The draw of the groups for the Final phase of the football World cup to take place in Brazil from June 2014 has taken place today. As it always does, it drew much attention and right afterwards lots of speculation, especially to identify which one will be the so-called “group of death”.
I read in the Spanish sports press that Group B, where Spain is placed, is called as “lethal”. I thought to myself: “playing the victims before the competition”. Then I read in the FIFA website:
Spain, the Netherlands, Chile and Australia will make up the proverbial ‘group of death’ at the 20th FIFA World Cup™, while Uruguay, Italy, England and Costa Rica will comprise another intriguing pool.
Take a look at the groups in the picture. What would be your guess as to the most difficult or the easiest group?
I then decided to take a quantitative approach using precisely FIFA world rankings, a classification made up with the points each country is getting for their results every month.
FIFA uses a formula to compute those points:
M x I x T x C = P
M: winning, drawing or losing a match
I: importance of the match
T: strength of opposing team
C: confederation strength weights
P: points for a game
Take a look in the picture in the right, to see the FIFA rankings at the end of November, just before the draw has taken place. You will see Spain in the top spot with 1,507 points, well ahead of Germany, Argentina, etc. Most of the countries in the top 23 that you can see in the picture are represented in the World Cup with the exception of Ukraine. See the whole ranking here.
With this information I built the following table, attaching to each country in the different groups the current ranking and points. Then, I calculated the average ranking of each group and the total amount of points. I then, also summed up the amount of points per group excluding the favourite in each group, showing in that way which has been the most difficult or the easiest group for the favourite countries (those placed in the pot 1 of the draw). Finally, I coloured results in a heat map: more red, more difficult. Which is then the “group of death”?
As you can see the most difficult groups in terms of total points are:
- G (Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA) with 4,358.
- B (Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia) with 4,191.
- D (Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy) with 4,031.
Looking at the average ranking, the most difficult groups are:
- G (Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA) with 11,25.
- D (Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy) with 14,25.
- C (Colombia, Greece, Côte d’Ivoire, Japan) with 20,25.
And excluding the points of the favorite team (pot 1) in each group, which is the favorite facing the toughest group?
- Germany in group G, facing 3,040.
- Uruguay in group D, facing 2,899.
- Spain in group B, facing 2,684.
Then, combining the 3 approaches, to me it becomes clear that the toughest group is G, with Germany, Portugal, Ghana and USA, by the total amount of points, ranking of the teams and in relation to what Germany will face.
Then, I would say that the second most difficult group is D, both looking at ranking and from the point of view of Uruguay. The third being group B (though between D and B, depends on the approach).
On the other hand, for the Netherlands, Chile and Australia (the worst team of the competition) it is clear that group B is the most difficult, as from their point of view their group has the most points excluding themselves (mainly thanks to the 1,507 of Spain).
Finally, after having done the analysis and seeing the heading of conversations on groups’ difficulty are taking I realize how few people have read about “Soccernomics” or “Moneyball“… just like with stock markets, at least this is just football.