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June 29, 2014

Two attempts to model the World Cup knockout rounds

With the World Cup knockout rounds underway, it’s time for me to give an analysis of which team I think will hoist the Cup at Maracanã on July 13.

Since I don’t know that much about soccer, beyond what I hear from my fútbol-loving friends and from the commentary on these matches, I decided to turn to one thing I do a bit about: data. Particularly that from the group rounds, since that gives us the most-recent information from the teams’ on-field play.

Obviously, we could analyze the key particulars — wins, losses, draws, goals — and those would give us some moderately reasonable ideas of who might be coming in with a head of steam. But there’s a difference between Brazil’s 4-1 trouncing of hapless Cameroon (which finished with zero points) and France’s 5-2 blowout against Switzerland (which qualified as the group’s second seed).

To account for that, I created two comparators.

The synthetic criteria

Weighted Points is the number of points awarded for each result (3 for a win, 1 for a draw) multiplied by the respective opponent’s final point-total.

Weighted Goal Differential is the goal differential for a given game multiplied by the respective opponent’s final point-total.

Since Switzerland finished with 6 points in its group — it beat both Ecuador and Honduras — France would receive 18 Weighted Points (3 points for win x 6 Swiss points) and a Weighted Goal Differential of 18 (+3 GD x 6 Swiss points).

In that same game, Switzerland would receive 0 Weighted Points and would get a Weighted Goal Differential of -21 (-3 GD x 7 French points).

The data

Here is a table with each qualifier’s stats.

Team Pts GD GF WPts WGD
Brazil 7 5 7 16 6
Chile 6 2 5 9 -12
Colombia 9 7 9 24 18
Uruguay 6 0 4 12 -10
France 7 6 8 22 18
Nigeria 4 0 3 10 -6
Germany 7 5 7 25 20
Algeria 4 1 6 5 -7
Netherlands 9 7 10 27 24
Mexico 7 3 4 16 6
Costa Rica 7 3 4 28 15
Greece 4 -2 2 10 -24
Argentina 9 3 6 24 8
Switzerland 6 1 7 12 -17
Belgium 9 3 4 21 7
USA 4 0 4 7 -6

Now, for the methods for comparison. I went with two.

Five criteria

I used the first three determinants of standing in the group round (points, goal differential, goals for) and added my two weighted criteria. Whichever competitor “won” more match-ups would advance.

I had one tie, between France and Germany in the quarterfinals. I gave the win to Germany based on its better weighted performance.

2014 World Cup prediction using 5 criteria

Weighted criteria only

Because I created the “weighted” scores to attempt to capture strength of schedule, I felt going with those alone would be a good test of their worth.

I had two ties. I gave Costa Rica the edge over the Netherlands because CRC amassed fewer points in the opening round (and thus had less of a chance to rack up bigger weighted scores).

In the finals, I went with Germany over Costa Rica because they had better GD and GF data (they were square on points).

2014 World Cup prediction using weighted criteria


Both models are subject to a very limited data set: just three games for each team. As such, they are not very reliable as a proxy for long-term success — particularly in a single game of soccer.

The weighted criteria, paired with the small set, give an edge to the first-place teams in each group. Both models have all of the group winners advancing over the second-place teams.

Colombia over Brazil in both. We saw Chile take Brazil to penalties (and almost won late in extra time). Maybe?

I like the looks of the first model. The second model (weighted only) is more questionable — Costa Rica in the finals? Seems a bit farfetched from what I understand. But then again, as we’ve seen in this Cup, anything is possible.

What do you think?

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