Jun 9, 2014

Can the 2014 World Cup break the following patterns?

Patterns are made to be broken. It wasn't that long ago that anybody but old white guys with Anglican or Scotch-Irish names could become president of the United States. Tech stocks were supposed to go up forever, until they didn't. Then real estate was, until it didn't. Americans would never watch soccer, until they did. The U.S. would never be competitive at soccer, until they were. The U.S. would never win a World Cup until, oh wait. Well, patterns are made to be broken. No less an authority than Juergen Klinsmann says the U.S. won't win it this year. So maybe that one's not ready to break yet (not that it can anyway with that vote of confidence. Thanks, Juergen). But there are other, more plausible scenarios, that stand to be broken at the 2014 World Cup. Let's take a look:

1. No European team has won the World Cup when it was held in the Americas.
Until 2010 this sentence could read "no European team has won the World Cup when it was held outside Europe," except then both finalists in South Africa were European and Spain ended up winning (another first).

2. Only Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay have won World Cups played in the Americas.
Granted, Uruguay's last triumph came in 1950, when most teams still traveled to the tournament by steamship. And European teams have come dangerously close before, with Italy losing the 1994 final to Brazil on penalties and Holland taking Argentina to extra time in 1978. Still...

3. Brazil, as host nation, will do well.
France and England won their only World Cups as hosts. (West) Germany and Argentina also prevailed when the tournament was held in their countries. Germany in 2006 was a young team in transition that was not supposed to get very far but finished third. South Korea in 2002 and Italy in 1990 made the semifinals of those respective tournaments. The U.S. in 1994 advanced to the elimination round against all expectations. Sweden (yes, really) made the final when they hosted the 1958 tournament. Mexico's only quarterfinal berth came as hosts in 1986. There are few exceptions, but ultimately Nate Silver may be right: this is Brazil's World Cup to lose.

4. A combination of the following teams will face each other in the final: Brazil, Argentina, Spain, France, Holland, Italy, Germany, Uruguay.
They, along with England (whom we haven't included for reasons that will be explained later), are the only teams at the World Cup who have played in a final before. There are three other nations that have played in finals, none of which qualified for Brazil and one of which, Czechoslovakia, isn't even a country anymore (the others are Hungary, who lost to West Germany in 1954, and Sweden, who lost to Brazil in 1958).

5. No African team has made it past the quarterfinal.
Only two teams from Africa have made it as far as the quarterfinals in World Cup history: Cameroon in 1990 and Ghana in 2010. This one looks like it will persist as this year's crop of African clubs appear to be mostly inferior to their counterparts from four years ago: Nigeria and Ivory Coast are shadows of their former selves, Algeria are promising but unproven, Cameroon's players already held one strike and Ghana, perhaps the best African team on paper, are in the group of death. Don't be surprised to see all of the above exit in the first round.

6. England will disappoint their legions of fans.
Only twice have the three lions progressed as far as the semifinals: in 1966, when they won as hosts, and 1990. So why do England fans continue to expect the nearly impossible? Because they're England fans, that's why! They simply do not learn from past failures. It would be funny if it weren't so sad and if England fans didn't become legitimately upset every time it happened. But it's still pretty funny.

7. The U.S. will spring a major upset.
Twice before the U.S. has participated in World Cups in South America. The first time, in 1930, the Yanks won their group and a berth in the semifinal (it's true. Look it up). The second time, in 1950, the U.S. shocked England 1-0 in what is still rightly viewed as the biggest upset in World Cup history.

8. The final will go to extra time or penalties.
The last two did. So did three of the last five.

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