Most of the world – outside the U.S. anyway – was fixated over the last week on South Africa to learn the draw for next summer’s soccer World Cup. The 32 teams that qualified for the competition were divided into eight round-robin groups. The top two teams from each group then go into the single-elimination final sixteen until a champion is crowned on July 11, 2010 in Johannesburg.
Winners and losers will, of course, be decided on the soccer pitch, but how would these countries fare if their success were based on how well they meet the needs of their residents? The Human Development Index (HDI) is a widely used measurement of the quality of life in countries around the world. Using the HDI as a proxy for how countries would perform the World Cup (i.e. the country with the higher HDI wins each game), matchups in the second round would include (see table at the bottom for the most recent HDI for each of the countries in the World Cup, except North Korea):
Switzerland vs. Brazil
Italy vs. Japan
Portugal vs. Spain
Netherlands vs. New Zealand
Greece vs. Uruguay
Australia vs. England
U.S. vs. Germany
France vs. South Korea
Following the same logic, the quarterfinals matches would be:
Japan vs. Switzerland
Greece vs. Australia
France vs. U.S.
Netherlands vs. Spain
Australia would beat Japan in one semifinal and Netherlands would squeak by France in the other.
In the final, Australia would win over the Netherlands, giving the Socceroos their first World Cup title.
While Australia has been improving in recent years, I think I speak for most fans of the beautiful game in concluding that it’s a good thing that the HDI doesn’t determine the results on the field. Brazil, certainly one of the favorites to raise the cup, is ranked 23rd in HDI among the countries in the World Cup. Ivory Coast, with one of the lowest HDI rankings in the world (163rd out of 182), is the top team in Africa and a leading candidate to stage some major upsets.
While human development levels may be somewhat predictable and unsurprising, sport can be thoroughly unpredictable. Global inequalities persist, but soccer is the great equalizer.
Human Development Index for World Cup 2010 Countries
Source: Human Development Report 2009