Never mind that a single goal can change an entire game. Never mind that the last World Cup saw Switzerland beat Spain in the first round, as well as the implosion of traditional powerhouses Italy and France. The reason I know Nate Silver's World Cup predictions — based on his so-called Soccer Power Index (SPI) — are bunk is because Japan has been given a 70 percent chance of flaming out in the first round.
Now, being half-Japanese, I may be biased. I am not a statistician, nor even an expert in soccer. But consider this: Japan's top two forwards — Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa — play for AC Milan and Manchester United, respectively. Shinji Okazaki, meanwhile, scored 15 goals in Germany's Bundesliga last season, easily making him a top 10 scorer in a top-flight league. And we haven't even gotten to Japan's solid midfield and fullbacks. As Zonal Marking writes, "In a purely technical sense, Japan are arguably in the top ten sides at this competition."
And yet Greece, a middling team if there ever was one, which is in Group C with Japan, is sitting comfortably above Japan in the SPI. So is the United States, whose starting striker scored one goal last season for Sunderland (one!). A mere five teams (out of 32) have a smaller chance of winning the World Cup than Japan, according to Silver's model.
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Call me innumerate. But this is crazy talk. See you in the second round, haters! Nippon Ichiban!
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