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ANALYSIS: The key elements you need to win a World Cup

by Aidan Elder | June 25, 2014

With the wheat separated from the chaff and the chaff currently heading off to sun itself in a tropical resort somewhere in the world, the World Cup enters it’s less forgiving stage.

While the group stages afford a certain amount of room for error, there’s no such luxury from here on in. Or at least if you do make errors, you’d better hope your opponents make more of them.

We’ve already seen the World Champions in action, although admittedly it may have been hard to spot them. The big boys have impressed at times, but they’ve almost all thrown up cause for concern too. There’s a stable full of dark horses too, but the history of the World Cup is littered with smaller teams who impressed in the groups only to go tumbling out faster than you can say ‘hipster-ish flash in the pan’.

We’ve seen a good bit of evidence, but are we any the wiser as to who’ll win it? Are there key characteristics to look out for that mark teams out as likely winners? The Paddy Power Blog has crunched the numbers to break down the key elements common to World Cup winners.


Yes it looks like one of those diagrams we tried desperately hard to ignore in physics class, but it does paint a picture. And first and foremost, that picture tells us winning your group is clearly very important. You can of course navigate your way to victory by not finishing top, but it doesn’t happen too often. It’s only happened four times in fact – which is low, even allowing for the fact the was no group stage in 1934 and 1938.

But while winning your group is important, eight teams are going to do that at this World Cup – even Costa Rica. The field is narrowed, but hardly to anorexic proportions. What we need is a look at what other factors combine to help make a World Cup winner.

Back to basics

From the distribution of flags on the chart, the importance of running a tight ship defensively is apparent. That may feel like a case of stating the obvious that would make Lee Dixon blush, but it suggests that being solid at the back is more important than amazing feats of goalscoring. But of course, having the ability to thump in a load of goals isn’t without it’s uses either.

It’s also important to note that just because a team may not have had the best defence of the group stages, doesn’t necessarily mean they were leaking more than a puppy with toilet-training issues. Most of the teams who went on to win the World Cup only conceded one or two goals in the groups, which hardly puts them in the Fulham of 2013/14 ballpark of defensive ineptitude.

Goal-den Moments

Contrary to popular belief, having the tournament’s top goalscorer within your ranks is no guarantee of success. In fact, just 26% of the time has the World Cup winning team been the nation of the top goalscorer. When it comes to goals, more of a team effort is required and if your team has scored the most goals in the tournament overall, that gives you a significantly better chance of winning it. 42% of the time the winning nation has been the team who scored the most goals in the tournament. A useful, but far from definitive stat.

As ever, there are exceptions. Germany managed to win the 1954 and 1974 World Cups without meeting any of the criteria on the chart. They were however hosts in 1974 which is helpful particularly when you’re a host nation who have a good team to begin with.

That leaves Brazil in good shape. Their defence has looked shakier than Luis Suarez’s grip on reality at times, but they emerged from the group conceding just two goals and scoring a healthy seven. The host nation factor also doesn’t hurt their claims. The Netherlands put Spain to the sword and kept things in order at the back so they’re looking good to continue impressing until the point all the players realise they hate each other and start the in-fighting.

If you think you’ve spotted the winners, look Cup the latest odds at our World Cup betting



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