Few thought Australia would even make the World Cup before the Grey Wiggle’s antics; even fewer think they’ll do much when they get there.
But the Socceroos’ chances of progressing to the knockout stage for the second time, while small, are not zero. And heading into November 23’s opener against France, we know exactly how small.
According to analysts Stats Insider, the Aussies have a nearly one-in-five chance – 17.5% to be precise – of making it out of Group D, and an 0.1% chance of winning the tournament.
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Clearly it won’t be easy to qualify for the round of 16 with reigning champions France and a strong Denmark side also in the group, but having Tunisia in there too at least gives the Socceroos a golden opportunity to nab three points.
Do that in their second of three group games, and Australia could hope to nab a point or two against the European powers and make it out.
Four points is really that magical mark that they need to aim at. You can miss the top two of your group with four points – 10 teams have done it across the last four World Cups – but the overwhelming majority of teams that reach that figure make it out.
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Remember, the 2006 side that finished second in a group featuring Brazil, Croatia and Japan did it with just four points, beating the latter and drawing with Croatia in the last game.
Australia has never scored more than four points in the group stage, also achieving the feat in 2010, when they finished third in a group including Germany, Ghana and Serbia on goal difference.
Based on that campaign, if the Socceroos can avoid getting blown out by France in their opening game (as they were by Germany in 2010), they could yet escape – especially with their final group match coming against Denmark, likely the more gettable of the European pair.
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If Australia finishes second in its group it would likely face Argentina in the round of 16, with some small chance of facing Poland or Mexico.
Most would agree this is the weakest squad Australia has sent to the World Cup and the difficulty the team faced in qualifying is reflected in its low FIFA ranking of 38th. Six of the 31 other nations – Canada, Cameroon, Ecuador, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Ghana – are ranked lower.
But as always in a short tournament like the World Cup, the very format itself ensures the race for glory is wide open.
Brazil, the tournament favourite, has less than a one-in-six chance of winning it all according to Stats Insider while nine teams – from the Brazilians down to Belgium – are given a 6.5% chance or better.
As mentioned earlier Australia is given a 0.1% chance.
OVERALL CHANCES OF WINNING THE WORLD CUP
Senegal, Mexico, Poland: 0.9%
Morocco, Wales: 0.7%
Canada, Ecuador: 0.4%
Japan, South Korea: 0.3%
Cameroon, Tunisia, Australia: 0.1%
Qatar, Costa Rica, Ghana, Saudi Arabia: 0.0%
Based on 10,000 simulations by Stats Insider model
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Part of Australia’s problem is they have two very strong teams to compete with; Group D is the only one with two teams in the top 10 of the FIFA rankings (France 4th, Denmark 10th).
In that regard you could argue Group D is the group of death but there are many ways to measure that, and broadly we would argue depth is what makes a group more dangerous – particularly to the presumed favourite.
For example in 2014, Australia was part of a true group of death, with highly-ranked Spain finishing third after losses to the Netherlands and Chile.
According to Elo ratings – a well-respected system that measures the quality of competitors across many forms of competition – that 2014 group was the second-hardest group of death since 1970.
Using Elo ratings we can measure the quality of each group, based on the average rating of its four members, and according to that method Group G is 2022’s hardest.
This makes sense; Brazil, the tournament favourite, faces some level of risk escaping a group that includes Switzerland (15th in the FIFA rankings) and Serbia (21st), while Cameroon (43rd) is no slouch.
Then there’s Group E, which is top-heavy thanks to Spain (7th) and Germany (11th), but Japan (24th) and Costa Rica (31st) could’ve realistically expected to make the knockout stage with a better draw; as it stands they should struggle.
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If you want to use FIFA rankings alone, it’s Group B that stands out, with all four members in the top 20 – England (5th), USA (16th), Wales (19th) and Iran (20th).
That group is particularly difficult because of the way qualifying and the groups draw worked. Group B was allocated the stand-in ‘winner of UEFA playoff path’ team, which could have been any of Ukraine, Scotland or Wales based on results. Wales is the highest-ranked nation of that threesome and qualified successfully.
Below the Stats Insider numbers reveal the chances of each nation either winning their group of making the knockouts.
