With one of the best squads in the world and home field advantage, it’s no surprise that Brazil are the unanimous favorites in the World Cup. But by how much? Typical betting lines in Vegas had them around 3-to-1, indicating a roughly 25% chance of winning it all, but forecasts from some prominent analysts pegged them at near 50%. Nate Silver on FiveThirtyEight gives Brazil a 45.2% shot of winning it all, while a report from Goldman Sachs is even more bullish at 48.5%.
If you believe Silver and Sachs, you could walk into any Vegas sports book and make a handsomely profitable bet on Brazil. Yet it’s hard to figure how Brazil can really be even odds to win. In a 32-team field, if all the teams were equal, each would have only a little more than a 3% chance to win, so for one team to have nearly 50% indicates a massive advantage over the field. Given that, you’d expect Brazil to be regarded as the clear top team in the world, but they’re not. Currently they’re only number three in the FIFA rankings. While those FIFA rankings are suspect, and many do consider Brazil to be the world’s top team, it’s not by a landslide. Common opinion puts them on nearly even footing with a handful of other elite teams.
The biggest reason the analysts love Brazil seems to be home field advantage. Not without reason: home teams have historically out-performed their abilities in the World Cup and no European team has ever won a World Cup held in the Americas. Whether you agree with the Vegas line makers or the quants comes down to how much stock you put in home field advantage. The Vegas line represents more of a common sense estimate in a level field, while the math models have a lot of respect for playing at home.