It is inevitable. It doesn’t matter how poor England perform in the build up to a major competition, how badly the media slate the squad or who gets tragically injured and ruled out of the World Cup. There will always come a time before the competition (normally just after hearing Baddiel and Skinner’s ‘3 Lions’) that one starts to think hang on, maybe it could be our year. Yet once again, we sit here wondering how we ever fell foul of the same trap. I find myself asking - were other nations blinded by hope and optimism when it comes to predicting who will win the World Cup?
This year, the Business Analytics team surveyed the rest of Capgemini group around the world to see how they thought their teams would fare in the World Cup. Each of the 15,000 responses predicted where they thought each team would exit the competition; we recorded where they were living and who they are supporting and analysed how this affected their decisions.
It turns out that only 6% of the England supporters believed that England would win the World Cup. I say ‘only’ – in hindsight 6% still seems like quite an astronomically optimistic figure. Which country had the most confident fans going in to the World Cup? The table below gives the breakdown for the main countries (before I offend anyone whose team does not feature on the list - we simply didn't have enough supporters for a statistically viable number. We only had 4 Chile fans!)
The heartbreak and disbelief of the Brazilian fans that was so well documented after their infamous defeat in the hands of the Germans becomes more apparent now – a whopping 87% backed their team to win at the start of the competition. I’d imagine even more so at the time of defeat seeing as they were in the semi-finals. Their confidence would have only been reinforced after the Business Analytics team revealed that host nations gain an advantage (‘Is there a home-side advantage at the World Cup for the host nation? by Neil Ferber and Nigel Lewis’). Interestingly, the Netherlands fans were reasonably humble at the start of the competition, before their team went on to be narrowly beaten on penalties in the semi-finals. Perhaps it was the self-belief of their opponents, Argentina (whose supporters felt they were 4 times more likely to win than their Dutch opponents), that sent them through.
It’s interesting to see how optimistic fans each team were about their chances in comparison to how other supporters thought their team would do. We assigned a scale to each prediction (such that if they predicted Argentina would go out in the group stage then Argentina would be allocated ‘0’ for that respondent; round of 16 then they would be allocated ‘1’; and so forth until if they said Argentina would win, in which case they would be allocated ‘5’), we took an average of all respondents to see how far they thought their own team would go in the competition and compared it to how far all the other respondents thought they would go. The results can be seen in table 2 below: -
The chart reveals how optimistic each country’s predictions were relative to the predictions of the rest of the population. In fact, fans from all the main countries rated their own country’s chances higher than the rest of the respondents did. The average prediction of a Brazilian fan was 4.80, which is effectively a Brazil win (a 4 would correspond to Brazil making the final, and a 5 would correspond to Brazil winning the competition). However, the non-Brazil supporting respondents predicted an average of 3.93 – equivalent to Brazil reaching the World Cup final. Numerically, Brazilian fans’ optimism translated to 4.80 - 3.93 = 0.87 ‘rounds’ above the baseline. The chart below reveals the ‘optimism’ of the rest of the teams against how well their supporters thought they would do; the bigger the bubble, the more optimistic the team’s supporters.
Of all the countries above, England actually had the lowest level of optimism – their supporters expected them to go only 0.61 rounds further than the overall expectation. Of the teams we studied the average supporter expected their team to progress 1.4 rounds further than the overall expectation. But the real daydreamers? Uruguay. Despite their fans believing they would go 2.97 rounds further than the rest of the world did, they bit the dust (amongst other things) in the last 16.
So in truth, this year the majority of fans were worse than the English at rating their team’s chances in the World Cup (maybe it’s just me who is a hopeless romantic?). Perhaps the best option would be to stay neutral and avoid heartbreak. But where is the fun in that – I already believe it’s coming home in 2018!