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What the papers said 16th July 2018

rfi English, Jul 16

If you don't like football and/or mass hysteria, you would have done well to avoid the newspapers. The World Cup win was the only story in town.

Le Monde says Sunday's four goals to two victory over Croatia was a reward for youthful enthusiasm, for discipline and for grim determination. They don't mention enormous investment and buckets of luck.

Le Figaro goes for a headline drawn from France's bloodthirsty national anthem: "The day of glory has arrived".

Libération keeps it simple and dramatic with "Encore!", a glance to the last time France won the World Cup and perhaps, given the youth and potential of this side, a call for more of the same four years from now, in the stifling Qatari winter.

Even the normally staid Catholic daily La Croix offers a front-page celebration of the victorious French team, describing them as being "On top of the world".

Communist L'Humanité sportingly honours a "brilliant but unlucky" Croatian team and explains that the Blues captured the world title by taking the few chances that came their way.

But what's it worth?

Business daily Les Echos gives the top of the front page to "The World Champions," sagely noting that the victory will have a very limited impact on the French economy.

Les Echos thus contradicts Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who last week assured those watching the main TV news that the French presence in the final "was good for the economy".

The minister invoked imponderables like the boost to self-confidence which follows a strong performance by the national team and the impact that has on our judgement of our needs, our planning of future spending.

A cynic might suggest that a pay-rise would be a more direct, and less nerve-wracking, way of reaching the same goal; and, in fact, the real economic impact of the current euphoria is estimated at just one-10th of a percent extra growth over the year, and a two-10ths boost to household expenditure, most of that probably explained by the recent surge in spending on pizzas and beer.

You have to wonder what the advertisers and sponsors make of that, they who have spent billions over the past month telling us about their cars, yoghurts and shaving creams.

Big banks back losers

The other business paper, La Tribune, heralds a victory which, the daily points out, was completely missed by the number-crunchers who analyse big data.

Only one company, the video game producer EA Sports, gave France a place in the final but they saw the Germans as the likely opponents, not the Croats.

The surprising thing is that people are surprised. These are the same analysts who saw François Fillon getting into the second round of the last French presidential bunfight. Artificial intelligence simply does not understand football, no computer programme ever having correctly predicted the winner of the World Cup.

Three banks - UBS, Goldman Sachs and the German Commerzbank - unleashed their most powerful analytical models, usually used to predict economic change, on the footy fest.

UBS decided Germany would win, giving Brazil and Spain outside chances. England they didn't rate at all and France was given a seven percent chance. UBS was sure that Croatia had little chance of making the final and no chance of winning it.

Goldman Sachs didn't do much better, even though their computer is supposed to learn from its mistaken predictions. The bank that helped cause the last great financial crisis predicted a Brazil-Germany final, with Germany winning.


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