Matt Andrews, the faculty director of the Building State Capability program at Harvard Kennedy School, says the reasons why African nations haven’t done better at soccer’s world championships have a lot in common with why much of the continent’s economic promise has also gone unfulfilled.
Featuring MATT ANDREWS
December 9, 2022
33 minutes and 44 seconds
The World Cup, the biggest championship in soccer—or football, depending on where you are from—is currently underway and it's one of the two most-watched sporting events on the planet, the other being the Olympic Games. Yet even though it’s a worldwide event, the list of World Cup champions is dominated by European countries like France, Italy, and Germany, plus a handful of South American ones like Argentina and Brazil. No African nation, meanwhile, has ever made it even as far as the semifinals, although Morocco will have the opportunity to make history tomorrow when they face off against Portugal in the quarterfinals. Some possible reasons for Africa’s lack of success were recently outlined in a research paper by Matt Andrews, the Edward S. Mason Senior Lecturer in International Development at HKS and faculty director of the Building State Capability program. Andrews, who grew up as a soccer fan in South Africa, says the problem isn’t talent—in fact, top professional soccer teams around the world are loaded with African-born players. Instead, Andrews says the reasons Africa’s soccer teams don’t do better look a lot like the reasons their economies don’t do better—they lack the institutional support that would help them realize their latent talent and promise. Matt Andrews is here today to talk football, goals, aspirations, and how to put Africa on a winning path.
Matt Andrews is the Edward S. Mason Senior Lecturer in International Development at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He has worked in over 50 countries across the globe as a civil servant, international development expert, researcher, teacher, advisor, and coach. He has written three books and over 60 other publications on the topics of development and management. He is also the faculty director of the Building State Capability program at Harvard, which is where he has developed—with a team—a policy and management method to address complex challenges. This method is called problem driven iterative adaptation (PDIA) and was developed through over a decade of applied action research work by Matt and his team. It is now used by practitioners across the globe. Matt holds a BCom degree from the University of Natal, Durban (South Africa), an MSc from the University of London, and a PhD in Public Administration from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University.
Ralph Ranalli of the HKS Office of Public Affairs and Communications is the host, producer, and editor of HKS PolicyCast. A former journalist, public television producer, and entrepreneur, he holds an AB in Political Science from UCLA and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University.
The co-producer of PolicyCast is Susan Hughes. Design and graphics support is provided by Lydia Rosenberg, Delane Meadows, and the OCPA Design Team. Social media promotion and support is provided by Natalie Montaner and the OCPA Digital Team.
Ralph Ranalli (Intro): Hi PolicyCast listeners, your host Ralph Ranalli here. We need to start today with a quick programming note: This podcast was recorded on December 1st, while the World Cup soccer tournament’s group stage games were still underway. It was released on Friday, December 9th, just as the quarterfinals were about to begin.
Matt Andrews (Intro): One of the things that got me to look at soccer was that it's a competitive environment that involves every country in the world. It actually involves more countries than are recognized by the United Nations. So, the data on soccer is actually richer than the data on trade. In soccer, we have the data on every single game the countries play, every game that every country plays against whoever, et cetera. We also have data to look at their management structures. We also have data where we can look at what do the institutional structures look like. It's about capabilities to compete.
Ralph Ranalli (Intro): Soccer—or football, depending on where you are from—is by far the most popular sport in the world. Its biggest championship, the World Cup, which is currently underway, is one of the two most-watched sporting events on the planet, the other being the Olympic Games. Yet even though it’s a worldwide event, the list of World Cup champions is dominated by European countries like France, Italy, and Germany, plus a handful of South American ones like Argentina and Brazil. No African nation, meanwhile, has ever made it even as far as the semifinals, although Morocco will have the opportunity to make history tomorrow when they face off against Portugal in the quarterfinals. Some possible reasons for Africa’s lack of success were recently outlined in a research paper by Matt Andrews, the Edward S. Mason Senior Lecturer in International Development at HKS and faculty director of the Building State Capability program. Andrews, who grew up as a soccer fan in South Africa, says the problem isn’t talent—top professional soccer teams around the world are loaded with African-born players. Instead, Andrews says the reasons Africa’s soccer teams don’t do better look a lot like the reasons their economies don’t do better—they lack the institutional support that would help them realize their latent talent and promise. Matt Andrews is here today to talk football, goals, aspirations, and how to put Africa on a winning path.
