FIFA 2018 Word Cup: Predictions for teams to advance to knockout stage based on Matchday 1 results and current world ranking

The 16 group stage games of the FIFA 2018 world cup has produced some very exciting and unexpected results. Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat trick against Spain is arguable the most brilliant performance for the group stage. The host nation Russia put up an excellent performance against Saudi Arabia with a 5 to 0 defeat. Lionel Messi’s Argentina failed to secure a victory against Iceland, the smallest nation to ever participate in the world cup. Messi’s underperformance and his lack of enthusiasm has sparked up comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo for who should be considered the greatest soccer player of all time. The reigning world cup champions (Germany) lost against Mexico is the biggest upset in the group stage so far. Senegal’s 2:1 victory over Poland makes Senegal the only team from Africa to earn a point in the group stage. This game also concludes Matchday 1 of the 2018 world cup. With Matchday 2 set to begin in just a few minutes from now with Russia taking on Egypt, let’s analyze what is at stake as we proceed into the second phase of group stage games. How does the results of Matchday 1 affect the outcome of teams that will proceed to the knockout stage?

The world cup is the greatest soccer event. It’s the dream of every soccer player to play at the biggest stage and serve their respective countries in the competition. The expectations and pressures that players experience can be overwhelming. As a result of this, Matchday 1 of the world cup is one of the most important game for every team. The results of every team’s first game is crucial, as it can boost confidence, or shatter morale. In this article, we perform some statistical analysis to evaluate what influence the results of Matchday 1 have on teams that progress to the knockout stage. Using our statistical analysis and other data such as current FIFA rankings, we will predict which teams will progress to the knockout stage of the world cup.

In our analysis, we only consider the 1998 to 2014 editions of the world cup. Before 1998, 24 teams participated in the tournament. With 16 teams progressing to the knockout stage from 24, yields a chance of 67%. With the current format of 32 teams, 16 teams advance to the knockout stage, which is a 50% chance. So in order to predict teams that will qualify to the next stage of the 2018 world cup, we only consider previous editions with 32 teams participating, as the 24 team format gave each team a 67% chance of progressing, which is highly biased with respect to the current 32 team format, with the chance progressing to the next stage being 50%.

All data for analysis was obtained from Wikipedia. The table below shows the number of teams that progressed to the knockout stage based on the results of their Matchday 1 game:

Results for teams that progressed to the knockout stage after winning, losing, or had a tie in their first game.

For the 5 editions of the world cup presented on the table, a total of N = 80 teams advanced to the knockout stage, i.e. 16 per edition, multiplied by the 5 editions under consideration. Out of the 80 teams that progressed to the knockout stage, 51 won their first game; 22 had a tie (draw) in their first game, while 7 lost their first game. The probability for a team to qualify to knockout stage after winning their first game is p(Win) = 64%; the probability that a team qualifies after a draw in its first game is p(Draw) = 27%; and the probability that a team advances after losing its first game is p(Lose) = 9%. Using a Binomial probability distribution for each outcome, considering a sample size of N = 80, we obtained the following 95% confidence intervals:

Probability values and 95% confidence intervals for a team to advance to knockout stage based on the result of it’s first group stage game.

These results show that teams that won their first game have the best chances to advance. We will use these results together with other data such as current world ranking of teams ( to make predictions for teams that will advance to the knockout stage for the 2018 world cup.

Group A: Russia, Uruguay, Egypt, Saudi Arabia

Russia and Uruguay won their first games. With a current FIFA ranking of 14 and having won their first game, Uruguay is set to qualify. Russia will also advance, as home field advantage will favor them.

Predictions: Russia and Uruguay to advance.

Group B: Iran, Portugal, Spain, Morocco

Iran won their game 1. However, at a current ranking of 37th, I would consider the probability of Iran to advance to be towards the lower end of the 95% confidence interval, which is about 53%. This is approximately the probability of a head when a coin is tossed. Spain and Portugal are the clear favorites to advance. Portugal is currently ranked 4th, while Spain is ranked 10th. Iran has a good chance, but at the end of the day, Spain and Portugal will advance.

