FIFA World Cup 2014 – Using data to look at past, present and future

December 13, 2013 By Gianthomas Tewksbury Volpe | 0 Comments

The last month has been incredibly exciting for all soccer fans around the world: first the regional qualifiers came to an end, then the intercontinental playoffs caused some to despair and others to rejoice, and finally the draw determined the groups for the next World Cup! As the excitement for the biggest single-sport event in the world builds all around the globe, data can help us get to know the teams that earned the right to play in Brazil and the paths they took to get there. I used MicroStrategy Analytics Express to build a dashboard that visualizes all of the World Cup-related information out there so that I can make sense of it all. To achieve a high-level of detail, I visited the FIFA website and gathered all the data I could find on the players and teams - qualifier matches, top scorers, historical performances, current world rankings and much more - and organized it in Excel spreadsheets before enriching it with Elo and SPI ratings. Analytics Express allowed me to easily import the spreadsheets and merge data from the different sources using the new data blending feature. With Analytics Express, I was able to produce more insightful visualizations and analysis.  

Here are some of the best insights I found, but make sure to explore the dashboard yourselves to find even more so you are completely prepared for Brazil!
1) Present: Group B is the hardest group and Brazil got really lucky!

Image 1. Click to open full sized image in a new window.

Right after the draw there was a lot of talk about which group was going to be the toughest. I decided to try to answer that question by looking at the average global Elo ranking of the teams in each group. In Image 1 you can see each group colored by the average ranking, with the darker colors representing a ranking closer to 1.

Group B is toughest group of them all, with an average Elo ranking of 12.25. Having the current World Champions (Spain), current runner’s up (Netherlands), and an up-and-coming Chile together will be sure to produce some cracking games and eliminate one of the big guns.

The luckiest of the big teams was definitely the host, Brazil. They landed in a group featuring Cameroon, Croatia and Mexico with an average Elo ranking of 25.5. Expect Brazil to dominate that group, leaving the other three countries to battle it out for the second spot in the round of 16. Group H is even weaker, with an average Elo ranking of 33.5. To put that into perspective:  there are 32 teams in the World Cup so on average, these teams wouldn’t rank in the world’s top 32.
For those who missed the draw, here is a recap of the groups:
Group A Group B Group C Group D Group E Group F Group G Group H
Brazil Australia Colombia Costa Rica Ecuador Argentina Germany Algeria
Cameroon Chile Greece England France Bosnia and Herzegovina Ghana Belgium
Croatia Netherlands Ivory Coast Italy Honduras Iran Portugal Russia
Mexico Spain Japan Uruguay Switzerland Nigeria USA South Korea
2) Past: Goal scoring in the World Cup has been steadily declining since 1994.

Image 2. Click to open full sized image in a new window.

Looking back in time can give us some useful context about the current state of the FIFA World Cup and how it got to where it is today. Visualizing data on the average number of goals scored per game at the World Cup since the first edition (won by Uruguay back in 1930) uncovers a trend of decreasing scoring. This could be caused by soccer’s global expansion, inevitably raising the level of play around the world, which means fewer “pushover” teams qualify for the World Cup. The higher level isn’t only the result of more people playing and more refined technical skills, but also a reflection of the advancements in sports science and learning how to keep players healthy and fit throughout the course of the tournament.

We have experienced a steady decline in goals per match since the USA ’94 edition and it will be interesting to see if 2014 will halt the decline or just add on to the trend. Will the spectacle of the World Cup in Brazil be enough to overcome the decline in goals per match and drive a higher average attendance than in the past?

3) Future: Expect Spain to be up top, the USA around the middle, and Cameroon at the bottom.

Image 3
. Click to open full sized image in a new window.

There are three main ranking systems out there for national teams: Elo, FIFA, and SPI. Each one uses a different points system to rate teams based on their past performances, weighting competitions, opponents, goal scoring and other elements differently. Image 3 shows us with the blue bubbles where, on average, each team is expected to place out of the 32 qualified teams. The bubbles of other colors represent the position assigned to an individual team by each ranking system. The closer the bubbles are placed, the higher the consensus level is around how they will perform.

Elo, FIFA and SPI all agree on the fact Spain, Argentina, and Germany should make a deep run while Honduras, Australia and Cameroon are destined to be eliminated in the group. The USA and the Ivory Coast instead are ranked middle-of-the pack by all three ranking systems, which can be projected to a round of 16 or 3rd place in the group stage exit.

The most interesting takeaway from this visualization is that there are a number of countries that the rankings evaluate very differently, effectively identifying them as wild cards. Chile and France are both in this category for very different reasons. On one hand you have Chile, a young team that did incredibly well in South American qualifiers and has rising stars in Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez. The obvious weakness for Chile is the lack international experience and success in the recent past. France on the other hand has a glorious recent history, including a 1998 World Cup, 2000 Euro Cup, and 2006 World Cup final, but has been in a real slump recently. The French team features 2012-2013 UEFA player of the year in Franck Ribéry and other stars like Karim Benzema and Paul Pogba. If the talent on this team lives up to their potential, as they did when they overcame a 2-0 loss to Ukraine in the first leg of the play-offs to qualify for Brazil 2014, then they will definitely make some noise.
The best thing about the world cup is that, despite what the rankings say, one or more of countries will defy the odds and make it a lot further than anyone expected. One thing is for sure – soccer fans are in for a lot of excitement!
To access the dashboard with the above visualizations and much more, click here. You will learn all about the teams that qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup by interactively exploring the data in maps, charts, and graphs. Make sure you have all the insights you need going into the World Cup!
To find out what MicroStrategy Analytics Express can do for you, click here.
For more information on the ranking systems used, see below.
Elo Ratings                                           FIFA Ranking                                                SPI Ranking

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