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%.

Copa America win probabilities for 2016 at the knock out stage


These Copa America win probabilities are based on my international soccer/football rankings that include competition since the start of 2012.

The calculations weight games by their importance. For example, a World Cup match is worth four times a friendly.

However, the rankings do not weight recent games more. This has interesting consequences for the above win probabilities.

United States

For example, the United States ranks 13th in my world rankings. The largest contribution comes from the 2014 World Cup in which they emerged from a group of death to make the knock out stage.

Other predictive rankings such as tend to weight recent matches more. With their struggles in last year’s Gold Cup, the United States ranks 22nd by this metric.

Still, the United States has a 16% chance to win the Copa America. They will enjoy home advantage in each of their matches, worth 0.56 goals.

Also, it looked like Colombia did the United States a favor when they lost Costa Rica. The United States won the group on goal differential and most likely avoided Brazil in the first knock out game.

Then Brazil lost to Peru 1-0 when the referee missed a blatant hand ball goal. Brazil fails to advance from the group, and Peru, 27th by my rankings, wins the group.

I ran the numbers for the situation in which the United States finished second to Colombia in the group. This means they play Peru and Chile/Mexico instead of Ecuador and Argentina. The United States had a 21% win probability, larger than their 16% chance.

Partial home advantage for Mexico

I’ve given Mexico a half home advantage, since El Tri always gets strong support from their fans on American soil. However, they only have a 10% chance to win.

Mexico faces a tough road through Chile and Colombia, the seventh and fourth ranked teams by my numbers, to make the final. Then they most likely face top ranked Argentina in the final.


Argentina has the highest win probability at 32%. However, this is less than the about 58% chance (-140 as of Thursday morning) given by the futures market.

Note that superstar Lionel Messi has yet to start a match in this tournament because of an injury. He did score three goals as a reserve against Panama.

Win probabilities for the 2015 Gold Cup

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 11.37.32 AMCan the United States win the 2015 Gold Cup?

Winning the Gold Cup means more than than just bragging rights over rival Mexico. With the win, the United States qualifies for the Confederations Cup in 2017, a key tune up tournament for the World Cup in 2018.

If another team wins the Gold Cup, they play a one game playoff against the United States, winner of the 2013 Gold Cup. The winner of this playoff represents North America at the Confederations Cup.

To determine win probabilities for the Gold Cup, I combined three different estimates into an ensemble prediction. Two came from my own calculations that rank international teams on offense and defense (see the bottom of this article), and a third came from the markets.


The Gold Cup usually comes down to the United States and Mexico, but Costa Rica has emerged as a solid third team that made the final 16 of the World Cup last summer.

Let’s look at these three top contenders. The offense and defense rankings come from The Power Rank algorithm and use international matches since January 1st, 2011.

United States

12th offense, 27th defense

The United States looked fantastic in beating Germany in a friendly last month, and they also beat the Netherlands in another friendly. Both matches took place on European soil.

They need to play well at the start of the Gold Cup as their group has Honduras and Panama, two top 50 teams in my world soccer/football rankings. Meanwhile, Mexico has the dregs of CONCACAF (Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, all ranked lower than 80th) in their group.

Coach Jurgen Klinsmann left central defender Matt Besler, who started every game of last year’s World Cup, off the Gold Cup roster. John Brooks will most likely start, and let’s hope they can improve a defense that has ranked 27th in the world over the last 4 years.


11th offense, 9th defense

By the numbers, Mexico has a slight edge on the United States in my rankings. They don’t have the largest win probability though since the United States will enjoy home field advantage.

I’m not 100% certain the United States should get the full .59 goals for home field. If the United States and Mexico meet in Philadelphia for the final, there will be plenty of Mexican fans wearing green in attendance.

In my ensemble calculations, the market predictions most likely account for the semi-neutral type final in Philadelphia. They gave United States a 38% win probability with Mexico at 36%. The gap was bigger in my two calculations.

For Mexico, striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez broke his collar bone and will miss the Gold Cup. He scored 9 goals in 33 matches for Real Madrid last season.

Costa Rica

40th offense, 10th defense

Costa Rica had an amazing World Cup last summer. In winning their group, they sent Italy and England home before the knock out stage. Then they beat Greece to advance to the Round of 16.

Costa Rica relies on its defense, which is ranked 10th in the world over the last 4 seasons. They face a road game against Canada in Toronto in the group stage, but they should win their group before most likely playing the United States in the semi-final.

