Last updated June 14, 2018 at 11:53 am
It suggests you don’t put your money on the Socceroos.
Australia may have been buoyed by its recent strong showing against the Czech Republic, but a unique uncertainty model devised by an Adelaide academic suggests the Socceroos are only a 14 per cent chance of even making the second round.
Our chances of winning the Cup are a slender 0.1 per cent – which probably wouldn’t surprise even Australia’s most diehard fans. Mind you, Germany, one of the favourites, has just a 13.3 per cent chance, according to a “Monte Carlo simulation” of the competition based on rankings, form and other factors.
It’s the work of Steve Begg, the Professor of Decision-Making and Risk Analysis in the University of Adelaide’s Australian School of Petroleum, whose research focuses on decision-making under uncertainty and the psychological and judgmental factors that impact it.
He normally applies it to the oil and gas industries, but the attraction of crunching the numbers on the world’s biggest sporting event was too much to resist.
The modern Monte Carlo technique was developed during World War II by scientists working on the Manhattan Project – the development of the atomic bomb. The key idea is that rather than trying to work out every possible outcome of a complex system, enough possibilities are modelled to be able to estimate the chance of any particular outcome occurring.
“The outcomes of many decisions we make are uncertain because of things outside of our control,” Begg said. “Uncertainty is crucial in predicting the chance of an oil or gas field being economic. In the World Cup, it determines the many ways the whole tournament might play out. What makes it so hard to predict is not just uncertainty in how a team will perform in general, but random factors that can occur in each match.”
800 simulations a second
Begg generated 100,000 possible ways the 63-match tournament could play out. Although there are many possible options – almost 430 million in the Group Stage alone – this is “more than enough” for an assessment of the probability of how far each team will progress. He can run 800 different simulations a second.
In his model, two key uncertainties are a team’s “tournament form” (its general level of performance entering the finals) and its “match form” (the extent to which it plays better or worse than its tournament form in a given match). The possible scores for each match are derived from the likely number of goals, based on scores from all matches in the last three World Cups, allocated to the two teams based on their relative match form.
Inputs to the model are based on FIFA rankings over the past four years, modified by Begg’s knowledge of the game and team; for example, Russia will have a higher “tournament form” because of host advantage, and poorer teams have a relatively greater “giant killing” upside than better teams.
On current inputs, Begg has calculated the Socceroos have a 14 per cent chance of advancing through the Group Stage, 3.8 per cent of making the quarters, 1.2 per cent the semis, and 0.3% of making the final.
“This may be disappointing, but to make good decisions it is really important to base beliefs on evidence and reason, not what you would like to be true,” he said.
“Probability is subjective, it depends on what you know. It doesn’t need data; you use what information you have to assign a degree of belief in what might happen, and thus make decisions or, in this case, a judgement on who wins. The crucial thing is that your information and reasoning is not biased.”