Monday, December 12, 2005

World Cup 2006: Favorites to advance?

One thing you'll immediately notice in any analysis of the World Cup draw is how many of the European teams are favored to advance out of the group stage. Going just by the odds at Will Hill, (to win the group, since I couldn't find odds just to advance), 13 of the 14 UEFA teams are favored to advance. The only non-UEFA teams favored to advance are Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. Serbia is the odd team out.

I also found this page which has the 2002 odds to win each group. 10 of 15 UEFA teams were basically favored then. Although, Belgium and Ireland were basically even with another team, and Denmark was close too. The only teams definitely not favored to advance were Slovenia and Sweden. So while they were not the same teams that were favored, 9 of 15 did advance.

Of course, there is no way all those UEFA teams will advance. Last time, 9 advanced. I would say about 9 is realistic again. I know the fact that it's being held in Europe is supposed to help, but only 10 of 15 advanced in France 1998. And I know that all the best teams qualified this time around. But some of those "favored" teams will have to fall. Which ones will it be?

Usually one of the seeded teams fails to advance. That's hard to predict though. I think the second tier UEFA teams are getting way too much credit. What has Poland done to be favored over Ecuador? Or Switzerland over South Korea? Or Croatia, which has much lower odds than Australia and Japan? I would not be surprised to see all three of those teams fail to advance.

Another team that I'm not very high on is the Ukraine, but they got a really easy draw. Tunisia and Saudi Arabia are experienced at this level, but haven't done much so far. But I also would not be surprised if either of them gets the runner up position. Ukraine reminds me of Poland last time around: An Eastern European team that qualified easily on the back of a prolific striker. Look at what Ukraine has done against the other top teams in World Cup qualifying:

Denmark     1-1 Ukraine
Ukraine 1-1 Greece
Turkey 0-3 Ukraine
Ukraine 1-0 Denmark
Greece 0-1 Ukraine
Ukraine 0-1 Turkey
Good results, but they don't score many goals. In fact, they have rarely score more
than one goal in Euro and World Cup qualifying against decent teams. Same thing with
Switzerland. If their offense sucks in qualifying, then how can they expect to do
better in the actual World Cup? Tunisia should give them a run for their money.

The Czech Republic too aren't a great offensive team, at least by the numbers.
They may have led UEFA in goals scored, but most of those came at the
expense of weaker teams. Just for a comparison:

Netherlands 2-0 Czech Republic
Czech Rep. 1-0 Romania
Czech Rep. 4-3 Finland
Romania 2-0 Czech Republic
Czech Rep. 0-2 Netherlands
Finland 0-3 Czech Republic

Armenia 0-3 Czech Republic
Macedonia 0-2 Czech Republic
Andorra 0-4 Czech Republic
Czech Rep. 8-1 Andorra
Czech Rep. 6-1 Macedonia
Czech Rep. 4-1 Armenia

So that's 8 goals in 6 games against decent opposition, including 7 in two games
against Finland. We really should not be afraid of them.

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