World Cup Betting: Handicapping the Regions
by Trevor Whenham - 7/3/2014
With time between the Round of 16 and the quarterfinals, this is a good time to look at how the regions have performed in the tournament so far. Each team is obviously separate from their region, but by studying the strength of the regions we can more effectively understand how well a team is performing based to the expectations we had for them coming into the tournament. In short, then, understanding how regions have performed can help us to predict how the team might perform going forward. Without further ado, and in alphabetical order:
AFC: There were four teams from the region in the tournament, and none of them made it into the elimination rounds. In fact, none of the four squads - Australia, Iran, Japan and South Korea - even won a game in the tournament. This is a bad group of teams, and if FIFA could find a way to let fewer of them in they probably would. No shock here, and nothing to learn.
CAF: It was not a great tournament for the Africans, but it was still probably better than it should have been. Of the five teams that entered the tournament, only Algeria and Nigeria advanced. Nigeria was beaten soundly by France, but Algeria gave the Germans a real scare and could easily have won. A respectable showing - especially considering the real issues that Cameroon and Ivory Coast had off the field coming into the tournament. Again, though, nothing to learn going forward here.
CONCACAF: The North Americans are not going to win the tournament, but they easily qualify as the most surprising region. Of the four teams entered, three made the second round - probably at least two more than most people expected. Mexico had horrific luck late in their game against the Dutch and deserved to win. The Americans were outclassed by Belgium, but put up a heroic effort - especially in the nets. Costa Rica has been the Cinderella team of the tournament, and they are still standing. It seems likely that their ride will come to an end against the Dutch in the quarterfinals, but stranger things than a Costa Rican win have already happened in the tournament. What we have really learned in this tournament is that though CONCACAF looked lousy in qualifying, they are feistier are more impressive than they seemed to be.
CONMEBOL: We expected them to be the superstars of the tournament, and the South Americans have only exceeded expectations. Brazil and Argentina were the two favorites coming into the tournament. They have taken care of business, and both can be dramatically better than they have been so far. If one of the two won it would be much less of a surprise than if one didn't. It is the rest of the region that has really excelled, though. Colombia is still alive and has come this far despite losing their best player leading up to the tournament. Uruguay was solid in the two games when Luis Suarez was playing, but they totally fell apart when he was suspended. Chile was excellent throughout, led by great goaltending, and came very close to shocking the Brazilians. Only Ecuador didn't make the second round, and they were the lowest-rated of the six teams in the region. Still, there are three out of six teams still standing - very impressive. What's even more frustrating is that they could have had more than three, but Colombia knocked out Uruguay, Brazil knocked out Chile, and now Brazil and Colombia meet. If the bracket had been a bit more favorable to the region there could really be a story to tell. It would be very tough to challenge the argument that soccer lives in South America right now.
UEFA: On the surface the Europeans are in great shape - half of the remaining teams are from UEFA. When you look at the big picture, though, the story is a bit less inspiring. They had 13 teams qualify for the tournament, including 10 of the Top 15-ranked teams in the world. While four out of 13 is slightly ahead of expectations from a purely mathematical basis, you nonetheless can't look at the European story here without touching on plenty of disappointment. Spain was an epic disaster despite being the top-ranked team in the world and the defending champions. Portugal was another huge disappointment. The Swiss were over-ranked at sixth coming into the tournament, but until their playoff game they were awful. Italy and England were disappointing. From a large scale, then, it's not terrible to have four teams still standing by any means, but on a smaller scale there are a lot of teams that just aren't where they should be. Even more concerning for the Europeans: there are three remaining teams that are clearly the elite remaining, and only the Germans are from Europe. Europe should own soccer, but they are just begging for scraps from South America right now. That's not how it should be, but it sadly isn't any surprise that it is that way.
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