NEW YORK (CNN) – Do you believe in second chances? Brazilians want to, but the five-time World Cup winners are going to have to do it the hard way if they are to win a sixth title.
According to data company Gracenote, Brazil is the statistical favorite to win the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but there is a 35 percent chance that it will have to beat tournament nemesis Germany along the way.
The Brazilians were spectacularly bounced out of the 2014 World Cup, losing 7-1 in the semifinals to Germany, which went on to win its fourth title. Striker Neymar was sidelined with a vertebra injury for the match, which took place in front of a devastated home crowd in Belo Horizonte. But with the Paris Saint-Germain superstar fully fit, along with the emergence of goalscorers Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho, Brazil has lost just four international matches since, and only once in the past two years.
Gracenote’s predictions place Brazil first, giving the team a 21 percent chance of lifting the trophy. It ranks Spain second, Germany third and Argentina fourth going into Russia.
FIFA rankings, which are slightly less data-driven, have Germany ranked first, with Brazil, Belgium and Portugal ranked second, third and fourth, respectively.
British oddsmakers William Hill tips Brazil as the favorite with 4/1 odds, Germany second at 9/2 and Spain third at 6/1.
The matchup most likely for the July 15 final in Moscow is Brazil versus Spain at 3.8 percent, with Brazil versus Germany only slightly less likely at 3.7 percent., according to Gracenote.
Group placings and the smoothness of a team’s draw also weigh into a country’s chances to make it to the finals. There is a 31 percent chance that either Brazil or Germany — both heavy favorites to win their first-round groups — finish group runner-up, forcing a second-round knockout matchup between the two powers, according to Gracenote.
Argentina, the 2014 runner-up, and 2010 winner Spain will face each other as early as the quarterfinals if both teams win their groups. Should France top its group, however, it will not meet another winner of the previous 12 World Cups until the semifinals.
Gracenote’s head of analytics, Simon Gleave, explained that injured players like Mohamed Salah of Egypt are not factored into team odds, nor are players returning from suspension like Peru captain Paolo Guerrero. Gleave identifies Peru — which has qualified for the first time since 1982 — as a surprise Group C challenger to France, noting that the South Americans are unbeaten in the past 14 matches.
“They would be my pick as a dark horse,” Gleave said.
Results from the 2016 Rio Olympics — where a redemptive Brazil defeated Germany in penalties for gold — are also not factored, said Gleave. Though that match featured Neymar scoring a wonderous free-kick and winning penalty, the mostly Under-23 teams were not counted as full international matches.
Gracenote’s statistics are based on team ratings, which factor in match results, location and importance. (Friendlies are given low weightings.) A predictive algorithm is then run over 1 million times, producing estimates for each team’s chances of advancing in the tournament.
All that number crunching has some merit. Last year, Gracenote ran the same algorithm before the start of the Champions League, correctly predicting that Real Madrid had the best chance of winning at 30 percent. Like the World Cup, the Champions League featured 32 teams at the start of the competition.
However, the gulf of talent between the strongest and weakest teams in the Champions League is higher than it is in the World Cup, said Gleave. “There’s a lot of very weak teams in the Champions League,” he explained. “The champion of a country like Slovenia is not going to be at the level of even some of the weakest teams in the World Cup.”
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