By Peter Thal Larsen, Vincent Flasseur and Karen Kwok
LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Soccer is a simple game, the England striker Gary Lineker once remarked. “Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end the Germans win.” The quip was on the mark four years ago, when Germany beat Argentina to lift the World Cup in Brazil. If hard numbers have any predictive power, it will once again prove correct when the battle for the sport’s ultimate trophy reaches its climax in Russia this summer.
The Breakingviews Soccernomics calculator ranks the 32 contenders according to four metrics, and uses these to predict which country will come out on top. In 2014 it correctly forecast a German triumph. Four years on the inputs are different but the prognosis remains the same.
Breakingviews calculator: 2018 FIFA World Cup Soccernomics tmsnrt.rs/2JbvLEO
If the financial worth of the players is the determining factor, France are the favourites. The country’s 23-man squad, including stars like Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann, has a combined transfer value of 917 million pounds, according to data from Transfermarkt.co.uk – just ahead of Spain’s 909 million pounds.
If sheer size matters more, Brazil has the edge. The five-time champions have a population of 208 million to choose from, more than nearest rivals Nigeria, Russia and Mexico. The South American nation also scores highly when it comes to home support: 81 percent of the country watched at least 20 minutes of the 2014 tournament, according to figures compiled by FIFA. Only neighbouring Colombia did slightly better, at 82 percent.
Armchair fans aren’t much use without a large cohort of active players. On this metric, Costa Rica is the undisputed world champion. The tiny Central American country’s soccer association has over 1 million registered male members, according to the most recent available data from FIFA. That’s equivalent to almost half Costa Rica’s male population.
When it comes to all-round strength, though, Germany is the winner. The team known as Die Mannschaft is worth a hefty 868 million pounds. The country’s 83 million inhabitants are as fanatical as Brazilians when it comes to watching the sport, and more than one in three German men are registered with the national association.
Based on this analysis, Germany should meet Brazil in the final in Moscow on July 15. It’s more than 50 years since a nation successfully defended its title, and injuries, weather, refereeing decisions and simple luck could all skew the outcome. But if the numbers add up, Germany will retain the World Cup.
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