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World Cup 2022 update: Is football coming home?

Eight teams are left in the football’s men’s World Cup in Qatar. ‘Scorecasting’ economists find that Brazil’s position as favourites has been enhanced: their probability of winning the tournament is now 34%. England’s chances of bringing home the trophy have risen slightly to 12%.

Eight teams remain in the World Cup as we progress deep into December. The Round of 16 was absorbing, but only produced one shock, rather than the three that might be expected since even the weakest team, South Korea, had a 20% chance of winning. But that shock was one of the biggest, as Morocco eliminated Spain on penalties.

In contrast with many previous editions, Europe is not having things all its own way in this World Cup. Spain have joined Germany and Belgium in being eliminated from the finals, along with Italy, who failed to qualify.

According to Elo ratings (the ranking system used by FIFA, among other bodies) calculated at the start of the tournament, the last eight is made up of six of the top eight teams. The two outsiders are Croatia (11th best by Elo score) and Morocco (19th best). Those two outsiders mean that their opponents, Brazil and Portugal respectively, have a higher likelihood of reaching the semi-finals. But the Round of 16 tells us to take nothing for granted: there is a 20% chance that Croatia progresses, and a 33% chance that Morocco beats Portugal.

The other two quarter-finals are arguably the blockbusters – Netherlands facing Argentina; and England against France. Argentina (57%) and France (53%) have the edge in these contests, but both England and the Netherlands (at 46% and 43% respectively) will fancy their chances of getting through to the next stage.

So, is football coming home? England’s probability of winning the World Cup has increased slightly – from 8.7% to 11.9% - which means that they are now fourth favourites after Brazil (up from 28% to 33.9%), France (up from 12.5% to 15.5%) and Argentina (up from 12.5% to 14.3%). Portugal, arguably the most impressive team in the Round of 16, have seen their chances of winning the trophy almost double: now at 11.2%, up from just 6% before they disposed of both Cristiano Ronaldo and Switzerland.

In the chart below, we include two additional bits of information over and above what is in our previous article on the World Cup: we include each country’s Elo strength from before the tournament began, plus their Elo strength now. Because Elo ratings adjust after each match, and do so proportionally to the strength of each team’s opponents, we can look at the change in Elo ratings as giving an idea of which country has been most impressive so far.

So, which team’s Elo rating has increased the most? The answer, unsurprisingly, is Morocco, who have seen their Elo rating increase by ten points – to 1,213. The Netherlands have increased theirs by four points, and England by six.

Reflecting group stage defeats to unexpected teams, the Elo ratings of Brazil (beaten by Cameroon, whose Elo is 1,125), Argentina (beaten by Saudi Arabia, Elo 1,131) and France (beaten by Tunisia, Elo 1,146) are all slightly less than they were on 20 November. Despite their crushing win over the Swiss, Portugal’s shocking group stage defeat by South Korea means that they have only increased their Elo by a single point. The jump in Portugal’s likelihood of winning the World Cup is solely down to their Iberian neighbours Spain departing the tournament.

Figure 1: Chance of progression and elo score, by round, by team

Source: Author's calculations

Where can I find out more?

  • Evaluating strange forecasts: The curious case of football match scorelines – study by James Reade and colleagues.
  • Going with your gut: The (in)accuracy of forecast revisions in a football score prediction game – another research paper by James Reade and colleagues.
  • Futbolmetrix’s blog: Discussion of football (futbol, calcio, soccer) and numbers.

Who are experts on this question?

Author: James Reade
Picture by Chattrawutt on iStock
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