The most underrated team in sports

Chile gets no respect.

They won the South American championship over Brazil and Argentina in 2015. They won a special North and South American tournament in the US last year.

My numbers put them at 3rd in the world before the Confederations Cup, or the World Cup Light that FIFA holds the year before the actual World Cup. This tournament features the champions of each continent.

However, no one gave Chile a chance. The markets odds were +320, or about 24% win probability, and Chile got even less respect from commentators.

In the semi-final, Chile outplayed Portugal but the game remained scoreless after 120 minutes. Chile advanced by saving 3 straight penalty kicks against Portugal.

Now Chile faces Germany in the final on Sunday at 2pm Eastern. My numbers give the following probabilities for 90 minute regulation:

  • 41% for Germany to win
  • 31.5% for Chile to win
  • 27.5% to tie

Chile is not the favorite. However, don’t be surprised to see them win the tourney, especially since many of Germany’s stars won’t play in this game.

And there’s reason to trust my world soccer numbers. A published research paper studied the predictions from my algorithm and found them quite worthy.

I wrote about the lessons learned from this study. It’s probably most interesting for the results on ensembles, which I use in my football predictions.

To check out the article, click here.

Euro 2016 is wide open – win probabilities at knock out stage


At the knock out stage of Euro 2016, it’s any country’s trophy.

These win probabilities come from my world football/soccer rankings, which performed favorably in predicting matches according to an academic study.

The Economist cited this study in a recent article.

A few notes on the results.

  • Germany is the top European country at 2nd in my rankings, but they haven’t impressed so far. In addition, their back four looks vulnerable.
  • France has home field advantage, which gives them the largest win probability at 28.9%.
  • Belgium has their golden generation of talent (8th in my rankings). However, they always seems to disappoint.
  • Italy has a rich tradition of football excellence. However, this seems like the least skilled Italian team I’ve ever seen.
  • England? Nah… or maybe their poor performance in big tourneys is bad luck.

Here are the win probabilities for Euro 2016 at the knock out stage for all 16 teams.

1. France, 28.9%.
2. Germany, 16.9%.
3. Belgium, 16.5%.
4. Spain, 9.6%.
5. England, 6.0%.
6. Portugal, 5.0%.
7. Croatia, 4.8%.
8. Switzerland, 3.9%.
9. Italy, 2.5%.
10. Poland, 2.1%.
11. Wales, 1.1%.
12. Hungary, 1.0%.
13. Iceland, 0.8%.
14. Slovakia, 0.4%.
15. Northern Ireland, 0.4%.
16. Republic of Ireland, 0.3%.

New international football / soccer rankings show recent form of nations

world_soccer_June19_2014The FIFA rankings suck. Not only do they poorly predict the outcome of matches, but you have to wait a month for updates.

The Power Rank international football / soccer rankings do better. The ranking algorithm considers margin of victory in adjusting for schedule strength in international soccer. As an academic study has shown, using margin of victory is critical in making predictions.

In addition, the international rankings are now updated daily.

This constant updating is interesting during the World Cup. My rankings use a 4 year window of matches and weight matches by their importance.

  • World Cup Finals: 4.
  • World Cup Qualifiers, Confederations Cup, Continental Finals: 3.
  • Continental Qualifiers, 2.
  • Friendlies, 1.

Since we’re in the middle of a World Cup, the rankings add important matches each day while dropping results from the previous World Cup. This leads to some interesting changes for certain teams.

Spain and the Netherlands

The Netherlands dominated Spain in a 5-1 win last week. This dropped an aging Spain team down to 6th. The FIFA rankings still have Spain as the top team.

The Dutch have risen to 4th. It mystifies me why more people didn’t think this traditional power could win this World Cup.

Germany and Brazil

While most other respectable rankings have Brazil on top, the weighting of matches in The Power Rank vaults Germany ahead of Brazil.

Germany has played well in the last two World Cups. In 2010, they dominated Argentina in a 4-0 rout. Just last week, they beat Portugal, another top 10 team, by the same margin.

With no weighting, Brazil would be the top team in The Power Rank.

United States and Ghana

The Yanks are 18th currently, one spot above the Ghana squad they just beat.

The United States won the game because of two great finishes by Clint Dempsey and John Brooks. However, between these two goals, Ghana dominated possession and scoring opportunities. They were the better team.

Colombia and Chile

These two South American teams are in the top 10. Colombia is ranked higher at 5th, but Chile is not far behind at 7th.

From this World Cup, the Colombia looks like the better team. They continue to score goals despite the absence of Radamel Falcao, their leading scorer in qualifying.

