The ongoing copa america is probably the worst designed sporting event I’ve ever seen, in terms of tournament format. Yes, there have been tournaments that have come close in the past, like the Asia Cup 08, which had a funny format so as to ensure at least two India-Pakistan matches (but that ensured that the chances of an India-Pakistan FINAL were really low). Then there was Euro 2008, where teams qualifying for the knockout from the same group ended up in the same half of the draw. And then, in hindsight, there was the Cricket World Cup 2007, when two upsets threw out two of the favourites before the “real tournament” had begun.
But in the face of the current Copa America, all of those can be described as being extremely well-designed tournaments. The Copa format is so bad that I seriously doubt that this post is going to be exhaustive in listing out all its flaws. Since there are so many of them, and I don’t want to keep saying “moreover”, “next” or “furthermore”, I’ll do it in bullet points. The points are in random order
- You have 12 countries in the first round which you want to reduce to 8 for the second round. What do you do? Four groups of three with top two from each qualifying right? Instead, they have 3 groups of 4, with the two best third placed teams also qualifying. So you spend 18 matches (2/3rd of the tournament) throwing out one-third of the teams! Ok but I understand (as Atul Mathew points out on twitter) this is the standard format of Copa so I guess I’ll let it be
- The organizers seem to have clearly drawn from the experience of 2007 CWC, when India and Pakistan went out in the first round. And given how the first two rounds of matches played out, it wouldn’t have been hard to imagine one or both of Argentina and Brazil going out, which would have killed the competition. I guess that’s the reason the Copa adopts this tamasha of third placed teams and stuff.
- The last matches in each group are not simultaneously played, and the “seeded teams” in each group (Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil) got to play the last games, and thus figure out what exactly they needed to do (fix it even, maybe?) so that they got a favourable draw in the quarters. Actually, as I’ll explain in a subsequent tweet, it was more like “favourable opponent” rather than “favourable draw”. Check out Jonathan Wilson’s piece on watching Brazil-Ecuador with a bunch of Chile fans
- Now you have in the second round Brazil taking on Paraguay, whom they’ve faced once before in the group stages. Again, daft format that allows a team to play the third placed team in its own group in the second round itself. I remember FIFA 1994 handling third placed teams well, to make sure they didn’t meet teams they’d played before in the second round
- Take a look at the quarter-finals fixtures, and do a sensitivity analysis of what would have happened if either Brazil had done slightly worse or Argentina had done better. You will notice that as long as Argentina and Brazil finished their respective groups as either number 1 or number 2, they would end up in different halves of the tournament! Oh, the lengths the organizers have gone to ensure they maximize the chances of getting a Brazil-Argentina final. Another off-shoot is again teams from the same group having to meet in the semis. For example, if Venezuela beat Chile this weekend, then either Brazil or Paraguay could get to the final of the tournament by not ever facing a team that started anywhere outside of group B!!