By Nick Harris
19 May 2010
Goldman Sachs, the global investment bank, and their chief economist Jim O’Neill – the head of the Red Knights group of super-rich fans who want to buy Manchester United – have produced a 70-page report, ‘The World Cup and Economics 2010’, that includes the prediction that this summer’s World Cup semi-finalists will be England, Argentina, Brazil and Spain.
The report is GS’s fourth pegged to a World Cup since 1998, and O’Neill describes it in the introduction as a “fun piece [of work]” and a “companion to the competition”. The version from 2006 is available from the GS website here. The 2010 edition, for staff and clients, is in wide circulation in those circles and has been seen by sportingintelligence. It’s a fascinating read and includes a variety of features by senior global financial and political figures, as well as a country-by-country guide to the 32 nations at the World Cup from an economic and “state of the nation” perspective.
For example Tito Mboweni, South African Central Bank Governor, writes about the host nation’s chances. “A good tournament on and off the field is what the majority of South Africans are hoping for,” he writes.
The Russian First Deputy Prime Minister, Igor Shuvalov, writes about Russia missing out on 2010, but also about Russia’s hopes for staging the 2018 World Cup, while conceding: “Of course, there is a lot of work to be done on the country’s football infrastructure to make Russia a serious contender for the role, but no matter how the vote goes, these efforts are bound to pay dividends before too long.”
Carlos Cordeiro, a former Goldman Sachs partner and now vice-chairman of the USA’s bid committee for 2018 / 2022, writes on why the 2022 event should be staged in America, while Andy Anson, chief executive of England’s bid, states for the case for England in 2018.
(Interestingly, there is strong sense in the GS coverage of the 2018/2022 bid process that 2018 will be a European tournament with England versus Russia the key battle, while 2022 will be a rest-of-the-world affair, with the USA in pole position . . . but that’s another story. Fifa’s Sepp Blatter has already hinted heavily that 2018 will be a “Europe only” vote but this has not been made official).
Contributors to individual “country” pages in the GS 2010 World Cup report include heavyweight figures from Germany (Otmar Issing, an economist formerly with the Deutsche Bundesbank and the European Central Bank) and Brazil (the Mayor of Rio, Eduardo Paes), while GS staff globally contribute specialist local knowledge.
The really fun part is when Goldman’s experts produce two pieces of analysis that try to forecast who will succeed this summer. One is a “probability study”, with Fifa rankings, bookmakers’ odds and each team’s schedule of matches taken into account. On this basis, Brazil are favourites (with a 13.76 per chance of winning, apparently).
Spain come next (10.46 per cent chance), then Germany (9.4 per cent), England (9.38 per cent), Argentina (9.08 per cent), the Netherlands (7.07 per cent), Italy (6.46 per cent) and France (6.13 per cent). No other nation has a chance greater than three per cent, while the least likely nation to win is North Korea (0.05 per cent).
The second piece of analysis is written by O’Neill himself, and it considers who will win each group and who will be runners-up, based on various factors, and it then forecasts what will happen in the knockout stages. To summarise:
Group A Winners: Mexico; Runners-up: South Africa.
Group B Winners: Argentina; Runners-up: Nigeria.
Group C Winners: England; Runners-up: USA.
Group D Winners: Germany; Runners-up: any of Australia, Serbia, Ghana.
Group E Winners: Netherlands; Runners-up: Denmark.
Group F Winners: Italy; Runners-up: Slovakia.
Group G Winners: Brazil; Runners-up: Portugal.
Group H Winners: Spain; Runners-up: Switzerland.
Round of 16
Mexico play Nigeria. Nigeria win.
England play Australia / Serbia / Ghana (too close to call). England win.
Netherlands play Slovakia. Netherlands win.
Brazil play Switzerland. Brazil win.
Argentina play South Africa. Argentina win.
Germany play USA. Germany win.
Italy play Denmark. Italy win.
Spain play Portugal. Spain win.
England v Nigeria. England win. (O’Neill writes: “Assuming Mr Rooney has his shooting boots on, this looks like a decent path for England to reach its first semi-final since 1990.”)
Argentina v Germany. Argentina win.
Brazil v Netherlands. Brazil win.
Spain v Italy. Spain win. (“Here we are going to go against history and stick with flair. It is Spain for us.”)
Semi-finalists: England, Argentina, Brazil, Spain.
O’Neill himself makes no call beyond that.
In his introduction to the report, he writes that picking semi-finalists is “always a highly contentious move. We would point out to those annoyed and irritated by our selections that we did name three of the four semi-finalists in 2006 and 1998.”
That’s an excellent record. Except in 2006, GS and O’Neill went for Brazil, Germany, Italy and Argentina. That meant two predictions (not three) were right: Germany and Italy. France and Portugal were the other two semi-finalists.
Can it really be true that the chief economist of Goldman Sachs can’t add up?
To O’Neill’s enormous credit, when we asked him that very question today, he got back to us within minutes to say: “You’re correct, it was a significant mistake of ours, we only got two of them right, not three. Apologies! You are the third person to notice….”
Elsewhere today, bankers JP Morgan are predicting England will beat Spain on penalties in the final.