Will Spain Rebound at the 2018 World Cup?
It was not long ago that Spain were dominating the international soccer scene. They went through an incredible run from 2008 to 2018 -- winning the 2008 Euros, 2010 World Cup and 2012 Euros. It was a remarkable stretch that solidified that group as one of the greatest teams in the history of the international game.
La Espana's major tournament success came to a halt in 2014, when they were promptly eliminated from the World Cup after group-stage losses to the Netherlands and Chile by a combined scoreline of 7-1. They followed up the disappointing showing in Brazil with a poor Euro 2016, falling to Croatia in the group stage and then bowing out at the hands of Italy (who did not even manage to qualify for the 2018 World Cup) in the Round of 16.
Despite their lackluster play in the past two major tournaments, Spain put together an impressive World Cup qualifying run in this cycle, finishing 1st place in their group with a 9-1-0 record and an astounding goal differential of +33 (although it should be noted this includes a pair of 8-0 beatdowns against overmatched Lichtenstein).
Spain continued to impress following their World Cup qualifying run by starting an ongoing five-match unbeaten run in friendlies, which has included a 5-0 victory over Costa Rica and a 6-1 victory over a Lionel Messi-less Argentina.
Spain will be looking to build off their stellar qualification run and put to bed the bad memories from 2014 and 2016. But is Julen Lopetegui's side one of the top contenders at this year's tournament?
Spain's roster is looking very solid this tournament, and they are anchored by possibly the best goalkeeper in the world in David de Gea, who has been named to the Premier League's PFA Team of the Year on five separate occasions for his play at Manchester United. There are several familiar names on the roster, including Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos (7.09 WhoScored rating this past club season) and Isco (7.16) as well as Barcelona's Sergio Busquets (7.25), Andres Iniesta (6.91) and Jordi Alba (7.22). When you consider the median WhoScored.com rating in La Liga was 6.77 last season, it is clear that this core has been playing at a very high level in one of Europe's better domestic leagues.
Spain should experience little resistance during the group stage, where they will face off with Portugal, Iran and Morocco in Group B. Our models give them a 94.64% chance to advance from this group and a 76.58% chance to top the group. Betting on Spain to get to the knockout rounds is one of the safer bets in this year's tourney, although the return isn't much.
As long as Spain gets out of their group, they should see a favorable matchup in the Round of 16 regardless of whether they finish first or second. Our game simulator gives Spain an 84.38% chance to defeat Uruguay, and it gives them more than a 90% chance to defeat Russia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia -- the four possible opponents from Group A.
Given these favorable matchups, our models peg Spain with an 83.06% chance to at least reach the quarterfinal. With the betting odds listed at 5/9, there is an an implied probability of only 64.28% for Spain to advance this far in the tournament, meaning that our models believe that gambling on Spain to reach the quarterfinals is a good bet.
If Spain advance through to the quarterfinals as we expect them to, then at some point, they are likely to matchup against the giants of Brazil, France and Germany. Our game simulator favors Spain to win the matchups with Germany and France, giving them a 68.96% chance to advance against France and a 66.21% chance to advance against Germany. Brazil would be a bit of a more difficult challenge (36.89% odds of moving on), but it's still far from impossible.
After factoring in the group stage and potential knockout round matchups, our models give Spain a whopping 25.12% chance to win the World Cup, and those are the second-best odds, trailing only Brazil's clip of 38.44%. Per our numbers, Spain and Brazil are the tourney's two clear favorites, with Belgium (9.33% chance to win it all) a distant third.
Spain’s betting odds currently sit at 6/1 (implied probability of 14.29%) to win the tournament. This is a significant discrepancy from our model, so if you are looking to bet on a team to win the tournament, La Espana would be a good choice as they offer some safety with a respectable return.
Spain has a more-than-manageable path to the quarterfinals, and they match up favorably against the tournament’s top teams outside of Brazil (who would be on the opposite side of the bracket if both teams win their groups, as expected, meaning they wouldn't meet until the final). Despite struggles in their past two major tournaments, Spain has performed very well in World Cup qualifiers and friendlies, so it won't be a surprise if we see them lift the trophy on July 15th.