Mathematicians point to Brazil as favorite for the title at the World Cup in Qatar

Tite, t
photo: Nelson Almeida/AFP

Tite, coach of the Brazilian national team, tries to take the team to the sixth World Cup

Already qualified for the round of 16 of the World Cup, Brazil continues chasing the sixth. Depending on mathematical predictions, the scene of the Brazilian team lifting the cup is not so difficult to come true – in many of these models, the team is the favorite for the World Cup.

Even with created expectations, it is best to moderate them. Predicted results are not set in stone, and the most unexpected of outcomes can occur – Argentina and Germany say so.

Mathematical models that predict the outcome of football matches are nothing new. One of these projects, Previso Esportiva, is the result of a partnership between Brazilian universities, such as UFBA (Federal University of Bahia) and ICMC (Institute of Mathematical and Computing Sciences), at USP in So Carlos.

Created in 2004, the initiative uses data and mathematical devices to predict the outcome of the World Cup since 2006.

“This is a way of visualizing the possibility of a certain future outcome in relation to sports occurring”, says Francisco Louzada, a professor at ICMC and one of the coordinators of Previso Esportiva.

Initially, the probability of a team winning the 2022 World Cup would be the same, since each of the 32 teams has the same chance of being champion. The difference is that the mathematical models are defined by factors that can increase or decrease the probability of winning the World Cup – the attacking and defending potential of the teams, for example.

The Sports Forecast adopts these two criteria, and also considers the rankings of the teams according to Fifa and Uefa (Union of European Football Federations). The value of the teams is also a parameter: the more expensive the set of players, the greater the chances of winning.

Models also tend to adopt weights for the factors, explains Wladimir Neves, director of the Institute of Mathematics at UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro). In some cases, the quality of the attack can be more important than the defense and vice versa.

Then, a huge amount of data is collected for an artificial intelligence to evaluate against the criteria, and the prediction is determined.

How calculations are made

Even before the start of the World Cup, researchers at Previso Esportiva simulated 1 million possible 2022 World Cups. Among these, Brazil appeared as champions in about 153 thousand, surpassing the victory of all other teams. But that doesn’t mean that the country is in great shape – Argentina, for example, was the champion in more than 120,000 scenarios.

“Today, Brazil has a 15% chance of being champion, but what about the other teams? Practically, (the other 31 teams) have an 85% chance”, summarizes Louzada.

Other predictions were also made, such as one from the company XP, another sponsored by Serasa and even one from the American analysis site FiveThirtyEight (538). Although with some differences, Brazil is one of the main favorites in all of them.

Will Brazil really win?

Predictions made before a World Cup starts can even be assertive. In 2010, Spain were the champions, and that was the team that had the highest probability of winning from the beginning, according to Sports Prediction betting.

But ideally, the mathematical models are updated as the matches take place. That’s because the more data the artificial intelligence has, the more accurate the result. In addition, the updated references increase the reliability of the teams’ performance.

“It’s one thing, before starting the Cup, to provide the information you had and offer the result. It’s another to have passed the first phase and have more information on the selections”, says Louzada, indicating that, at least for Previso Esportiva, the forecasts will be updated.

One case is Argentina. After the defeat to Saudi Arabia, the chances of the South American country to be champion of the World Cup should fall in mathematical forecasts.

This type of variation that new data brings is indicative of another dilemma: the inability to compile all the factors involved in the outcome of a match.

Paulo Henrique Trentin, a professor in the mathematics department at Centro Universitrio FEI, explains that forecasts fail to take into account psychological factors that can destabilize or stimulate players during a game so well.

“These models are quite assertive from a mathematical point of view, but questionable”, he summarizes.

Neves, from UFRJ, agrees. It exemplifies a scenario in which, in a possible championship final, a player becomes ill. “It’s something that no model will predict.”

Even so, there are expectations. “There is great hope that, with a high probability, Brazil will win,” says Neves.

For most mathematical predictions, this hope is actually confirmed.

In two models, one from Previso Esportiva and the other from the University of Oxford, Brazil appears disputing the final against Belgium. The result? The Brazilian team is more likely to be champion.

To see if Brazil really returns the defeat of 2018 and finally wins the sixth.


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