Home / Opinion / Emerging markets and rising stars at the world cup | Jim O’Neill

One of the things I enjoyed most in my professional career was indulging a couple of my favourite interests simultaneously—football (which some of you call “soccer," for some reason) and economics.

On five occasions, I presided over the publication of special booklets about the World Cup and economics, starting in 1994 in my days at Swiss Bank Corp., and then for each tournament from 1998 onward at Goldman Sachs, all the way to the 2010 tournament World Cup in South Africa. Not only did I have a lot of fun but, judging by the huge reader response, so did many clients.

This is not to say that the acclaim was unanimous: I remember a public reprimand from the president of Brazil in 2002 for not suggesting that his country would reach the final. This is what “The Beautiful Game can do to people in most parts of the world.

It is in this spirit that Bloomberg View, in the lead-up up to the tournament, will soon publish pieces from some special guests focusing on their economies, their football teams and their chances of success in Brazil 2014. I will comment on each piece, pointing out where I agree or disagree with the guests.

We’ve selected diverse contributors, well-known experts about their countries, though from different fields. We haven’t made a judgment on the tournament’s best eight teams, although if a guest’s team progresses, we will ask that person back for the knock-out stages. We may also introduce additional writers, especially as we haven’t included anyone from Argentina, Holland or Italy in this initial eight—three countries with track records of success in the World Cup.

Partly as a result of my ability to offend important national officials, I have learned from past World Cups to predict only the four semi-finalists. Note that this doesn’t mean picking the best four teams, as some of those will meet each other along the way. Let me start with predicting who will go beyond the initial group stages.

Will Iker Casillas and Spain get another date with the cup?

From Group A, host Brazil is likely to get through. If it doesn’t, expect a revolution before the competition is even over! Nominating from the other three countries isn’t easy as Croatia, Cameroon or Mexico could make it. Given Chicharito has a link to Manchester United, my team, I will go for Mexico.

With apologies to Australia and Chile, the Netherlands and Spain are the likely qualifiers from Group B. While both will fancy their chances of progressing quite far, the nature of the draw means one of them probably won’t.

Group C is wide open, and I don’t feel confident about any team. My guess is that Japan and Colombia will make it, though their advantage over Greece or Cote d’Ivoire is a slender one.

Who will join Italy in qualifying from Group D, or am I being presumptuous? On balance, I will add England, although I wouldn’t be surprised if Uruguay was the second qualifier. Apologies, therefore, to Costa Rica.

I’m sticking with Europeans in Group E, with the occasionally unpredictable France joined by the often well-drilled and organized Switzerland. I’m not overly familiar with either Ecuador or Honduras, but neither has proved the strongest of Latin nations in the past.

Group F has the strongly fancied Argentina and my MINT country friend, Nigeria. I will go for these at the expense of Bosnia and Iran, although it would be intriguing if Iran qualified and went on to meet the US.

Speaking of which, can the US get through Group G? In some ways, it’s probably the toughest group, and I can’t see beyond Germany and Portugal, although Ghana and the US will make life tough for both. German teams are typically as efficient as their economy in avoiding silly errors; you can’t say the same for Portugal, but I back them to progress.

I’m selecting two Europeans again from Group H, the talented Belgian team along with Russia, although referring to the Russians as European is currently a subject of some debate. Will Russia’s players get booed, as their singers did in the Eurovision Song Contest? I can’t see Algeria or South Korea progressing.

Spain and the Netherlands will both be especially keen to win their group to avoid the possibility of meeting Brazil in the second phase. I would fancy Brazil against the Netherlands; I’m less sure of them versus Spain. If I’m correct and Mexico is the second Group A qualifier, then the winner of B, probably Spain, will progress.

At this stage, I start getting as daft with the possible permutations as any England supporter. Assuming Italy wins Group D, England coming second would pit it against the winners of C; whether Colombia or Japan, I like England’s chances of getting to the quarter-finals.

Italy would end up playing the other C team; whoever that is, I can’t see them stopping Europe’s most successful World Cup entrant. Germany, for example, has failed to beat Italy in all eight competitive meetings; a reminder that economic success and football success do not automatically go hand-in-hand.

The winners of Group E, presumably France, will probably meet Nigeria as runners-up from Group F, leaving Argentina the task of beating Switzerland to progress. I would love the Nigerians to pip France but I doubt it, and Argentina should prevail.

This leaves much-admired Germany against Russia, a match with geopolitical overtones given the Ukraine conflict. Portugal versus Belgium is my guess for the other last-16 qualifier, and here I go for an outsider—Belgium, which has its strongest squad in many years.

So Fortaleza may have the exciting and possibly dubious privilege of hosting Brazil against England in the quarter-final, with Rio home to an all-Europe battle between France and Germany, a game I will be there to watch. I also plan to be at the quarter-final in Brasilia which, according to my reckoning, will probably be Argentina against Belgium. That leaves Spain against Italy as the fourth quarter-final, a pairing Italy would have welcomed in days gone by, though probably not this year.

If this is how the quarter-finals turn out, my four semi-finalists will end up being Brazil, probably playing Germany, and Argentina facing Spain. Many would say these are the best four teams, but I am not sure the Italians or Dutch would agree. At this point, I will avoid the risk of further predictions causing offence.

If I had more space, I would pick my World Cup Dream Team, but the fact that I would find it tough to have any Manchester United players in there adds to my decision to spare you, dear reader. Bloomberg

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