Goldman Sachs used AI to simulate 1 million possible World Cup outcomes - and arrived at a clear winner

brazil germany soccer

Reuters / Wolfgang Rattay

  • The 2018 FIFA World Cup is set to start in Russia on June 14.
  • Goldman Sachs used machine learning to run 200,000 models and simulate 1 million possible variations of the tournament in order to pick a winner.

Argentine superstar Lionel Messi once said: "In football... talent and elegance mean nothing without rigor and precision."

It's a sentiment Goldman Sachs seems to have taken to heart when compiling its forecast for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which is set to kick off on June 14.
The firm used machine learning to run 200,000 models, mining data on team and individual player attributes, to help forecast specific match scores. Goldman then simulated 1 million possible variations of the tournament in order to calculate the probability of advancement for each squad.

The tournament bracket below shows how Goldman sees the World Cup unfolding. Note that the numbers next to each nation - which dictate whether they advance over their opponent - represent the predicted, unrounded number of goals scored in each possible iteration of the tournament, based on machine learning results applied to countless scenarios.

Screen Shot 2018 06 11 at 8.35.24 AM

Goldman Sachs


"We are drawn to machine learning models because they can sift through a large number of possible explanatory variables to produce more accurate forecasts than conventional alternatives," a group of strategists from Goldman's international research team wrote in a client note.

Here are the key takeaways from Goldman's data:
  • Brazil is expected to win its sixth World Cup title, defeating Germany in the final by an unrounded score of 1.70 to 1.41
  • While France has better overall odds of lifting the trophy, its expected meeting with Brazil in the semi-finals has it falling short of the title match
  • England is expected to make it to the quarter-final stage, where Goldman says they'll lose to Germany
  • Spain and Argentina are forecast to underperform, both losing in the quarter-finals
  • Russia isn't expected to make it out of the group stage at all, despite its role as tournament host
  • Goldman sees Saudi Arabia as the surprising team that will advance out of the group stage, ahead of the host nation
With all of that established, football (soccer) remains a highly unpredictable sport, with many more variables in play than even Goldman could assess. Which is why the authors of the report offer this disclaimer at the end:

"We capture the stochastic nature of the tournament carefully using state-of-the-art statistical methods and we consider a lot of information in doing so," they said. "But the forecasts remain highly uncertain, even with the fanciest statistical techniques, simply because football is quite an unpredictable game. This is, of course, precisely why the World Cup will be so exciting to watch."

Get the latest Goldman Sachs stock price here.