Predicting the World Cup 2010 Winner

What does predicting the economy got to do with predicting the World Cup winner? A lot if you listen to Swiss Bank UBS.

In the World Cup 2006, the economists and analysts at the Wealth Management Research at UBS used the statistical model that enabled them to predict market trends and investment decisions and applied it to predict the World Cup winner.

They correctly predicted that Italy would be the champion. They also succeeded in getting six of the eight quarter-finalists correct. Their track record also included correctly forecasting three of the four semi-finalists.

UBS’s model is a purely quantitative analysis and the criteria used are past performance, home advantage and teams’ strength. Now let’s discuss the model:

For past performance, so far seven nations have won the championship. (Brazil five times, Italy four times, Germany three times, Argentina and Uruguay two times, France and England one time each). So according to UBS, if you pick one of these seven teams, it appears to be a safe bet.

As for the home advantage, a third of the past world cups was won by the host country. Now:

# The weather is mild winter in South Africa and it appears that the host nation may not have the climate advantage. This applies similarly to the African nations in the finals.

# Some matches will be played at venues at high altitude. This is a clear advantage to the host and the South American teams like Brazil.

# In every tournament, there is speculation of referees favoring the Home team. Will there be many controversial calls helping the host?

# This being Africa’s World Cup, there are many who wonder if an African nation will advance past the group stage into the quarter-finals for the first time. In every tournament, there will always be a team which will be the surprise package. Will this team come from Africa?

# And lastly, there is this “outside-of-Europe” syndrome. So far every World Cup had been won by either an European team or a South American side. No European team has won outside the comfort of their own continent. Now in South Africa, many pundits believe that the South American teams will have so-called ground advantage.

Regarding the strength of the teams, UBS took into consideration the FIFA ranking and the bookmakers’ odds.

So which team has UBS picked to be WC 2010 champion? Brazil.

Well, your guess is as good as mine on which team will win. My trusted crystal ball tells me it is Spain.

In every World Cup, betting wise, it is a true challenge. The tournament is held every four years and qualification ends months before the ball is kicked in the first game of the finals. During this time, a lot can change in the football world.

World Cup means patriotic fervor comes into play. We all have passionate feelings for a certain team or a certain player which will determine our decision.

There are 32 teams in the finals so technically there are 32 potential winners. It is interesting to note some characteristics of these teams:

* Some teams have a good striking department with tons of firepower, but lacking everywhere else.

* Some teams have great talented players but have insane coaches.

* Some are perceived as perennial underachievers like Spain and England who seem to choke on the big stage.

* Some are tournament teams like Germany and Italy who may be underrated before the finals, but know how to grind out the results. Well this is according to past performances.

* Experts have expected Spain to win the last two World Cups – but they never have.

* England are going to win it every time according to the English – but they never do.

And there are some interesting statistics:

# No team has successfully defended the WC for a long while. Would the 2006 winner Italy be the exception? But Italy has an aging squad and may not be expected to last all the way. It is easier to reach the top, but much harder to stay there!

# Only once in the last 21 group games has the WC host lost, so would South Africa be the surprise package?

Why Spain will Win

With one loss in their last 46 matches, Spain arrived at South Africa as one of the best teams. They are the favorites to lift the World Cup on July 11. They are ahead of Brazil in the eyes of the bookmakers and pundits.

Spain (Rank 1) play in Group H against Chile (Rank 17), Switzerland (Rank 18) and Honduras (Rank 38).

They have been dubbed by the media in the past as “perennial underachiever”. But the faith of their fans may be justified this time as they have completely turned the corner after winning Euro 2008. They had built on this success and thereafter had won all of their qualifying games for WC 2010, the first team to achieve such a record.

The Talents

Spain is a team with polished gems. They boast the talents of Fernando Torres and David Villa up front, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso and Cesc Fabregas in the middle, Carles Puyol and Gerrard Pique at the back, and Iker Casillas in goal. The reigning European champion look a formidable bunch.

They are stacked with players from the elite leagues in Europe like Barcelona and Real Madrid. The squad has so much depth that even the impressive Arsenal captain Fabregas, whom many consider as one of the best midfielders around, has to warm the bench as a substitute.

A well balanced team is needed to have the consistency to get through such a high level tournament. Look at Argentina. The hope of the entire nation rests on the shoulders of young Messi. But Messi does not perform for his country like he does for Barcelona because he does not have the midfield marshals like Xavi and Iniesta behind him to pull the strings. And I shall leave the Argentina manager alone.

The Spanish squad has been largely unchanged from the team that won Euro 2008. Playing together for years can only foster better understanding on the pitch. The Spain of today exude calm and confidence. Wearing the European crown does such things to you.

Injury

Of course injury is a concern but this is the same for every team. Torres and Fabregas missed playing the tail end of the league due to injuries. To look on the bright side, this could actually be a blessing in disguise as they are totally rested for the World Cup.

Spain has a deep squad with comparatively able replacements. They are not a one or two men team like Ivory Coast relying on Drogba.

If injuries are inflicted on play-makers, any team will suffer like Rooney for England, Lucio and Kaka for Brazil, Messi for Argentina, Sneijder for Holland, etc. Serious injuries are a disaster for every team.

Pressure

Being ranked No. 1 and as hot favorites, expectations are high. Will Spain crack under the pressure?

Much was made out of their 2-0 defeat in the Confederations Cup semi-final to USA last June. This ended their 35 match streak without a loss. Some said Spain buckled under the pressure in that match because they wanted so much to break Brazil’s 35 match streak of not suffering a loss. To many this is considered a great weakness to cave in to pressure.

A lot of teams lose matches that they should win. Most important is to learn a lesson from the loss. I believe the Spanish had indeed learned a valuable lesson. From then on, they had not lost again.

Mental Strength

Psychologists often stress that half of the battle is won in the head. Unfortunately, Spain have the unwanted tag of perennial choker on the big stage. In the past when the going gets tough, they have gone missing.

But now all the players pledged that they know their biggest enemy is themselves and they have developed greater self belief.

Complacency

There is a great threat of complacency when facing the likes of Honduras, Chile and Switzerland. I am confident that with an experienced coach in del Bosque, the players will know in no uncertain terms that a place in the second round is not a formality.

Assurance and over-confidence is divided by a very fine line. The last thing they will think is they have already won the match even before the ball is kicked.

How To Beat Spain

Some said the way to beat Spain is to follow the tactics of Jose Mourinho whose Inter Milan succeeded where virtually everybody failed by knocking Barcelona out of the Champions League. The tactic is to have the players defend deep in their own half, soaking up the pressure thrown at them and rely on swift counter-attack to score. Well, I am not sure whether there could be another “Special One’ around.

Conclusion

If Spain keep their heads they will win World Cup 2010. If they don’t, they are simply beaten by themselves.

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