Just for kicks

Written by Ashley Coutinho | Ashley Coutinho | Updated: Jun 15 2010, 02:28am hrs
The greatest sporting extravaganza has just begun. Aficionados are keeping their fingers crossed and punters are working overtime to get their bets right. But its a clique of financial analysts attuned to the world of equities, who have already taken a call on the winners. Although as many as 32 teams from across the world will vie for a slice of glory, the dice is heavily loaded in favour of a select few.

If The World Cup and Economic 2010 report by investment banking firm Goldman Sachs is to be believed, it is England, Argentina, Brazil and Spain that will make it to the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup 2010. Brazil has the highest probability of walking home with the Cup (13.7%), while Spain has the second-highest probability (10.4%).

And before you dismiss the report as just another crystal-ball gazing exercise, consider this: the report has named three of the four semi-finalists in 2006 and in 1998. Not bad for a report that is currently only in its fourth edition. The report relies on diverse data such as past FIFA statistics, state of football in a particular country, bookmakers odds, and analysis of a countrys political and economic environment.

The report draws up a list of likely semi-finalists based on the fact that historically only seven nations have won the World Cup. Of the past winners, Brazil (5 wins), Italy (4) and Germany (3) have dominated with a combined total of 12 wins from 18 competitions. The report says that if these three countries are drawn in a manner that allows them to avoid each other, they would automatically choose themselves.

The report also takes into account recent performances. For instance, Spain could emerge a winner though it has never won the FIFA World Cup and not progressed past World Cup quarter-finals since 1950. Thats primarily because of its success in the 2008 European Championships. Whats more, Spain seems to be mastering the art of producing polyvalent skilful players, a quintessential attribute in modern football.

With a reasonably good talent pool, Netherlands, as in the past, remains a dark horse. Given that the Cup is being held in Africa, African nations have an outside chance. And if the performance of erstwhile hosts South Korea (which reached the semi-finals in 2002) is any indication, current hosts South Africa is expected to put up a better show as well.

The size of the population is also factored in. The bigger, the better. For instance, its no small coincidence that tournament favourite Brazil is also the worlds fifth most populous nation. Then, the fact that Germany and Italy are the most successful European nations, followed by England and France, almost definitely has something to do with the size of their populations. The more men you have, the more there are to choose from its that simple.

The report also draws a parallel between a countrys on-field performance and its economy. For instance, Englands economy has been going through a turbulent phase for almost a year now. And not a single English club managed to make to the semi-finals of this years European Champions Leaguethe first time thats happened in seven years. Now, is that mere coincidence

The report combines FIFA rankings and odds from different bookmakers to create a probability model that penalises teams according to how tough their schedule is on average. Brazil and Spain top the chart. Germany and England, with a probability of 9.4% and 9.38%, are third and fourth favourites, respectively. Below England is Argentina, followed by Netherlands, Italy and France. Hosts South Africa has less than a 1% probability of winning.