Both on the field, and off, Brazil has proven that it is a nation on the move and is the team to beat.
What if global soccer competitiveness were determined by global economic competitiveness? According to the World Economic Forum, Switzerland, which ranks first, and the United States, which ranks second, would be heavily favored to win this month's World Cup in South Africa. Denmark (fifth) and seventh-place Germany -- with or without Michael Ballack -- would be next.
Chile, ranked 30th, would be Latin America's top contender, while Argentina (85th), Honduras (89th), and Paraguay (124th) would have little chance of getting out of group play. Brazil (56th), Mexico (60th), and Uruguay (65th) would also struggle.
Let Ladbrokes try to determine those odds!
Fortunately, though, the actual odds of a Latin American nation winning the 19th World Cup tournament are considerably better. In fact, of the tournament's seven overall champions, three (Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay) hail from Latin America, and the regional distribution of championships is exactly split; nine have been won by Latin American nations, nine by Europeans.
Expect a Latin American representative -- Brazil -- to win again this time.
In soccer terms, the country is unmatched. As five-time world champions (Italy is next, with four), Brazil is the best team in the Western Hemisphere and is loaded with world-class talent. Brazil's coach Dunga is a World Cup veteran himself, with enough confidence in his players that he did not even see the need to run a pre-tournament selection process. He simply announced his team, leaving off some of the world's most accomplished players.
Cockiness is the team's biggest obstacle to overcome; Brazil's coach has already referred to group play opponent Portugal -- also ranked in the world's top five -- as Brazil's "B" team, a comment that cut particularly deep given the historical relationship between the two countries.
Beyond talent, other factors also break in Brazil's favor. Brazil is the only nation to win a world championship not played in its own region, and it has done so twice. The first, in Sweden in 1958, was the only time a non-European nation has won in Europe. The second, in 2002, was played in "neutral" territory, Japan.
This year, it is the first time that the World Cup will be played in an African nation, which, like Asia, is a region that has never crowned a champion. On that basis Brazil would also have to be favored, particularly since the 2002 runner-up, Germany, is missing its team captain due to injury.
To be sure, as your financial analyst has surely informed you, past results do not guarantee future successes.
More important than victories in 1958 and 2002, Brazil has something to prove in 2010. It is a nation on the way up, feeling its international oats, both economically and politically. Under outgoing President Lula, Brazil has demanded a voice in international deliberations, whether the G20, global trade discussions, or security matters such as Iranian sanctions and the Honduran political crisis. Going into the national elections in October, it is a nation that seeks to show that its rise is significant and permanent, and not a fluke or dependent on any particular administration that occupies the Planalto Palace.
A victory in South Africa would also add to the momentum of Brazil's preparations for the next World Cup, which it will host in 2014, and for the Olympic Summer Games, which it will host in 2016. It would be a crowning gift for the out¬going president who is fond of presenting foreign leaders with national team soccer jerseys, an exclamation point on his efforts to insert Brazil into the global conversation.
Surely these realities have not escaped Brazil's players or coaching staff.
But the real reason why Brazil will win the World Cup is because it is the top rated soccer team with the largest improvement in year-on-year global economic competitiveness rankings. Yes, an economic competitiveness ranking of 56 is not great, but it is eight notches better than its 64 one year earlier, and it signifies a nation on the move. Among World Cup qualifiers, only Uruguay's 10 ranking improvement and Algeria's 16 are better than Brazil's. Neither of those teams can hold a candle to Brazil on the soccer pitch, and both will struggle to get out of group play.
At this point Brazil has to be considered the team to beat. It has top talent, coaching, and a history of rising to the occasion in global soccer competition. The team also has a nation in a buoyant mood behind it, ready to explode in national celebration when the championship is played on July 11. There are naysayers, to be sure, particularly those who question the coach's player selection. Nonetheless, so long as they can stick to business during the tournament and not crown themselves before they have actually earned it, Brazil will be the champions again.