In my previous posting, I described the results of the 2010 FIFA World Cup draw in South Africa. Here I look at two methods of working out which are the toughest groups. Group F is the weakest group using all but one of my indicators (the final one, “Mind The Gap” which is covered in my next posting).
Here are the Groups for the 2010 FIFA World Cup:
The consensus seems to be that Groups G and A are the hardest. Italy has the easiest and England has a good chance. I beg to differ.
Although South Africa is the host country and on paper a seeded team, France (with almost three times the ranking points) is the real favourite in Group A. Therefore, in this analysis, I have considered France the top team in Group A.
The two methods of evaluating the strength of groups I’m using here are “Group Type” and the “Minnows’ View.”
Group Type is simply the average ranking of the four teams in a group. I then find the team(s) in the FIFA world rankings which comes closest to matching this average, this gives us:
Group A: 832.75, equivalent to Denmark or Bulgaria, the average would be ranked in 27th place.
Group B: 896.5, Serbia or Australia, ranked 21st.
Group C: 905.5, Uruguay, 19th.
Group D: 918, Switzerland or Uruguay, 19th.
Group E: 964.5, USA or Mexico, 15th.
Group F: 804.75, Paraguay or Norway, 31st.
Group G: 1,024.75, Greece or Russia, 13th.
Group H: 1,052.5, Croatia, 10th.
[all ranking points taken from the November 20, 2009 update of the FIFA/Coca Cola World Rankings, with the relevant data cited here and here].
What the “Group Type” indicator shows: I think it’s a reliable guide to the average quality of the teams. The surprising result is that Group H comes top, suggesting this is where the teams will tend to be of the highest standard. The reason for this result is that Spain is the world number one (1,622 ranking points) and Honduras, the weakest team in that group (738 pts), is the second strongest outsider (the others ranging from 756 pts to only 377 pts). The average team in Group H is equivalent to Croatia, the 10th ranked country.
I think one weakness of this indicator (apart from the fluctuation in rankings between now and June 2010) is that it’s easy to forget that Brazil, for instance, doesn’t play Brazil. In other words, a strong team in a group of minnows will actually have an easy time, but the group looks harder than one where all the teams are more evenly matched. This is why the other indicators were created.
The Minnows’ View is simply calculated by taking the average ranking points of the top three teams in a groups, which assumes that the lowest ranked is an outsider, with no serious chance of coming first or second over three matches, and therefore being eliminated.
Group A: 984.67, equivalent to USA, the average would be ranked in 14th place.
Group B: 987, USA, ranked 14th.
Group C: 955.33, Mexico, 15th.
Group D: 977.67, Mexico, 15th.
Group E: 1,049.67, Cameroon, 11th.
Group F: 928.67, Ivory Coast, 16th.
Group G: 1,233.33, Italy, 4th.
Group H: 1,157.33, France, 7th.
What the “Minnows’ View” indicator shows: This time Group G is the highest rated, due to the exclusion of North Korea. Close behind is Group H again, but more significant is that the average difference between the other groups is small: equivalent to only five ranking places, which suggests that the qualifying process to produce 32 teams for the finals was broadly fair (I know Irish readers will disagree).
The easiest group for an outsider team would be Group F, because Paraguay and Slovakia are among the weakest teams from their respective pots (South America/Africa and Europe, respectively).
A weakness of this indicator is that it fails to provide a perspective from the point of view of the strongest team in a group. In a couple of instances, where the lowest rated team is close to others in the group, the possibility of an upset is likely to be underestimated.
I address both these concerns in my next posting.