clever way to do be rid of those frustrating ties.

So fast-forward to the final group-stage match between Barbados and Grenada. Grenada enters the game with a previous victory and a +2 goal differential. Barbados enters the game with a previous loss and a -1 goal differential. Thus Barbados needs to not only win to advance but win by two goals. Barbados scored twice in the first half, but then Grenada scored a surprising goal in the 83rd minute to make the game 2-1. With that result Grenada would advance on goal differential, so they set all 11 players in tight defensive formation on their back third. After several fruitless attacks, Barbados realized that they were unlikely to penetrate Grenada's defense in what little time remained. With time running out Barbados' coach began yelling at his players to score a goal on themselves. The Barbados players did after some confusion, tying the game with less than 5 minutes left. This odd move forced a sudden death overtime where the winning goal might then give them a 2-goal victory.

Grenada quickly realized what was happening and came up with a brilliant plan of their own. If they also scored on themselves they would lose, but only by 1 goal and would therefore advance. Barbados, however, was one step ahead of them and began defending Grenada's goal from Grenada. Grenada then turned around and tried to attack Barbados' goal, and for 5 minutes fans watched as Grenada tried to score in either goal and Barbados furiously defended both ends of the pitch.

In the end Barbados successfully defended both goals until overtime where they scored the golden goal, thus winning by 2 goals and advancing to the next round.

Thanks to my office-mate, Francois Hibbert, and Wikipedia for this fun little story.


  1. Nick, wow! What an amazing story. I would pay money to watch that.

  2. Anyway in Europe there is too much money in soccer, and they don't have the level of innovation, which can be found in research.

  3. Cartesian,

    I do know Europeans love soccer. I work with a few and they are glued to the World Cup.

  4. Joe,

    I am quite happy that France has been eliminated, it means less injustice: they are going to earn less money, which in addition to this means they will have less time for prostitutes (it is another story).

  5. Cartesian,

    Well, I just hope that France can work out their internal feud they had. I never like to see a team argue with each other.


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