Saturday, December 7, 2013

World Cup 2014: draw, brackets, analysis, and predictions

The final draw for the 2014 World Cup--to be held in Brazil next summer--took place yesterday. The groups are now set and are as follows:
Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon
Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia
Group C: Colombia, Greece, Côte d’Ivoire, Japan
Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy
Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras
Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria
Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA
Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, Korea Republic
Most of the immediate analysis with regard to the strengths of the various groups uses the FIFA World Rankings, averaging them for the members of each group to get comparable numbers in this regard. The averages for each group, strongest to weakest (with country rankings in parentheses):
1) 11.25, Group G: Germany(2), Portugal(5), Ghana(24), USA(14)
2) 14.25, Group D: Uruguay(6), Costa Rica(31), England(13), Italy(7)
3) 20.25, Group C: Colombia(4), Greece(12), Côte d’Ivoire(17), Japan(48)
4) 21.00, Group B: Spain(1), Netherlands(9), Chile(15), Australia(59)
5) 22.75, Group E: Switzerland(8), Ecuador(23), France(19), Honduras(41)
6) 24.25, Group A: Brazil(10), Croatia(16), Mexico(20), Cameroon(51)
7) 26.25, Group F: Argentina(3), Bosnia-Herzegovina(21), Iran(45), Nigeria(36)
8) 28.25, Group H: Belgium(12), Algeria(26), Russia(22), Korea Republic(54)
Thus, the United States finds itself in this year's "Group of Death." And our friends across the pond--the English--are in nearly as bad a situation. Meanwhile, Argentina--the number three team in the world--has the second easiest group, according to this methodology. But I'm going to tweak the numbers just a bit, by looking at group strengths with the top team in each group taken out of the calculations, then with the bottom team in each group taken out. Why? Because the top teams are all expected to go through (with the possible exception of the Swiss)and some of the bottom teams are viewed as little more than cannon fodder. So, here are my numbers:
Minus the top team in each:
1) 14.33, Group G: Germany(2), Portugal(5), Ghana(24), USA(14)
2) 17.00, Group D: Uruguay(6), Costa Rica(31), England(13), Italy(7)
3) 25.67, Group C: Colombia(4), Greece(12), Côte d’Ivoire(17), Japan(48)
4) 27.67, Group B: Spain(1), Netherlands(9), Chile(15), Australia(59)
5) 27.67, Group E: Switzerland(8), Ecuador(23), France(19), Honduras(41)
6) 29.00, Group A: Brazil(10), Croatia(16), Mexico(20), Cameroon(51)
7) 34.00, Group F: Argentina(3), Bosnia-Herzegovina(21), Iran(45), Nigeria(36)
8) 34.00, Group H: Belgium(12), Algeria(26), Russia(22), Korea Republic(54)
Minus the bottom team in each:
1) 7.00, Group G: Germany(2), Portugal(5), Ghana(24), USA(14)
2) 8.67, Group D: Uruguay(6), Costa Rica(31), England(13), Italy(7)
3) 11.00, Group C: Colombia(4), Greece(12), Côte d’Ivoire(17), Japan(48)
4) 11.00, Group B: Spain(1), Netherlands(9), Chile(15), Australia(59)
5) 15.33, Group A: Brazil(10), Croatia(16), Mexico(20), Cameroon(51)
6) 16.67, Group E: Switzerland(8), Ecuador(23), France(19), Honduras(41)
7) 20.00, Group F: Argentina(3), Bosnia-Herzegovina(21), Iran(45), Nigeria(36)
8) 20.00, Group H: Belgium(12), Algeria(26), Russia(22), Korea Republic(54)
The orders in both cases are unchanged, with the exception of groups A and E, which swapped places in the second set of averages. And these manipulations--again, based only on FIFA's rankings--suggest that the initial order of relative group strength is fair. But here's the thing: the point of the group stage is to get out of the group. What really matters is the strength of each team, relative to the rest of its group.

Look at Group B. If we allow that Spain--the defending champion and the top team in the world right now--wins the group, which teams have a real chance of finishing second, of getting on to the next stage? Chile, despite being no push over, is faced with a daunting task, for the Netherlands is always better then the group average in all three instances.

In contrast, look at Group C. If Colombia takes one spot, who takes the second? For both Greece and Côte d’Ivoire are better than the group average in the first two instances and worse in the last. To put this another way, Group C looks to be far more competitive than group B, even though both fall very close together with regard to group strength. So which are the other competitive groups under this rubric? Here is how I figure things (from most competitive to least):
Relative Competitiveness:
1) Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, Korea Republic
2) Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras
3) Group C: Colombia, Greece, Côte d’Ivoire, Japan
4) Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon
5) Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia
6) Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy
7) Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA
8) Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria
Now again, all of this is based only on the FIFA rankings, which are hardly written in stone. Still, they are a useful place to start. And what all of this suggests to me is that the road of the U.S. in Brazil is terribly difficult, not because it is in the "Group of Death," but because it's just far more likely that the two top teams in Group G--Germany and Portugal--will advance than not. England remains in a similarly difficult place.