Ralph Ranalli: So Matt, welcome to PolicyCast.
Matt Andrews: Thanks for having me.
Ralph Ranalli: Well, in my book, it doesn’t get any better than talking soccer, public policy, and international development, all at the same time. But there is some housekeeping stuff we should probably get out of the way first. So is it soccer or football? We have a very international audience, so I think either one is fine. But which one do you prefer?
Matt Andrews: I used to be a football person, but I'm kind of won over to soccer. It's fine.
Ralph Ranalli: Great. So, you grew up in South Africa?
Matt Andrews: I did.
Ralph Ranalli: Were you always a big soccer fan? And the other big question we have to get out there is: What teams do you support?
Matt Andrews: Actually, in the late 1970s, I was young. And I started going to watch Kaizer Chiefs in South Africa. It was an interesting time because it was apartheid South Africa. So, if you went to watch Kaizer Chiefs, there weren't many white people in the stadiums. And for me, it was one of the very few places where I got to see people who were not exactly like me. And I loved it. It was fantastic. They were just incredible players, incredible atmosphere. I saw a different world.
Ralph Ranalli: Yeah, the Kaizer Chiefs won a few South African championships in that era.
Matt Andrews: And then, the first goal that I ever saw in England was scored by Ricky Villa in the FA Cup final between Tottenham Hotspurs and Manchester City. He was one of the first Argentine players to play in England, one of the first international players. And that's kind of an important part of this podcast, actually. I saw him dancing through players, put the ball in the back of the net. I have a picture of it in my office. And I'm a lifelong Tottenham Hotspur supporter because of that goal.
Ralph Ranalli: Well my Italian ancestors come from Napoli, so I am a big Serie A fan, and of course we have a couple of very talented African-born players on our squad including Victor Osimhen of Nigeria. But anyway, let's just jump right in. There was this study you did earlier this year and a recent article you wrote about African nations and soccer. And in it you quoted Brazilian soccer legend Pele, who predicted in the seventies that an African country would win the World Cup before the year 2000.
Matt Andrews: Yeah.
Ralph Ranalli: But right now no African team right is in the top 20 in the FIFA world rankings. We're nearly a quarter of the way through what was supposed to be the African century. What happened?
Matt Andrews: Yeah. So, I think it's not just a football story or not just a soccer story. It's a story of development. It's a story of the continent. And it's kind of hold our breath for a second and say we have Senegal going to the second round. Morocco is probably going to go to the second round. Ghana may go through the second round, we may have three, which would be the biggest performance that Africa has ever had. Right? But in that, we are saying we're beating the odds. We're beating the odds. Why are we beating the odds? And to get past this round, Senegal has to beat England. Now, England is kind of an up and down squad, but England... If you look at the ratings of teams based on how they have performed over time, England routinely scores about 1900 points, Senegal below 1800. Senegal is now kind of around 1830, 1840. It's the highest ever. England, if it goes behind 1900, it's a tragedy. Now, what that means is they win most of their games, but they play against better teams. And Africa loses the games that they play against better teams.
Africa's best wins their games against weaker teams, and schedules weaker teams all the time. So, it's almost like the continent or the best teams are stuck in this kind of trap whereby they can't get better. Because when you get better, you play against teams that play better than you. You play against teams that manage themselves better than you. You play against teams who have habits in their dressing rooms, habits in their training, that are better than yours. And African teams are just behind those. Now, I don't think it's just Africa... African soccer, sorry. I think it's African economics, African development. It's like there's so much potential but it doesn't do the things that it needs to learn how to break through that kind of barrier to get to the next level.
Ralph Ranalli: Right. I want to get to how soccer is sort of a microcosm for a lot of trends and developments in the world in a little bit, but for now I want to stay focused on this study you did. The thesis is that African teams aren't competitive because they don't play enough against the best clubs. That’s something familiar to American soccer fans, since we play in CONCACAF, so we don't get to play against the top-level teams as much either. Mexico is the only team ranked higher than the United States in CONCACAF. And they've been playing poorly lately and didn’t make it out of the group stage.
