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World Cup search trends: the final countdown

News from Google

In the past two weeks of World Cup action, 16 teams have been narrowed down to just two—Spain and the Netherlands—who will face off in the World Cup final tomorrow. For both countries, there are high stakes: not only are the two sides contending for the title of best football team in the world, but this will be the first-ever Cup win for either team and Spain is in the finals for the first time. We took another look at the search data to see what people have been interested in during the round of 16, quarterfinals and semifinals.Some matches, of course, were more interesting to people than others—whether they were eagerly anticipated or just more nail-biting during play. Brazil, chosen as the champion in many an office pool, lost to the Netherlands in a quarterfinal upset. Perhaps it’s indicative of people’s disappointment in that match that Felipe Melo, who gave up an own goal and then was shown a red card in the 73rd minute with his country down 2-1, was more searched-for than Robinho, who made Brazil’s one goal in the match. Another favored South American team, Argentina, also lost in the quarterfinals, to Germany. It’s interesting to note that searches for that team’s two biggest names, Lionel Messi and coach Diego Maradona, have spiked in popularity with each match—and the player was usually more interesting to people than the coach. But over time—and after Messi’s skills failed to carry his team to the semis—Maradona overtook Messi in search volume. Clearly, his fate as Argentina coach in the future is more up for debate than Messi’s career (after all, the latter has a comfy year-round spot on FC Barcelona).

Controversy continued to be a major driver of search traffic. On June 27, Argentina’s first goal in their victorious match against Mexico, a Carlos Tvez header, was widely considered offsides (and therefore should have been disallowed). That same day, Germany beat England 4-1, although many say it should have been 4-2 thanks to a Frank Lampard goal that just barely made it into the net but wasn’t counted. Both of these calls brought the issue of instant replay to the forefront in an already controversial tournament.

Perhaps the most surprisingly exciting game was the quarterfinal match between Uruguay and Ghana. Ghana had several shots on goal in the last minutes of extra time, with the game tied 1-1. Uruguay’s Luis Surez saved his team from a near-certain loss with a handball that earned him a red card (and increased search traffic). Uruguay went on to win in penalty kicks, and became the only South American country to make the semifinals. Searches for [penalty kick] were at their highest on the day of this game—they had also spiked on June 26, when USA’s Landon Donovan scored on a penalty kick against Ghana, and on June 29, the day of another quarterfinal match (between Japan and Paraguay) that also ended in penalty kicks.

Many fans, eager for semifinal predictions, turned to an unlikely source: a “psychic” octopus in a German zoo. Paul the octopus had successfully predicted the winner of each of his home country’s matches by selecting a tasty mussel from either side of a box marked by both teams’ flags. The day before Germany faced Spain in the semifinals, he chose the Spanish mussel—and searches for [octopus] skyrocketed. (Incidentally, he has picked Spain to win against the Netherlands on Sunday.) Searches were also high for Carles Puyol, the Spanish defender whose header won the match against Germany. Historically, he’s been one of the least searched-for Spaniards—and he continues to be behind stars like David Villa and Fernando Torres—but search volume for him in July is already more than five times as high as in June.

Villa still dominates search traffic amongst the Spanish players, and no wonder: he’s scored five of his team’s seven goals in the tournament and is a contender for the Golden Boot. Searches for Dutch players are a bit more distributed than for Spanish ones. Arjen Robben, who started the tournament in the spotlight in part due to injury, still has the most search volume overall, but Wesley Sneijder has caught up as the tournament’s gone on. Searches for him were higher than for Robben on June 19, when he scored his first goal in the tournament against Japan, and on July 2, when he scored both goals in the match against favored Brazil. Now Sneijder, like Villa, has five goals in six matches and is a front-runner for the Golden Boot. Clearly he’s been a surprise factor in this World Cup for many, including searchers!

For me—well, I’ve got cava in my fridge and my fingers are crossed for Paul’s prediction to come true. But whomever you’re rooting for, have fun watching La Furia Roja and the Oranje fight for the Cup on Sunday!

Emily Wood, Editor, Google blog team

published @ July 11, 2010

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