England a World Cup write-off: Goldman Sachs and Hawking

May 29, 2014
Bill Mann

'Boffins' officially confirm that England 'couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo'

Frederick M. Brown

Professor Stephen Hawking was forced to miss a symposium yesterday that was held to mark his 70th birthday. The Cambridge theoretical physicist had been discharged from hospital only two days earlier and was still too unwell to attend. A recording of his speech was played instead to an audience of his peers and the public at Cambridge University instead. In his talk, entitled 'A Brief History of Mine', he again warned that humans must colonise space to survive and remarked that it had been "a glorious time to be alive, and doing research in theoretical physics".

The good people at Goldman Sachs have clearly got too much time on their hands. Instead of doing what they can to improve the global economy, the American multinational investment banking firm has turned its attention to the World Cup, pouring its resources into an examination of "every major international match since the 1950s", in a bid to predict the outcome of this summer's football jamboree.

Their findings are published in a 60-page report that, it's probably safe to say, won't be Wayne Rooney's bedtime reading in Brazil.

The Washington Post explains that the company's top economists have derived a formula "that estimates the number of goals a team is likely to score in a game based on its past performance as well as on a few other factors, such as whether the team is playing at home". Apparently it's a 'Stochastic model', and thus one of the few models not to have dated a Premier League footballer.

The Sun takes a less analytical tone and tells its readers: "Banker boffins at Goldman Sachs have done the maths and concluded the following: England have only a 1.4 per cent chance of winning the World Cup."

That won't come as much of a surprise to the England faithful or professor Stephen Hawking, who has also been working out the team's chances of success in Brazil next month and has concluded the likelihood of England winning the tournament is "next to nil". There were a couple of complicated formulas involved in Professor Hawking's reasoning but, as he told The Times, what it basically boiled down to was that England "couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo".

Having studied the results of the last half a century when, let's be honest, England haven't covered themselves in glory, Goldman Sachs have made the following predictions for Our Boys in Brazil: a 1-1 draw against Italy in the tournament opener, followed by a similar scoreline against Uruguay and again against Costa Rica. Roy Hodgson's side will therefore fail to make it out of the group stage.

With the greatest of respect of Goldman Sachs, a three-year-old could probably have reached the same conclusion.

Similarly, their prediction that Brazil are overwhelming favourites to win the World Cup with a 48 per cent probability is hardly earth-shattering, nor that the semi-finalists will consist of the hosts plus Argentina, Germany and Spain.

Piqued that the USA is predicted to crash out at the group stage, the Washington Post took it upon itself to point out a number of shortcomings of the model. For instance: "Goldman did not provide confidence intervals or an R-squared value for their model. These statistics would help readers understand how well the analysts' technique would have worked in past World Cups".

Or as the Sun says in the case of England: "The team adds up to less than the sum of its parts". 

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