In your study, you found statistically that less than 20% of the top African soccer countries’ matches were against elite contenders. Whereas countries that are World Cup semifinalists and finalists play between 30 and 60% of their annual matches against elite nations. And African countries also win far fewer of those high-level matches. Nigeria took only 30% of the points in those matches during the period of the 2010s, where England took 68%, which is more than twice. And you said that more work was needed to change that. What exactly needs to change?
Matt Andrews: Yeah. So, I think it's a really simple thing. And we see this actually very much in team sports, there's a simple rule. Play up and you get better. Play down and you get worse. It's just simple. And the reason is that whatever it is that you're doing, there are different ways of doing it and some of them are better. And we call those technologies or capabilities. And those capabilities are not just in what you bring when you're like 15 and you're an incredible footballer. It's what do you do after year 12? How are you working on nutrition? How are you working on the organization of the team? How are you preparing them for the games? How are you flying them to the games? How are you organizing them? And when you are not playing against those better teams, the first thing is you don't get to see how the better teams do those things.
And one of the ways that we learn is we mimic. We mimic what we see. Now, if you are only mimicking what people are writing down, not what you see in real life, then you're probably two to three to four years behind the curve. What you need to be doing is you need to be playing against the best so that you can literally see it in real time, and take what it is that they're doing, and kind of appropriate that. And this holds for CONCACAF too. And let's hope the U.S. goes as far as it can, but the odds are against teams going that far. They just are, right? So, in sports, there's a lot of luck, match day luck. And things can happen. But the luckiest teams in the World Cup have been Turkey and South Korea. And in 2002, they made the semifinals and they shouldn't have. They were rated... They were ranked below 20. They're the only teams ranked below 20 that have made the final, ever. So, you really, really have to get a lot of luck, you have to get a good draw, et cetera, or you have to be playing up to get into that top 10, top 15 ranking, which means playing better teams, losing initially. And that's the part that's very painful because, if you're a Morocco or Nigeria, and you dominate on the continent to go and play other teams and to lose three out of five games, it is not going to be an easy thing politically or otherwise to manage.
Over time though, you realize our players can do that. It's not about our talent, it's about the capabilities of what we do with that talent, so play up. In Africa, I would suggest that Africa takes their eight teams, the top five or six teams, Africa has probably six or seven top teams, play their eight teams very sparingly in Africa. And I would say the same thing for the United States. And play most of the other teams against top 20 teams. That's who it is. It can be Japan. It can be South Korea. It can be Turkey. It can be Greece. It can be England. Whoever it is, there's a whole lot of them, go and play them. Make sure that six or seven of the games that you play a year are against teams that are rated better than you.
Ralph Ranalli: Right. I wanted just to take one country as an example. And I was thinking of your native South Africa, because you look at South Africa and you sort of say, "Well, what happened? The country hosted the World Cup in 2010. Soccer is now ranked as the most popular sport in the country. It finally surpassed rugby. But their FIFA ranking is 67th. They're ranked 12th in Africa. Why isn't South African soccer better?"
Matt Andrews: So, this is painful because I'm originally from South Africa. In the mid 1990s, people will remember the movie Invictus where Nelson Mandela lifted the World Cup rugby trophy with Francois Pienaar. What they don't see is that, immediately afterwards, he also lifted the African Cup of Nations trophy with Neil Tovey. And Neil Tovey actually was an alum from my high school, so it was very close to us. At that time, we had amazing players. We had players... We had the captain of Leads United playing in the premier ship in England. We had Philemon Masinga, who was scoring incredible goals. We really had this kind of great generation. And I think that what happened in South Africa was that you got into the trap that a lot of countries get into, where they say it's about having a generation of talent on the field, and that what you started to see was that...
