Champions League draw same as rehearsal – what were the odds?

By Ant Sims 21 December 2012

The official UEFA Champions League draw which took place on Thursday dished up exactly the same pairings as the rehearsal draw on Wednesday. Although the draw was done in a different order, it was still pretty strange. However, those who know numbers reckon it’s just the cool kind of strange. By ANT SIMS.

In a remarkable coincidence, the draw for the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League on Thursday yielded exactly the same result as the rehearsal draw on Wednesday. And while the odds were quite long, they weren’t entirely improbable.

Provisions were made to somewhat limit the number of fixtures and group winners seeded. Seeded teams were not allowed to be drawn against a team they had already played in the group stages, or a team from their home country. Skysports had reported the odds to be around 5,000:1, but other statisticians said it was closer to 1,679:1.

The draw immediately aroused surprise and confusion from fans across the world, and many, perhaps unsurprisingly, yelled the “f” word. No, not the expletive. The “fix” word. However, those in the know laughed off it off.

“It’s nothing but a curiosity. It’s not even statistically significant enough to arouse suspicion,” an expert who works in the online gambling regulation industry told The Daily Maverick.

His thoughts were echoed by Neil Murray, a mathematician from Durban.

“It’s not like it was entirely impossible. Odds are sometimes just a bit odd. The draw didn’t happen in the same order as the first one, which does make it quite interesting, but it’s not like it’s something  which is completely impossible. It might seem crazy, but numbers don’t do crazy things. They may defy our intuition and go against what we expect, but that’s hardly crazy. It’s just so more apparent when it comes across in something like this,” Murray told the Daily Maverick.

It seems the general consensus amongst those who work with numbers that with the refined conditions and limitations at hand, the odds become far more likely. With so many Spanish teams in the final 16, the limitations for those already knock a large number of possibilities off the chart. 

Michael Wagener, a statistics teacher and sports statistician from New Zealand, described it as something akin to picking the same ping pong balls out of a bucket.

“While at first it seems almost impossible, the conditions on the draw make it much more likely to pick the same combination twice. Without the conditions, the probability is like picking a particular ping pong ball out of a swimming pool full of ping pong balls. With the conditions [here], it’s more like picking the right ping pong ball out of a large bucket full of ping pong balls. Still unlikely, but not nearly as much so,” Wagener said.

The draw has dished up some mouth-watering match-ups, with Manchester United being drawn against Real Madrid, meaning Cristiano Ronaldo will return to Old Trafford for the first time since he left the Theatre of Dreams in 2009. The clash also pits Alex Furgeson against José Mourinho – a match-up which promises to be one of the most enticing of the competition. 

Emilio Butragueno, Real Madrid’s director of institutional relations, said he knew the fans would enjoy the clash. He reckons it will be a special match for Ronaldo, who scored 118 goals in 292 matches while at United. 

United’s club secretary, John Alexander, hoped that the draw for the Manchester side would be a good omen, especially with the final taking place at Wembley on 25 May 2013.

“It’s the tie that everyone wanted to see – but that nobody wanted to see; they wanted to save it for later in the competition,” he said. “If history has anything in our favour our one [aggregate] victory over Real Madrid in this competition was in the year we won the final at Wembley [in 1968].” 

“I’m sure it’s going to be a special game for him (Ronaldo). I think the fans will be very, very happy with this very attractive, thrilling tie. It will be a great experience for everybody. I would have liked to have played against United later in the competition, but they won’t be pleased either,” Butragueno said.

Under-fire Arsenal has been drawn against this year’s runners-up, Bayern Munich, while the underdogs Celtic are up against Italian Champions Juventus. Barcelona will be up against AC Milan, while German champions Borussia Dortmund will face Shakhtar Donetsk. Valencia will play Paris Saint-Germain, Porto will meet Málaga and Galatasaray will come up against Schalke. 

The seeded group winners (PSG, Schalke, Malga, Dortmund, Juventus, Bayern, Barcelona, Manchester United) will be away in the first legs on 12 and 13 February, as well as on 19 and 20 February, while the return matches are scheduled for 5 and 6 March and 12 and 13 March.  

Odd the draw might have been, but the clashes are anything but. The road to Wembley is almost certain to pay with flaring tempers, extra time and a host of theatrics. Buckle up. DM


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