Netherlands: Win group 60.7%, make knockouts 85.1%
Senegal: Win group 18.5%, make knockouts 51.8%
Ecuador: Win group 15.5%, make knockouts 42.9%
Qatar: Win group 5.4%, make knockouts 20.2%
Analysis: This was always going to be the easiest group with lowly Qatar in it, but the host nation has at least some chance of making it out, especially because these numbers don’t take into account Sadio Mane’s injury – he was named in Senegal’s squad but is under a cloud. Reflecting the group’s lack of difficulty, the Dutch have the third-best odds of advancing of any nation, behind only tournament favourites Brazil and France, despite the fact they’re eighth in overall chances to win the whole thing.
England: Win group 59%, make knockouts 83%
USA: Win group 16.4%, make knockouts 44%
Wales: Win group 15.2%, make knockouts 42.8%
Iran: Win group 9.4%, make knockouts 30.3%
Analysis: The English will be nervous but on paper, they’re a strong favourite to win this group, which has an exciting race for second on the cards. It would not be a shock to see any of the Americans, Welsh or Iranians make it into the knockout stage.
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Argentina: Win group 60.6%, make knockouts 84.9%
Poland: Win group 18.8%, make knockouts 53.2%
Mexico: Win group 17.5%, make knockouts 48.4%
Saudi Arabia: Win group 3.2%, make knockouts 13.5%
Analysis: Lionel Messi’s nation drew well, with Argentina the only team in this group to feature in the top 22 of the current Elo ratings. Saudi Arabia is one of the weakest teams in the entire tournament, with the Poland-Mexico game – which’ll be played just before Australia’s opener on the morning of November 23 – likely to be critical.
France: Win group 59.6%, make knockouts 88.1%
Denmark: Win group 31.8%, make knockouts 74.9%
Tunisia: Win group 4.6%, make knockouts 19.5%
Australia: Win group 4%, make knockouts 17.5%
Analysis: A clear top two favourites here as you’d expect but as we explained above, four points could yet be enough to make it out, so if one of the French or Danish stumble, the Socceroos could strike. The fact the France-Denmark match is on the group’s second match-day probably helps, because it guarantees it won’t be a dead rubber.
Spain: Win group 50.4%, make knockouts 83.9%
Germany: Win group 40.4%, make knockouts 78.9%
Japan: Win group 6.9%, make knockouts 25.2%
Costa Rica: Win group 2.3%, make knockouts 12.1%
Analysis: When you’ve got two of the most recent winners of the tournament in one group, you can understand who the favourites are. If Japan makes it out they could be dangerous in their round-of-16 game, given they’d face a nation from the relatively even Group F.
Belgium: Win group 51.3%, make knockouts 77.7%
Croatia: Win group 24.2%, make knockouts 54.3%
Morocco: Win group 14.6%, make knockouts 38.3%
Canada: Win group 9.9%, make knockouts 29.8%
Analysis: Belgium’s golden generation will be hoping to finally deliver on its promise and is favoured to win this group, but the race for second is very even – only in Group B is the team rated as fourth-best given such a good chance of making the knockouts. Canada finished first in CONCACAF qualifying, ahead of the USA and Mexico, while Morocco is Africa’s strongest team according to the Elo ratings. Oh, and Croatia made the final four years ago. The Morocco-Croatia winner on November 23 (at the Aussie-friendly time of 9pm AEDT) is arguably favourite to make it out behind the Belgians.
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Brazil: Win group 64.5%, make knockouts 87.9%
Switzerland: Win group 17.5%, make knockouts 51.9%
Serbia: Win group 14%, make knockouts 43.6%
Cameroon: Win group 4.1%, make knockouts 16.7%
Analysis: The top and the bottom of this group are pretty clear – the Brazilians are tournament favourites, and the Cameroonians rank 61st in the world in Elo – leaving second spot down to the European pair. This group is actually a near-repeat of 2018, much like Australia’s group, with three of the four nations meeting again. In that tournament Switzerland defeated Serbia 2-1, thanks to a Xherdan Shaqiri 90th minute winner, finishing second behind Brazil.
Portugal: Win group 55.3%, make knockouts 83.1%
Uruguay: Win group 28.1%, make knockouts 63.8%
South Korea: Win group 10.7%, make knockouts 32.4%
Ghana: Win group 5.9%, make knockouts 20.7%
Analysis: One of the strongest top-twos in the tournament here, with Portugal 7th in Elo ratings and Uruguay 11th, but South Korea (28th) will be dangerous if Son Heung-Min is fit. He was named in the Korean squad despite a fractured eye socket suffered in the Champions League earlier this month. The race to win this group is particularly important given the runner-up is very likely to face Brazil in the round of 16.