List of win probabilities for the 2015 Gold Cup

1. United States, 39.1%.
2. Mexico, 33.6%.
3. Costa Rica, 11.7%.
4. Panama, 4.7%.
5. Honduras, 4.7%.
6. Jamaica, 2.3%.
7. Guatemala, 1.8%.
8. Canada, 1.4%.
9. El Salvador, 0.9%.
10. Trinidad and Tobago, 0.7%.
11. Haiti, 0.1%.
12. Cuba, 0.1%.

Top 10 Moments from the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference 2012

Bill James on the B.S. Report with Bill Simmons, taped live at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

Dorkapalooza. That’s what Bill Simmons called the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in 2009. Back then, a bunch of mathematically inclined dudes like Dean Oliver and John Hollinger debated advanced stats in a classroom. However, things have changed. Simmons’ article made the conference popular among more main stream sports fans. The 2012 version was Suitapalooza. The average attendee was a few months from earning an MBA, dressed in a suit and spent the conference begging for a job in the sports world. This year, they even stuffed the research paper talks in the far corner of the Hynes convention center in Boston. I didn’t go for the math; I went to talk with people in the halls. Here is my very personal take on the 2012 conference.

10. The gambling panel. When Daryl Morey asked Jeff Ma to participate on this panel again this year, Jeff said he wouldn’t do it unless he could be the moderator and pick the panel. Morey acquiesced, and the panel morphed from stale last year to exciting this year. Bob Stoll of Dr. Bob Sports dished out the football analytics behind his consistently winning picks. Michael Craig of Right Angle Sports was in the audience. The presence of these two companies, the only sports handicappers with profitable picks over the long run, legitimized the entire conference. Add in some tension between other panelists, and it became the hit of the conference. Of course, I wasn’t there because I was at the…

9. The football analytics panel. Disappointing. Can it really be a football analytics panel when no one says the words “expected points”? It didn’t even come up when they discussed Bill Belichick’s famous decision to go for it on 4th and 2 from their own 28 against the Colts. Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats used this concept to show that Belichick’s decision was reasonable. Expected points is the cornerstone of football analytics, a concept we explained in this article. No one mentioned it once.

8. Total QBR. I left ESPN’s talk about their Total Quarterback Rating more impressed than when I arrived. Unlike the football analytics panel, they mentioned and even used the concept of expected points. Moreover, the team with a higher Total QBR wins the game 86.8% of the time, a higher percentage than with the traditional quarterback rating. However, they also count clutch plays more, even though no one has ever found statistical evidence of clutch hitting in baseball, a sport with a much larger sample of events. Talking heads like Trent Dilfer insisted on the inclusion of this clutch factor.

7. The line for Bill Simmons. There was no line for the food at lunch. There wasn’t even a line for drinks at the cocktail reception, most likely because each attendee was limited to single free drink. However, there was a long line to get Simmons to sign the copy of Grantland that came in the goodies bag. Just further evidence how his column in 2009 has grown this conference to over 2200 attendees this year.

6. Moneyball. The stage behind many of the panels showed the original cover of Moneyball, the classic book in which Michael Lewis brought Bill James and baseball analytics mainstream. Bill Simmons may have popularized this conference, but Michael Lewis brought numbers in sports from weird hobby to real job possibility for the hundreds of MBA students. Without Moneyball, Sloan sports analytics might refer to an elective class instead of huge conference sponsored by ESPN.

5. Dean Oliver. A few month ago, my friend Chris Ritchie saw my copy of Basketball on Paper on my shelf. He mentioned that Dean Oliver, the author, used to work at his environmental engineering firm and had even interviewed him before leaving for the sports world. Oliver is now part of the analytics group at ESPN, and I told him this story at the conference. He didn’t remember Chris, but he certainly remembers taking time off to write Basketball on Paper, the seminal work on basketball analytics. Dean showed genuine interest in The Power Rank, particularly how our college basketball rankings contrasted with their own Basketball Power Index.

4. Chad Millman. This author of The Odds and the gambling blog on ESPN recently became editor of ESPN The Magazine. He’s done an amazing job with improving the writing in the magazine. The recent analytics issue features excellent stories on how Brandon McCarthy used analytics to save his pitching career and marry a model (see her on the cover) and how Floyd Fielding earns six figures as an old fashion bookie. I caught Chad in the hallway and complimented him on this work at the magazine. He asked for more features on The Power Rank. They’re coming, Chad. Look for a makeover this upcoming college football season.

3. The NFL’s sophisticated technology. The NFL tracks who takes the field on every play. To do this, they have people take pictures from a few different angles around the stadium. The images are transferred to a human team that writes down the identity of each player by hand. Are you kidding me? Commissioner Goodell, there’s been a recent invention called the personal computer. It sits on your desk and can analyze images. Some smart people in Silicon Valley have already started applying this invention to sports video analysis.

