World Cup Predictions: Spain, Brazil, Germany, or Russia

    14 June, 2018

    The 2018 FIFA World Cup began Thursday in Russia. Football fans have waited four years to see their favorite teams compete for the world championship.

    It is the year's biggest sporting event. People across the world are already making their predictions for which team will win.

    Professional bookmakers create odds, which use large amounts of information to measure the probabilities for winners and losers. People use those odds to decide which teams to bet on. The bookmakers then pay off those bets.

    For 2018, the bookmaker odds clearly favor Brazil to win the World Cup. Defending champion Germany is second, with Spain and France not far behind.

    But this year, several groups have also turned to machine learning and artificial intelligence, or AI, for predictions.

    One of the groups is a research team from Germany. Andreas Groll of the Technical University of Dortmund led the group.

    The teams of Russia and Saudi Arabia line up prior to their group A march which opens the 2018 soccer World Cup at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, June 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Victor Caivano)
    The teams of Russia and Saudi Arabia line up prior to their group A march which opens the 2018 soccer World Cup at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, June 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Victor Caivano)

    In a report on the results, Groll said his team used computers to simulate the whole World Cup competition 100,000 times. Machine learning was used to predict the expected number of goals made by each team in each game. The prediction method combined large amounts of information on the teams' abilities and individual players' performances from the past.

    So who did Groll's machines pick as the winner? The results chose Spain as the most likely World Cup champion, with a probability of 17.8 percent. Germany was next, followed by Brazil, France and Belgium.

    However, Groll's team said it could not predict Spain as the sure winner. This is because of the way the World Cup competition is structured.

    The reason Spain has a small lead over Germany is mostly because Germany has a higher chance of not making it to the quarterfinals. But if Germany does make it to the quarterfinals, the German team would actually be favored to beat Spain, the researchers said.

    In another recent prediction created through machine learning, the financial company Goldman Sachs chose Brazil as the 2018 World Cup winner. Germany was chosen as the team most likely to lose to Brazil.

    The company said its method was based on 200,000 data models and 1 million simulations of the whole World Cup. Machines examined information on the teams and players' abilities, as well as past performances. In 2014, Goldman Sachs also predicted Brazil to win the World Cup. But Germany actually ended up winning the 2014 championship.

    Many people who are interested in the 2018 World Cup will surely take note of the numbers-based predictions by bookmakers and AI machines.

    But others might choose to believe the choices of a cat said to have psychic abilities. The cat, named Achilles, lives in Russia's Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

    Achilles officially works there as a mouse catcher. But some locals say the animal is also able to predict future happenings. So far, he has only predicted one World Cup match, the opening game between Russia and Saudi Arabia. When offered a choice between two containers of food, Achilles chose the one with a Russian flag.

    The choice could be seen as a good luck sign for Russia's team. Even though Russia is holding the World Cup, its team is rated the lowest of any of the 32 competing.

    I'm Bryan Lynn.

    Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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    Words in This Story

    odds n. the probability that something will happen

    bet v. to risk money on the result of a game, competition, etc

    artificial intelligence n. ability of a machine to reproduce human behavior

    simulate v. do or make something that behaves or looks like something real but which is not real

    quarterfinals n. one of four matches, games, or contests to decide the people or teams that will continue playing in a competition

    psychic adj. having a special mental ability to know what will happen in the future or know what people are thinking