Never mind that a single goal can change an entire game. Never mind that the last World Cup saw Switzerland beat Spain in the first round, as well as the implosion of traditional powerhouses Italy and France. The reason I know Nate Silver's World Cup predictions — based on his so-called Soccer Power Index (SPI) — are bunk is because Japan has been given a 70 percent chance of flaming out in the first round.
Now, being half-Japanese, I may be biased. I am not a statistician, nor even an expert in soccer. But consider this: Japan's top two forwards — Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa — play for AC Milan and Manchester United, respectively. Shinji Okazaki, meanwhile, scored 15 goals in Germany's Bundesliga last season, easily making him a top 10 scorer in a top-flight league. And we haven't even gotten to Japan's solid midfield and fullbacks. As Zonal Marking writes, "In a purely technical sense, Japan are arguably in the top ten sides at this competition."
And yet Greece, a middling team if there ever was one, which is in Group C with Japan, is sitting comfortably above Japan in the SPI. So is the United States, whose starting striker scored one goal last season for Sunderland (one!). A mere five teams (out of 32) have a smaller chance of winning the World Cup than Japan, according to Silver's model.
Call me innumerate. But this is crazy talk. See you in the second round, haters! Nippon Ichiban!
A spokesman for Lufthansa, Germanwings' parent company, told NBC News on Saturday that the airline will distribute initial payments to families of up to $54,450 per victim in the tragic Tuesday crash of Flight 9525.
"This is to offer the families immediate support to help them in this major change in life," Boris Ogursky said. "They shouldn't have to face a financial problem, and they need not worry about paying it back."
Family members have been flying into France from more than a dozen countries; Lufthansa is also covering transportation and living accommodations for those affected. German investigators believe co-pilot Andreas Lubitz intentionally crashed the Germanwings plane into the French Alps on Tuesday, killing all 150 people on board. He appears to have hidden the fact that he had been receiving psychiatric treatment for more than a year from the airline; investigators searching his home found a ripped-up doctor's note authorizing Lubitz to take time off from work due to an illness.
Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi directly blamed the Islamic Republic on Saturday for his country's current chaos, calling the Shiite rebels who have forced him to flee Yemen "puppets of Iran," The Associated Press reports.
"You have destroyed Yemen with your political adolescence and by manufacturing domestic and regional crises," Hadi said, speaking directly to the rebels and their backers.
Hadi fled the country and made his way to Saudi Arabia earlier this week, after the rebels, known as Houthis, pushed farther toward the southern Yemen city of Aden, where he had been staying. An Arab summit on Saturday addressed the Houthi advances, with one Gulf diplomat warning that Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen could continue for months. And while other leaders did not mention Iran by name, they criticized the Shiite power indirectly, which they claim is supporting the Houthi rebels in their advances on the Sunni nation.
It's a good thing Michigan State's men's basketball team pulled off a 62-58 win over Oklahoma on Friday night, or Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart might have been hearing from Tom Izzo.
The Spartans' coach joked with MLive.com that the team's slow start in the Sweet 16 game was probably due to his allowing the players to go see a movie earlier in the afternoon. And Izzo picked Get Hard, because, "I didn't want anything too deep," that might throw the team off mentally.
"This wasn't too deep," he added.
The No. 7 Spartans survived to take on Louisville Sunday, so a suggestion for Izzo if he needs another movie to keep his team occupied before warmups: Pick something else. Literally, anything else.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) may be readying an official start to his bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Reuters reports.
The Tampa Bay Times reported on Friday that Rubio has reserved the Freedom Tower, in downtown Miami, for an "undisclosed event" on April 13. While Rubio staffers declined to comment on the reservation, the Tampa paper notes that the Freedom Tower was used to assist Cuban refugees who fled after Fidel Castro took over the country in 1959; and that Rubio could consider the Miami landmark to be "an ideal, postcard setting to kick off a presidential campaign promoting the promise and greatness of America by the son of Cuban immigrants."
Health officials got some rare good news in the fight against Ebola this week, thanks to new research published on Thursday in the journal Science. Virologists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases found that the current outbreak has not given rise to an even more virulent and contagious form of the virus, despite "extensive and prolonged human-to-human transmission," the researchers note.
The Los Angeles Times reports that earlier research suggested the virus was mutating at nearly double the rate as in past outbreaks; if that were the case, it could evolve past experimental tests and vaccines in progress. But researchers genetically sequenced samples of Ebola taken from patients in October and November of 2014, and found that the virus had not significantly mutated.
"Whereas from a public health perspective, the current Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa continues to be an extremely pressing emergency, it is doubtful that either virulence or transmissibility has increased," the researchers added.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed more than 10,000 people and infected another 24,907, according to the World Health Organization.
Saying he wanted to create "a tribute to my dad and Spock," Adam Nimoy told Variety on Friday that he plans to produce and direct a documentary about the iconic Star Trek character, played by his father Leonard Nimoy.
The elder Nimoy died in February at the age of 83; he had been suffering for nearly a year from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. But Adam Nimoy said he and his father had discussed the documentary, which will be entitled For the Love of Spock, at length.
The project will reportedly highlight the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, which premiered on Sept. 8, 1966. Zachary Quinto, who has played Spock in two recent film takes on the franchise, will narrate, and William Shatner, who played James T. Kirk in the original series, plans to appear in the documentary.
Despite violence, technical difficulties, millions of Nigerians turn out to vote in presidential election
Millions of Nigerians arrived at polling stations across the country on Saturday, ready to cast their votes in a tight presidential election, The Associated Press reports.
The race between incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari is the first election since Nigeria's independence from Britain in 1960 that has even a chance of favoring an opposition candidate over a sitting president.
That may be in large part due to the continuing Boko Haram insurgency in the country; Buhari has criticized Jonathan for his failure to force the militants out of Nigeria. The election was originally scheduled to take place in February, but it was postponed due to security fears. Jonathan's opposition has suggested the move allowed the sitting president more time to garner support.
Saturday's election has not run perfectly, AP notes: Local officials have reported at least two car-bomb explosions; Boko Haram militants waving guns have turned some villagers away from polling sites; and some polling stations have reported technical difficulties with biometric voting cards, meant to discourage fraud at the polls.