Viva Espana

El Nino of Spain scored his goal in Euro 2008 against Sweden. Commentators now say that his confidence is up and he is going to score again. Strikers live and die by confidence. When confidence is high, they take more chances and good strikers score more goals; when confidence is low they tend to pass and let teammates take the chance. So, in a randomly selected game a striker is more likely to score conditional on having already scored in the tournament, than scoring the very first. This is especially the case for strikers like Torres with good striking partners like David Villa because the pressure for passing the ball when not in a hot streak is higher. The idea of hot streak in NBA basketball has been debunked or at least questioned by Steven Levitt of the University of Chicago, who argue that hot streaks are a result of rational response by the defense to aggressive playing by the offense.  However, the case of football, or soccer as Americans would have it, seems different.

The stories of Spain and Italy in major tournaments can not be more different, and this edition of the European Championship has been no different up to now. Spain often do well at the qualifying phase (although not initially this time) and in the group phase but tend to collapse early in the knock-out phase, while the opposite is typically true for Italy. Maybe it's true that the Italians are mentally tough and the Spaniards are fickle, but there is a plausible explanation based on the difference in the nature of competition of group play and knock-out play, and on the difference in the playing styles of Spain and Italy. It's not that the Azzurri's countenatcho style is better suited for knock-out games than La Roja's attack-is-the-best-defense style. Rather, in group competition, it is more important for weaker and even equally strong opponents of Spain and Italy not to lose to them, rather than to win as in knock-out competition. Facing such opponents, the playing style of Spain gives it an advantage relative to Italy in group competition. Such advantage disappears in knock-out competition.

The first two games in the Group of Death have flattering scores for the Dutch, but it is not surprising that the heaviest defeats in decades for Italy and for France are inflicted by Holland, rather than by another football superpower, say Germany. In both games, the Dutch scored first, and then scored again. Conditional on there being one goal, is it more likely that leading team scores more goals or the trailing team pulls one back? The answer may depend on the playing styles of the two teams in the game. It is more likely that the leading team scores more if it has the attack style of the Dutch that relies on fast breaks, and if the trailing team is like Italy that had to get out of its comfort zone to attack.