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Gazing into the crystal ‘ball’

Updated June 29, 2014

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Let’s look at the past 19 FIFA World Cup tournaments (1930-2010) and observe the various trends and what they predict for the 2014 FIFA World Cup
Let’s look at the past 19 FIFA World Cup tournaments (1930-2010) and observe the various trends and what they predict for the 2014 FIFA World Cup

Every four years, the FIFA World Cup brings action, thrill, and suspense to a worldwide audience. With excitement building up with every match, the football aficionados always ask a pertinent question: ‘Who will be the champions?’ With 64 matches to be played among 32 teams, the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the 20th edition of the tournament, will witness new champions as Spain, the title holders in 2010, are out of the tournament after losing to Chile, 2-0, in the group stage.

Although it is still quite early to decide who will be the champions, as the round of 16 has only just started with the quarter-finals and semi-finals yet to be played, we can, however, make certain predictions based on the past matches. Here we discuss the semi-finals, finals, along with the host nations winning the titles, and other details from the World Cups of 1930 to 2010 in order to see the possible trends for the 2014 World Cup.

Hosts

The teams hosting the FIFA World Cup have a home crowd and a home ground advantage. Moreover, they are aware of the playing conditions that benefit them in their matches. Over the last 19 FIFA World Cups, the host nations did manage to advance into the semi-finals in 12 tournaments. However, only six times did they go on to become champions. This was in 1930 (Uruguay), 1934 (Italy), 1966 (England), 1974 (West Germany), 1978 (Argentina) and 1998 (France). However, twice in the past World Cups the host nations did play the final match but finished as the runner-ups. They are Brazil (lost to Uruguay, 2-1, in 1950) and Sweden (lost to Brazil, 5-2, in 1958).

Prediction: If Brazil enters the finals, they have a chance of winning the 2014 World Cup.

Goals

Football, unlike any other team sport, is a psychological game where the one scoring the first goal gains a competitive advantage over their opponent. However, there have been instances when the team conceding a goal have gone on to become champions. Twice in the previously held 19 World Cups did the final matches end in a draw — Brazil vs Italy (1994) and Italy vs France (2006) — and the results were decided over a penalty shootout.


From South America, Brazil have a chance of becoming champions. From Europe, any team can do so. However, since England, Italy, and Spain, the former champions, have been eliminated, another former champion (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay or France) may reclaim their throne, or an upset win can catapult a first time finalist to the championship status as we saw in 1930, 1934, 1954, 1966, 1998, and 2010.


However, in the 16 final matches, it was on 10 occasions that the team scoring first won the World Cup, while it was in six tournament finals that the team scoring first lost the match. Moreover, there were six final matches in which a team that conceded a goal, equalised the score and eventually became champions. These teams are Uruguay (1950), West Germany (1954, 1974), Brazil (1958, 1962), and England (1966).

Prediction: The team that scores first in the final game or the team conceding a goal has a chance of winning the final match. The team scoring first gains a psychological edge while a team conceding first gains stimulus to equalise and take a lead.

Defending champions

Only two teams, in the past 19 World Cups, have been able to defend their title. Italy, the 1934 champions, beat Hungary, 4-2, to retain their title in the 1938 World Cup. Brazil, the 1958 World Cup winners, successfully defended their title at the 1962 World Cup after beating Czechoslovakia, 3-1.

Prediction: It is evident that since defending champions Spain are out of the tournament, the 2014 FIFA World Cup will crown new champions.

From South America, Brazil have a chance of becoming champions. From Europe, any team can do so. However, since England, Italy, and Spain, the former champions, have been eliminated, another former champion (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay or France) may reclaim their throne, or an upset win can catapult a first time finalist to the championship status as we saw in 1930, 1934, 1954, 1966, 1998, and 2010.

Semi-finals

During the last 19 FIFA World Cups, Germany have played 12 semi-finals, the most by any team, and have been champions thrice. Brazil have played nine semi-finals, and have won the FIFA World Cup a record five times. Italy has played the semi-finals seven times and have lifted the World Cup thrice. France, appearing in the semi-finals five times could manage to become champions only once and that, too, on home soil in 1998. It is interesting to note that the United States have played only one semi-final, during the 1930 tournament, but lost to Argentina, 6-1.

Ever since the inaugural World Cup in 1930, teams from Europe, South America and Central Asia have remained successful in reaching the semi-finals. It was, however, at the 1966 FIFA World Cup (the eighth edition) in England that USSR (present-day Russia), entered the semi-finals as the first team outside of Europe and South America. However, USSR lost to West Germany, 2-1. During the 2002 World Cup, hosts South Korea did enter the semi-finals as the first ever East Asian nation, however, their campaign ended by a defeat by Germany, 1-0.

Prediction: There is a higher chance for teams from South America and Europe to enter the semi-finals.

Finals

The finals of the FIFA World Cup have given the fans what they really want, 90 minutes of action to determine the champion. Out of the 19 World Cups, Brazil have appeared in seven World Cup final matches and won five, while Germany have played seven finals and won three. Italy has played six finals and won four championships, while the Netherlands have played three World Cup finals without scoring a win. Uruguay, Italy, West Germany, England, France, and Spain are the six teams to have won the World Cup when playing the final match for the first time.

Prediction: If a team plays a final for the first time in the 2014 World Cup, they have a higher chance of becoming champions. Germany, Brazil and the Netherlands have a higher chance of playing the final match.

All-European, all-South American, or a mix final?

For the past 19 FIFA World Cups, European and South American teams have been successful in playing the finals. The teams from these two continents have shown their prowess with the ball, and their players have exhibited dribbling skills with an offensive gameplay. However, there were instances when some World Cups featured all-European teams, all South American teams or a mix of both in the final match.

The inaugural FIFA World Cup of 1930 featured an all-South American final as Uruguay played against Argentina to win the tournament, 4-2. The final match of the second World Cup (1934) was an all-European encounter between Italy and Czechoslovakia, which Italy won 2-1. It was during the 1958 World Cup, the sixth edition of the tournament, that the final match saw a South American team, Brazil, clash with a European team, Sweden. Brazil defeated the hosts 5-2.

Until the 2010 World Cup, two tournament finals were contested between South American teams (1930 and 1950), eight finals were played between European teams (1934, 1938, 1954, 1966, 1974, 1982, 2006 and 2010) and nine finals were contested between a South American team and a European contender (1958, 1962, 1970, 1978, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002).

Prediction: There is a high probability of having a mix final, featuring a team from South America and Europe.

However, if Uruguay enters the finals then we can have an all-South American final this time as Uruguay has played two finals and that, too, against a South American team. Interestingly, Uruguay won both finals.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 29th, 2014