You’re entering a World Cup pool.
In the structure of most pools, you get the most points for picking the champion. Hence, this pick requires the most thought.
To most accurately make this pick, I usually give you the results of my calculations from The Power Rank. For example, these results for the World Cup that use my rankings and simulate the competition 10,000 times.
1. Brazil, (0-0), 35.85.
2. Argentina, (0-0), 10.00.
3. Spain, (0-0), 8.93.
4. Germany, (0-0), 7.38.
5. Netherlands, (0-0), 5.70.
6. Portugal, (0-0), 3.91.
7. France, (0-0), 3.39.
8. England, (0-0), 2.83.
9. Uruguay, (0-0), 2.50.
10. Mexico, (0-0), 2.48.
11. Italy, (0-0), 2.26.
12. Ivory Coast, (0-0), 2.01.
13. Colombia, (0-0), 1.50.
14. Russia, (0-0), 1.46.
15. United States, (0-0), 1.14.
16. Chile, (0-0), 1.01.
17. Croatia, (0-0), 0.89.
18. Ecuador, (0-0), 0.85.
19. Nigeria, (0-0), 0.76.
20. Switzerland, (0-0), 0.69.
21. Greece, (0-0), 0.61.
22. Iran, (0-0), 0.59.
23. Japan, (0-0), 0.59.
24. Ghana, (0-0), 0.57.
25. Belgium, (0-0), 0.42.
26. Honduras, (0-0), 0.35.
27. South Korea, (0-0), 0.33.
28. Bosnia-Herzegovina, (0-0), 0.30.
29. Costa Rica, (0-0), 0.28.
30. Cameroon, (0-0), 0.18.
31. Australia, (0-0), 0.17.
32. Algeria, (0-0), 0.07.
However, one model is not enough. No one model can capture all factors that can affect the outcome. For example, Mexico is 8th in the rankings used for this simulation (the rankings consider a 12 year span of games). That’s probably to high for a team that struggled through World Cup qualifying.
A better method for predicting the win probabilities for the World Cup champion is averaging over many predictions. These aggregated predictions consider 7 different models, which included two different versions of The Power Rank and the betting markets.
1. Brazil, (0-0), 29.32.
2. Argentina, (0-0), 12.29.
3. Germany, (0-0), 11.69.
4. Spain, (0-0), 10.61.
5. Netherlands, (0-0), 3.90.
6. Portugal, (0-0), 3.44.
7. Colombia, (0-0), 3.28.
8. Uruguay, (0-0), 2.94.
9. France, (0-0), 2.70.
10. Belgium, (0-0), 2.62.
11. England, (0-0), 2.58.
12. Italy, (0-0), 2.34.
13. Chile, (0-0), 1.81.
14. Ecuador, (0-0), 1.28.
15. Russia, (0-0), 1.18.
16. Mexico, (0-0), 1.16.
17. Ivory Coast, (0-0), 0.95.
18. Switzerland, (0-0), 0.93.
19. United States, (0-0), 0.88.
20. Greece, (0-0), 0.72.
21. Croatia, (0-0), 0.60.
22. Bosnia-Herzegovina, (0-0), 0.52.
23. Japan, (0-0), 0.40.
24. Ghana, (0-0), 0.40.
25. Nigeria, (0-0), 0.40.
26. South Korea, (0-0), 0.29.
27. Iran, (0-0), 0.20.
28. Honduras, (0-0), 0.14.
29. Costa Rica, (0-0), 0.12.
30. Cameroon, (0-0), 0.09.
31. Australia, (0-0), 0.09.
32. Algeria, (0-0), 0.07.
Research in data science suggests that these type of predictions are more accurate. I’ll be moving towards these type of predictions for all competitions, especially the NCAA tournament.
The aggregated predictions just make more sense. The other six predictors do not like Mexico as much as mine. They drop to the 16th best win probability at 1.2%.
Averaging also lowers the odds for Brazil from 35.9% to 29.3%. This is probably a more reasonable estimate, especially since the betting markets set the odds for Brazil at around 25%. Brazil has not lost on home soil since 2002, and any reasonable projection should give them the best shot at winning this World Cup.
The other 3 top contenders are Argentina, Germany and Spain. Argentina gets a slight edge because they play in an easy group. Moreover, some models give them a home continent edge.
European powers Germany and Spain follow close behind Argentina. They both have with a win probability greater than 10%.
How to pick a World Cup champion for your pool
Picking the champion that gives you the best odds of winning your pool depends on the size of the pool.
If you’re in a small pool of 10 or less people, pick Brazil as your champion. The rest of my numbers give the following picks for the group stage (listed as winner, runner up).
Group A: Brazil, Mexico (Croatia is also reasonable)
Group B: Spain, Netherlands
Group C: Colombia, Ivory Coast
Group D: England, Uruguay
Group E: France, Ecuador
Group F: Argentina, Nigeria
Group G: Germany, Portugal
Group H: Russia, Belgium (not unreasonable to flip these)
Round of 16 winners: Brazil, Spain, Colombia, England, France, Argentina, Germany, Portugal
Quarterfinal winners: Brazil, Spain, Argentina, Germany
Semifinal winners: Brazil, Argentina
However, life is more difficult is bigger pools. If you’re in a 50 person pool and 40 people pick Brazil as champion, then the earlier rounds determine the winner of pool.
This leaves you susceptible to luck. Someone else picks South Korea into the semi-final against all odds, and it happens. These types of lucky picks determine the champion.
To win a bigger pool, you need a champion with a big win probability but that many others aren’t picking. For an event like the World Cup, this requires knowing who your competitors will likely pick.
For example, if you’re in a big pool with many Argentinians, you expect most of them to pick their country as a champion. Then Brazil still makes sense as a champion pick.
However, if you have lots of friends from South America, then Germany or Spain as champion makes more sense.
In the end, your want to give yourself the best odds at getting the champion right, but not have too many people pick that same champion.
My advice on big pools: don’t get in them.
Your odds of winning your pool go down with bigger pools. Even with the best strategy, someone else will get lucky.
However, if you must get in a big pool, you should consider a sleeper pick as champion. From comparing my aggregated predictions with public opinion on ESPN, the Netherlands and Colombia make the most sense as champion.
Yes, the Netherlands play in a brutal group with Spain and Chile. Yes, the Dutch have cat fights about who takes free kicks and just about everything else a bunch of prima dona players can fight over. Yes, their stars like Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben are getting old.
But have you watched them play? The Netherlands has some of the most skilled players in the world. Imagine 10 players caressing the ball with their feet like Steve Nash handles a basketball with his hands.
The Dutch have about a 4% chance to win the World Cup.
The other overlooked team is Colombia. They stormed through South American qualifying with the goals of Radamel Falcao. However, the Monaco striker is hurt and won’t play in the World Cup.
Colombia still has a chance to do some damage, mostly because of a stout defense. They allowed 13 goals in 16 matches during World Cup qualifying. In my international soccer rankings of offense and defense, Colombia is the top ranked defensive team.
Moreover, Columbia features Jackson Martinez, who led the Portuguese league in scoring. They play in a weak group and have a home continent edge. Consider their 3.3% win probability as a major sleeper.