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FIFA World Cup Predictions: Science or Fiction?

Note: This article was written right after the 2018 World Cup.

There’s no denying that the FIFA World Cup is one of the most popular and engaging sporting events in the world. Every four years, and for an entire month, its magic transports millions of fans to the land of hope, entertainment, exhilaration (for the winners, of course), and, inevitably, massive disappointments for those whose favorite teams crash out of the competition.

Along with all the excitement and the emotional highs and lows that come with it, predicting the results in a rather funny and peculiar way has become some sort of a World Cup tradition. From psychics, to astrologers, and even animals, almost anything goes when it comes to guessing who the ultimate winner shall be.

The famous Paul the Octopus (RIP) paved the way, among others, to this year’s Achilles the Deaf Cat in St. Petersburg’s, Zella the Elephant in Stuttgart, and his fellow octopus Rabio the Japanese, who accurately predicted the outcome of Japan’s games before being unceremoniously turned into seafood half-way through the tournament. Bet he didn’t see that coming!

For the past two world cups though, another player has entered the race of predictions. Neither linked to astrology, nor to the supernatural or the four/eight legged animal kingdom, this new player came from the insurance industry, and relied on math, probabilities and big data analytics, otherwise known as the tools of the trade.

The newcomer was none other than Lloyd’s of London, the world’s specialist insurance and reinsurance market. Two days before the beginning of the championship, on June 12, the verdict came in a press release: France will win the 2018 FIFA World Cup

How did they reach that conclusion before the championship even started?

Their prediction was the result of a scientific study undertaken in collaboration with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr)

Cebr built an economic model based, among other things, on the wages and endorsement incomes of each player to predict the collective insurable value of each team.

The idea being that the team with the highest insurable value, in this case, France (£1.4bn), shall be crowned world champions. The same exercise in 2014 predicted Germany’s victory.

Aside from the name of the winner, other interesting facts came out of the research, for example:

  1. The total collective value of all teams was £13.1bn
  2. England and Brazil came second and third in terms of insurable value at £1.17bn and £1.1bn respectively
  3. The insurable value of the top 6 teams (including Germany, Belgium and Spain) represented more than 50% of the total insurable value for all 32 teams combined.

Overall, in addition to accurately predicting the result of the final match two times out of two, Lloyd’s model was successful in predicting about two thirds (64%) of this year’s games’ results, which is quite impressive.

Does this mean that other means of prediction have just been driven out of the race? and that dull insurance calculations have sucked all the fun out of one of the most entertaining side activities of the championship?

Not necessarily.

Funnily enough, rumor has it that Achilles the deaf cat was correct 70% of the time.

And according to the CNN, the late Paul the Octopus had an overall success rate of 85%, while Nelly the Elephant’s sits at a staggering 90%, simply achieved by kicking the ball into a country’s net, identified by its flag.

So it looks like our psychic friends are still in the running, and we shall have to wait four years for a rematch between Science and Fiction.