Drawn by Kathryn BewigOn Saturday morning, inspired by Andrew Moylan’s article on Wolfram’s Blog, I sat down to work out a simulation of the knockout stage of the World Cup competition. I used the bracket shown at right, and found elo ratings of the sixteen teams, as of that morning, at Wikipedia:

 1 BRA Brazil        2082
 2 ESP Spain         2061
 3 NED Netherlands   2045
 4 ARG Argentina     1966
 5 ENG England       1945
 6 GER Germany       1930
 7 URU Uruguay       1890
 8 CHI Chile         1883
 9 POR Portugal      1874
10 MEX Mexico        1873
15 USA United States 1785
19 PAR Paraguay      1771
25 KOR Korea         1746
26 JPN Japan         1744
32 GHA Ghana         1711
45 SVK Slovakia      1654

The table shows that there are forty-four national teams with ratings higher than Slovakia’s rating of 1654; they are lucky to be in the tournament.

The likelihood that a team will win its match can be computed from the elo rankings of the team and its opponent according to the formula \frac{1}{1 + 10^{(elo_{them} - elo_{us})/400}}. Thus, the United States had a 60.5% expectation of winning its match against Ghana this afternoon, and Ghana had a 39.5% expectation of defeating the United States. Harrumph!

Every time a match is played, the elo rating of a team changes. The amount of the change is based on the actual result as compared to the expected result. If a team wins when they have a high expectation of winning, their elo rating goes up by a small amount, since they were expected to win. However, if a team wins when they have a low expectation of winning, their elo rating goes up by a large amount. The formula is elo_{new} = elo_{old} + KG(W-W_e), where K is a weighting for the importance of the game (K is 60 for the World Cup), G is a parameter based on the goal differential (we’ll assume that all games are won by a single goal, so G = 1), W is 1 for a win and 0 for a loss, and We is the winning expectation calculated by the formula given above.

Your task is to use the data and formulas described above to simulate the knockout stage of the World Cup a million times and report the number of times each nation wins. When you are finished, you are welcome to read or run a suggested solution, or to post your own solution or discuss the exercise in the comments below.


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