The growth of the FIFA World Cup | The Economist
A guide to the growth of the beautiful game's global festival, and to the economics of footballing prowess
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For many years football was a game of two continents.
Latin America, where the game is an obsession, has hosted six World Cup finals.
Ten have been held in Europe, the cradle of football, and the place where most of the world's best players ply their trade at club level.
But the games growing global appeal encouraged FIFA, world football's governing body, to award the finals to the United States in 1994, to South Korea and Japan jointly in 2002, and now to South Africa.
The shifting balance of power has forced FIFA to expand the finals to admit more teams from the games emerging markets.
In 1986 24 national teams contested the finals with just two from Africa and two from Asia.
32 teams will congregate in South Africa with six from the home continent taking part and three from Asia.
When the referee's whistle blows on Friday June the 11th to start the first game of the 2010 World Cup between the hosts South Africa and Mexico, it will mark a notable victory for Africa.
The tournament takes place on that continents turf for the first time.
Television viewing figures show the rapid globalization of football.
The tournament in Mexico in 1986 attracted a cumulative audience of some 13.5 billion, according to FIFA.
That nearly doubled to over 26 billion in 2006.
Most of the additional viewers came from Africa and Asia.
Africans don't just watch more football, they export players by the coach load.
Of the 345 footballers in the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations 205 played outside Africa, mainly for European clubs.
Only Latin America sends as many players from its shores.
If African football is a winner, the hosts should be too - by some estimates the World Cup will boost South Africa's GDP by half a percentage point in 2010.
South Africa looks like a winner off the pitch but FIFA ranks its footballers in 90th place in the world.
Only North Korea in 106th position seemed more hopeless.
According to FIFA's ranking, Brazil, with his vast football-mad population, should lift the cup but tiny Slovenia is the country that punches hardest above its weight when ranking is adjusted to take account of population and the pool of players available.
Money seems to determine success in international football just as much as in the club game.
Six of the G7 rich countries, with England representing Great Britain, have qualified.
But the team that has outplayed the others in terms of ranking points per unit of GDP is lowly Paraguay, closely followed by Ghana.
If you fancy a flutter the bookies, like FIFA's rankings and most football pundits, reckon Spain or Brazil will win.
JP Morgan has used the methodology of quantitative analysis, a technique used to pick shares, showed that slovenia's odds of winning improved most over the past six months.
The bank also calculates that Algeria's FIFA ranking has improved most over the past 12 months, and the Netherlands and Spain have the best record of winning over the past year.
But if the past couple of years have taught us anything, it's that banks, like referees, sometimes get things wrong.
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