The study by tips and predictions site Nostrabet.com analysed each World Cup since FIFA expanded the tournament to 32 teams for the 1998 edition, to discover which teams had the hardest path to success based on the official FIFA ranking points of their opponents.
It found that Italy’s 2006 win was achieved against teams with the highest combined ranking points – the Azzuri were grouped with Ghana, USA and Czech Republic, who were ranked second in the world going into the tournament. Italy then knocked out Australia, Ukraine and Germany, before facing France in the final, where they would win on penalties.
The approach used FIFA’s ranking points – world number one Brazil currently have 1,841.3 – to create indexes based on each team’s points totals when the tournaments began. The number one team scored a maximum 100 points, and all other nations’ points totals were converted to scores out of 100 relative to that. The combined ranking points of Italy’s opponents came to 608 – the highest amount of the six champions between 1998 and 2018.
France’s triumph on home soil in 1998 came in second – the Aimé Jacquet-led side won all three group games against Denmark, South Africa and Saudi Arabia, then beat Paraguay, Italy and Croatia, before comprehensively dismissing Brazil 3-0 in the final. Their opponents’ ranking scores added up to 599.
Brazil’s win in South Korea and Japan was the third most difficult. They breezed through their group against Turkey, China and Costa Rica, then defeated Belgium, England and Turkey to reach the final against Germany and win thanks to two goals from Ronaldo. Their opposition points total came to 570.
At the other end of the scale, out of the six World Cups that were measured, Spain’s win in South Africa 2010 saw them face teams with the lowest combined ranking points of 539. France’s 2018 triumph placed fifth out of six in terms of difficulty (551), and Germany’s 2014 win in Brazil was fourth (555).
As debate continues to rage about Gareth Southgate’s suitability for the England job, the study also assessed the paths that semi-finalists faced in each of the tournaments.
The research found that at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, England’s five opponents had the second highest combined points totals out of the four semi-finalists. The countries England played had a combined score of 357, behind France’s 379 but ahead of thee 331 that Croatia faced, and the 329 for Belgium.
Overall the combined points of England’s opponents at the tournament ranked 17th out of 24 teams that have reached the semi-finals since 1998. The most difficult semi-final run was Portugal’s in Germany 2006 (445), the second most challenging was Croatia’s in 1998 (444), and Germany’s fixtures in 2006 came third (441).
Commenting on the study, a spokesperson for Nostrabet said: “The World Cup is now only a month away, and as we approach it, fans will also be getting nostalgic about previous tournaments. This analysis provides a fascinating insight into the challenge that each team faced to lift the Jules Rimet trophy, with the data indicating that some teams had a slightly easier run than others.”
The study also applied the analysis to the famed “Group of Death” to discover which group has officially been the most deadly since 1998. It found that Group E in 2006 featured teams with the highest combined ranking points (347), being comprised of Italy and Ghana, who both qualified for the last 16, plus Czech Republic and USA.
The second most difficult group since 1998 was Group F in 2002 (344) which was topped by Sweden, followed by England in second, leaving Argentina and Nigeria to go home.
The study was conducted by Nostrabet, a betting community site with sports experts at its core. It team is compiled of professionals experienced in online sports betting acting as a trusted guide for the world of online bookmakers, odds and bonuses.