8 June. Time for predictions. The entrails say that history seems to be the best guide to performance in World Cups. In the last six Cups, going back to 1982, 11 out of 12 slots in the final have been contested by just four teams: Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Italy. In fact, there has never been a final without one of these four teams.
Why? It is interesting and odd that history should be such a powerful predictor. It's been a better predictor than things like form, which you'd have thought would be much more useful. So, anyway, the entrails say that it will be one of the Big Four that wins - most likely Brazil, the only team to have won outside their own hemisphere, and whose players are much more used to European football than was once the case. Also, Brazilians I know say this is the best team since 1970.
If you leave out the host countries, and make an exception for the great Dutch side of the 1970s, the last surprising team to make the final were the Czechoslovaks in Chile in 1962. According to a simulation run of Fifa's official game, as played on an Xbox 360, the Czechs will get their revenge this time by winning the tournament. The simulation has Italy and Portugal knocked out in the group stages, and England knocked out by Germany in the round of 16. It has nothing to say about Rooney's metatarsal, and nor do the entrails.
LRB 20 July 2006 | PDF Download