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WORLD CUP 2010: Portugal punching above weight, Japan and USA ailing, England doing what resources suggest


By Brian Sears

11 June 2010

Football is a global game, arguably the only one, but of course there are some areas of the world that love it and embrace it more than others. If that weren’t the case, and nations loved the beautiful game in equal measure and played it in equal measure, then we might expect the USA – the nation at the 2010 event with the biggest population – to win it.

They might do that, of course, but they are not favourites to do that. In fact we can calculate that the USA punch some way below their weight in football (or soccer if you prefer), because they are the No1 nation in terms of population at the World Cup, but ranked only 11th highest in the world (of the nations at the World Cup).

The USA are punching “minus 10”, then, or 10 places below their weight. They are not the most under-achieving of the finalists, however: Japan are, punching “minus 24”.

At the other end of the scale, Portugal are punching “plus 20”, considering their population size and their world ranking.

And England? They’re doing pretty much what they should, as are Brazil, Germany, France and others.

In my previous working life I was a teacher and then head teacher at a local one-class primary school. A significant perk was the treat of “managing” the school football team. As a lifelong Watford fan, I like to think that what Graham Taylor was doing at Vicarage Road was being replicated on the green swards of Croxley Green!

Our neighbouring school, however, had the clear benefit of being a THREE-class junior school. Think of that. Three times the resources in playing terms. Triple! I suppose that in something like one in ten seasons we would chalk up a rare win.  On other occasions we would suffer narrow defeats and several times those defeats were very clear-cut. I cannot recall many drawn games in primary school football and certainly not scoreless draws.

Such experiences set me thinking of the populations back home of the 32 countries now gathered in South Africa and the numbers from which the 23-strong squads have been selected.

Which countries disappoint vast millions with their football performances and which countries over-perform with regard to their population base?

For today’s sportingintelligence analysis of the World Cup, I have ranked the 32 nations by population, from the USA at No1 with its 309.4m people down to Slovenia at No32 with its 2.1 million. (And to think that I considered my primary school team hard done by with a 3:1 ratio against us!).

I now compare that ranking with Fifa’s rankings, on a scale of 1 to 32 of those at the tournament; from Brazil at No1 with their No1 Fifa ranking down to North Korea at No32 with their Fifa ranking of No105.

The full details are in the table below.

Thus it could be argued that Japan, South Africa and the two Koreas should be better at football as far as their weight of population is concerned.

England falls within a clutch of countries (with their names in green in our table) that perform pretty much as they should. All those nations in green are ranked within a handful of places up or down from where you would expect given their population resources. They include not just England but Brazil, Germany, Italy and France. These nations are par for the course.

Meanwhile the Netherlands, Uruguay and Portugal are punching significantly above the weight of their populations, as are Spain, punching plus 10.


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