Team Germany has always been a powerhouse in the world of soccer. Many of the national team’s fans expected them to sail easily through the group stage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. They have done it 16 consecutive times in previous World Cups, were the defending world champions, and have been World Cup victors a total of four times.
Before the World Cup kicked off, the odds of them winning the 2018 tournament were approximately 4 to 1.
The other teams in Germany’s group were Mexico, Sweden, and South Korea. This was a well-rounded group of teams. From news reports and various social media platforms, it appeared that most people, especially fans, considered Germany to be the best team in the group by far.
After their first loss to Mexico, German fans remained confident that their team could pull off wins in the next two games and advance. Germany defeated Sweden, but the win was unconvincing as the game was evenly matched and Germany won on a goal scored in the 95th minute. A weak win is still a win. Surely, team Germany supporters thought they could handle underdog South Korea, but the underdogs were triumphant.
What makes losses so difficult for sports fans?
What made Germany’s elimination so frustrating for fans was that there was no one to blame but the team. They simply played mediocre football at best in all three of their games. Referees, dirty play, weather, and coaching were small factors compared to the effort the players put out on the field. Fans like to blame these causal factors because of in-group biases. Simply put, Germany fans tend to blame anything other than the players.
Coherent stories of how we perceive reality
The reason we do this as human beings, and more specifically as sports supporters, is because our brains love to maintain coherent stories of how we perceive reality – something referred to as associative coherence. Generally, any information that violates our view of the world is simply not taken into consideration.
To most fans and spectators of the sport, it was a no-brainer to bet on Germany advancing to knockout stages. However, there is a history in the tournament of high-powered teams not living up to expectations. No team has won back-to-back titles since 1958 and 1962.
Because Germany was expected to advance as a result of who they are and their past glory, a form of recency bias was created which influenced most supporter’s predictions/forecasts for the World Cup.
Germany was the fifth defending champion to be eliminated in group play. The first time this happened was with Brazil in 1966. The other three times were in 2002, 2010, and 2014.
Using base rates as a starting point for forecasting
Germany was a 7-2 favourite to defend its title as World champions. However, statistics indicate that defending champions don’t perform as well in their following World Cup appearance. The former information is known as specific information (i.e. information pertaining only to a case), and the latter is base rate information (i.e. generic, general information).
If presented with specific information and related base rate information, the mind tends to ignore the latter and focus on the former.
This is known as the base rate fallacy or base rate neglect, and what Daniel Kahneman refers to as “What You See Is All There Is”.
When making forecasts or predictions, Kahneman recommends using the base rate as a starting point, and then moving up or down from the base rate depending on other information at hand.
In the case of forecasting results of the 2018 World Cup, the base rate information should be the statistics that indicate defending champions don’t perform as well in their following World Cup appearance.
Keep this in mind if you think you can outsmart your friends in the next Soccer World Cup draw.