Will Switzerland win the football World Cup?

Watching the Swiss football team can be a nerve-wracking experience – especially when money is at stake Keystone

Highly unlikely, agree all analysts. But can the boys in red and white reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 1954?, which accepts no liability for any daft bets, assesses the probabilities provided by bookmakers, bankers and academics. 

This content was published on June 13, 2018 - 08:00

Let’s start with the bad news. Switzerland have a 1.8% chance of lifting the trophy in Moscow on July 15, according to an analysis by Swiss bank UBSExternal link that used econometric forecasting tools. This puts Vladimir Petkovic’s side in ninth position when it comes to winning the FIFA World Cup 2018External link, which kicks off in Moscow on Thursday. 

The UBS predictions were based on a statistical model using the results from the previous five tournaments and adjusting for factors such as team strength and success in the qualification phase. 

It calculated that Switzerland were most likely (39.6% probability) to come second in their qualifying group and then lose in the knockout Round of 16 (see box for an explanation of the World Cup format). They have a 22.9% chance of reaching the quarterfinals, an 11.5% chance of reaching the semis and a 5% chance of being runners-up. 

World Cup format

Thirty-two teams have qualified for the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia. They have been divided into eight groups of four teams. Each team plays the three other teams in its group, getting three points for a win, one for a draw and nothing for a loss. 

Switzerland play Brazil on June 17, Serbia on June 22 and Costa Rica on June 27.

The top two teams of each group advance to the Round of 16, which follows a knock-out format. 

At the previous World Cup in 2014, the Swiss qualified for the Round of 16 but were beaten 1-0 by Argentina.

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UBS sees a 24% probability that Germany will defend their title, ahead of Brazil and Spain. 

Similar odds of Swiss success were given by the Neuchâtel-based CIES Football Observatory, a research group which specialises in the statistical analysis of football. Of the 32 teams that have qualified for the World Cup, Switzerland came tenth on the CIES “power indexExternal link” – a complex ranking which combines the percentage of domestic league appearances of World Cup players and the strength of their clubs. 

According to this index, the Swiss players had played a lot of games but their score was brought down by the average level of their clubs. In other words, they are match-fit but haven’t faced much world-class opposition.

Feeling lucky? 

Better news for the Swiss is provided by the ranking of Zurich-based FIFAExternal link, world football’s governing body. This reckons Switzerland are the sixth-best team in the world. Although, as other commentators have pointed outExternal link, it’s best to take FIFA’s rankings with a pinch of salt as it uses a points system that benefits teams, such as Switzerland, that avoid playing friendlies. 

Traditionally the least unreliable predictors are the bookmakers, since they have a financial interest in being right. Sadly, the bookies have less faith in Switzerland than the bankers or academics. 

Oddschecker, a bookmaker comparison site, is currently offering an average of 100-1 on a Swiss victoryExternal link (bet one franc and get CHF100 back if they win). This puts them mid-table in 16th position. The site reckons it’s pretty much a coinflip whether the Swiss will even make it out of their group. Brazil is the favourite at 4-1, fractionally ahead of Germany, with Spain and France not far behind.

Similar chances of Swiss success are offered by spread-betting company Sporting IndexExternal link. However, spread-betting offers an almost unlimited range of markets on which fans can have a punt as matches are being played (see this previous article for an explanation of how spread-betting works). 

How many goalsExternal link will Switzerland score during the tournament? Sporting Index thinks 3.75-4.25. How many minutes until their first goalExternal link? 100-106. How many cornersExternal link will they take? 16.5-17.5. 

Sporting Index reckons the Swiss are one of the better-behaved teamsExternal link. Counting ten points for a yellow card and 25 for a red, the Swiss are predicted to end up with 68-74 points. 

Reassuringly for Switzerland, all surveys and bookmakers put Switzerland ahead of group rivals Serbia, albeit not by much. Assuming the Swiss lose to Brazil but beat Costa Rica, Swiss dreams will hinge on the Serbian game on June 22.

What do you think? How far will Switzerland get in Russia? Let us know.

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