Football / Preview / World Cup Tournament Preview

World Cup: Tournament Preview

We’ve looked at the leading contenders for the 2010 World Cup to identify the likely winner and those teams likely to go, or not go, far in the competition.

Brazil players celebrating



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Ranking

Only six nations have won the 14 World Cups that have been staged since the Second World War and as two nations have won it only once (England and France), it is a competition dominated by the Big 4 of Brazil, Italy, Germany and Argentina. As well as winning 12 of the 14 tournaments, they’ve supplied 20 of the 28 finalists and that means the ultimate stage of the World Cup has been dominated by Top 10 Bettorlogic ranked teams.  In the last 10 World Cups, the worst ranked finalist were Germany ranked 10th  in 2002 and 13 of the 20 finalists were top five Bettorlogic ranked which is a strong pointer to Brazil, Spain, the Netherlands, England  and Germany.

 

Qualifiers

Results from the qualifiers have had some significance because of the 15 finalists who did have to qualify only Brazil in 2002 with six defeats had lost more than one of their qualifiers. Seven of the 15 were undefeated. Those results should be treated with a degree of caution because 40 years ago teams qualified on the basis of just four games. We’ve looked at teams that were either undefeated in Europe from a minimum of eight qualifiers or suffered two or less defeats from the 18 qualifiers played in the Conmebol or Concacaf region. Of the 16 such teams since 1998, only France in 2006 made it to the final and only one other has made it to semis - Portugal in 2006. That’s a negative for Spain, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy who were undefeated in Europe and Brazil who suffered two defeats in Conmebol qualifying. Five of the 16 teams failed in the group stage and another four in the first knockout phase. 

Seven of the 20 finalists had the combination of high goals per game scored in qualifiers and few conceded and this year that applies to Spain, the Netherlands, England, and Germany.

 

South Africa

South Africa does present its own unique challenges; altitude and distance will be two considerations. France, for example, will travel 1700 kilometres for their second group match against Mexico. The climate, though, should suit European teams, or those nations largely made up of European based players, much more so than Mexico in 1970 or Spain in 1982. So far, Brazil in 2002 are the only team to have won a World Cup outside of the hosts’ continent but that’s likely to change this year.

What is important is to get a good start. Italy are the only winners since 1970 who failed to win their first group match when they drew all three in the 1982 first group stage, whereas only 5/10 runners up have won their first group match and three have lost. Since the second group stage was abandoned in 1986, all six winners have topped their group and of those only Argentina (1986) were ranked second in their group. The profile of the other finalist is that the last eight were all top ranked in the group but only three won the group.

 

BL Rank 1) Brazil 5.80, Bwin   Q/F W9 D7 L2

Brazil qualified with three games to spare and for the first time in 14 years won in Argentina. This is a more pragmatic Brazil than the samba stars of yesteryear. World Cup winning captain, Dunga has built his team around a solid defence and the eleven goals they conceded in qualifying was half that of the second placed team, Chile. As well as their World Cup winning pedigree, Brazil have comfortably outperformed all the other nations in the group stage. In six of the last 10 finals, they’ve emerged from their group with a 100% record. 18 teams have taken maximum points from the group stage since 1970 and that’s thrown up three winners (Brazil twice and France) and six other semi-finalists.

 

2) Spain 5.50, Coral   Q/F W10 D0 L0

Spain come to South Africa as narrow favourites; Euro 2008 champions and holders of a world record 15 consecutive victories which included wins against three of their main rivals, England, Argentina and France. Seven of the last 10 European Champions have qualified for the World Cup, but only Germany in 1974 made it a double. Since the second group stage was abolished after 1982, only two Euro Champions have reached the last eight, France in 1986 (semi-finalist) and Germany in 1998. If Spain are to prevail then at some stage they are likely to face another Top 10 side and since 1970 that’s happened to them in the knockout stage only six times in major tournaments. Their only victory against such teams was in the Final of Euro 2008.

