World Cup 2014 Simulation: Our Calculations Of Who Will Advance Past the Group Stage

Sport simulations are wonderful. By compressing half a million individual World Cups into a few hours of computer time, we can see true percentages of expected success. Instead of reading anecdotal analysis on each group and team, we can look at numbers and learn Australia and Cameroon have less than 7% chance of making the elimination rounds. Why guess when we can know?

How does the simulation work 

All teams have a strength rating (from, which is current as of May 18, 2014. Using Elo ratings (ER), an elegant metric for calculating current strength based on weighted recent relative performance, each match’s expected outcome was plugged into a Poisson random number generator. Using weights derived from historical regression analysis and the knowledge that soccer goals per game follow a Poisson distribution, the generator churns out game outcomes. Structuring the matches into the World Cup’s schedule and storing the results for a half million simulations gives us the analysis below. Note that percentages are rounded and so may not sum to 100% or 200% exactly. 

Home field advantage

Studies have determined a home field ER has an advantage of approximately 100 points. This analysis is composed of two simulations, one without home field advantage (HFA) and one with it included. HFA is for Brazil only, not for the other South American teams. This article does not use the HFA enabled simulation for analysis. The next article, analyzing the elimination rounds, will use both sets of simulations.

The Luis Suarez Factor 

What about Luis Suarez’s surgery? What about Landon Donovan being left out of the USA squad? Adjustments for events like these were not implemented because ER are an aggregate score. Nothing is summed from the player level. How much is Luis Suarez worth? Quite a bit, clearly, but how much? Anything would just be a guess so Uruguay remains at their current rating.


All tiebreakers are implemented in full, including the drawing of lots if all other options fail! Programming tiebreakers is not much fun so the less said the better. To the results! 

Key Matches

Some group matches, like Spain versus Netherlands, appear to have a disproportionate effect on the overall results. Here are some key matches and how the odds of winning the World Cup change based on the match result. 


Spain v Netherlands  – 6/13/2014 

The highest combined team rating for any game in the group stages has, as expected, a dramatic effect on the odds of winning the World Cup for both teams. Since Brazil awaits the second place team, winning this match helps avoid a difficult start to the elimination rounds. The simulation results look like this:

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  1. Jake May 31, 2014
  2. CH May 31, 2014
    • Cousi June 4, 2014
    • xoxo June 25, 2014
      • chg June 27, 2014
  3. Brian May 31, 2014
    • Chris McFarland May 31, 2014
      • Ber June 27, 2014
    • chg June 27, 2014
  4. Smokey Bacon May 31, 2014
    • Chris McFarland May 31, 2014
      • Smokey Bacon May 31, 2014
  5. Bo May 31, 2014
  6. Abdirahman June 1, 2014
    • chg June 27, 2014
  7. Alex June 1, 2014
  8. Ugo June 2, 2014
    • Ben June 9, 2014
  9. Kimani June 5, 2014
  10. Kimani June 5, 2014
  11. pamela June 6, 2014
  12. klreddy June 27, 2014
  13. ben June 30, 2014
  14. MadMan June 30, 2014

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