So England won their final group game against Slovenia on Wednesday 23rd June, coming second in the group and going through to the last sixteen. Now I’m not English or a football fan (in fact I’m a football widow) but I am intrigued by the unbelievable optimism that again exists that England can still win the World Cup. This was heightened when a TV football pundit was quoted as saying ‘World Cups are not won in the group stages’. So if we were to look back at the previous group stages of the World Cup have there been any amazing comebacks where a poor group performance has been miraculously overturned with a march to the World Cup Final? In the first few World Cups, some groups only had one game or in the case of 1954 an additional game due to a replay, therefore this analysis begins with the data from 1958 onwards. To overcome the changes in the number of points awarded for a win, two historically and more recently three, the current scoring system has been applied retrospectively to all previous tournaments. A reminder of England’s results in the group stage:

How does this compare to the previous Winners?

Not favourably. Only one team has scored less than England’s total points at the group stage and gone on to win the World Cup. Also of note are the Goals For, the average for World Cup winning teams is six, significantly larger than the two scored by England. Ok, so maybe setting expectations around winning the World Cup might be high; let’s test Fabio Capello’s expectations ‘I’m not crazy when I said my target was reaching the final of the World Cup’ The following are the group results for losing finalists:

Here is where it starts to look as though England haven’t performed all that badly if you compare them with previous losing finalists. England’s performance is better or equal to seven out of the thirteen teams. Although, in terms of goals scored, England do not look as strong, only two goals scored against a finalists’ average of five. There has been a lot of discussion around England’s poor performance in this World Cup, but has it really been that bad? Is it a case of short memory? The following results show of England’s ten appearances in the world cup since 1958, their 2010 performance is exactly the same as that of 1990 and 2002 (remembering that they made it to the semi- finals in 1990) and actually they performed better than three of their previous appearances


So what do we conclude?

• winning the World Cup is perhaps a little too optimistic;
• reaching the Final? – okay, maybe that is a possibility,
• a poor performance by England? Not really, just the norm.