"I must advise some sort of caution because the players haven't had a lot of chance in an England shirt," announced Roy Hodgson in his press conference earlier yesterday, adding; "We believe they can do it."
Hodgson’s tentative expectation management seems reasonable on the surface. But according to 21st Club – the consultancy that advises professional football clubs – this naysaying and humiliation limitation is actually unfounded.
Of course, the balls could have dropped more favourably for England on December 6 during the World Cup draw.
Having already been drawn alongside seeds Uruguay, a nation who have been rapidly moving towards the forefront of international football, they suffered a quirk in also being grouped with Italy when the Azzurri were the European side chosen to be moved pots so as to even out the groups.
Hodgson likened England’s task as having to face “two number one seeds” at the time.
However, the circumstances of England’s group should be put in context. The draw actually threw up five pools containing two European teams and, according to 21st Club, it’s actually the South American teams who will dominate at the World Cup, not the European teams.
21st Club use a data-modelling approach that essentially analyses historical performances and interactions between the teams, down-weighted over time so that the most recent results are the most relevant.
A different modelling approach to FIFA’s, it enables them to assess whether teams are over- or under-rated, against the FIFA rankings. They have used this to create a prediction tool, which is available on their data platform GoalDifference.com
Interestingly for England, the data suggests Italy are overrated. FIFA ranks Italy 9th, but 21st Club puts Cesare Prandelli’s side 20th of all the competing teams, with a measly 1.3% chance of lifting the World Cup in Brazil.
It would be foolish to write Italy off completely, for they so often raise their game at the big tournaments, and England certainly won’t be taking them for granted.
However, the prediction from 21st Club is that England are marginal favourites to progress from the group stage (63.1% chance) alongside Uruguay.
In other words: it’s a group of death for Italy, not England.
Think about it this way: England could have been drawn in Group B against Spain, Chile and Australia, which would have reduced their chances of qualifying to 53.1% - according to a hypothetical simulation by 21st Club.
If they manage to top their group, they are likely to meet predicted Group C runners-up Japan in the second round – a match up 21st Club thinks England would win, with 31.6% chance of second round progression compared to Japan’s 19.2%.
At this point, England will be pitted against their perennial nemesis: the quarter-final, the stage they’ve been eliminated at in six previous finals. 21st Club’s analysis suggests that England would be marginally squeezed out by predicted opponents Chile, who have 19.6% chance of progression to the semis compared with England’s 14.3%.
Despite this, it is not unreasonable to suggest that England would have a fighting chance against the Chileans.
With nearly 50 years of false dawns and painful failures since triumphing in 1966, coach Roy Hodgson has been conscious of managing expectations - both before and after the draw.
Understandable given how the weight of expectation can often burden a team into becoming perennial underachievers. Sometimes it helps to be the underdog.
But equally it’s important to provide fans and players alike with hope and inspiration. And while many have already written England off, 21st Club’s data suggests there is reason for optimism on the road to Rio…
21st Club have created online World Cup Sweepstake game at Goal Difference.com. Sign up here for free and play against friends or work colleagues.
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