Different World Cup ranking systems give divergent predictions

National pride will always interfere with reasoned judgment whenever soccer fans are talking about whose teams are the best, especially in a World Cup year. Everyone will be able to find evidence to support their own view. But this chart, which compares the three ranking systems for soccer teams, at least helps get all the relevant facts on the table.

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The folks at MicroStrategy, a software company, wanted to demonstrate some of their tools for visualizing data, so they shared this chart on their site. The red circle shows where each team is ranked by FIFA, while the green and orange circles show the alternate ranking systems — Elo and SPI, respectively. Circles placed to the left of the chart indicate a better ranking.

Spain, Argentina and Germany are the clear favorites, but the chart also reveals certain teams for whom the ranking systems give divergent results. These are the teams that will be interesting to watch, because predicting how they’ll perform is harder.

FIFA is pessimistic about Brazil, for example, even though the team won the Confederations Cup this year. The other two algorithms put the Brazilians in first place. Chile and France also receive a range of rankings, the MicroStrategy analyst explains:

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.

France will play Ecuador and Switzerland in Group E, in what could be an interesting series of matches. Ecuador, which failed to qualify for the last World Cup, lost forward Chucho Benitez to heart failure in July, and it remains to be seen how it will perform without him at the highest level of international competition. Switzerland hasn’t been a serious contender for the World Cup in a long time, but recently, the Swiss have been playing remarkably well recently, even beating Brazil in August following an own-goal.

The United States, meantime, is ranked squarely in the middle of the competition by all three systems — which is still exciting for American soccer fans.

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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Max Ehrenfreund · December 20, 2013

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