Predictions: Spain and Portugal to advance.

Group C: France, Denmark, Australia, Peru

France and Denmark both won their game 1. France is currently ranked 7th, Denmark 12th, Peru 11th, and Australia 36th. Even though Peru is ranked one place ahead of Denmark, I will give Denmark the advantage, since they won their first game. France and Denmark thus have the best chances, towards the upper end of the 95% confidence interval, i.e., about 75% chance to advance. Peru will come close, but in the end, it is France and Denmark that will advance.

Predictions: France and Denmark to advance.

Group D: Croatia, Argentina, Iceland, Nigeria

Croatia is ranked 20th, Argentina is ranked 5th, Iceland is ranked 22nd, while Nigeria is ranked 48th. Croatia having won their first game are set to advance. This zone I consider to be the zone of death. Argentina were the clear favorites to win the group, but after drawing their first game against Iceland, the entire scenario changed. I predict Croatia to advance. Argentina and Iceland will have to battle for a spot in the knockout stage. This will be a very tough group. I will pick Argentina over Iceland because of their better ranking.

Predictions: Croatia and Argentina advances

Group E: Serbia, Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica

Serbia is ranked 34th, Brazil is ranked 2nd, Switzerland is ranked 6th, while Costa Rica is ranked 23rd. Even though Serbia has the lowest ranking in this group, the fact that they won their first game places them at a very good spot. This group is also another tough group. Switzerland is an excellent team as well, with a relatively higher rank of 6, compared to Serbia. My predictions are Serbia and Brazil, taken into consideration Brazil’s ranking.

Predictions: Serbia and Brazil to advance.

Group F: Sweden, Mexico, Germany, South Korea

Sweden is ranked 24th, Mexico is ranked 15th, Germany is ranked 1st, while South Korea is ranked 57th. Sweden and Mexico both won their first games. Germany’s lost to Mexico came as a great surprise for the reigning world champions and world’s number 1 ranked team. This zone is another zone of death. I predict Germany to bounce back from their loss and advance to the next stage. Germany has been eliminated in the group stage only once, and that was in 1938. Mexico and Sweden will have to battle for a spot. My pick for this group is Mexico and Germany, taken into account ranking as well as previous world cup success.

Predictions: Mexico and Germany

Group G: Belgium, England, Tunisia, and Panama

Belgium is ranked 3rd, England is ranked 12th, Tunisia is ranked 21st, while Panama is ranked 55th. Belgium and England both won their first games, hence I will consider their chances to advance to be at the higher end of the 95% confidence interval (75%). They are the two best teams in this group in terms of ranking. This group is the easiest to predict.

Predictions: Belgium and England to advance.

Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan

Poland is ranked 8th, Senegal is ranked 27th, Colombia is ranked 16th, while Japan is ranked 61. Poland and Colombia were the clear favorites to advance in this group, but after their defeats to Senegal and Japan respectively, their chances qualifying to the knockout stage is highly in jeopardy. This group will also be a tough group, but I think after winning their first 2 games, Senegal and Japan have a strong chance (64%) to advance. My choice for this group is Senegal and Japan.

Predictions: Senegal and Japan to advance.

In summary, we have used a very simple model based on the Binomial probability distribution, previous world cup data, previous world cup success, and current world rankings of teams to predict teams that will make it to the knockout stage of the 2018 world cup.

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Physicist, Data Science Educator, Writer. Interests: Data Science, Machine Learning, AI, Python & R, Personal Finance Analytics, Materials Sciences, Biophysics

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Benjamin Obi Tayo Ph.D.

Physicist, Data Science Educator, Writer. Interests: Data Science, Machine Learning, AI, Python & R, Personal Finance Analytics, Materials Sciences, Biophysics