What does it take to win the World Cup?

06 June 2014

By William Zimmern and Dan Broadfield

As the 2014 World Cup in Brazil draws closer, there’s increasing interest in what makes a successful World Cup nation, and which countries are the strongest contenders to win the tournament. We find that the following factors are important in how well a country performs in the World Cup:

  • Form – measured by the latest FIFA world rankings
  • Home advantage
  • Quantity of players
  • Footballing interest
  • Tradition –measured by how many times the country has bid to host the World Cup and whether the country is from Europe or South America

In our previous analyses of the Olympics, a strong link between medal totals and the size of the economy was found, but not for the World Cup. Instead, football-specific factors explain World Cup performance better, such as the number of registered players available to each country and long-term footballing tradition.

The PwC World Cup Index

We’ve combined these five factors to create a ‘PwC World Cup Index’, which assesses each country’s relative prospects in the 2014 World Cup. As shown below, the combination of footballing tradition and home advantage suggests Brazil is the strongest competitor. But Germany, Argentina and Spain are all expected to push the favourite hard, and all four countries should be aiming for at least the semi-finals based on our Index.

Meanwhile, although on the face of it the quarter-finals should be attainable for England who rank eighth, they’re in for a fight to progress from the group stages given the marginally stronger scores of their rivals, Italy and Uruguay.

The countries in Group D have the highest combined Index scores, so it’s deemed the ‘Group of ‘Death’ in our analysis.



Perennial underachievers?

Using the key variables from the Index, we’ve also estimated how each country could have expected to perform in the World Cup historically. Then by comparing this with how they actually performed, we deemed whether they have been overachievers or underachievers (see chart below). To measure historic World Cup performance, we award three points for a win and one point for a draw, for each World Cup finals game played.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, Brazil is the most significant overachiever, collecting an additional 95 World Cup points compared to what would be expected – equivalent to an additional 31 wins. This means that they’ve consistently had greater success than other countries with similar attributes, such as the number of registered players and level of club attendances.

England’s reputation among some as perennial underachievers is also justified to some degree by the fact that they have collected 26 fewer World Cup points than estimated, equivalent to an additional eight wins. But the largest underachievers are in fact the USA, who should have collected an additional 76 points according to our model, given their abundance of registered football players.

It is important to stress, however, that no purely statistical model can ever predict World Cup performance with great accuracy, given that this hinges on the outcome of a few key individual games. Unpredictable factors – from penalty shoot-outs and refereeing mistakes to outstanding performances by particular individuals or teams – will always throw up some surprises. Let’s just hope these are in a positive direction for England this time!

William Zimmern
Read profile | Contact by email | Tel: +44 (0)20 7212 2750

Daniel Broadfield
Read profile | Contact by email | Tel: +44(0) 207 213 3546



So, at the end of the first round of the first round, as it were, you are doing well, except for the Spanish, erm, disaster... in which light your equal form points for England and Holland look a bit, erm, optimistic?

Though no purely statistical model can ever predict World Cup performance with great accuracy, I found the data presented here interesting. This is a nicely written blog.

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