I like to think about capabilities being on-field, near-field, and off-field. And the on-field capabilities were there. The near-field capabilities are about your management. It's about how many psychologists do you have on your team. It's about how many fitness experts do you have. It's about what kind of data analysis are you doing for your team. The off-field is how are you managing your fixtures, how are you organizing the club system, how are you organizing kind of talent, et cetera. And I would say a country like South Africa started off with a lot on the field, but never ever got the near-field and off-field stuff right. And the off-field stuff and the near-field stuff is kind of fraught with all sorts of difficulty. And what happens then is, over time, you're dependent on having a generation of talent that you don't deserve. And I think that that's kind of what South Africa had when you were in the late 1990s, early 2000s. It was a generation of talent that actually the country didn't deserve to have. And I think a lot of my countrymen will hate me for saying that, but it holds true for many other countries.
Tunisia may have beaten France yesterday, but Tunisia started in the 1970s as an incredible team. And instead of the people near-field and off-field nurturing their team and saying, "We have one golden generation. Let's get another and another and another," they let it pass. And that generation from the 1970s was better than the country almost deserved. And so, I think that what happens is that you need to realize that it's not just about having great talent on the field, it's about what you do near the field. It's about what you do off the field. And too many countries just blow it in those areas.
Ralph Ranalli: It’s funny, even before you told me you were a Tottenham supporter I kind of figured you were because reading your study I saw you quoted the great Antonio Conte...
Matt Andrews: I did.
Ralph Ranalli: ... saying that in order to be a winning program you have to build something.
Matt Andrews: You have to build something.
Ralph Ranalli: And so, what parallels are there between building that something in the soccer world and building that something in the worlds of economic output and economic prosperity? Because you also compared some of the African predictions about future soccer success with African leaders' predictions of future economic success. And they're sort of an analog for each other in that they haven't really met expectations.
Matt Andrews: Yeah, that's exactly right. And what I would say is they also analog because, if you go to Africa, you'll find that the equivalent in many countries of on-field success, on-field talent, on-field capability, incredible entrepreneurs, incredible opportunity, resources, ports that could sustain incredible trade, they are all there. So, in essence, the continent and many countries on the continents have incredible gifts in terms of the people, in terms of the natural context in which they found themselves. I think that what you do see though, is you see that routinely they just underperform. And the pain of that is looking at exactly the same kinds of things. What I would call near-field is about management. On-field is about the performance. Now, if you want to speak about economics, you're talking about the blend of what you have in terms of your entrepreneurs and your natural gifts.
And those could be "I have gold." Those could be "I have ports." Those could be "I have incredible tourism destinations." What were you given in terms of your people and your land and the place? Then, the second thing is near-field is, how do you manage that stuff? How are you nurturing that stuff? How are you ensuring that it's not just a one-off. How are you ensuring that, like with the golden generation in soccer, you aren't treating your natural resources as a one-off thing that you just take and then that's it. They pay you once, they don't pay you in the future. Or are you ensuring that it's a golden generation that is repeated, that you have it again and again and again and again? Right? That's what I call management issues.
Then, the third one is what I call kind of off-field completely, which is institutional. How are you organizing your society? How are you developing what Ricardo Hausmann, my colleague, calls a sense of us, a belief in who we are and who we can be and what we can genuinely hope for? What does your politics look like? Are you a nation that is fighting against corruption or are you a nation that is just accepting your corruption for is what it is? And I think that, across Africa, we see that there is no shortage... And this is the conversation that often people will say, "Don't get down on Africa because we have a lot of potential." And I'm like, "You are right. You do have a lot of potential. That's correct, but how are you managing it, and how is your institutional environment nurturing it so that it's not just a one-off thing, so that it's not just something that you talk about, but it's something that you can actually see having impact in your country over generations?"
And it's those latitude, the near-field managerial stuff, the off-field institutional stuff, where... At the moment, to be really frank, there are very, very few places in Africa that are getting it right. There are some countries that are trying desperately, I think, on the managerial side, Rwanda is doing a lot of work. On the institutional side, there's a lot of questions about kind of, "But what does this look like?" In Ethiopia, I think a similar thing, but you need to have both of those things in line with each other. And Africa just hasn't been able to do that. And there's no kind of real signal that it's going to be able to do that in the future.
