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10,000 World Cups – Pt. 1

December 3rd, 2009 · 18 Comments

UPDATE: A coding error caused some odd things to happen in the previous set of sims and so I had to re-code things and then re-run the sims. The new (and fixed) run of sims are now reflected in the table and the old ones tossed out. The data dump file has also been replaced with the new set of sims. Apologies for this screwup. My bad.

Okay, so we have 32 teams and they have been separated into the following pots:

Pot 1: South Africa, Brazil, Spain, Netherlands, England, Argentina, Italy, Germany
Pot 2: Mexico, USA, Honduras, Australia, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, New Zealand
Pot 3: Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Algeria
Pot 4: France, Portugal, Denmark, Serbia, Switzerland, Greece, Slovakia, Slovenia

The restrictions on these are that South Africa can’t be drawn with any of the African teams in Pot 3, while Brazil and Argentina can’t be drawn with any of the South American teams in that pot.

So I ran 10,000 simulations similar to what I did for qualifying and here are the basic results in table format, with the columns representing what stage the team went out at for each sim:

CountryWins2nd3rd4thQuarters Round of 16 Group Win%
Côte d’Ivoire1412722643301394267049291.41%
Korea Republic2898105192815225565070.28%
South Africa144345129670233767620.14%
Korea DPR1562816587589200.01%
New Zealand00053237395900.00%

Not a lot of surprises. Brazil are the favorites with Spain running a not all that close 2nd. Surprisingly France won more than Italy despite going out at the group stage more often (due to their lack of seed). My USA is a longshot but I suppose that counts as non-zero. I would say you can read that as all of the teams from Swtizerland to Serbia as all having functionally the same chances. If I re-do the sims that order changes quite a bit.

I’m doing this now so I can contrast these results with the results after the draw tomorrow (Charlize Theron!!) Something else you can contrast are the differences between the above table and this table. That table is the sims with Africa grouped with CONCACAF instead of CONMEBOL. The team who loses the most wins because of this is Brazil, because they now are guaranteed to draw an African side instead of an Asian/OFC one, and the African sides are on average stronger.

It also should be noted that seeds and pots and the draw in general tend to have larger effects on things like getting out of the group than they do for winning the tournament. Runs like Germany’s in 2002 are rare, and at some point to win it you’re going to have to get past some very tough teams. Seeding appears to mostly just affect at one point you’re forced to face them.

All of this of course can’t really take into account hard to know and impossible to know variables. How much will the African teams other than South Africa benefit from playing on their home continent? Since a World Cup has never been played on African soil, that’s pretty hard to know. Egypt’s Confederations Cup performance provides little guidance as well.

Teams whose recent results differ substantially from their results in the recent past are also difficult to gauge. This would be teams like France, Chile, North Korea and Algeria. My system often differs on these teams than other systems which seem to weight more recent results more heavily. My conclusion on which method is right is unfortunately: “it depends on the team.” Some of those results will represent real changes in the quality of the team and some will be just temporary. It’s very difficult looking just at results to separate out the two. The system I use is designed to give the best results when looking at all teams, but that doesn’t mean it fits as well for any one specific team.

The system does correctly sort out the post-group brackets so that finishing 1st and 2nd does affect your remaining games, but it can’t really account for the effects a relatively easy or relatively tough group stage might have on a team’s chances in the knockout rounds.

As always, the strength of this type of analysis is as a launching point for further analysis. If you have no idea whether Paraguay has closer to a 1% chance to win or 10% chance to win, it’s very difficult to continue very productively from there. Big picture analyses like this are usually quite useful in making the smaller picture adjustments one might want to make.

Finally for those that are truly interested, I have created a .csv file that has the results of every match played in the run of simulations. There’s 64 matches played in a world cup, so that’s 640,000 matches. The file is pretty damned huge for a simple text fule (about 20 MB) so if you’re interested in this data I’d really appreciate it if you’d download the file rather than trying to view it in your browser. Here is the file:

World Cup Sims Data Dump

Tags: Soccer!! · South Africa 2010 · Uncategorized

18 responses so far ↓

  • 1 california viola // Dec 3, 2009 at 9:50 am

    Wow. I was looking at the file and you have all the scores and everything. Did the simulation include how many times a French player touch the ball with his hands too? I’m going to save the whole weekend to go over the simulations and find the ones where New Zealand finished third.

    I have no doubt that Brazil is favorite by the margin you sims indicate. They have – by far – the best coach in the world right now. I had the opportunity to watch Dunga when he played for my Fiorentina and we were all convinced one day he’ll be a fantastic coach. His approach to the game is very Italian and coupled with the technical ability of its players it really gives a great advantage to Brazil.

    There are no major surprises on top. The nine teams who should be considered serious contenders for the title are the same the bookmakers indicate: the two South Americans and seven Europeans. Let me just add: as usual.

    I’m surprised Mexico and Uruguay are that high and Serbia is that low. We’ll see.

