It’s official: England face tough battle in ‘Group of Death’, says PwC report

Published at 10:22 AM on 02 June 2014

While Brazil may be the favourite to win the World Cup this summer due to a combination of footballing tradition and home advantage, England face a tough struggle to progress from the group stages, according to new analysis by economists at PwC.

The result of analysing all the key variables¹ is a ‘PwC World Cup Index’ below – an assessment of each country’s relative prospects in the 2014 World Cup. This suggests that while, on the face of it, the quarter-finals should be attainable for England, who rank eighth according to the PwC index, they are in for a fight to progress from the group stages given the slightly superior strength of their rivals, Italy and Uruguay.

Meanwhile, Germany, Argentina and Spain will push the favourite, Brazil, hard according to the PwC analysis. This suggests a relatively lower chance of success for Brazil than the 48.5% probability estimated in a recent Goldman Sachs report, which seems high given the strength of the opposition and the element of good fortune in any individual football match.



John Hawksworth, UK chief economist at PwC, commented:

“Group D has the highest total combined score on our index and is therefore deemed to be the ‘Group of Death’. This reflects the strong collective footballing tradition of Uruguay, England and Italy – three countries in the top 10 of the all-time World Cup table that between them have won seven of the previous 19 World Cups. It will be tough for England to qualify from this group but, if they do, they should have a decent chance to at least reach the quarter finals.”

In previous analyses of the Olympic Games, a strong link between medal totals and the size of the economy was found, but not for the World Cup. Instead, key football-specific factors explain World Cup performance better, such as the number of registered players available to each country, the national interest in football, long-term footballing tradition and recent form. John Hawksworth, UK chief economist at PwC, added: “In the Olympics, our previous analysis showed that money can buy you success. But in the World Cup, we found little evidence of any such effect as middle income countries such as Brazil and Argentina can do at least as well as richer European nations like Germany, France and the UK. “Footballing tradition is more important than GDP in driving World Cup success: in that sense, the beautiful game is a great leveller.”

Perennial underachievers? The Index also establishes several variables which explain, to a significant extent, the differences in World Cup performance across countries. These are the number of registered football players, attendance at top division club matches, number of bids to host the World Cup, and whether the country is from Europe or South America.

PwC model estimates of each country’s total World Cup points (see note 1 for definition) compared to their actual points is shown in the Figure below, which indicates whether each country has under or overachieved relative to model estimates.

Brazil is the most significant overachiever, collecting an additional 95 World Cup points compared to the model estimate; they have consistently had greater success than other countries with a similar pool 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 by the model. 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 and that they often bid to host the tournament.



Key features of our analysis

We use historic data on the 56 countries who have played at least six World Cup games. We measure historical World Cup performance using FIFA’s all-time rankings table, which awards three points for a win, one point for a draw and zero points for a loss for every World Cup game played.

We find that the following factors are important in explaining past World Cup performance: • The total number of football players registered in a country • The average attendance of top division football matches • How many times the country has bid to host the World Cup • Whether the country is from Europe or South America • Whether the country is the home nation or continent • Recent form, as measured in our historical analysis by how the country performed in the last two World Cups, and in our 2014 assessment by the latest FIFA world rankings.

These factors were then combined in a new PwC World Cup index as an indicator of relative prospects for the 2014 World Cup (see Figure 1).

 The analysis found that economic variables such as GDP per capita and population were statistically insignificant after controlling for football-specific factors. Further details of the technical modelling results can be found in the full report.

2. The full report, The PwC World Cup Index: what can the dismal science tell us about the beautiful game? can be downloaded at

Gill Carson
PwC | Media Relations Manager
Office: 020 7212 1391 | Mobile: 07837 285466
Email: [email protected]
PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP
twitter: @gill_carson



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