Meanwhile, Argentina really appears to be in the catbird's seat. And actually, so does Bosnia-Herzegovina in the same group. Iran and Nigeria are deeply outclassed. The real action is in the first four groups above, C, H, E, and A. Even if Brazil and Colombia have somewhat easy roads, the second position in each of their groups is truly wide open. In groups H and E little is certain, despite the hopes of nations like Belgium and France, whose fans believed both had gotten excellent draws.

Of course, the games still have to played. And no matter what the FIFA rankings indicate, the best team on paper may not be the best team on the pitch on a given day. Plus, there is the issue of when each team meets. The United States, for instance, is scheduled to meet Ghana first, then Portugal, then Germany. If the U.S. squad could manage a win against Ghana and a tie against Portugal, it is entirely possible that--based on the other results in the group--it could face Germany in a game that matters little for the German side (because, say, it had already secured the top spot in the group) and possibly eke out a tie, thereby taking the second slot in the group.

Then of course there is the issue of player health and form. Who knows what will happen in the European leagues, the Champions League, and the Europa League in the months ahead? A past problem for the English team has been the week in and week out competitiveness of the Premier League, where the majority of its players can be found. There are also players who have been off the radar, are young and maybe just coming into their own right now, players like Belgium's Adnan Januzaj. So far, Januzaj has refused World Cup call-ups from Belgium. But that could still change. And make no mistake, the addition of this 18-year-old winger to the Belgium team would be significant, possibly very significant.

So who is getting out of the group stage? Who knows. But for what it's worth, here are my picks (first place is A1, B1, second place is A2, B2...):
A1: Brazil
A2: Mexico

B1: Netherlands
B2: Spain

C1: Côte d’Ivoire
C2: Colombia

D1: Uruguay
D2: Italy

E1: France
E2: Honduras

F1: Argentina
F2: Iran

G1: Germany
G2: U.S.A.

H1: Russia
H2: Belgium
As should be obvious, I'm not shying away from picking upsets. By way of explanation in this regard: Mexico will get their act together by the summer, the Netherlands will tie Spain in head to head and win the group on goal differential, ditto for Côte d’Ivoire, Honduras is far better than their ranking suggests (and the Swiss are far worse), Iran's defense will see them through to the knockout round, I'm a shameless homer (thus my U.S.A. pick), Russia will brutalize Belgium in their match-up.

Now how about the knockout rounds. Here's the bracket:

From PrintYourBrackets.com

So, the Round of 16 matches (left side, then right):
1. Spain defeats Brasil (sorry for that)
2. Italy defeats Côte d’Ivoire
3. France defeats Iran
4. Germany defeats Belgium
5. The Netherlands defeats Mexico
6. Uruguay defeats Colombia (helluva a match-up, though)
7. Argentina defeats Honduras (Honduras isn't that good)
8. The U.S.A defeats Russia
The quarterfinals:
1. Spain defeats Italy (Italy's failure to win their group is costly)
2. Germany defeats France (there's something you don't hear everyday)
3. The Netherlands defeat Uruguay (they know Suarez, all too well)
4. Argentina defeats the U.S.A. (so ends the dream)
The Semis:
1. Germany defeats Spain (too much to handle, striker-wise, even for Spain)
2. The Netherlands defeat Argentina (they really are primed for this World Cup)
Third-place game:
Spain defeats Argentina

Finals:
The Netherlands defeats Germany
And there you have it, for what it's worth. Bookmark me, see if I'm right.

Cheers, all.

19 comments:

  1. I'm with you in your predictions, but I think Germany wins the final. Nice post

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like you enthusiasm and your predictions, but I have to say that ANYTHING and I DO MEAN ANYTHING can happen in these World Cup Tournaments.....Brasil has always been a surprise for everyone...remember that they are on their home turf and weather as well as fans. There is something to be said about that. As to USA, I think we are in for a surprise with the USA...they have been consistently getting better and better. The Tournament will be fun but I think that there are mistakes in any prediction. I will leave it with that...it will be fun to watch either way.

      Delete
    2. Holland won't get out of the group stage just like in the last Eurocup. What on earth makes you believe that they can win it now?!?!

