Wednesday, November 18, 2009

World Cup 2010 Draw Anticipation


So, since I like soccer-football-fútbol-futebol, I thought I'd drop something to think about as World Cup qualifying comes to a close today. In a few hours, the field of 32 will be set. We are just waiting on France/Ireland (France carries a 1-0 lead to Paris) - Portugal/Bosnia (Portugal leads 1-0 but must play away) - Greece/Ukraine (0-0 with a match in Ukraine) - Russia/Slovenia (Russia leads 2-1 but must now defend away in Slovenia) - Uruguay/Costa Rica (URU defends a 1-0 lead in Montevideo) and probably what will be the most heated - Egypt/Algeria in a winner-take-all tiebreaker on neutral ground in Khartoum.

I am predicting that tomorrow's match's will have little impact on the draw which will take place on December 4. Why? Because only 1 seed is at stake and I am confident that Uruguay will not lose to the Costa Ricans, who have been in a free fall, going 1-1-4 since August. However, as you will see below, the Uruguay/Costa Rica match is the most important, and conveniently enough, will the last played.


1) FIFA does not change the past seeding criteria
2) NO 2 teams from the same confederation, except UEFA teams, will be drawn together (i.e. Brazil will not be grouped with Paraguay, Chile or possibly Uruguay and South Africa will not draw another CAF team).

So, the following picture is courtesy of Marca, the Spanish sports daily that loves to sensationalize everything. They are already fearing that Spain will draw Holland, the Ivory Coast and the US - and the US is the only team to defeat Spain in the last 3 years.

From American Fooligan

Pot 1 is set with the question of France. If Ireland knock off France, then Holland will be seeded and Ireland will be in Pot 2.

Pot 2 is set pending the results of the qualifiers tomorrow, but the places are locked with the exception of Holland/France.

Pot 3 and 4. Here is where things get interesting. I think the unseeded CAF teams will be grouped with the CONMEBOL teams as it will be easier to control for Assumption #2 above. Because we know that South Africa will be in Group A, FIFA can just pick from the CONMEBOL teams during the first round. Then, after Brazil and Argentina are assigned groups, FIFA can pick from the African teams.

The tricky part comes down to the Uruguay/Costa Rica match. If Costa Rica wins, then, in order to avoid violating Assumption #2 (and assuming there is no further re-jiggering wanted), we obviously can't have Costa Rica in Pot 3 if all other CONCACAF teams go to Pot 4.

What to do then if Costa Rica advances? Simple, move New Zealand to Pot 3 and Pot 4 is a combination of AFC and CONCACAF Teams.

Confused yet? Revert back to the chart.

What does this all mean for the Stars and Stripes? Well, if my Assumptions hold true (and they will - no two non-UEFA teams from the same Confederation have been grouped together since 1970 when hosts Mexico were grouped with minnows El Salvador):

If Uruguay win, we know a few things to be true:
a) No CONCACAF team will be grouped with an AFC team
b) South Africa will face at least one UEFA team and one CONMEBOL team
c) Brazil and Argentina will be grouped with one UEFA team and one CAF team.

Then here is how the rest computes:

The US (and each team in pot 4 for that matter) would have a 37.5% chance of drawing a Mixed group (one team from each of CAF, UEFA and CONMEBOL), a 37.5% chance of drawing a UEFA/CAF group (two UEFA teams and a CAF team) and a 25% chance of drawing a UEFA/CON group (two UEFA teams and a CONMEBOL team).

If Costa Rica win, then things get much more complicated because if my Assumptions are correct and Pot 3 consists of the 5 unseeded CAF teams, New Zealand, Paraguay and Chile, then there are more ways to avoid violating Assumption #2. For instance, South Africa would draw from a pot including New Zealand, Chile and Paraguay - while Brazil and Argentina would potentially draw from pots including New Zealand and the 5 unseeded CAF teams. It gets complicated because there will be more manipulating of the pots (Unless South Africa draw NZ and Brazil and Argentina headline Groups B & C or vice versa).

