World Cup: Fun with Excel

Basically what I did is make a spreadsheet predicting the winners based solely on their FIFA rank.  It should be immediately noted that, in the past, FIFA rank has meant nothing.  The World Cup is high stakes game playing, and injuries, travel, exhaustion, and carding are all important.  So, the FIFA rank will probably end up being nearly useless at predicting games.  But it’s there and I have access to it.

If you’re unfamiliar with the way the World Cup works, I’ll explain.  It starts out with 8 groups (A-H) of 4 teams (32 teams total, 48 group matches).  Every team in each group plays each other (6 games), and whoever has the most wins in that group moves forward as 1A, whoever has the second most wins moves forward as 2A, the other two teams go home.  There are various tie-breaking things that inevitably matter as soccer is a very low-score sport, but the important thing is that every team has 3 games to prove themselves before getting kicked out.

Once a team has gotten through the group stage, it enters the knockout round, which means every game is win or go home.

Here are the games by group:

It’s fairly self-explanatory, but if you look at the last one: it’s game 48, held on 6/25, Group H, Switzerland has a FIFA ranking of 24, Honduras 38, so Switzerland to win by a 14 rank superiority.

Another interesting way of looking at the data is to group it by how closely matched two teams will be:

So, my guess would be that anything within 6 is going to be a close game, anything within 10 could easily go to the underdog, beyond 15 would probably require extremely extenuating circumstances to turn the game, and finally that N. Korea, S. Africa and New Zealand are probably completely screwed.

So, within each group there are some games that could turn out to be vitally important for the underdog to win to move forward, and where two teams are ranked closely enough that this is possible.

Mexico and Uruguay are extremely closely matched, with France significantly (but not unreachably) higher ranked, it’s likely going to be a fight to move on as 2A.  Likely, Uruguay will be coming off an easy win, and Mexico will be coming off a hard fought loss.

Australia could beat Serbia and move forward as 2D.

The only game in this group that looks even remotely close is Slovakia v Paraguay.  And fortunately for the drama, they’ll be fighting to stay in the competition.  Of course, getting to the knockout stage is probably all they’ll manage, but there’s no small pride in that.

It’s not super close, but the Americas often don’t do as well overseas, Switzerland could be the one to go forward.

So, using this same method, the rest of the Cup looks like this:

If it fell out like this, I tell you the last 9 games would be un-bloody-believable to watch.