Bin Your Crystal Balls

World Cup 2010

Andrea Pirlo tells FIFA that Italy are underdogs for the crown; indeed, retaining a World Cup is a tall order, thus far only managed by the Azzurri (1938) and Brazil (1962).

Bulgaria v Germany
Scanning the myriad World Cup magazines and newspaper pull-outs in London's news stands I am struck by how dull the predictions seem and how they quickly get forgotten. Just go back and see how off-target the experts were last and every previous World Cup. Once more the big boys are being tipped. Where is the dark horse? The default response is to say Brazil will win it every time against say Italy or Germany, traditional European giants, or this time, the continental champs, Spain.

In 'Why England Lose', Simon Kuper & Stefan Szyminski' claim the winning nations are those who score highest on a measurement of GDP, population and 'football experience', the last category being the one Japan, China and the US need to work on to ensure future global glory.

But in knock-out competitions chance plays an unappreciated role, or is that penalties? A draw instead of a win in the group stage can plunge two top teams into winner-takes-all matches in the round of 16 or the quarter-finals, leaving the field clear for an unlikely nation to sneak through.

A list of semi-finalists since the '80s includes Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland, South Korea, Sweden and Turkey, and who predicted any of them, or for that matter France reaching the final last time.

That said, a minnow has yet to lift the trophy, thus far a preserve of a select group of nations.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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