21 June 2010


Simon Kuper comments today on the apparent fading dominance of Western Europe in the World Cup:

It might sound hasty to proclaim the fall of Europe 10 days into the World Cup. It might even sound like the pundits who wrote off Barack Obama 10 days into his presidency. It might be that England will meet Germany in the World Cup final. So let me get in my argument quickly, before the facts jump up and bite it in the ankle in the manner of Gabriel Heinze, the Argentine left back.

Up till now, the big five European countries - Germany, England, Italy, France and Spain - have completed nine games in total. They have won one: Germany's dismantling of Australia. Other than that match, the Big Five have scored three times in eight games. They have also lost three times: Spain to Switzerland, Germany to Serbia, and France to Mexico.

These tallies are more dramatic than they sound. In the last World Cup, the only time a western European team lost to a team from another region was Switzerland's defeat by Ukraine on penalties. True, that World Cup was played in Europe, but in South Africa the climate and time zone are European.

In other words, don't blame England. Blame the region they represent. western Europe has just 5 per cent of the world's population, yet from 1966 to 2006 it won a majority of World Cups.

But as this column has argued ad nauseam, the rest of the world is catching up. Bob Bradley, the American coach, is always sniffing around Barcelona and Milan. Switzerland, never previously much interested in football, in the 1990s aped the French system of performance centres for kids. Now they can bore Spain into submission. Algeria's players have learnt dull western European tactics playing at middling western European clubs.

Expecting England to whip Algeria or the US is like expecting the return of the British empire. Yet fans expect it nonetheless. Football supporters should revise their expectations. Here's how to look at it: plucky England held the mighty US and nearly beat Algeria. Moreover, it could be worse: look at France.

In related news, Nate Silver's magical prediction formula suggests that the odds are against each of England, Germany, France and Spain to advance, as below:


  1. Excuse 1 - USA - the (German) ball.

    Excuse 2 - Algeria - the evil manager, Benito Capello imposing his brutal discplinarian regime on our creative young thoroughbreds. Yes, he's Italian.


    Excuse 3 - preparatory for Slovenia - "In other words, don't blame England. Blame the region they represent."

    LOL !!

    I predict England will not go beyond the QF stage. The players have no personal motivation to succeed. None of them need to showcase their ability. They are also tired.

  2. BTW

    The article is a bit of a wind up. Bad results for big teams aren't so unusual at this stage. The rest haven't caught up in 4 years !

    As someone else said on this blog, Italian defensive tactics, refined over 40 odd years have brought teams closer together.

    Great Sun headline.

  3. Italy drawed three times in 1982 in the first round, barely made the 2nd and became world champion. As mentioned before this is NOT a statistics game. Spain won convincingly today and are still the main favorite with Brazil.

  4. Small point,

    Nate Silver predicts that England is LIKELY to advance. (Just less likely than two other teams from the same group)

  5. According to the "amazing" predictions, spain goes through, unlike speculated by the poster... I'll even give you England. But to proclaim that Germany won't get through is... "corageous", at least.

  6. It will be interesting to see how this post stands up in a few days.

    Will it be as good as Nate Silver's prediction that Cap n Trade would pass in 2009? He'd run predictions on that too.

    Kuper's article shifts stealthily between talking about Western Europe and the big 5. If you include Portugal, Denmark, Holland and Switzerland things start to change.