I am not a math major so I am not even going to attempt to try and figure out those odds.

But, I think it is a safe bet that Uruguay will hold serve at home tomorrow and then we will see these chances for the US:

37.5% chance for a CAF/UEFA/CONMEBOL group

37.5% chance for a UEFA/UEFA/CAF group

25% chance for a UEFA/UEFA/CONMEBOL group



By my understanding of probability and statistics, going back a full 11 years here since I scored well enough on the AP exam to avoid taking it in college, this is a question of compound probability because we are trying to calculate the probability that a series of random events will occur. The probabilities in Pot 3 change though because depending on which Pot 1 team we are dealing with, they are drawing from a different pool in Pot 3 (back to Assumption #2).

The Group of death is the phenomenon that there is usually one group that is so difficult that each team in it would be a sentimental favorite to advance to the next round. The first step in determining this probability is rating what would be GOD eligible teams in the first 3 pots. Let's call these "GOD" teams.

For simplicity's sake, let's assume both France and Uruguay do the business tomorrow.

I think it is safe to say that all the seeded teams should be considered GOD teams (since 1998, only 3 of 24 seeded teams failed to advance).

Out of Pot 2, I rate Holland/Ireland, Portugal, Russia and Denmark as GOD teams. Out of Pot 3, I rate Ivory Coast, Ghana and Paraguay as GOD teams. As you can probably guess - there is no certainty that a Group of Death even forms.

So, this means there is a 50% chance that any Pot 1 team will draw a GOD team in pot 2. It gets a little trickier for Pot 3 because per Assumption #2, South Africa will only be drawing from CONMEBOL teams and Brazil & Argentina will only be drawing from CAF teams. So from Pot 3, South Africa has a 33% chance of drawing a GOD team, Brazil and Argentina each have a 40% chance of drawing a GOD team and the UEFA seeds each have a 60% chance of drawing a GOD team. (those odds will dynamically adjust as the draw takes place of course and one team draws a GOD team or does not . . . think of it like the change in odds that occurs after the flop, turn and river in poker).

For Pot 4, I think only 6 of the 8 teams will have a chance at making the Second Round - Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Australia, USA and Mexico. I do not rate Honduras or New Zealand very highly here. So we have 6 GOD teams. So a 75% probability of drawing a GOD team from Pot 4.

So, taking into account the above, there is a 49.975% chance that a Group of Death forms.

Now, we have the last step of calculating the USA's odds of drawing that Group - 1/8 = 12.5%

One more compound probability calculation = a 6.23% chance of drawing the Group of Death.

Okay, piss all over me now. Let's face it - any group we are in will be tough. It will take all 23 men on the squad and we will have to fight tooth and nail for every half-chance on goal.

Boy, playing with numbers is fun. Please leave some comments with your thoughts - especially concerning my math if it is way off somewhere. I cannot tell you how entertaining this was for me.


Anonymous said...

Good stuff Rishi. I hate the way Fifa does this as the only teams you really want to play are in Pot 4, except us and Mexico, Meaning we don't get any "easy" matches. I really wish they would seed teams, the best 8 in Pot 1, like they do, but then continue, the next 8 in Pot 2 and so on. I figure we should make Pot 3, which would give us at least 1 match against a "minnow" but I guess you never know and they could put us in Pot 4. Anyway--again, good stuff, today should be good. said...


The way that it is structured is so that there is little chance of teams from the same Confederation, other than UEFA teams, being grouped together. With 13 teams, everyone is guaranteed to play a UEFA team.

AO Seattle said...

So it's the ease of using a single CONMEBOL + AFC pot with restrictions vs. splitting them up and having 2 pots that each have restrictions. Makes sense.

For WC '06, FIFA couldn't make it that simple, thanks to Mexico's seed.

For WC '02, FIFA made it as simple as they could (CONCACAF 3 + CAF 5 was clean).

Your argument makes sense. Then again, it is FIFA you're trying to predict. Regardless, good write-up and explanation. Thanks.