By Motez Bishara, CNN
(CNN)Do you believe in second chances? Football-mad Brazilians want to, but the five-time World Cup winners are going to have to do it the hard way if its to win a sixth title.
According to data company Gracenote, Brazil is the statistical favorite to win the World Cup in Russia, but there is a 35% 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.
Brazil teammates Neymar and Roberto Firmino celebrate during a friendly against Croatia this month. If forecasts are right, the two attackers will be celebrating in Moscow at the World Cup final on July 15.
Gracenote’s predictions place Brazil first, giving the team a 21% 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 vs. Spain at 3.8%, with Brazil vs. Germany only slightly less likely at 3.7%., according to Gracenote.
Luck of the draw
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% 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 quarterfinasl 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 Sports’ head of analytics Simon Gleave explains 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,” he says, “certainly given that the chance that we give them is somewhat better than the chance that the (oddsmakers) give them.”
Gracenote assigns a whopping 68% chance of Peru progressing in its group, which also features Denmark and Australia. It stands a 39% chance of reaching the quarterfinals, and a 22% chance of going all the way to the semis.
William Hill pays 7/4 odds of Peru advancing from the group, 9/1 to reach the quarterfinals and 33/1 to reach the semis.
Gleave notes that Peru’s stats are not aided by a home-field altitude advantage, because their World Cup qualifying matches were played in Lima on the country’s coastline.
“It’s what everyone asks me about Peru,” he says.
Results from the 2016 Rio Olympics’ football tournament — where a redemptive Brazil defeated Germany in penalties for gold — are also not factored, says 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 one 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%.
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, says Gleave.
“There’s a lot of very weak teams in the Champions League,” he explains. “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.”
Mourinho’s World Cup magic?
One experienced football mind who does not share Gleave’s enthusiasm for Peru is Jose Mourinho.
The Manchester United manager, speaking as a guest host on Russian TV broadcaster RT, chose Australia as Group C runner-up behind France, despite Gracenote assigning just a 27% chance for the Socceroos to advance.
Mourinho also picked two African countries as tournament surprises. He chose Nigeria to advance from difficult group D over Iceland and Croatia, and Senegal to win Group H, despite an 18% statistical chance to finish above Poland, Colombia and Japan.
No African team has finished first in the group stage since Nigeria in 1998, according to Gracenote.
Should an African team reach the semifinals, it would be a first. Three have been knocked out in the quarterfinals; most recently Senegal in 2012.
Mourinho picked his own country, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, to finish behind Spain in Group B.
“I am going to show later that I am totally Portuguese, but we are going to finish second in the group,” he said, not yet revealing his picks beyond the group stage.
Without naming former Barcelona rival Lionel Messi, Mourinho gave Argentina a nod to advance. “In group D, I think the ‘little fellow’ will finish first,” he said.
Finally, Mourinho appeared to be choosing with both heart and head when he picked higher-ranked Switzerland to advance in Group E over Serbia, who feature Manchester United defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic.
“This is going to be tough,” he said. “I’m sorry Nemanja, but you need a holiday.”