Wednesday, 19 October 2011

How calculations and permutations can give you palpitations

TRY to imagine me in the living room as the games on the final matchday for Euro 2012 qualification kick off. Ireland’s tussle with Armenia is on the telly, but I also have the laptop out to keep track of the other matches. Also the table is populated by the sports pages, which give the group tables at the start of play, as well as my own hand-written sheet of calculations to provide an instant answer to any ‘what if’ scenario.

The questions fly around all night: “Are we seeded?”, “What happens if France go behind?”, “So now who’s best runner-up?”. The picture changes with each goal. The clumsiness of the Armenia defence in gifting Ireland an opening goal prompts cheering from my housemates and me, but the RTE pundits spend half-time moaning about how terrible the match is and how Ireland won’t be seeded. Sorry lads, by my hand-written calculations it turns out we are seeded.

Our half-time conversation is dominated by trying to explain UEFA’s wonderfully convoluted system of best runners-up, seeds and non-seeds and the abolition of results against cannon fodder teams in calculating the current state of play. It’s nearly a relief to get back to watching the football as our heads are fried. Cue more cheering when Richard Dunne heads Ireland 2-0 in front, before in typical Irish fashion our defence goes walkabout and Armenia claw a goal back. Straight away the question is raised: “What happens now?”

Don’t panic, lads, we’re still in a good place. Amidst all the worrying about Ireland, Sweden have only gone and retaken the lead in their game while Portugal are being decked by Denmark, thus raising the possibility of meeting Cristiano Ronaldo and co in the play-offs. Edin Dzeko doesn’t help by giving Bosnia a surprise lead in Paris. “Damn ye, France!” comes the shout, but even with our, ahem, friends dropping to second we’re still among the top seeds. That hour I spent earlier on calculating each team’s record proves time well invested.

It ends 2-1 in Dublin and at least one thing is certain – Ireland WILL be in the play-offs. But still we are focused on scores from elsewhere. Rumours abound on Twitter that we won’t be seeded, but I continue to stand by the optimistic view. France draw level and, finally, the last word comes through – Ireland will be seeded. After all that.

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