    You mentioned the home field advantage for African teams. I’ve always felt that there is only one team that truly has home advantage and that’s the real home team – in this case South Africa. Italy certainly did not enjoy home field advantage in 2006 just because the WC was played in Europe. The same can be said of Germany in 1990 or Uruguay in 1950, just to give a couple of examples. All African coaches have noted that climate conditions are very different in South Africa than they are in Ivory Coast, Ghana, and especially Algeria. It is likely that the only countries who are going to benefit a little are the ones from the Southern Emisphere because they won’t have to change season as it happens for the rest of the teams qualified.

    Thank you so much for doing this.

  • 2 california viola // Dec 3, 2009 at 9:51 am

    By the way, are you going to do another simulation once the groups are known?

  • 3 Voros // Dec 3, 2009 at 10:10 am

    Yes, though maybe not immediately. My schedule is such that I get this stuff done when there’s time available to do it.

    Probably not until next week.

  • 4 dorian // Dec 3, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Interesting comparing the two tables in terms of the probability of getting to the Round of 16 (i.e. getting beyond the Group stage).

    The actual grouping of Africa/SA (and NA/Asia) certainly hurt USA’s chance of getting to the Round of 16 (versus Africa/NA and SA/Asia pots), but six other teams were hurt even more:

    Japan is most impacted (44.7% instead of 53.7%), a 9% lower probability.
    Ghana, 7.6% lower.
    Korea DPR, 4.5% lower.
    Mexico, 4.3% lower.
    Honduras, 4.2% lower.
    Slovenia, 3.9% lower.
    USA, 3.3% lower.

    The seven teams helped the most:
    Slovakia, 7.6% higher.
    Serbia, 6.9% higher.
    Algeria, 5.5% higher.
    Chile, 5.2% higher.
    Switzerland, 3.9% higher.
    Uruguay, 3.4% higher.
    Paraguay, 3.1% higher.

    Interesting that Slovenia and Slovakia are on different lists.

  • 5 Daniel Burnier // Dec 3, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    I’m surprised that Argentina is not the second one in the table, considering that no European country wins a world cup outside Europe, but let’s see…

  • 6 Sanchotene // Dec 3, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    Without math, just commom sense, the more I think about it, more I feel that Brazil is ridiculously favorite. I watch WC since 1990, and I cannot remember Brazil being THAT favorite before.

    Ok, in 2006 the hype was intense, but it was an European WC (and the European teams are always strong at “home”), and Brazil went to Germany not to play football but to party. Next year, it will be a whole different story…

    From Pot 1, I sense SPA, GER, ENG and NED as the greatest opponents of Brazil. ITA, ARG and SAF are no match, besides the italians love to fool everybody, including themselves. Because of tradition, ITA or ARG can be at the quarterfinals, but I wouldn’t bet on both.

    (I ‘m quite surprised how close this is with your sims, Vörös!)

    On Pot 4 teams, DEN has shown solid football, and POR started to get better in the end. SRB faced a easy qualifying group, so it’s a mistery to me. The rest are just rest, including FRA (they smell 2002!). Great chance of none showing up to play at the quarterfinals stage, and I would be suprise if there were more then 1.

    In Pot 2, MEX, AUS and USA are the biggest threats, and they have a (small) shot at the quartefinals. The rest are just harmless (HON, KPR and NZL more then the other two).

    Finally, Pot 3. To me, the strongest pot, mainly because of PAR, CIV and GHA. I can see all 3 at the quarterfinals. From South America, PAR is the most dangerous side. CHI lacks experience and depth at the squad (but has a hell of a coach), and URU has serious trouble at midfield, besides having a solid defense and deadly attacking weapons of all kinds possible. On Africans, CIV and GHA seem to be stronger then any team despite the top-5 I’ve listed above. CAM and NIG are slightly behind, maybe at the same level as CHI and URU. ALG has won its WC against EGY already.

    Have said all this, before the draw, I would point BRA, SPA, ENG, NED, GER, PAR, CIV and GHA as my favorites to reach quarterfinals. BRA, SPA, ENG and CIV to be in the semifinals. And BRA to beat ENG at the final.

  • 7 Sanchotene // Dec 3, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    Sorry about being such pain in the ass, I swear I’m not that boring, but do you realize rhe difference in the distances between Rome and Berlin, and between Abuja and Johannesburg?

    Imagine that there were a US Cup between the american states. In a US Cup held in Pennsylvania, probably the California team wouldn’t feel at home. But Ohio, NY, New Jersey, to nominate a few, would have millions fans supporting them…

  • 8 california viola // Dec 3, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    I was adding some numbers at lunch time and this is what I came up with:

    Chances per confederation of qualifying at least one of its team to the quarterfinals:

    Oceania – 1%
    Asia – 52%
    CONCACAF – 62%
    Africa – 82%
    S. America – virtually certain
    Europe – virtually certain

    Chances per confederation of qualifying at least one of its team to the semifinals:

    Oceania – 0%
    Asia – 19%
    CONCACAF – 26%
    Africa – 30%
    S. America – virtually certain
    Europe – virtually certain

    Chances per confederation of qualifying at least one of its team to the final:

    Oceania – 0%
    Asia – 7%
    Africa – 10%
    CONCACAF – 11%
    S. America – 59%
    Europe – virtually certain

    Chances per confederation of seeing one of its teams win the World Cup:

    Oceania – 0%
    Asia – 2%
    Africa – 3%
    CONCACAF – 4%
    S. America – 34%
    Europe – 57%

    It’s interesting that the sims give Asia and Africa a good chance to see at least one of their teams reach the quarterfinals considering how infrequent that has happened. Africa certainly has a good chance with 6 teams, but Asia? I guess we need to expect a very good cup from Japan or Australia.