Ralph Ranalli: It's interesting that you mentioned Ricardo Hausmann because you used the term "knowhow" in terms of what the soccer programs need to compete, and Ricardo's Atlas of Economic Complexity measures knowhow in the form of the amount of industries, but most importantly the amount of complex industries that a country has, in terms of their potential to grow and potential to prosper. What are the parallels that you see there?
Matt Andrews: Significant parallels. So, Ricardo and I do an executive course together twice a year. And so, we spent a lot of time thinking about this. And actually, one of the things that got me to look at soccer was that it's a competitive environment that involves every country in the world. It actually involves more countries that are recognized by the United Nations. So, the data on soccer is actually richer than the data on trade.
So, what Ricardo is working with is the data on trade, and really that's about competition. It's about who does well in what and whatever and what capabilities get you there. And the question is, what are those capabilities that we see imputed in kind of how countries do trade? In soccer, we have the data on every single game the countries play, every game that every country plays against whoever, et cetera. We also have data to look at their management structures. We also have data where we can look at what do the institutional structures look like. So, in work that's going beyond the paper that you've seen, I've been able to break it down and say we're speaking the same language. It's about capabilities to compete. And in soccer we can literally see those things a bit more.
So, we can see, for instance, and I would argue quite strongly, that in many countries in Africa, it is not about on-field talent. It is not. Actually, the on-field talent is closer than you would think to what an England has, what a Belgium has. And you can see that it's closer. And the U.S. is similar. Where you see the differences are in Africa, in particular in that managerial area. You look at who they have. They don't have enough people doing data analysis. They don't have enough nutritional people. They don't have team psychologists. They don't have individual coaches for every single player. That's what the good teams have. Africa, they don't have it.
It's even more pronounced when you're looking at the institutional environment, that the way in which leagues are structured, the way in which the conditions of playing in a country are structured, how you work with people from when they're five years old, it's completely different. And in Africa, what you still see is, you see that countries are inviting outsiders in to manage all of that on their behalf. Now, when that happens, then Africa can't complain when their players end up playing for France and winning the world title for France, because they literally giving up the institutional ownership of the sport. And it's the same as what Ricardo is looking at. Ricardo is saying there are capabilities. And the capabilities are your raw capabilities, your managerial capabilities, your institutional capabilities. They make the world of difference.
Ralph Ranalli: So, for me, I think the big question is why is there a deficiency in that homegrown management and institutional capability? Why doesn't it get better? And maybe one question is, is it a legacy of colonialism? Because soccer parallels life and soccer parallels colonialism, because first of all, you have the big European leagues and creaming off a lot of the African top talent. You're right. I mean, the players aren't developed in Africa. They're developed in the big clubs in Europe which have all those capabilities. And then, they go and they play for their countries where they don't have the same support and capabilities. But you also have African-born players who play for other countries. They're not even playing for their countries, they're playing for other countries that have that institutional support. Are there any places where progress is being made on that?
Matt Andrews: Yeah. So, let me... I'll first tell you, when the paper first came out, and the blog and the article came out saying, "I think that we need to change how we do things and maybe look to 2026 or 2030," my Twitter account went crazy with Africans saying, "But we have great players, and we are awesome, and don't say this about us." And the thing that I think is, sometimes places have a story about themselves. And Ricardo actually calls it the story of us, which is about your capability, that is about the best of yourselves, not the norm of yourselves. And it's kind of like saying, "Well, Senegal will win because we have Sadio Mané." And it's like... Well, you need more than Sadio Mané You need a full team, and you need... There's a whole lot of things. And I think that sometimes what holds people back is the narrative that we are a great place, why don't people just like us more?
And if you look at the legacy of Africa in world football from an African perspective, there's a long narrative about the games that were played that we should have won, and the cheating that happened, and the poor refereeing decisions, and everything that went against us. And we actually have the talent, but we needed to be able to do it. But the background story is, I think, something about... And when I was actually writing the paper, I was reading a lot about hope, and in a philosophical sense about hope, and that you can have hope in a number of different ways. You can have hope that is, "I hope it'll happen. And it's very realistic. And I'm hoping based on a good bet." Then, you could have hope that it's just unrealistic, but only unrealistic because there's more work to be done. And then, you could have hope that is just ridiculous. And I think that Africa... I don't know if it's part of the colonial legacy. I don't know if it's kind of being in the backseat of the world economy and world sports for so long that Africa is just sometimes happy to just be invited to the party. If you listen right now, Africa's saying, “We are really happy that, when FIFA expands the World Cup tournament, more African nations will get there," instead of saying, making the observations that, "When we had fewer African nations, the likelihood of us making the second round in the quarter finals was, actually higher. So we've actually performed worse with having more."