2. Training the German national team. At last year’s conference, Mark Verstegen of Athletes’ Performance was on the opening panel that discussed the 10,000 hours in developing an elite athlete. Only later did I learn that Verstegen was the man Jurgen Klinsmann hired to train the German national team before the 2010 World Cup. I’ve always been interested in the fuzzy, nonscientific side of athletic performance. For example, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall discusses how happiness and joy carries the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico through hundreds of miles of running. Verstegen also believes in this fuzzy side of athletic performance, as his team worked with the Germans to build a culture that supported their fitness program. I didn’t get many details, but elite athletic training is more than just science.

1. Shaking hands with Bill James. This conference would not exist with Bill James. Enough said.

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Related Content:

College basketball rankings.
Can a defense force turnovers?
College football’s incredibly slow progress towards a playoff.

Gold Cup Edition

This week we pause from our regular MLS coverage to get up to speed on the Gold Cup. Not only is this the most important international soccer tournament in North America, but with 32 MLS players participating, it says a lot about how important the league has become to player development. Expect it’s importance to increase as the league grows and teams increasingly use the academy system to identify and hone talent.

Each region of FIFA has a tournament every several years to determine regional champions, and the Gold Cup is the North American (CONCACAF) championship. The competition is held every other year, before and after the World Cup. Most importantly, winning the cup following a World Cup year earns the winner a spot in the FIFA Confederations tournament. This event takes place in the next World Cup host nation as a warm-up prior to the World Cup the following year. Team USA’s runner-up performance in the 2009 Confederations Cup is one of the high water marks of American soccer. Because so much is riding on it, every team in CONCACAF has sent their best, making this the toughest tournament for the US Men’s National Team until either the World Cup or the next Confederations Cup.

The Gold Cup tournament is already considered to be somewhat of a disappointment for Team USA. For the first time, the American’s failed to win their group stage because they suffered their first ever group stage loss to Panama. However, for fans of the American team there have been some positives. The defense has long been a source of problems, but in four games only one goal has been allowed in the run of play (a second was scored on a foolish penalty, both against Panama). While Guadaloupe and Jamaica each had a good chance early on, the American defense was much tighter overall and less vulnerable to speed and defense-splitting through balls. Jamaica in particular brought this game to the Yanks, but they were ready for it and recorded a clean sheet against a good side.

Another significant improvement has been the play of the midfield. Unlike during the World Cup, coach Bob Bradley has sent out a consistent midfield in each game with each position having clearly defined roles. Jermaine Jones has emerged as the defensive midfielder we have long been lacking, while Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan continue in their roles as attacking wingers. However, they have been doing a much better job of moving the ball to the central midfielders and outside fullbacks instead of relying on long-balls over the top. Most impressive, though, has been the continued improvement of young midfielder Michael Bradley. He has dropped back from the attack somewhat to emerge as the player who possesses and distributes the ball. It’s refreshing to see American soccer players move the ball forward with intent, and yes, even pass the ball backwards if that is the best option. Bradley will even track back to the defense to pick up the ball and start the attack. (The US tried this during the World Cup with Jose Torres, but abandoned it after one half. I guess when it’s the coaches’ kid running the show, there’s more patience.)

Perhaps the best change that’s manifested itself during the Gold Cup is that Team USA finally has sense of itself. The game plan is clear and doesn’t change as substitutions are made. This allows the players to anticipate where their teammates will be and how they’ll move; something absolutely critical in soccer as there’s no time to call plays. During the World Cup, every game had a different game plan and different personnel, resulting in no coherent soccer and almost always an early substitution to try to right the ship. In this tournament, there’s only been one substitution before half-time, and it was as a result of injury to forward Jozy Altidore. Which brings me to the main deficiency of the current US squad….

While the midfield and defense have played well (aside from one half against Panama when they looked tired), the finishing ability of the squad has been lacking. In four games, they have only had two real quality strikes: Clint Dempsey against Canada and Jozy Altidore against Guadaloupe. Landon Donovan has been more involved in ball movement than striking, and the other attacking players have misplaced shot after shot. Against Guadaloupe, we could have scored more than 5 goals, and even after a miserable half against Panama, we missed two easy scoring chances that would have won the game. This has to be the biggest area of concern for American soccer with a rematch against Panama in the Gold Cup semis on Wednesday, hopefully followed by a final against a Mexican side that has no trouble finding the back of the net. So until next time: USA! USA! USA!