The PwC World Cup Index: what can the dismal science tell us about the beautiful game?

How to win the World Cup

As the 2014 World Cup in Brazil draws closer, there is increasing interest in what makes a successful World Cup team. We have used economic techniques to test the relationship between key variables and historic World Cup performances. We measure performance by awarding three points for a win and one for a draw for each World Cup game played.

Home advantage bodes well for Brazil…and for the rest of South America

In every World Cup apart from 2006, home countries have progressed further as the host than in their previous tournament. In fact, our modelling shows that hosts can expect to progress a further two rounds than if they were not hosting. There is also a clear ‘home region’ effect, which may reflect stronger crowd support and familiar climatic conditions. A European country has never won a World Cup held in the Americas, while a South American country has only won once in Europe.

Money can’t buy World Cup success

In our previous analysis of the Olympics, we found a strong correlation between medal totals and the size of the economy. However, no such relationship was found for the World Cup, with GDP per capita and population failing to explain how well a country performs after controlling for other factors.

Instead, we found that the number of registered football players available to each country was a much more important factor. The popularity of football was also important, which we measured using the average attendances at domestic club matches.

We also found that countries with a footballing ‘tradition’ tended to outperform others even given the quantity of players and the popularity of football, which we captured in our model through how many times each country has bid to host the World Cup.

The USA and England are perennial underachievers

Our modelling has identified a number of variables which explain historic World Cup performance. We have used this model to estimate the total World Cup points that each country would be expected to achieve given their endowment of each variable. We can then compare this estimate with their actual points, to determine whether countries have over or underachieved.

As shown in the figure below, this reveals that Brazil have been the biggest overachiever in the World Cup, with an additional 95 points than expected. The USA are the biggest underachievers according to our model, while England are the second most underachieving side. England have collected 26 fewer points than expected, which is equivalent to an additional eight wins and two draws over World Cup history.

Our analysis shows that Brazil is the biggest overachiever at the World Cup, while the USA is the biggest underachiever

Our analysis shows that Brazil is the biggest overachiever at the World Cup, while the USA is the biggest underachiever

Fig 3: Our analysis shows that Brazil is the biggest overachiever at the World Cup, while the USA is the biggest underachiever

Fig 3: Our analysis shows that Brazil is the biggest overachiever at the World Cup, while the USA is the biggest underachiever

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