 

3) The Netherlands 11.0, Various   Q/F W8 D0 L0

The Dutch had a relatively easy qualifying campaign  and conceded just twice in their eight games. Much of their squad is the same that qualified from the group of death four years ago and defeated 2006 finalists, Italy and France in Euro 2008. But on both occasions they failed in the first knockout stage and it’s their fallibility in the penalty shoot-out that has cost them three chances of a final since their last in 1988. 2006 was also a disappointment because for the second time in six World Cups they failed to score more than three goals whereas the other four had netted them a total of 41. They scored 10 in Euro 2008 and that maintained their healthy average of just under two goals per game since 1998 in major tournaments.

 

4) England 9.00, VC   Q/F  W9 D0 L1

This was England’s best qualifying campaign since they lost just one of six qualifiers in 1978. It is 14 years since England were last in the semi-final of a major tournament and of the last 10 World Cup winners, only Argentina in 1978 and France in 1998 had a similar absence from the penultimate stage. No coincidence either, that those two and England were the tournament hosts. Another factor which suggests England may struggle in the latter stages is their poor record against fellow Top 10 sides. They’ve had nine such matches in major tournaments, failed to win any in normal time and only one of the six that went to extra-time (Spain in Euro 1996). In England’s favour is that like Germany, France and Argentina they are in the weaker half of the draw. Even so, their 50% win record against worse ranked teams in knockout stages since 1970 is disappointing and only the Dutch with 33% have fared worse.

 

5) Germany 15.0, Various  Q/F W8 D2 L0

Germany are serial finalists having appeared in 11 major finals since 1970 and 14 semi-finals. One of the keys to German success is that they are adept travellers. Remarkably, they’ve never lost an away World Cup qualifier and that includes six visits to Top 10 ranked teams. Whilst their group looks relatively easy, it should be remembered that since 1970, they’ve made a clean sweep of their group matches only when they hosted the tournament four years ago. Of all the major contenders (top 20 ranked teams) they have the best success rate against worse ranked teams in the knockout stage (74% win) thanks in part to their almost impeccable record in penalty shoot outs (5/6) and they have a 67% win record when playing other Top 10 teams. However, they will miss their captain of the past six years, Michael Ballack, and it means their squad contains only two out-and-out central midfielders. Several members of their squad are graduates of last year’s successful Under-21 European campaign in which they demolished England 4-0 in the Final.

 

6) Italy 17.0, Various   Q/F W7 D3 L0

If Italy successfully defend their title, they will be the only team to do so since Brazil won in 1958 and 1962. The last 10 World Cup winners have had mixed fortunes four years later. Brazil reached the semi-finals in 1974 and the final in 1998 as did Argentina in 1990. That leaves seven who failed to progress to the penultimate stages, including France who failed to win a match in 2002. If the draw plays out as it may then Italy are likely to face Spain in the quarter-finals and since 1970, they’ve won only 2/10 in normal time against higher ranked teams in the knockout stages. An omen in their favour is that the last time they recalled a World Cup winning manager, they won successive World Cups but that was back in the 1930’s. Another concern for the Italians will be that a near full strength side lost to Mexico in a recent friendly; France though did lose a friendly prior to their success in 1998 as did Germany in 1990.

 

7) Chile 71.0, Paddy Power   Q/F W10 D3 L5

It may surprise some to see Chile so highly ranked considering that they failed to make Germany, fours years ago. But under Marcelo Bielsa, the former manager of Argentina and one of the most prepared coaches in the tournament, Chile have made great strides in recent years. They finished only a point behind Brazil in qualifying and nearly half their points were picked up on the road.  Expect goals in their matches as they scored 32 goals in 18 qualifiers and conceded 22. Chile’s main concern will be meeting Brazil who have a habit of eliminating them from competitions and the pair could well meet in the second round. Another concern will be the fitness of Humberto Suazo, the top South American scorer from the qualifiers, who may miss the first two matches of the tournament.

