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Stat wizard Nate Silver tabs a World Cup winner, US group odds are up

Jun 10, 2014, 9:59 AM EDT

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He can tell you who will probably win presidential elections, so even though sport is a little trickier than which way dyed-in-the-wool tribes will vote for leaders, it’s worth paying attention when Nate Silver gives his odds.

The stat nerd whiz, who gives us fellow geeks analytics fans so much joy, is in the house with his World Cup projected winner and it’s…the same country many people with eyeballs are tabbing.

He’s looking to the nation that has lost one match since 2013, the hosts, Brazil.

Here’s the main reason we like Silver’s nods better than most. From


  • It’s predictive, rather than retrospective. It’s not trying to reward teams for good play — it’s trying to guess who would win in a match played tomorrow.
  • It weights matches on a varying scale of importance based on the composition of lineups. Sometimes even friendly matches are taken quite seriously, such as if a team is playing against a historic rival, or if it badly needs a tune-up before an upcoming tournament. Sometimes even tournament matches are blown off if a team has already clinched its position.

Silver gives the United States a 36 percent chance of getting out of Group G, and a .4 chance of winning the World Cup. So apparently he should “get out of the country,” too, eh, Michael Wilbon? So Silver’s odds for the U.S. and its advancement are 10 percent higher than bookies… what does he think about Germany, Portugal and Ghana?

However, there may be a bit of irrational fear around Ghana. The African teams did little to distinguish themselves in the 2010 World Cup despite a wonderful opportunity in South Africa. They’re hard to peg because they don’t play competitive matches against the rest of the world all that often, but SPI does not have them on the rise this year.

Portugal? SPI is more down on the Team of Five than it seems it should be. In SPI’s defense, Portugal was a little underwhelming in World Cup qualifying, drawing twice with Israel and once with Northern Ireland. And the team isn’t deep: While Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the best two or three footballers in the world, Portugal has no other player who clearly belongs in the top 100.

Germany? Well, they’re really good. But as an offense-minded squad, the team might be ever so slightly more prone toward letting in a soft goal and drawing (although probably not losing) a game that it shouldn’t. Keep hope alive, America.

Keep hope alive, indeed. And, for the sake of us outcasts analysts, read the entire article. We need to encourage Silver to keep with the Beautiful Game.

  1. bigdinla - Jun 10, 2014 at 11:06 AM

    Portugal with a gimpy Ronaldo is very beatable. Ghana is very beatable. This us a very tough group, but it would not be a complete shock if the US finished 2nd.

  2. thewalkoffktxt - Jun 10, 2014 at 12:12 PM

    If Ronaldo doesn’t show up, the U.S. could beat Portugal. The real key here: beat Ghana, please. If they do that, all of their problems are solved, even if they end up finishing third.

    • braxtonrob - Jun 10, 2014 at 6:20 PM

      @thewalk, Ditto!

  3. mikeevergreen - Jun 10, 2014 at 12:33 PM

    Given that Portugal and Germany don’t often play in the combination of heat and humidity, I think that US-Ghana 1-2 isn’t out of the question at all. Portugal is a one-man team, and Germany is long past due for a group stage exit.

    • unclemosesgreen - Jun 10, 2014 at 2:00 PM

      That is one of the most absurd things I’ve ever read. You’re an American, right?

  4. jucam1 - Jun 10, 2014 at 8:15 PM

    The US will be lucky to tie Portugal, Ghana is going to win 3-0, Germany 2-1 only because they’ll be playing their bench, and I could see a tie or Portugal winning it’s match with the USA. This is not the cup where the US makes it’s impact, JK has been subtly sending signals for about a year now. He is getting this team ready for ’18, when he’ll have more experience, hopefully a better draw, more foreign born players that nationalize, more players playing in Europe, gets rid of dead useless weight like Jozy, and has a better weather situation. This is an experience building cup

    • mvktr2 - Jun 11, 2014 at 9:54 PM

      ‘a better weather situation’ … really? Euro teams have traditionally folded off continent quicker than egyptian cotton sheets. The US, aside from possibly Russia and potentially China or Brazil, faces the greatest travel challenges of any nat team in the world meaning Brazil is tailor made to their travel experience. Additionally Brazilian weather at the moment very much mirrors US weather in the southern tier of states, a place where many if not most of the US’s squad is very experienced with playing.

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