2002 World Cup team ratings
4 July 02
An elimination tournament does not, by its nature, produce overall standings. You can construct a table by points, of course, but it will not take into account the differences in games played and opponents' strengths. I wanted, just for fun, to devise an objective (which doesn't mean meaningful) way to rate and rank the 32 teams in the World Cup. After several iterations, here's the scheme I came up with.
For each team I calculated a raw efficiency rating based on their points per game. At 3 points for a win, 1 for a tie and none for a loss, with 2 bonus points for making it to the elimination stage, I added up each team's points, divided by an expected point total of 4/3 * games-played (figuring an average result for three round-robin games would have been a win, a tie and a loss), and then added 1, anticipating later multiplication, so that the resulting ratings start at 1 instead of 0.
I then went back and used those ratings as a measure of opponent's strength, assigning each match for each team the product of the points gained (again 1-base (4/2/1) rather than 0-base (3/1/0)) and the opponent's raw rating. Add those values up and average them, and then add a 1-point bonus for making it to the elimination stage. This approach takes no account of goals for or against, and does not make any attempt at incorporating any information (like FIFA rankings) from outside the tournament. Nonetheless, it produces the following interesting set of adjusted ratings:
Since all that math was totally arbitrary, there is no reason to believe these numbers mean anything, but I'm surprised how well they seem to accord with my subjective intuition. And the table passes the obvious sanity checks: the top and bottom are right, South Korea is penalized a little bit for playing and losing an extra game, almost (but not quite) all the second-round teams come in ahead of the teams that were eliminated in the first, and France barely edges out the three teams that didn't gain any points.
So I'm going with it. As far as I'm concerned, the US is now temporarily the 7th best men's soccer nation on the planet.