Thursday, October 20, 2016

Scotland's UEFA Coefficient: Group Stage Halfway Point

I didn't want to let six matchdays go by without checking in, so here's where we are halfway through the group stage of the Champions League (and for other nations, the Europa League).

So Celtic managed to grab a draw against Manchester City. That added 0.25 to the coefficient, which moved Scotland past Norway into 22nd. Yay! No more 23rd (for now), where they had been stuck the entire time.

Legia Warsaw is having an even worse time in the Champions League than Celtic, so Poland is still within striking distance, if Celtic can put together a win or two draws in their last three matches.

On the other hand, Israel's coefficient has inched up 1.25, Azerbaijan is up 0.75 and Cyprus is up by 1. A repeat of that performance in the last three matches by Israeli clubs, a surge by Azerbaijan, or qualification for the knockout stages by APOEL Nicosia could move any of those nations past Scotland.

It just goes to show that having two teams do reasonably well in the Europa League is better for the coefficient than having one do poorly in the Champions League. I'm not sure that's fair, but that's how it is.

In December, UEFA is supposed to unveil the new qualifying procedure, which will take place the year after next. The coefficient referenced above is the one that will get used in this qualifying, so these moves of one or two spots could make a big difference...or no difference at all. I will update when we find out.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Geocaching: Year 2002 Caches

On Friday, I found a virtual cache in Virginia that was placed in January 2002.
Not only did this bring me one month closer to finding a geocache placed in every month since geocaching started (the Jasmer challenge), for the first time there's a year where I've found a cache placed in every month.

Why 2002? Well, 2000 and 2001 were really early days of geocaching, and there aren't a ton of caches left from then. I have actually found four caches from 2001, but none from 2000 yet.

The other reason is that new "virtual caches" were banned about 11 years ago. Since there is no container to maintain, they tend to stick around, and they can be fun to find. Currently, there are 4,642 virtuals remaining, only seven of which date from after 2005. I think those seven are weird cases where the placement date has been changed over the years.

In fact, I found a virtual cache placed in every month from 2002. Of the 29 caches from 2002, 25 were virtual and 4 were traditional. Of the four traditionals, two are no longer available. Of the 25 virtuals, two are no longer available. How do virtuals go away, since there's no container to maintain? Well, generally you need to e-mail your answer to the cache owner, and if the e-mail address no longer works, the geocaching reviewers will archive the cache.

Looking at the list of 29 caches, I have found them in Virginia, California, England, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, Germany, Maryland, Turkey, Georgia, DC, and Arizona, so geocaching had definitely spread far and wide by 2002.

So now I'm up to 108 months found, out of 198. Perhaps I should count down by saying I have 90 left to find, since the total number of months keeps going up. I'm only missing 2 months from each of 2006 and 2007 -- most of those I did when I started caching in 2007 and early 2008. So those may be the next years I finish.

Also, that January 2002 cache is now the fifth oldest I've found.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Scottish Football: Thinking About Elo

The American data journalism site uses Elo ratings pretty heavily in its sports coverage, but the ratings are actually pretty popular worldwide. A few points about Elo:
  • Elo was originally created as a chess rating system. It underlies the go ratings I've blogged about.
  • I used to think Elo stood for something, but it's actually named after its creator, Arpad Elo.
  • The difference in ratings is used to predict the probability of an upset.
  • The outcome of a match is used to adjust the ratings, with points shifting from the winner to the loser.
  • There are endless variations, including adjusting for score.
It is unsurprising that this system has been repurposed for soccer. I decided to take a look at the Scottish club rankings, as posted by

This gives a pretty clear answer to something I've wondered -- is anybody else in Celtic's vicinity? No. Aberdeen has consistently been the second-best team, which I had realized, but I didn't know it would come across so strongly in the graph.  St. Johnstone, Hearts and Inverness form the next grouping of three.

I have been keeping an eye on the Scottish Premiership tables. It's very early -- less than 20% done, but the European places are currently occupied by Celtic, Aberdeen and Hearts -- plus the Scottish Cup winner, or St. Johnstone, if the Cup is won by one of the top 3.

So the top 3 all look good, but St. Johnstone is the club that had a streak of four weak years in the Europa League snapped by not appearing this year. If they're back, it's probably not a good sign for Scotland's UEFA coefficient.

Another thing that does is use the Elo rankings to project the rest of the Champions League group stages. According to them, Celtic has a 75.5% chance of doing worse than Borussia Mönchengladbach, a 97.4% chance of doing worse than Manchester City, and 100% chance of doing worse than Barcelona. In other words, a slim-to-none chance of qualifying for the knockout stage, but a 20-25% chance of dropping to the Europa League. I'll buy that.

Another thing the site tells you is the peak Elo rank of each club. Despite the fact that Celtic played minnow to Man City's whale in this week's draw, note that as recently as 2012 Man City was the #3 club in Europe, their best ever rating, which they held for a total of 33 days. But the #1 club back in 1972, when I was born -- Celtic, a position they held for a year and a half.

On the one hand, it's tempting to see that as a historical artifact. On the other, as recently as 2014, Celtic out-drew Man City (by an average of 4 fans!). While the TV money isn't comparable, there has to be some way of turning those resources into European competitiveness (and there was last week in Glasgow!). I don't think putting them into the English pyramid is the right answer, but maybe some sort of Atlantic League, where Celtic and Rangers could mix with top teams from other smaller European countries, would do the trick.