    It’s also surprising to see that there are 3 chances in 4 that one of the semifinalists will come from outside Europe or South America.

    When I realized the projections gave more than a 100% chance that at least a European team will make it to the final, I thought I made a mistake, but rechecking the figures I don’t think I did. It actually makes sense considering that at least one UEFA team has made the final since 1954 and 7 of the top 9 teams (in Voros’s simulations and in the eye of the bookmakers) are Europeans.

  • 9 california viola // Dec 3, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    Yes, I know the difference between Rome and Berlin. I was in Germany for the 1988 European Championship and I remember the hostile reception we got from the Germans everywehere we played and also how cold it was at night (we were boiling in Italy at that time). I was also everywhere at the 1990 World Cup and remember how much we supported every team Germany played against. If you want to tell me that Italy got home fair advantage in Germany in 2006 or in Spain in 1982, or Germany got home fair advantage in 1990 in Italy or in 1954 in Switzerland, you have a long way to go and have little understanding for the rivalries that take place in Europe. When Lippi was asked recently if it feared playing in Africa he said, “It’s a lot better than playing in London or Paris, for us.”

    I’m sure Brazil we’ll get a lot of support in South Africa but I’m a lot more worried about what happened in 2002 when Brazil played Turkey and Belgium in Asia.

    As far as the millions following their soccer teams in the United States, you probably meant thousands. U.S. soccer has come a long way since I moved here, but it’s still a minor sport, unfortunately.

  • 10 Sanchotene // Dec 3, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    Actually, it happened -a final without an European- only twice, and in two odd World Cups: 1930, when it was very hard and expensive to travel across the Atlantic (ok, the excuse work both ways, as to 1934 and 1938, but it doesn’t matter); and 1950, just after WWII!

  • 11 Sanchotene // Dec 3, 2009 at 5:46 pm


    Make it the US Baseball Classics, than!


  • 12 california viola // Dec 3, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    Just to contradict what I just said, goal.com reports that “The United States of America are winning the race to have more supporters at the 2010 World Cup than any other team, apart from the host nation, tourism officials said today.” The whole article is at
    http://www.goal.com/en-gb/news/2558/news/2009/12/03/1664465/usa-beating-england-to-have-most-travelling-supporters-at . Quite an amazing feat considering that more often than not the U.S. can’t even count on home field advantage when they play home against Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

  • 13 california viola // Dec 3, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    “ITA, ARG and SAF are no match, besides the italians love to fool everybody, including themselves.”

    Almost a perfect match of what Socrates (the Brazilin player, not the Greek philosopher) said before the second round started in Spain 1982. He didn’t mention South Africa.

  • 14 Sanchotene // Dec 4, 2009 at 5:07 am

    I can say and think that; NEVER, the players. They must respect every opponent as someone that can actually beat you.

  • 15 california viola // Dec 4, 2009 at 10:29 am

    Toughest groups:

    D: Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana
    G: Brazil, North Korea, Cote d’Ivoire, Portugal


    A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France
    E: Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon


    B: Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece
    C: England, United States, Algeria, Slovenia
    F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia
    H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile

  • 16 My Name // Dec 6, 2009 at 6:27 am

    We are the most unlucky team in the world! In 2006 Serbia got Argentina, Holland and Ivary Coast, in 2010 we get Germany, Ghana and Australia. SHIT group again!

    I, though, believe that we can beat all three teams :)

    Disgusting France, once again gets help from fifa. First, “The hand of Henry” and now this easy group. The only team in World Cup that didn’t deserve luck, gets it. Unbelievable…

    Could you explain this to me?
    “On Pot 4 teams, DEN has shown solid football, and POR started to get better in the end. SRB faced a easy qualifying group, so it’s a mistery to me.”
    Denmark played solid football? The played reall scandinavian football, and had luck in every single match…
    Portugal played shitty whole qual. beside the play-offs. Lucky in the last round of qual when Denmark beat Sweden…
    Serbia in a easy group? Hehe, a group with Austria, Romania and France (all three played in Euro 2008), and occasionally Serbia, is easy? Please, think over again.

  • 17 Paulo Sanchotene // Dec 9, 2009 at 11:36 am

    If I’m not mistaken, Austria was HOST…

  • 18 Paulo Sanchotene // Dec 9, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    – If I’m not mistaken, Austria was HOST and managed to be eliminated in Group stage;

    – SRB doesn’t count, because it doesn’t play against itself;

    – Football in Europe is crazy; Romania did a great Euro qualifying, but it has fallen fast since.

    – And, finally, FRA. Since the 2006 WC final, they never played well anymore…

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