Who are the unexpected winners of the World Cup first round?

June 19

(Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

After just a week of games, some shocking results have already put some World Cup favorites in danger and elevated new contenders. Defending champion Spain has been eliminated after just two matches. In Group G the decisive victory for Germany over Portugal just about locked the Germans into qualification and it further stuck the Portuguese in a must-win situation for two games running. Argentina held serve with a somewhat scrappy victory over Bosnia. Lionel Messi’s side did not wow observers or dominate the stat sheet, but an early win still puts Argentina in good position to make a deep run in the tournament.

The structure of the knockout tournament also adds to the effects here.  The wins by Colombia and ivory Coast from Group C have placed both favorites in dominant position to achieve qualification. Further, the top two sides from Group C will be paired against the top two from Group D in the first knockout round. In this group, Costa Rica’s upset has placed the Central Americans in reasonable position to qualify.  While Costa Rica has shown they may be better than expected, either of Colombia or Ivory Coast would still be large favorites if they were to meet for a knockout match. This means Colombia and Ivory Coast not only have a clear path to the round of 16, but one of them might also have a reasonably easy path to the quarterfinals, as well. Their match Thursday could not only take the winner to near-certain qualification, it could also line up the winner for a potentially easy first knockout match.

The structure of the tournament also provides an advantage to Germany and a boost to Brazil. Germany is in excellent shape to win Group G, which would line up a  meeting with the second –place side in Group H. None of the teams in Group H impressed in the opening match, and Germany should be large favorites to win its first match in the knockouts if Jogi Loew’s team takes care of business with Ghana and the United States.

Finally, of my pre-tournament underdog picks, there still remains France. The French have yet to be truly tested, but their dominant win over Honduras and the less-than-impressive showings by Switzerland and Ecuador suggest that the French should be in good position to make a deep run in this tournament.

 

scenarios

What about Brazil? The favorites shockingly drew with Mexico, but their numbers have not moved a whit. The issue here is two-fold. First, Brazil’s draw did not notably impact their chances of qualification. Just a draw against Cameroon guarantees the Selecao a trip to the knockout stage. Second, by expected goals Brazil created all of the seven or eight best chances in their match against Mexico. Brazil’s underlying rating actually improved based on the draw.

If Brazil gets a result against eliminated Cameroon, its first-round opponent will be the Netherlands or Chile. Both would be formidable opponents. But Spain’s elimination has removed the possibility of a matchup between the pre-tournament favorites in the first round. While Spain have not been their best, as I have noted the statistical model takes the long view, and the long view on Spain is very positive. Brazil gains a couple of precious percentage points of expectation.

So Brazil remain favorites to hoist the Cup, and they are challenged by both some expected and some unexpected names. Germany and Argentina have the expected high positions, while the underdog picks from this model are France, Chile, Colombia and Ivory Coast. The Netherlands slip in as well.

All data provided by Opta unless otherwise noted.

Michael Caley writes for Cartilage Free Captain, where he analyzes fancy soccer statistics and bemoans Tottenham Hotspur’s most recent failures. You can follow him on twitter at @MC_of_AMy full World Cup projections and methodology can be found at SB Nation.

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