Why the U.S. Will Make it to the Knockout Stage of FIFA World Cup 2014

With the US being drawn into the group of death for next summer’s World Cup, I understand many people’s view that they will not make it out of the group.  Being drawn into the group of death may actually come as a blessing in disguise for the USMNT, as it could be an open group where anything can happen.  After both Germany and Ghana had been selected into group G, it seemed inevitable that the US would end up there, given that Ghana has knocked them out of the last two World Cups, and Klinsmann coming up against his former assistant.  Then when the European pot was being drawn, of course it just had to be Portugal.

There are a couple of positives for the US.  First, they get to see a lot of Brazil, about 9,000 travel miles will be involved in the group stage for them.  Also, if they make it out of the group, they will have the confidence to beat anyone in the knockout rounds (including the very real possibility of facing a talented Belgian side).  Also, by the time they play Germany, the Germans may already be qualified, and resting players.

I took the opportunity to put together a simulation of the US group.  Using betting odds given by William Hill for each game, a probability for the result of each match could be calculated.  Using these chances for each of the matches in the group stage, a simulation was carried out to determine the chance of each team advancing past the group stage.  2500 simulations were run using the given probabilities.  The results of this simulation can be seen below.

As can be seen, and expected, Germany have the highest percent of advancement followed by Portugal.  The US and Ghana are given similar chance of advancement, with the US slightly higher at a 36.76% chance.  This should give naysayers something to think about since they are given over a 1 in 3 chance of advancing from the group.

Next, the simulation was run after the game between the US and Ghana had been “played”.  Using the same probability for each of the other matches, each scenario was simulated (US win, draw, US loss).  The results of these simulations can be seen below.

Given the betting odds, if the US wins its first group game against Ghana, the chance that they advance increases from the original 36.67% to a 69.72% chance.  There is little to no change of the US chance to advance from the group in the event of opening with a draw against Ghana.  If the US lose in their first game, there is almost no chance for advancement from the most difficult group in the tournament.  We all knew the first game in this group against the easiest opponent would be important, but this shows just how important this game is.

Given that Ghana has knocked the USA out of the past two tournaments, it will be good to be starting off against them in the group stage.  If they were to face the Black Stars in the final group stage game, as they did in 2006, the idea of leaving on the back of a defeat by Ghana in a third straight World Cup could do a number on the US team’s confidence.  Given that the US will be out for revenge, and the fact that Klinsmann will have his team firing on all cylinders going in, I believe that the US will win their first game and have a good chance of advancing from this group.

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