June 14, 2018

By Miguel Gomez Winebrenner, Principal, Ahzul

When I was a kid growing up in Colombia, I remember my Dad explaining the game of soccer (aka fútbol) to a visitor from Kansas. He said, “Soccer is a ballgame with two teams, each consisting of 11 players… and Germany always wins!”

I’m sure many would disagree with this, namely Brazilians and Italians, given that Brazil has won more World Cup (WC) titles than Germany – 5 in total – and Italy has won just as many, 4 in total. But the fact is that for the past 45-years, Germany has dominated the sport. For the ultra-curious, check out some nice charts from the BBC.

But as World Cup fans know, stats aren’t the only thing that will run through our veins June 14 – July 14. It’ll be emotions … lots of emotions … including patriotism.


So, because we are a curious bunch, #AhzulWorldCupInsights sought to understand how much soccer fandom is swayed by a sense of patriotism. Ahzul launched a proprietary quantitative research study including 10,000 men and women in Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina in May of 2018.

We asked respondents who they thought would ultimately win. Guess what Brazilians said? Guess what Argentineans said? Yep, the majority of Brazilians chose Brazil (68%), and the majority of Argentineans said Argentina (63%). To many, this might not be surprising – because they are both world class teams with an honest chance to win the World Cup this year. (Note: the survey question wasn’t who they “wanted” to win, but who they “thought” would win.)

Indeed both of these teams are formidable, and have a good chance of winning, but the World Cup is a stage so big that normal biases stemmed out of loyalty for country can be more pronounced than normal (i.e., the World Cup brings out the nationalist in us).


Take, for example, the data from Mexico, a team that has never come even close to winning the World Cup and is expected to - at best – make it halfway through the tournament. Incredibly, one-quarter of Mexicans believe Mexico will win.

To put it into perspective, according to SportsLine, Mexico has a 1/100 chance of winning. Yet 25% of Mexicans believe their team will win.
Although we didn’t collect data on all 32 nations that are participating in this year’s World Cup, we suspect that a patriotism phenomenon might be true in other countries – where despite very concrete facts like Germany’s dominance of the sport, fandom is not cerebral but rather very much emotional.

To get at the full story, we also looked into the data for the team Brazilians and Argentineans thought would be the runner-up - rather than the winner (arguably, setting emotion aside).

So, who did Brazilians and Argentineans say they would compete (victoriously) against in the final? You got it… Germany!

This doesn’t mean we can accurately predict the winner to be Germany, but it may hint to how we make choices – and how a “runner-up” scenario might shine a light on a form of “rational subconscious.”
Either way, the fact is that over 3 billion people will likely watch the World Cup, and over $5 billion in TV rights are estimated to be earned during the event… Given all that, I highly doubt we would do the same thing every four years (for 30 consecutive days) if it weren’t an emotional roller-coaster, with its share of unexpected twists and turns and an outcome that is far from being known.

So, the true insight isn’t that the data may help foreshadow general outcomes and trends; but rather, that as humans we wouldn’t engage in such activities with as much passion if predictability were to overshadow hope.

And it’s the same hope that kept the Chicago Cubs franchise alive for 100-years without winning the World Series, until they did. Go Cubs, go Colombia!


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