With the World Cup about to start on Thursday, everyone seems to be making predictions about the likely winners of the tournament.
At the 2010 event, the Germans used Paul the octopus to forecast the results. This year the Chinese are deploying what they describe as a ‘crack team’ of baby pandas to make predictions.
Even the mighty brain of Professor Stephen Hawking has been employed by a UK bookmaker to calculate the chances of England winning a World Cup for the first time since 1966. This is likely to have proved more challenging than anything involving black holes and singularities.
So can meteorologists perhaps offer a clue, or two, as to who will triumph in Brazil?
To date, there have been 19 World Cup tournaments. The home side has triumphed on six occasions; playing on home soil obviously brings big advantages to the home team.
Familiarity with the surroundings, experience of playing in the stadia, and national fervor and support are obvious factors, but what about the climate?
At a time when much fuss is being made of the summertime temperatures players would face in the 2022 tournament in Qatar, we would do well to remember that Brazil has a vast range of climates and that some of the games are being played in the heart of the Amazon rainforest where the weather is likely to be oppressively steamy.
It is to be expected that players who are best acclimatized to these conditions will do well and this is another factor in favour of the home team, or those teams in neighbouring countries who experience similar climates.
But let us accept that climate is not the main reason why the home team has won almost one third of the tournaments.
Instead, if we consider the remaining 13 tournaments, we see that on 10 occasions the tournament has been won by a team playing in a climate zone they are used to.
Those winners were:
1938 Italy in France; 1950 Uruguay in Brazil; 1954 W. Germany in Switzerland; 1962 Brazil in Chile; 1970 Brazil in Mexico;1982 Italy in Spain; 1986 Argentina in Mexico; 1990 W. Germany in Italy; 2006 Italy in Germany; 2010 Spain in South Africa.
(In the case of Spain’s victory, although the tournament was on a different continent, the southern African winter is similar to that of a European summer.)
That leaves 3 victories for a team playing away from their familiar climate zone: 1958 in Sweden; 1994 in the US; 2002 in Japan and S. Korea. Who won those tournaments? Brazil, Brazil and Brazil.
So what conclusions can we draw from all this. Firstly, a European side has never won outside its familiar climate zone. England, France, Italy, The Netherlands and even Germany would all have to make World Cup history to overcome the climate and triumph in Rio.
Secondly, South American sides are likely to do very well. Argentina may have had an indifferent run-up to the World Cup, as have Uruguay, but they could do very well in 2014.
Thirdly, inevitably, Brazil are just too good. They can win anywhere. It may be because of the racial ‘melting pot’ which perhaps produces athletes best able to cope with a variety of weather types. Or it may be because the country’s footballers have played their club football abroad for many decades and they have the experience.
The most likely reason though, is that they are usually the best team in the world. In the coming weeks we shall see if that remains the case.