I’m dumb about soccer, almost as dumb as I am about wide-area networking. I don’t follow it during non-World Cup years, and besides that I couldn’t tell you where the last World Cup was held, or who won it. (Brazil is a good guess, right?) If I were at home in the US, I almost surely wouldn’t be paying attention.
But here I am on a visit to CERN (again!), and the World Cup is all that anyone is talking about. (Or at least all that anyone is talking about beside the experiments and air travel.) This is not entirely surprising, given the broad representation of different nations working on the LHC experiments. On CMS we have institutions from 38 different countries, plus people from other countries who work for those institutions. In my own research group of about twenty people, I count seven or maybe eight different nationalities. It’s part of the fun of working in particle physics — it is a world-wide effort, and you get to learn about what’s going on in lots of different places.
I’m doing my best to pay attention. I’ve been checking on which matches are being played each day, so I am ready to make the appropriate small talk with colleagues. On Saturday night, a colleague invited me to join him in downtown Geneva (near Plainpalais) for “Festifoot,” an outdoor event with large TV screens for watching the game, lots of food vendors, and live music after the days’ matches are over. This happened to be the evening that the US played England, but I was the only person in the crowd that obviously stuck out to me as American (although a few people did cheer when the US scored their one goal.) And all of the TV broadcasts of the games are being projected onto a wall in CERN’s Restaurant 1; there was a very big crowd in there this evening, while Brazil was playing.
My secret weapon in my soccer discussions comes from Nate Silver and those amazing folks at FiveThirtyEight.com, who totally nailed their prediction of the 2008 presidential election. They are now running Monte Carlo simulations of the World Cup, based on a detailed ranking scheme of the teams. Based on the rankings, they can calculate the probability of a given outcome of every matchup, and on the basis of that run a large number of simulated World Cups and predict the probability of any of the 32 teams winning in the final. It’s a totally particle physics way of thinking about the game! Brazil is favored, but is only given a ~21% chance of winning; that will probably go down after including tonight’s data, but not by much. (Don’t take the bookies’ odds on Spain.)
Honduras v. Chile tomorrow!