No Need for an Octopus


On 24 February 2022, Russia launched an unprovoked, large-scale military invasion of Ukraine, its neighbour to the southwest, marking an escalation to a conflict that began in 2014 with the Russian annexation of Crimea and the Donbass. Stop The War!

Ten years ago, Paul the Octopus became a global star after his football predictions showed a stunning accuracy - 85% in fact. He famously got all Germany's matches at the 2010 World Cup right as well as correctly predicting Spain would win the final.

Copycat animals emerged with varying levels of credibility - one of my favourites was a Peruvian guinea pig called Jimmy:

But these days we prefer algorithms and permutations to molluscs and rodents. What do they say about the likeliest winner in Russia?

According to UBS bank, who ran 10,000 simulations, Germany have the best chance of winning, followed by Brazil and then Spain. So far, no surprise...except Deutschland lost their first match didn't they and risk elimination if they cannot beat Sweden tonight.

In other words, computers can still get it wrong.

Germany entered the tournament No.1 in the FIFA World Rankings, so as far as football was officially concerned they are most likely to lift the trophy.

But it is also worth a peek at the ELO Ratings, an alternative to the FIFA system, which place both Brazil top and Spain above the Germans. Interestingly, FIFA puts Spain only 10th.

David Sumpter, Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Uppsala, whose book "Soccermatics" showed how mathematical models can be applied to football, devised "The Soccerbot" to calculate game outcomes, yet still believes England will top Belgium in Group G.

Tech company Gracenote ranks Brazil as the favourite to lift the cup in Moscow while American sports predictor AccuScore believes Argentina no less, will win the 2018 World Cup.

Belgium pummelled Tunisia 5-2 today. So does that mean they are on their way to winning the World Cup?

We know they have good players and the advantage of not being hosts, holders or South American in Europe. So why not bet on the Belgians? They have always been classified in the chasing pack rather than the favourites but the evidence for a Red Devil party in Red Square is growing with each match,

I suppose one ought to pay attention to bookmakers, whose business model is based on not losing money on sports betting and whose consensus for some time has been that Brazil or Germany will win with Spain a close third.

Fair enough, but what about France I keep thinking, a team who tick all the Belgian boxes too?

British broadcaster TalkSport used its own "Super Computer" to predict Egypt would not only win Group A but reach the last eight, yet the Pharaohs are going home after two defeats in their first two games.

Said master machine also tipped Peru to qualify from Group C...Out of interest it said Brazil would beat Spain 2-1 in the final.

In other words, nobody as ever knows for sure.

Doubt over the outcome makes football endlessly fascinating and I for one do not want to know the result before the tournament starts.

Hope springs eternal. Perennial optimism is a prerequisite of being a true supporter.

EA Sports FIFA 18 game thinks France will beat Germany in the final on penalties by the way.

I might get out my childhood Subbuteo set now to see if England can win.

2018 World Cup Logo

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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