World Cup Analysis Has England, Italy, Uruguay in Hardest Group

Costa Rica’s defense may hold the key to whether Italy, England or Uruguay will fail to advance out of their World Cup group stage, according to projections by Bloomberg Sports.

Using a proprietary model simulating each match for the June 12-July 13 World Cup more than 100,000 times, a draw was predicted for all three games between England, Italy and Uruguay, meaning the two countries that fare best against world No. 34 Costa Rica would advance to the round of 16.

Italy has a 63.4 percent chance to come out of Group D, followed by Uruguay at 63.3 percent and England at 62.4 percent, according to the projections. Costa Rica was given a 10.9 percent chance to move on.

Both Ian Darke, ESPN’s lead play-by-play commentator for the World Cup, and ESPN analyst Steve McManaman said on a conference call with reporters that they like England to advance out of the group, perhaps helped by a lack of high expectations.

“Costa Rica, who looked like the chopping blocks in the group, I think they’ll get a point or two off the others,” Darke said. “Who they get them off might end up deciding it.”

Brazil, the tournament host, is favored to extend its record number of World Cup championships to six, with a 19.9 percent likelihood in the Bloomberg Sports analysis. Argentina and Germany are tied as second favorites, with a 12.2 percent likelihood.

“I can only imagine what it will be like if Brazil is playing in the final against, say, Argentina,” Darke said. “Bigger than big.”

Projections Criteria

The Bloomberg Sports projections are based on criteria such as players’ scoring and defensive abilities, teams’ past performance, injuries, squad selections and managers.

The bookmakers agree with the projection of Brazil as favorite. The Las Vegas Hotel’s SuperBook, for example, lists Brazil as the 5-2 favorite to win its first World Cup since 2002. Argentina is tied with Germany as second-favorite at 9-2, meaning a $100 bet on Argentina or on Germany to take the title would net $450.

Third in the FIFA World Ranking, Brazil has both the strongest offense and defense, according to Bloomberg Sports’ analysis. It has a 97.8 percent chance to advance to the round of 16, according to the analysis.

“The fans will really galvanize behind them and help them, so I think they’re worthy favorites at home,” said McManaman, who has played on England’s national team.

Group A

Joining Brazil in Group A is Mexico, which has a 47 percent chance of advancing out of the group, Croatia (37.5 percent) and Cameroon (17.7 percent).

Spain, the top-ranked FIFA team, has the fourth-best chance to win the trophy at 9.1 percent as it tries to successfully defend its 2010 World Cup title. Known as La Furia Roja, or the Red Fury, Spain has a 79.9 percent chance of advancing out of Group B, followed by the Netherlands at 67.3 percent, Chile at 42.6 percent and Australia at 10.2 percent.

“They’re obviously a fabulous, fabulous football team and have been for five or six years,” Darke said before questioning how long Spain manager Vicente del Bosque has stuck with the same group. “Is this a tournament too far for some of them? Is he just keeping up his belief in the players for one tournament too long?”

Group C

Group C might be the most competitive, with each of the four teams holding at least a 33 percent chance to advance. Colombia, even without injured striker Radamel Falcao, leads the group with a 74.7 percent likelihood, followed by Greece (54 percent), Japan (37.9 percent) and Ivory Coast (33.4 percent).

The U.S. team has a 26.1 percent likelihood of advancing out of Group G with Germany (85 percent), Portugal (66.3 percent) and Ghana (22.7 percent). The U.S.’s chances of surviving the group have dropped 4.2 percentage points since December according to the projections, which take into account factors such as manager Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision to drop Landon Donovan, whose 57 national-team goals and 12 World Cup matches are American records.

“He’s made a huge decision to leave out Landon Donovan,” Darke said. “He will either look like a genius about that or will face a big inquest in about a month’s time.”

The U.S. squad has a 0.8 percent chance of winning the World Cup.

“They’ve got a mighty tough draw, probably the toughest draw USA has ever had at the World Cup,” Darke said. “They’ll have to play well above themselves to get out of the group.’

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