World Cup Predictive Model Post-Draw

Posted 4th December 2017

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The countdown to the 2018 World Cup is truly on 

Now that the World Cup draw has taken place, all that’s left to do is play the tournament, but we’re stuck waiting until June for the first kick in Moscow. In the meantime, there are eight groups with matchups to anticipate. Who are the favourites, the dark horses? Who should be cursing a footballing legend for pulling their name out of the wrong bowl? 

For answers we’re turning to Opta’s World Cup predictive model. You can read more about the model here, but in summary we’ve assessed the attacking and defensive strength of each of the 32 teams competing at Russia 2018, and generated probabilities for each team reaching every stage of the tournament.  

The Favourites 

One feature of our model’s projections is that the tournament is relatively open. Although we project Brazil to have the highest chance of winning the tournament, the probability of this happening is only around 15%, which means 85% percent of the time someone else will be doing the celebrating on the final day. Current World Cup holders Germany are second favourites. Despite getting what many consider a relatively tough draw, we project them with a 50% chance to win their group and 76% chance of going through. 

The Dark Horse(s) 

Depending on where you draw the line between “favourite” and “dark horse” there are a number of teams lurking with outside chances at glory. Our projections have a large drop off in estimated chances of winning the tournament between fifth favourites Spain at 9.3% chance of winning it all, to sixth favourites Belgium down at 3.8%. Belgium have been called a dark horse in international tournaments before and now surely have higher expectations with a squad as talented as theirs.  Uruguay are a team that’s benefitted from what many would consider an easy draw, and could perhaps be considered a true dark horse, with an overall win projection (3.0% percent) similar to Belgium’s. 

The Group of Death 

The new format for the World Cup draw may have slimmed the chances for a true Group of Death the likes of which have been seen at past tournaments. Cases could be made for several groups being the toughest or most well balancedOur model gives Group E has the highest average chance of winning for each team in the group, but this is somewhat skewed by Brazil’s chances as favorites. After Group E, Group F and Group D are the highest by this measure. Most would pick out Group A as one of the weakest groups and our model agrees, giving each team an average of only a 1.8% chance of winning the tournament. Overall the chances that any one team from this group wins the tournament are lower than our projection for Spain to win it all. 

A non-European Champion? 

This summer will mark 16 years since a non-UEFA country hoisted the trophy, with Brazil the last nation to do so in 2002. Though Brazil and Argentina are amongst the favourites, our model projects that there’s a 52.4% chance that a UEFA team wins the tournament, due to the chances of several European favourites as well as the number of total European teams. South American teams are a strong second place with a 32.0% chance overall, while CONCACAF is the region with the lowest projected chances of a team winning the title, at just 3.4%.  

World Cup Newcomers 

Panama and Iceland have both qualified for the first time. Panama dramatically sealed their fate on the final day of CONCACAF qualification while Iceland carried on their momentum from an impressive UEFA Euro 2014 to finish atop their qualification group. Both teams are in the bottom 10 in terms of projected chances of winning, which would make a run from either team to the latter stages a real underdog story. Qualifying for the knockout rounds would probably be considered a success for either nation, though. We project Panama with a marginally higher chance of progressing at 39.5% compared to Iceland’s 38.5%, in large part due to Iceland’s tough draw.   

The Host 

Russia are hosting the tournament and are conferred an advantage by being amongst the seeded groups for the draw. The model estimates that with that advantage they still only qualify for the knockout rounds 50.7% of the time, with Uruguay clear favourites to win their group. Advancing from Group A will earn them a matchup with advancing to play the two teams proceeding from a Group B containing Spain and Portugal, which could certainly make for a tough opening to the knockout stages.