And that's where, in the paper, I speak about competing as a participant versus a rival. And I think that there's become this kind of acceptance that just doing okay is okay, and maybe we shouldn't hope for anymore, and any hope beyond that is something that we are happy just to be let down all the time. I think that in a lot of other countries, the countries say, "No. We don't want false hope, we want real hope. And we understand we're in the second category of hope, which is it's not just going to come with time, it's going to come with work." And it's not that Africans aren't open to work. Africans work really, really hard. It's about working on these things, the boring things. It's about working on just being better managers. It's working on just being more reliable. It's working on making sure that your institutions just work in a more kind of humdrum way. And I think that it's almost like something that people think, "Well, why should we work on that stuff? That doesn't seem exciting enough." And on the flip side is, I think those things are not that hard to do. If the key is having the raw talent, it's there. It's there.
And I would say the same thing about the U.S. by the way. It's exactly the same thing. And may the US go as far as it can, but the odds are not in its favor. And part of the reason why the odds are not in their favor are a lot of the same things. You see a lot of soap operas in the institutional environment about how U.S. soccer is being managed. Sort those things out. They're the basics. Quieten those things down. Let your talent speak for itself and just make sure that your environment just allows it to shine. Whereas, the environmental people, the people who manage that, the politicians, the chief executives, the more oxygen they take, the less oxygen there is for the team. And that's kind of something that I think happens in a lot of countries.
Ralph Ranalli: To me, it sounds like the classic curse of low expectations. And we’ve definitely seen that in U.S. soccer, where we were overjoyed that we qualified for the World Cup from a very weak region. At least we finally learned what it takes to train world class players—10 of the 11 starters in our first game play their professional soccer in Europe and outside the U.S., not in MLS, the American professional league. In that way we’ve been almost behind the curve of Africa nations. But now American soccer and African soccer have to take that next step to get to that level to get to that level where the Europeans are, and to some extent the South Americans are, and nobody really else is. How do you raise those expectations about what it takes to succeed?
Matt Andrews: I think that you raise expectations... It's the same in the U.S. I can't remember who the U.S. played in the first game that they played, and they ended up getting a draw. It was Wales. They played Wales. And everyone said, "You're the underdog to Wales and well done when you got a draw." And I was looking at that. I was thinking, is anybody paying attention to actually where the rankings are, because America is a higher ranked team? America is a better team, it has more team, more players, the talent is deeper. And there's a narrative there that's just deeply problematic. And anybody who has engaged in competitive work, and I would say in sports, but also in economics or anything else, or academics, knows that confidence is a big deal, and kind of your attitude going into something matters. In the U.S., it's so bizarre because the U.S. seems to have this idea that in everywhere else being kind of really confident matters, but in soccer, being the underdog is really useful.
And I don't really get that at all. Right? When the U.S. played England, the U.S. didn't play that kind of underdog. The U.S. played like a bully. And I think that sometimes that's what you need to do, and not only in soccer, in economics as well. You need to realize that if I don't get on the elevator and go up, then someone else will. And this is... People don't like to talk zero sum games. There are many things in the world that are zero-sum games. If you are after getting an investor, that investor goes to your country or somewhere else. They don't go to both. And there needs to be something that is more aggressive, that is something that is more "we can't make mistakes, that we need to be perfect." And I think that creating that expectation, one of the reasons why people don't do it is because they're scared of it, because they're fearful that they won't live up to it.
It's maybe easier for your home audience to say we're the underdog, or in Africa to say we're always hard done by. It's never kind of us, it's always them. The referee always makes a tough decision. And as an African, I would say I see all the bad decisions by referees, but if I were a European, I'd see all the bad decisions on the other side too. I think what it is, is about saying we are going to make a risky expectation. And we are going to say to our people, "We're really going to get there, but we are going to make it in a shorter run." So, you see in Africa, countries saying we're going to be high income by 2050. I would say we are going to increase our income rate level by 25% in the next five years. Hold me accountable. Hold me accountable. I'm going to decrease the time. I'm going to make it more realistic.
