INNSBRUCK, Austria — World Cup fever is sweeping the globe, and many nations will be hoping for an impossible run in the epic soccer tournament. However, a new study has found that the odds of winning this year are heavily in the favor of a classic soccer power — Brazil.
An international team conducted thousands of simulations using machine learning technology — ultimately finding that Brazil has a 15-percent chance of winning the FIFA World Cup. The team’s forecast combines statistical models for each team’s playing strengths with information about their structure — meaning the club’s market value and the number of players who compete in the Champions League during the rest of the year. The simulations even factor in the socioeconomic dynamics of each country, including population and GDP.
With the games taking place in Qatar and in the winter months, however, researchers do note that there’s more controversy and an aspect of unpredictability surrounding the 2022 tournament.
“This time, the World Cup is overshadowed by many ethical and sportive problems that we cannot ignore. Nevertheless, for scientific reasons, we have decided to use our machine learning approach, which we have used successfully at previous tournaments, to make probabilistic forecasts,” says Achim Zeileis from the Department of Statistics of the University of Innsbruck in a media release.
“In addition to the widely discussed ethical problems of this World Cup, this also raises very critical sportive questions: In the winter months, all the major football leagues in Europe and South America have to interrupt their usual match schedule to accommodate the tournament. This gives the national teams less time to prepare and the players less time to recover before and after the World Cup. Combined with the extreme climatic conditions, this also increases the risk of injuries,” Zeileis adds.
Where do World Cup favorites and longshots stand?
After 100,000 simulations went match-by-match, following the tournament draw and all FIFA rules, the team discovered the probability of each team advancing to the different rounds of the World Cup as well as their chances of winning the whole thing. While Brazil may have the best chance of winning, according to the study, several other countries are still in the hunt.
Argentina (11.2%), the Netherlands (9.7%), Germany (9.2%), and France (9.1%) round out the top five nations with the best odds of winning the 2022 World Cup.
Spain (7.5%), England (7.4%), Belgium (7.2%), Denmark (6.5%), and Portugal (5.5%) follow up the favorites, each having at least a 1-in-20 shot of capturing the title.
For the other 22 nations, their odds are much lower. In fact, all of these teams have a less than three-percent chance of winning the World Cup, according to the simulations. In the case of the United States, those television commercials asking Santa for a World Cup victory may put jolly old St. Nick in a really tough spot! According to the study, the U.S. has a 0.6 percent probability of winning this year’s World Cup in Qatar.
Despite that, researchers say a computer simulation can’t compare to real life.
“It is in the very nature of forecasts that they can also be incorrect – otherwise football tournaments would be very boring. We provide probabilities, not certainties, and a probability of winning of 15 percent also implies a probability of 85 percent of not winning,” explains Andreas Groll from the Technical University Dortmund in Germany.
These scientists have been right before
Zeileis’ Innsbruck model, which is based on adjusted bookmakers’ odds, correctly predicted the EURO final in 2008, and the World and European champion Spain in 2010 and 2012.
So, what helps a World Cup team increase their odds of winning the tournament? The answer is pretty simple: really, really good players! Study authors say having more players who regularly play in international leagues, like the Champions League, Europa League, and Europa Conference League, can boost a nation’s chances of winning. However, the team also notes that playing in the winter months could actually make this a disadvantage this year!
“All these factors make it more difficult to predict how the tournament will turn out, as variables that proved to be very meaningful at previous World Cups may not work well or work differently,” Groll says.