Moreover, my aggregated win probabilities before the World Cup gave Colombia an almost 4% chance to win it all. Chile only had a 1.9% chance.

Belgium and France

Belgium has generated much chatter as a dark horse World Cup champion. Young players like Eden Hazard have dazzled on the pitch at this World Cup.

However, their performance over the last 4 years ranks them 13th in The Power Rank. That puts them lower than France (9th), a team no has talked about as World Cup champion. (Of course, France is missing star winger Frank Ribery for this World Cup.)

Belgium’s play as a team does not make me believe they will contend for the World Cup title. My aggregated win probabilities before the tourney agree with this assessment. Belgium had the 11th highest win probability at 2.3%.

Rankings of World Cup teams

Here are rankings of the 32 World Cup teams that consider matches from June 20, 2010 through June 19, 2014. The record gives wins, losses and ties over the past 4 years. The rating gives an expected margin of victory against an average international team.

1. Germany, (37-7-11), 2.52
2. Brazil, (40-9-12), 2.28
3. Argentina, (32-8-15), 2.15
4. Netherlands, (33-9-11), 2.09
5. Colombia, (24-8-11), 2.09
6. Spain, (45-8-8), 2.05
7. Chile, (29-17-9), 1.69
8. Uruguay, (28-14-15), 1.69
9. France, (28-11-12), 1.59
10. Portugal, (26-9-13), 1.54
11. Ecuador, (17-14-15), 1.48
12. Mexico, (35-18-17), 1.48
13. Belgium, (22-8-12), 1.44
14. England, (25-8-14), 1.43
15. Ivory Coast, (31-7-9), 1.42
16. Italy, (22-12-21), 1.40
17. Ghana, (30-15-14), 1.29
18. United States, (37-17-12), 1.25
19. Russia, (24-6-13), 1.25
21. Switzerland, (20-7-12), 1.23
23. Croatia, (24-10-11), 1.16
24. Nigeria, (29-11-21), 1.11
27. Japan, (33-12-13), 1.07
28. Bosnia-Herzegovina, (21-14-7), 1.03
30. Costa Rica, (25-23-19), 0.95
32. Greece, (24-8-16), 0.91
34. Australia, (26-16-11), 0.87
35. Iran, (30-8-16), 0.85
38. South Korea, (24-17-12), 0.80
43. Honduras, (22-24-18), 0.75
50. Cameroon, (16-13-12), 0.60
53. Algeria, (19-10-6), 0.56

For all teams, click here.


The Power Rank also provides predictions for each match and stages of the competition, both of which are update nightly.

These predictions use a different set of rankings that consider a 12 year window of games. Research as shown that these calculations are as accurate in predicting match outcomes as using a 4 year window.

Who would England, Spain and Germany be if they were NBA teams?

The Power Rank predictions for Euro 2012 after the group stage
For most Americans, Euro 2012 is the reason the sports bar across the street keeps erupting during the middle of the day. The tourney has not become a mainstream event in America. Sports Illustrated has yet to mention a word about it in their magazine, opting instead to run a story about new United States men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

But European Football Championships (that’s soccer) is one of the most exciting, competitive tourneys in the world. To make it more accessible for an American audience, we compared a few top teams to NBA teams. Really, this is an unsubtle attempt to convince our readers that we actually watch the games instead of just crunch numbers. While you can always see our win probabilities in this interactive bracket, we’ll attempt to pin a personality on three top team that have made the final 8 in Europe. You tell us how we do in the comments.


England is the 2011 Memphis Grizzlies

England uses their size and physicality on the pitch. Many of their goals come from long passes into the box, such as Andy Carroll’s header off a Stephen Gerrard cross against Ukraine. Their back line features imposing players like John Terry, Joleon Lescott and Glen Johnson. They’re happy knock opponents off the ball, like Lescott did before his goal against France.

The NBA equivalent is the Memphis Grizzlies, a team build around physical post players Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. These big guys are surrounded by athletes like Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo. Sure, these are fine NBA players, but no one is drafting these guys for their dribbling or shooting skills.

We picked the 2010-2011 version of the Grizzlies because they knocked off San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs. This England team has the same potential to beat Italy in the quarterfinals. In fact, our algorithms give them a 49.2% chance of advancing. But just like Memphis got stoned in the next round against Oklahoma City, England’s journey will most likely end in the semi finals against Germany. England is a fine team, and our rankings place them at 7th in the world. They just live on a continent with Spain and Germany. Anything can happen though, and our methods give them a 10% chance to win Euro 2012.