Hold me accountable. We'll get there. And I think that when you start to, as a country, develop those shorter windows with realistic objectives, and you start to say to people, we need to get there, there's no excuses for not getting there, and we are going to really, really push hard, I think it makes a difference. And I think that even the difference between the USA versus Wales, the USA versus England, I think that mindset shifted. I think in the first one, it's okay if we get a draw because we aren't that good. The second one is, we are better than these guys and we are going to show them. You need to pitch up every game with that second mentality. And if you're a country like Senegal, you look at the team, they're incredible. You look at Morocco, they are very, very, very good on the field.
Ralph Ranalli: And Senegal especially. I mean, they have Kalidou Koulibaly on the back line. They have Edouard Mendy in goal. I mean, if only Sadio Mané hadn't gotten injured, who knows what that Senegal team would be doing right now. Which is a great transition because I wanted to wrap up by saying we do have a little empirical evidence now, now that we're a little bit more than halfway through the tournament games. How do you think your thesis is holding up? Actually, as we speak, Morocco has just gone through to the next round. This is happening in real time. Live podcasting, which is of course an oxymoron. But Ghana has a chance in group H if they beat Uruguay tomorrow. Cameroon has a tough road. They've got to beat Brazil. And Tunisia is already out. But how do you think your predictions are holding up? And who are you rooting for, in terms of the African countries, the rest of the way?
Matt Andrews: So, just to say this, I think that, right now, Morocco and Senegal... There's a thing called the ELO scores, which are the scores that are given based on your wins and losses. They are the highest ever for those two countries. And that's wonderful. And sometimes, when countries go their highest ever, they... sports...
All competition has something. Everything with humans has something about momentum and something about analytics. And the analytics say that Africa should have got one or two into the second round. It looks like we are going to get two or three into the second round, which will be the best performance that Africa has ever had in getting to the second round. And there's a lot of interesting momentum there. That Ghanaian team is petulant. They're young. They're interesting. They're fascinating. But Ghana has a lot of challenges in its football that have kind of manifested over the last few years. Every round now is a knockout round against a team that is a really good team. Right? Now, you're playing top 10 teams. Now, you're playing them every game. And those teams are coming with better fitness people. They're managing the injuries off the field better. They're managing the nutrition better. Their coaches have all been there, they've done that. The African coaches haven't. So, every round now is getting much, much harder. In terms of... So, for me, I think we've already beaten the odds in terms of analytics. And now, it's all about momentum. And to be honest, Ghana is a wild card. It's a wild team. And if they get through, I almost kind of think... I don't know where that momentum takes them to. As a Boston sports fan as well, we've seen the Red Sox ride momentum into places that they should never have been. Right?
And I think that that could happen. My sense though is, in terms of the teams where you have some really interesting kind of management, you've had a little bit of history, Senegal and Morocco are teams that could go very deep into this tournament. As I said, in 2002, South Korea and Turkey both made the semifinals. Both of them were ranked below 20. These things do happen. It's the only time ever, by the way, the only time ever. So, the odds are not... The odds are stacked against African teams every game they get to now. But for me, I have to say I'm a huge Senegal fan. Aliou Cissé, when he captained the team to the win in 2002 over France, it was one of the greatest moments for African football. He's now on the sideline. He brings an incredible amount of experience. Let's see if it works out.
Ralph Ranalli: Great. Well, thank you so much, Matt. This has been really fun. I can’t wait to see how the tournament plays out.
Matt Andrews: Thanks Ralph. It's good to speak to you again.
Ralph Ranalli (Outro): Thanks for listening. The PolicyCast team will be taking a holiday break, but we’ll be back in January with more episodes that will have a special emphasis on responses and solutions to the climate crisis. We hope you’ll join us then. In the meantime, we hope you’ll use this time to explore some back episodes you may have missed, and please remember to speak bravely, and listen generously.