 

8) France 21.0, Various   Q/F W7 D3 L2

Should France win their second World Cup then it will be another dominated by a handball controversy and there are some strong indicators to suggest they could go far. Beaten finalists have better records four years later than their victors – four of the last 10 have made the final (two won) with another making the semi-final. Furthermore since 1970, they and Brazil have the best success rate (71%) against Top 10 teams in the knockout stage and they could easily play England in the quarter-finals. What counts against the French is their poor qualifying campaign, but it should be noted that it was largely conducted without their star player, Franck Ribery and five of their likely line-up played for their respective league champions this season.

 

9) Portugal 29.0, Bet365   Q/F W7 D4 L1

Reaching the semi-final four years ago went some way towards obliterating Portugal’s bitter memory of failing to win their own European Championship in 2004. Germany saw the Portuguese qualify for the knockout stage for the first time since 1966 and their draw in the quarter-finals against England is their only stalemate in 19 World Cup matches. In major tournaments since 1970, they’ve beaten only two Top 10 teams over 90 minutes in nine attempts but succeeded in two of the four that have gone to extra time.

 

10) Argentina 8.0 Coral Q/F W8 D4 L6

Many consider Argentina’s biggest handicap to be their coach, Diego Maradona, but it would be foolish to dismiss them lightly, possessing as they do a strike force of five players that would walk into most other teams. Should they qualify, their record against Top 10 teams since 1970 in major tournaments is relatively poor (47% success rate) but against worse ranked teams is second only to Germany and France at 72%. They failed to reach the knockout stage in 2002 and in 1998 and 2006 were expected to go further than their eventual quarter-final position.

 

Best of the Rest

Mexico (BL 11 81.0) were similarly ranked four years ago and took Argentina to extra-time before losing to a wonder strike by Maxi Rodriguez. Coach, Javier Aguirre took them to the top of their group in 2002 (ahead of Italy and Croatia) and they could put to bed one stat which is that no host – Mexico play South Africa – has ever lost their opening match.  USA (12  81.0) are considered to be England’s main group opponents  and the Americans have only twice beaten Top 10 teams in major tournaments and lost 8/11 such matches. Uruguay (13 126.0) have played in only two World Cups since 1990 but have made the semi-finals of the past two Copa America’s and in Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez have two of Europe’s most potent strikers.

Paraguay (14  101.0) would love to be similarly blessed with strikers because in four World Cups since 1970 they’ve failed to score in the knockout stage (3 matches) and averaged only a goal a game in their 15 matches; something to consider is that 10 of their 15 goals were scored in the final group match.. Serbia (15 67.0) are potential last 16 opponents for England and four years ago failed to pick up a point in the “group of death”. Serbia have won only one of six knockout matches in major tournaments since 1970 with four of those requiring extra-time. South Africa (83 151.0) are the worst ever ranked hosts and they’ll struggle to emulate two recent weak hosts (USA and South Korea) who made the knockout stage because they play three Top 15 sides in their group.

 

Our view

The strong record of top five ranked teams narrows the search for the likely winner and it’s very difficult to get away from Brazil. The concern with Spain is the record of past European Champions and their relatively poor record against Top 10 teams which also applies to England. The Dutch have fared poorly in the past tournaments in the knockout stage and it is 22 years since they made a major semi-final. The Germans rarely fail in major tournaments and have featured in 55% of World Cup or European Championship semi-finals since 1970. Stan James offer of a refund on all outright win bets if Spain prevail offers some cover on a Brazil win.

 

Recommendations

Brazil to win 5.00, Stan James (money back if Spain win)

Brazil to gain nine points in Group G 3.50, Blue Square

Germany to reach semi-finals 3.40, Tote Sport     

Mexico to win Group A 4.60, Betfair

Buy Netherlands goals 8.2, Sporting Index

 

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