2014 World Cup Betting: Making Sense of Big Group Disparities

Nobody ever said that the World Cup group draws are fair. And anybody who does say this is a complete liar. Perfect evidence of this sentiment comes from the 2014 World Cup drawings. As is the case every four years, there’s some major disparity as you look across the eight groups. But before we discuss the disparities, here’s a look at the eight different pools:

2014-world-cup-groups

Groups of Death

Every time the World Cup is held, there’s a “Group of Death,” or rather the pool that is loaded with three or four tough teams. This edition of the Cup features three different such pools, with Groups B, D and G featuring some very talented squads.

In Group B, you have the defending champion Spain, European powerhouse Netherlands, and Chile, which is probably South America’s second best team. The only gimme in this pool is Australia.

luis-suarez-uruguayGroup D features traditional soccer powers England and Italy. Then there’s Uruguay and their uber-talented striker, Luis Alberto Suárez, who led CONMEBOL qualifiers with an astounding 11 goals. Even Costa Rica doesn’t surrender much as they finished second in CONCACAF qualifiers and are ranked 28th by FIFA.

As for Group G, this pool has Germany, who some predict to win the World Cup this year. There’s also Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo, the man whom many think is the best player in the world. The USA has a young, but talented squad that’s capable of upsetting both of the former. Finally, we have Ghana, which has advanced to the knockout round in two straight World Cups. There is no doubt about it: Group G doesn’t have a single soft spot.

If you’re thinking about betting on Group B, D or G, you might want to stick to live wagering in the 2014 World Cup. After all, it’s going to be very difficult to predict how the matches will go with such tough competition.

Looking at the Rest

Some of the other groups pale in comparison to those that we just discussed. Leading off the list of weak pools is Group H. Now, Belgium is a very good team that has a number of good, young players. But while they’re easily the best team on paper in this group, they’d have to fight to advance in several of the other pools. Russia is the second-highest ranked nation in Group H, but they are considered worse than any other pool’s second-best team. Meanwhile, Algeria and South Korea figure to be pretty easy competition for the top two squads.

greece-world-cup-1Group C offers another suspect crop of teams, with Colombia being the only feared squad. Greece, which is highly overrated according to FIFA at 12th, is one of the more offensively challenged teams in the Cup. The Ivory Coast and Japan wouldn’t have a chance of advancing to the knockout round in most other groups. But in this pool, they both have a shot at earning one of the top two spots in Group C.

It’s also a bit hard to swallow Group F, where Argentina is the only true contender. Nigeria and Bosnia and Herzegovina are respectable teams, however, neither should have a real opportunity to advance. While boasting a strong defense, Iran is a team that’ll be lucky to score two goals before they’re eliminated from pool play.

Why are the 2014 World Cup Groups so Uneven?

FIFA uses a Ridiculous “Pot” System that’s based on their Own Rankings – A big reason why you see such disparity between World Cup draws is due to the pot system that FIFA uses. The 32 teams are divided into four pots, with Pot 1 containing the world’s seven highest-ranked teams and the host nation. These eight teams are each placed in a separate group to avoid lumping too many elite squads together.

switzerland-world-cupPerhaps this wouldn’t be such a bad system if the flawed FIFA World Rankings weren’t used to determine the top seven. These rankings don’t account for home field advantage or goal differential, meaning nations like Switzerland and Belgium attain Pot 1 status while teams that are probably better such as Chile, England, Italy and the Netherlands end up with random-chance draws.

The Geography Factor is weighed Too Heavily – Outside of FIFA’s top seven-ranked teams and the host nation, all other qualifying teams are thrown into the remaining three pots. From here, geography becomes the key determining factor – not previous results or rankings.

The reason why this is done is to prevent teams from the same continent from being in a group together. The only exception is Europe, which can have a maximum of two teams in one pool. In theory, this makes sense because you don’t want group play to become continent wars. But in reality, using geography just creates largely uneven groups.

To illustrate how insane the geography factor is, consider that Spain was just as likely to have drawn 37th-ranked Ghana to their group as they were to have faced 59th-ranked Cameroon. In another case, the host nation, Brazil, had an equal chance of seeing 14th-ranked United States as they did of drawing 33rd-ranked Honduras.

What can be Done?

Obviously the strange way that FIFA picks groups will have a big impact on 2014 World Cup betting. But how could they go about making things better? According to the New York Times, Julien Guyon, a French mathematician, has come up with a superior and fairer method. Here’s an excerpt from what the NY Times wrote:

The Guyon method differs from FIFA’s in a very simple way: All the teams are seeded, according to their world ranking, 1 through 32. The teams are then assigned groups in a manner similar to any other large tournament, like the N.C.A.A. basketball tournaments, with an attempt to group higher-rated teams with lower-rated ones. Guyon keeps FIFA’s geographical constraints by randomly selecting continental groupings ahead of time. 

[cont’d later] Relative to FIFA’s process, this method particularly rewards strong teams who were not in the top eight, like England, Italy, Portugal and the United States.

The Guyon method may not be revolutionary, at least on the surface. But the NY Times did show that using his system would produce far greater consistency in creating fair World Cup groups.

Unfortunately, major sporting organizations can be slow to change. So we don’t see FIFA adopting the Guyon method – or anything else for that matter – any time soon. But hopefully the soccer governing body will take outside criticism into account and eventually consider changing something about their Cup drawing system.