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Rewriting history

1958. The last and only time Wales qualified for a coveted place at the FIFA World Cup. Yet, it hasn’t been all doom and gloom in recent years. The magical semi-final run at Euro 2016 was something special. It was an example of what the Welsh national team are capable of. Prior to that, Wales hadn’t reached a major tournament in 58 years. But they have a chance to do just that, as they prepare for their play-off fixture against Austria on Thursday 24th March.

With our HQ located in Cardiff and a number of Yardies Welsh football fans, we thought we’d use our data expertise to build a predictive model to forecast the outcome of the Austria game. Additionally, we’ve used a number of metrics to determine Wales’s chance of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup that takes place in Qatar later this year.

We considered a mass of metrics, carefully selecting those that would make the model as accurate as possible. Metrics such as the Men’s FIFA World Rankings and the home advantage were used as part of the predictive model to forecast the likely winner. We used datasets from various widely used websites such as Kaggle, then proceeded to sort and process this data to include any information that would strengthen the machine learning model. The model we built was trained on a dataset consisting of thousands of games, and then tested on a subset of this dataset. We predicted the outcomes of this subset with an accuracy rate of 76%.


A promising start

Once the model was in place, we ran the calculations. We determined that Wales had a 69% probability of beating Austria to reach the final of the play-offs. Promising odds for Wales fans! The two teams last met in 2017 – during the 2018 World Cup qualifiers – with Wales emerging victorious with a modest score of 1-0. Can history repeat itself?

As of 10th February 2022, the most recent set of FIFA World Rankings, Wales was placed in 20th position, with Austria close behind in 30th place. The fixture will be played at the Cardiff City Stadium, explaining the odds slightly favouring Wales to win and qualify for the final.

Wales are hopeful that captain Gareth Bale will be available to face Austria, even though he missed Sunday’s game for Real Madrid due to illness. Their talisman will surely improve any chances of winning the game on Thursday.


One final hurdle

If Wales are to win, they are halfway towards their desired destination. The next hurdle involves either Scotland or Ukraine – although the game has been rescheduled for June in support of Ukraine in light of the ongoing conflict. If Scotland are to qualify for the final – an outcome with a 46% probability – they would face Wales away from home. With Wales winning four of their last five fixtures against Scotland, Wales will be seeking the opportunity to make it five from six.

If the two sides meet for this monumental occasion, Wales hold a steady advantage. The Welsh team are at a 75% probability of beating the Scots in the final. However, you can almost be certain that Scotland won’t make it easy for the Welsh.


A ticket to the World Cup

No matter how their path unfolds, competition is going to be fierce. All teams involved will want it just as much as Wales do. But what do the numbers say? Our model predicted that Wales have a 51% probability of qualifying for the World Cup by beating Austria and Scotland along the way. This number drops to 46% if Scotland fails to qualify for the final of the play-offs.

On the other hand, the probabilities aren’t as favourable towards Scotland. If they meet Austria in the final, the probability of qualification stands at 23%. However, if the two home nations meet in the deciding game, Scotland’s probability of making it to Qatar is slashed to 17%. A tough task ahead.  


The unpredictable game

Of course, this model is a starting point; luck plays a part in football. With millions of eyes watching, football has often produced moments that nobody has ever imagined possible. An erroneous challenge, an unforeseen decision, a red card, football is often wildly unpredictable. There are so many deciding factors and possibilities. But if you’re supporting Wales, you have to fancy your chances, right? When you have Gareth Bale, the star man capable of producing a moment of magic like this, anything is possible.

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