In the context of the FIFA World Cup, does a team being placed in a "Group of death" have much of an impact on the likelihood of a team winning the tournament?

For example, would a mid-ranking team have its likelihood of winning the tournament, prior to any matches being played, be 1 in 10 if it's in an easy group, and 1 in 100 if it's in a difficult group, or would the difference be more like 1 in 10 versus 1 in 10.1?

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    That type of statistic is very uncommon for football, I believe it's more common for predominantly american sports. Besides there haven't been THAT many world cups (19 to be precise, #20 is being played now) to draw proper statistical power for such analysis. – posdef Jun 24 '14 at 12:14
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    The term 'Group of Death' is fairly subjective—official rankings have only existed for a few years and are themselves of dubious value (favouring strong teams in weak confederations). The last two winners (at the time of posting) navigated groups where at least three of four teams were competitive. Looking at this page (doesn't contain sources, not definitive), Italy were 10/1 going into the 2006 tournament—the longest odds of any winner in recent times. Clearly the tough group didn't deter the bookies that much. – rgchris Jul 10 '14 at 6:41

I used the numbers from bookmakers 2017/18 Champions League winner predictions before and after 2017/18 Champions League group stage draw, in order to answer your question. Why? Because Champions League has almost the same format as the World Cup (32 teams, 8 groups, first two to advance), except that teams face each other twice instead of once.

As "Group of Death" is not something that is well defined, we can use the sum of UEFA club coefficients of the clubs in the same group to determine the "Group of Death", as was suggested in this TheGuardian post. After using this method, it turns out that the group of death (more or less) is:

Group H (UEFA coefficient sum: 405.3 as compared to average 319.5):

  • Real Madrid
  • Borussia Dortmund
  • Tottenham Hotspur
  • Apoel Nicosia

Now, if we consider Borussia Dortmund and Tottenham Hotspur as "mid-ranking teams" (as bookmakers consider them 12th and 13th ones who're likely to win the tournament), we can compare then their average Champions League winning coefficients by bookmakers before and after the draw to answer your question:

|                   | Avgerage Bookmaker Coefficient to Win the Title |
|       Teams       +-------------------------+-----------------------+     
|                   |     Before the draw     |     After the draw    |
| Borrusia Dortmund |  25 3/8  or  1 in 26.4  |  32 1/4 or 1 in 33.3  |
| Tottenham Hotspur | 29 13/16  or  1 in 30.8 | 35 11/16 or 1 in 36.7 |

So, as you can see, after being drawn into the difficult group, according to bookmakers, Borrusia Dortmund's chances of winning the tournament have dropped by 21% and Tottenham Hotspur's chances have dropped by 16%. Hence, this is how much “Group of death” has effect on mid-ranked teams.

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This Question is somewhat subjective. Football is a low scoring sport. This means that one point (goal) is so much more impactful than one point (Touchdown, Goal, basket) in other sports like in American Football, Handball or Basketball. Due to this, a team with weaker players is able to win if they have one good play while being good on the defense.

It's also worth mentioning that certain teams excel at different things. For example, Barcelona's Tiki-Taka is extremely good at circulating the ball at a high tempo, keeping posession and allowing for the ball to safely go up the field. This Works because Barcelona has fast players that are good at passing the ball. Should they meet, Mourinho's Internazionale (which happened), they'd be in serious trouble against his team's deep lines with pin point long balls. The outcome was a clear two-nill that put Inter in the Finals of the Champion's League.

There is however something else to consider. In the World Cup, each group has 4 teams, and only 2 go on to the Knockout Stage. If we consider the Group B of 2014's World Cup:

You had Chile, Spain, Australia and the Netherlands in the same group. By Quality, Spain and Netherlands would go over. However, Chile beat Spain, and ended up in 2nd place. Due to Spain, the stronger team being out, it means that, potentially, in the finals they wouldn't have to face Spain, because Spain was already knocked out. You could argue that if you beat Spain it's because you're stronger than Spain, but that's not always true. In fact, Spain(Didn't make past the group stage), Brazil (4th place) and Germany (winner) were the favorites going into the WC.

In Sum, the effect that winning the group of death has on a team is, other than raising morale, simply not having to face the colossus you beat already, because, in theory, the weaker teams that were in other groups will now be playing against you (since the stronger teams were already out of the competetion due to you winning the group of death)

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    Can you provide any references for the assertions you're making in the answer? A lot of this seems to be selection bias - picking the one example which supports your point, rather than an actual scientific analysis. – Philip Kendall Feb 16 '16 at 12:24
  • This is merely statistics. If you consider that you eliminate the stronger teams early on, the chances of getting a stronger team later on are lower because they are already out of the tournament. There is no science, only logic in this. Football / Soccer is not American Football. Games are extremely unpredicteable, and there's hardly ever an actual statistic for whom will win. Refer to rgchris' comment on the question. – Oak Feb 16 '16 at 12:29
  • Nate Silver begs to disagree with you about statistics for whom will win. How does your pedigree in predicting stuff compare to his? – Philip Kendall Feb 16 '16 at 12:31
  • "To a find a loss at home in a match that mattered to Brazil — in a World Cup qualifier, or as part of some other tournament — you have to go back to 1975, " Is a statistic is based on this, it's hardly something to trusted. It's impossible to predict exactly how players respond to managerial talks/ Media pressure / 1975 Achievements – Oak Feb 16 '16 at 12:36

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