      Delete
  2. So much number-based analysis... Football is football... So, don´t be unreasonable and erase Iran, Mexico, Honduras and USA from 2nd round.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, I kinda dump the analysis at the end of the day. I can see your point on Iran and the U.S.A. But not on Mexico and Honduras. Cheers. :)

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    3. Who says racist puncho!

      Delete
    4. Lol. I don't follow the above at all.

      Delete
  3. To further qualify the rankings of the teams, there are two other major soccer rankings besides FIFA's rankings. One is the World Footbal Elo Rating which is similiar in that it weights certain matches more than others, but the Elo rating also takes into account an adjustment for home field advantage and the goal differential in the result of the matches. The other is the newer one from ESPN and Nate Silver called the Soccer Power Index which is more predictive in it's rankings.

    If you look at each of the groups through the ELO ranking, for the average strength you get:

    1) 12.25 Group B: Spain (2), Netherlands (5), Chile (10), Australia (32)
    2) 14.25 Group G: Germany (3), Portugal (8), Ghana (33), US (13)
    3) 14.50 Group D: Uruguay (9), Costa Rica (31), England (7), Italy (11)
    4) 17.25 Group C: Columbia (6), Greece (17), Ivory Coast (21), Japan (25)
    5) 21.50 Group E: Switzerland (14), Ecuador (16), France (12), Honduras (44)
    6) 21.75 Group F: Argentina (4), Bosnia-Hercegovina (24), Iran (29), Nigeria (30)
    7) 25.50 Group A: Brazil (1), Croatia (23), Mexico (22), Cameroon (56)
    8) 33.50 Group H: Belgium (18), Algeria (59), Russia (15), Korea Republic (42)

    As with the FIFA rankings, the strongest groups are B, C, D and G and the weakest are A, E, F and H with groups A and H the weakest by far. Also, if you look at the ELO rankings, it's clear that the Netherlands and England or Portugal should have replaced Switzerland and Belgium as seeded teams.

    If you look at the predictive Soccer Power Index from strongest to weakest, the groups rankings are a little closer but still with Groups A and H as the weakest. Interestingly, Group E, jumps into the stronger half of all the groups which most people have rated as one of the easiest or most preferential groups to be in. The good news for U.S. fans is if they somehow make it through to the knockout stage, they go against the weakest group in the whole draw by far. Additionally, both the ELO and SPI rankings show the U.S. and Portugal rankings being much closer than they are in FIFA rankings which gives the U.S. some hope that they can pull off a mini-upset of Portugal in the group stage.

    1) 14.00 Group D: Uruguay (8), Costa Rica (25), England (10), Italy (13)
    2) 15.00 Group G: Germany (4), Portugal (15), Ghana (24), US (17)
    3) 17.50 Group B: Spain (3), Netherlands (9), Chile (5), Austrailia (53)
    4) 18.25 Group E: Switzerland (22), Ecuador (11), France (7), Honduras (33)
    5) 19.75 Group C: Columbia (6), Greece (23), Ivory Coast (18), Japan (32)
    6) 20.50 Group F: Argentina (2), Bosnia-Hercegovina (14), Iran (38), Nigeria (28)
    7) 24.00 Group A: Brazil (1), Croatia (30), Mexico (26), Cameroon (39)
    8) 33.25 Group H: Belgium (12), Algeria (69), Russia (15), Korea Republic (37)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for all the additional info, Minvis. Good stuff.

      Delete
  4. This is what i see..
    A1:Brazil A2:Mexico/ B1:Netherlands B2:Spain/ C1:Japan C2:Colombia/ D1:England D2: Italy/ E1:France E2:Ecuador/ F1:Argentina F2:Nigeria/ G1:Germany G2:Portugal/ H1:Korea H2: Belgium... and you can take that to the bank

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the predictions, Anon. I don't know if I'll take them to the bank, but I'll certainly leave them right here so we can see if you had it right! ;)

      Delete
  5. Clued-up poste! Votre sagesse acceptée est grande. Merci pour me tenir informer. Pour plus d'informations, je serai en contact.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I also bet for Germany as one of the Final teams .. but I am not agreed with Netherlands . umm.. may be Italy or Uruguay :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. 2 things about Brazil:

    1. While they arguably have the deepest bench, they can beat themselves. Infighting, egos and team politics could derail them long before they start playing.

    2. Brazilian weather could be a problem for them. They too are a European team, because their stars play there.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Well done. It is actually the carbon copy of mine lol. With one difference. I think France won't make it to 1/4 hehe even against Iran :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. :)

      The Swiss could certainly replace France.

      Delete
  9. FIFA World cup 2014 special offer!! Download FIFA World cup 2014 schedule & live score update apps. Football World Cup 2014 Schedule & Live Score update apps will give you real times updates during the world cup season. Its Free for android user!

    ReplyDelete