The domestic soccer season might be over but there is plenty of international action over the coming months to get excited about, with the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup being one of the highlight events. How can you use FIFA ranking points to make Women’s World Cup predictions? Read on to find out.
The eighth FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks off in France on June 7, culminating in the final a month later on July 7. Featuring 24 teams, including defending champions USA, the format consists of six groups of four teams, from which the surviving 16 teams will be drawn to participate in a knockout competition.
The two top-placed sides in the six groups will have guaranteed progression to the last 16 stage, with the remaining four qualifiers comprising of the best third placed sides.
The gradual expansion of the competition from just 12 teams in the first finals in 1991, through to 16 eight years later and finally to the current 24 in 2015 has introduced new countries to the top of the Women’s World Cup stage.
However, the latter stages of each tournament remain the preserve of a handful of nations. Only ten different countries have been represented in the final four since the 1991 inception, with the USA ever present and Germany missing out on just two occasions.
Five of the seven titles have also gone to one of these two powerhouses of women’s soccer.
The widening of the net of competing nations invariably introduces first time countries or those with little experience of the world stage.
Chile, Jamaica, Scotland, and South Africa will be travelling to their first ever finals, along with four others who will be making just their second such appearance. By contrast, ten teams will be making at least their seventh attempt to lift the trophy and it is not just experience that they will bring with them.
Understanding FIFA rankings points
The average FIFA ranking of the less experienced group of eight sides who will compete in France is just 1672 compared to 1941 for the most experienced ten teams.
Difference in FIFA ranking points is an adequate way to estimate the difference in quality between teams, particularly where schedules can be infrequent, uneven in terms of strength of schedule and populated by numerous friendlies.
It’s possible to use the difference in FIFA points rating at the time a match was played, along with the actual game outcome to estimate a relationship between the two.
We can look at the historical rate and implied probabilities of both the favourites and their underdogs in non-friendly internationals at neutral venues, such as World Cup and European Championship finals over the last decade.
Such approaches are useful when teams from different conferences meet in a major final and mirrors this use of ranking position to estimate both game odds and totals goals that I described prior to the last World Cup in 2015.
Using FIFA ranking point to make predictions
Historically, a difference of 500 FIFA points at a neutral venue will see the higher-rated side win that match over 90% of the time. The 269 points average difference between the relative newcomers to the 2019 finals and the established regular contenders, equates to a winning rate of nearly 80%.
Therefore, in both the individual group matches and the outright tournament betting, it is likely that we will have large mismatches, particularly when the newcomers meet the established stars.
For example, when England face Scotland in the opening group D game, the difference in FIFA rankings between the teams will be 237 points in favour of England.
"The widening of the net of competing nations invariably introduces first time countries or those with little experience of the world stage".
This implies, without accounting for such factors as injuries and big tournament experience, that England would expect to win around 76% of such contests, Scotland 8% with the remaining drawn.
If such an approach appears to show value in siding with a big-priced outsider, an alternative strategy to the outright match market may be to bet the underdog on the Handicap. In this case the outsider would receive a goal or two start, albeit at reduced odds compared to the usual match market.
Who are the contenders?The outright market is headed by FIFA’s four top ranked teams, USA, France, England and Germany.
This also follows the historical trends of previous finals, where, since the inception of the rankings, the top ranked side going into the tournament has won in three out of the four years and the finalists have all been drawn from those ranked 4th and better in the FIFA ranking immediately prior to the start of the contest.
All four appear well placed to endure the tournament schedule, although there are slight differences between the big four contenders.
Germany is taking the most youthful squad amongst the front runners, averaging midway between 25 and 26 years old, as well as being the least experienced, boasting an average of just 34 caps. Whilst the USA has eleven squad members who are over thirty, with an average age of over 28, albeit with a wealth of experience shown by an average of 80 caps per squad member.
The tournament format, where the final 16 teams are made up of best third placed winners is not entirely straightforward, so in a follow-up article, we’ll use these ratings systems and a Monte Carlo approach to simulate the entire tournament, to see where any value might lie.
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