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Spain Is Now an Underdog to Make the Knockout Stage

This sort of thing just doesn’t happen to Spain. The Spanish lost their World Cup opener in 2010 — but not like this. The last time Spain conceded five or more goals in a match, as it did on Friday in a 5-1 loss to the Netherlands, was exactly 51 years ago, in a friendly against Scotland on June 13, 1963. Indeed, while Spain has excelled at all phases of the game in recent years, it has been especially adept at goal-prevention, having allowed just two goals during the 2010 World Cup (including none at all in the knockout phase; Spain won the tournament with a string of four 1-0 victories).

What were the odds of Friday’s scoreline? The Netherlands has a vibrant offense, but still, our Soccer Power Index (SPI) match predictor gave the Oranje just a 0.4 percent chance of scoring five or more goals against Spain.

Let’s waste no further time on trivia. This result puts Spain in enormous trouble. Its chances of advancing from Group B are now just 34 percent, down from 79 percent. The Spanish have only a 7 percent chance of winning the group, down from 48 percent.

Our model was a little bit bearish on Spain as compared to the consensus, but we certainly wouldn’t have expected this result. Our simulation algorithm now puts Spain’s chances of winning the World Cup at only 2 percent, down from 8 percent before the tournament — and that may be optimistic, for a reason I’ll explain in a moment.

Spain’s problems are pretty easy to sum up. First, there are two other very strong teams in its group, the Netherlands and Chile. And the Dutch already tallied three points. (If Australia defies the odds by drawing or beating Chile later Friday night, Spain’s case will be helped, but a Chile win would put the Spanish in even more trouble.)

Next, Spain is not in a position to win very many tiebreakers with a -4 goal differential so far, although the Red Fury surely will try to run up the score in their game against Australia later this month.

Third, even if Spain comes back to advance from Group B, it will probably do so as the second-place team. And the No. 2 team from Group B will face the No. 1 team from Group A in the Round of 16. There is a 97 percent chance that team will be Brazil, according to our simulation.

It gets worse: Spain’s odds will deteriorate a little more when we re-run the numbers Saturday morning.

As I explained on Thursday, the projection updates we run immediately after a match account for the score of the game and its effect on the group standings — but not its effect on our estimate of a team’s quality going forward. Instead, those changes take place overnight when the Soccer Power Index updates. In this case, the overnight update will hurt Spain’s odds further. In addition to having dug itself a huge hole, Spain may not be the soccer team we thought it was. Its SPI defensive rating, which was previously tied for No. 1 in the world, will decline some.

The Netherlands, of course, which had the misfortune of drawing a very tough group, has greatly helped its chances. Its odds of advancing have more than doubled — from 44 percent before the match to 91 percent now. The Dutch will rise a little further in Saturday morning’s update once SPI accounts for their 5-1 victory against what we thought was the world’s best defensive soccer team.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

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