Politics and Poker — er, I mean, Soccer

Nate Silver — the fellow who built FiveThirtyEight.com into one of the more successful and sophisticated predictive electoral sites on the Web, and who was remarkably prescient in his electoral vote predictions in the 2008 Presidential election — has now cast his net over more profound and important prey: the world of international soccer. As soccer fans are well aware, the “official” rankings of the world’s national teams, prepared by FIFA, are, and have always been, absurd — widely discounted and often derided by serious fans everywhere. [A few years back, for example, the US team was ranked fourth (!!) in the world – and the current FIFA rankings have such oddities as Croatia at #8, USA at #11, and Switzerland at #13). Working with espn.com, Silver has devised the “Soccer Power Index” as a new predictive tool (just ahead, of course, of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa). Soccer’s a tough game to handicap in the best of circumstances, and I haven’t had much of a chance to study Silver’s lengthy explanations of his new algorithms – but Silver’s track record is too good to ignore, and if I were a betting man I’d certainly want to take a good long look at what he’s come up with.