Spain is the 2012 San Antonio Spurs

Spain plays a short passing known as tiki-taka. It’s a mischievious little game of keep away. When the Spanish artists play to their full potential, it’s one of the most beautiful thing in all of sports.

There is really no basketball equivalent. The closest comparison is this year’s San Antonio Spurs. Tim Duncan’s team was a passing machine, always swinging the ball around the court to find the open shot. This artistry led to a 39.3% shooting percentage from three point range.

Unfortunately for Spain, the comparison runs a bit further. Both San Antonio and Spain have players on the down side of their prime. On the Spurs, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are 36 and 35 respectively. They couldn’t quite get over the hump against a young Oklahoma City team in this year’s playoffs. Spain’s midfield duo of Xavi and Andres Iniesta are 32 and 28 respectively. Their club team Barcelona could not reach the same play as in previous years. While The Power Rank gives Spain a 28.7% of winning Euro 2012, it reasonable to shave a few percentage off in favor another, younger team…

Germany is the Los Angeles Lakers of the early 80’s

I understand this is a hard comparison to stomach at first glance. The stoic Germans are like the flashy Lakers in the Magic Johnson days?

It’s about the style of play. The Germans are fearsome on the counter attack, the soccer equivalent of the fast break. It seemed almost inevitable they would score a winning goal against Denmark when the Danes were pushing hard for a goal. They have scored 2.69 goals per match in meaningful competitions since the start of qualifying for the last World Cup. While they haven’t scored more than 2 goals in any Euro 2012 match, they did have 4 goals outbursts against England and Argentina in the 2010 World Cup.

Now, this 2.69 goal average is inflated by 15 goals in 4 matches against Azerbaijan. However, our algorithms allow us to adjust for strength of schedule. The Germans have a 2.27 offensive rating, the best in the world. This means they would score 2.27 goals against an average international team.

We compare the Germans with the Lakers of the early 80’s because of their youth. Midfielders Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller are 23 and 22 respectively. Even at this young age, this duo has already played together in a World Cup and European Championships. The Germans are improving as a unit, while Spain might be past its prime. The Power Rank gives the Germans a 25.9% of winning the tourney. From watching the Germans play, I think they should inherit a few percentage points from the aging Spain team.

What do you think?

We would love to hear other comparisons for England, Spain, Germany or any other European teams. Please leave us a comment.

Thanks for reading.

What are Germany’s odds of winning Euro 2012 now that they own the Group of Death?

For updated win probabilities for Euro 2012, click here to view our interactive bracket.

Group of Death

Germany marches on while the Netherlands lingers on the brink of Euro death. Since the Germans are almost certain to make the knock out stage (92%), they now have the highest chance of winning Euro 2012 at 24%. This is higher than Spain’s odds at 20%. The Netherlands now need Denmark to lose to Germany and then beat Portugal by a bunch of goals. It’s still possible. 9.7% possible.

Croatia is ranked 8th in the FIFA rankings?

When we mentioned that Croatia was the worst team in Euro 2012, Morgan kindly pointed out their lofty status in those other rankings. A big reason why Croatia lands at 35th in our rankings are two World Cup qualifying games with England. Croatia lost 9-2 on aggregate in this home and home series. In rankings without those two games, Croatia jumps up to 22nd. (England drops from 9th to 17th.) Moreover, Croatia didn’t astound anyone in a Euro qualifying group with Latvia (85), Georgia (95), and Malta (114). They even lost to Georgia.

Croatia faces a serious test in Italy tomorrow morning.

Home field advantage.

We use a home field advantage of 0.41 goals for Poland and Ukraine, since this was the average advantage over all qualifying matches for Euro 2012. Greg asked why we used all qualifying games instead of only games with teams that qualified.

Great question. First, there are only 248 games in qualifying. Eliminating any of those games reduces our sample size, which reduces the accuracy with which we can calculate home advantage.

Second, the objective is to determine the advantage of playing at home, no matter what the strength of the teams. We’re interested in Luxembourg just as much as Germany. Fortunately, the home and home structure of fixtures between any two teams in qualifying really helps. If Germany only played San Marino at home, they would, on average, win by more than 6 goals. This would seriously skew the estimate for home advantage. But since Germany plays a home and home with San Marino, they might win by 7 goals at home but only 5 goals on the road. In our calculation of home advantage, the large positive goal differential at home for Germany is negated by the large negative goal differential for San Marino at home. This leaves a clean estimate for home advantage when one European country travels to another.

What do you think?

Do the Dutch have a chance? Does Croatia’s play on the pitch seem like that of a top 10 team? Please leave us a comment.

Thanks for reading.