The Health Cup Part 1

We are finally within sight of one of the greatest sporting events in the world: The World Cup. The chatter has already started as the final squads are announced. How will the United States cope without the veteran leadership of Landon Donovan? Will Suarez be healthy in time to lead Uruguay out of a tough group?

In this issue, we took a look at the field of teams in the World Cup and also analyzed some health economic indicators to see if there were any correlations with FIFA world rankings.

We uncovered some correlations with life expectancy and health expenditures. Lastly, in an unscientific manner, we offer our picks as to who will win the World Cup.

Setting the Stage

One of humanity’s greatest sporting events will run from June 12th through July 13th as 32 nations will compete to win the World Cup in Brazil. It has been a long road of qualifying for many of the 32 teams. There have been some exciting matches such as the November “winner take all” qualifier between Sweden and Portugal where Portugal crushed the hopes of Ibrahimovic and his squad.

The United States, who ran the CONCACAF table, had a very exciting qualification stage as well. After a 2-1 loss in the first game, the US went on to win the group decisively with an impressive 0-0 draw against Mexico in Azteca in front of 85,000 fans. One of the most criticized games of the entire qualifying stage came from the United States’ 1-0 win against Costa Rica. The game saw several inches of snow, which completely covered the pitch. Crews had to shovel the lines for the penalty, sidelines and goal lines tirelessly throughout the game. The game was stopped in the 70th minute and the Costa Rica squad insisted it be continued, only to later protest the game after the final score was sent in.

The group of 32 teams that did qualify feature some incredible talents such as Messi (Argentina), Ronaldo (Portugal), Neymar (Brazil) and Suarez (Uraguay) to name a few. These players have the potential to go down as some of the best all time, so to have them all playing in the same World Cup is very special.The game was stopped in the 70 minute and the Costa Rica squad insisted it be continued, only to later protest the game after the final score was sent in.

Group play this year will prove to be especially interesting if one is a fan of the United States who drew into Group G, or what is being dubbed as this year’s “group of death”. The US will have to start against a tough Ghana team, which knocked them out of the 2010 World Cup in a heartbreaker. The schedule does not become any easier for the US squad who will have to play both Germany and Portugal, who rank numbers 2 and 3 in the world respectively.

Group D—with Uruguay, Costa Rica, Italy and England—will be another very tough group. One team out of Uruguay, Italy and England will not get out of group play, which will be unfortunate because they are all very good teams.

In Table 1, we give an overview of the eight groups and provide the team’s FIFA world rankings as of April 2014 and the number of top 4 finishes in previous World Cups.


Group of Death

Every year there is a group that is drawn where all four of the teams could realistically make the knockout stage. Generally these teams all have high world rankings and are world powerhouses. This year’s group of death is said to be Group G with Group D not far behind. Group G has the number 2 and 3 teams in Germany and Portugal along with the US at 14 and Ghana at 38, though they play at a much higher level and can definitely play a spoiler role.

Group D is the second toughest group, and unlike Group G which has Germany and Portugal as two favorites to emerge from group play, Group D is wide open. This group is most likely going to be defined by one high impact player: Luis Suarez, an amazing talent for Uruguay. Suarez is currently recovering from knee surgery and is a may be to play in the World Cup. If he plays, the group could be a three horse race between Uruguay, England and Italy with Costa Rica playing the spoiler. If Suarez is absent, Italy and England will be the favorites to win the group.

We wanted to see if the label “Group of Death” is really appropriate for these tough groups. For the most part, the countries at the top of the rankings seem to be highly developed and modernized. We found the current life expectancy at birth for each of the teams and averaged it, along with FIFA world rank to find the average life expectancy and world rank for each group.

Group Rankings by Life Expectancy

The above graph suggests a correlation between the groups’ average FIFA world rankings and their average life expectancy at birth. Group G, which is being hailed as the Group of Death, is about middle of the pack for life expectancy (mostly due to Ghana). The real group of death seems to be group F which has the lowest life expectancy as well as the worst average FIFA world rankings. Group F’s low life expectancy is weighed down by Nigeria, which has the worst life expectancy in the tournament. Group B boasts the highest life expectancy and a middle of the road average ranking.

Since the last World Cup in 2010, many teams have jumped around in the world rankings. Keeping with the life expectancy theme, we examined how the average life expectancy changed from 2010 to 2012 compared with how teams’ rankings changed from 2010 to 2014.

Changes in Life Expectancy and World Rankings

We do not see any real trend in change in rank and change in life expectancy. An encouraging takeaway is that no country had life expectancy decrease over the period. Russia had the largest increase in life expectancy but also slightly fell in the world rankings. Belgium, which increased 50 spots in the rankings, had the smallest change in its already high life expectancy. Portugal which stayed at the three world ranking saw the second highest life expectancy increase which came in at 1.3 years.

In our next issue, we will look into  whether higher health expenditures as a percentage of GDP are correlated with a better world ranking.

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