World Cup: Come on England, Spain… Er, anyone but Brazil, Germany, etc…..

Try as hard as I might, I cannot get worked up about this World Cup. But then having foolish chosen to follow Manchester City in my late primary school days (late sixties/early seventies), the experience of watching English soccer has always been more bitter than sweet for me. But Alberto from Tweetminster (who is looking forward to it) pointed me in the direction of this post of Chris’s which quotes research outlining how nations play football almost in a stereotypical manner:

…they found that the Germans are more likely to score in the last minute of a game. They did so in 5.5% of games. By contrast, Brazil did so in only 2.1% of their games and Italy in just 2.2% of them.
Germans, then, really do have a never say die attitude.  But so too do the Dutch and English; these too score in the last minute in more than one game in 20.

However, there’s a difference between Germany and England. Germany are more likely to concede in the last minute; they do so in 4.4% of games, whereas England have done so in only two of their last 232 competitive games. This suggests that German games become much more open in the last minute. This is in contrast to Italy, who have conceded just one last-minute goal in 267 games.

Then Alberto went on to point out that all but four times the World Cup has been won be Italy, Germany, Argentina or Brasil. And those were won by talented host countries: Uruguay (plus once – the so-called Maracanaço when they played in neighbouring Brasil), England and France.  Of the big four, only Brasil has won in a tournament held outside their own continent.

Ergo, it being unlikely that South Africa will win, on past form it should be Brazil.

Of course it is (like the Ireland rugby team’s fated inability to beat the All Blacks) a largely psychological problem for those outside ‘the golden four’. But one of the things England could do to usefully shorten the odds work on taking their penalties. Chris notes:

Germany really are better at penalties. In shoot-outs since 1960, they have scored with 94% of their penalties, whereas England have scored with just 50% and Italy with 65%.

If Capello can introduce a bit of German pyschological steel into the English team’s mentality (telling the English sports press pack – politely – to feck away off might help in that endeavour), and up their rate on penalty taking, then at 8/1 from Paddy Power I might even chance my money on our Saxon neighbours for once…

Personally, I would love to see Spain collect on their favourite status.  But as the research paper notes, if the difference in European teams in tactics and strategy becoming smaller, ‘fighting spirit’ is what defines the residual differences in national teams. And, sadly for me anyhow, when it comes to the World Cup, Spain (which is not included in the study) usually add up to something considerably less than the sum of their parts.  Moreso even than England.

Yet an upset in the eighty year form book would at least make it bit more interesting for some of us neutrals. I might even take the time to watch a few of the matches.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty