By Silvio Cascione
BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil is the clear-cut favorite to win a sixth World Cup title, confirming on home turf its reputation as a soccer superpower, according to a global survey of over 120 football-loving market analysts polled by Reuters.
Brazil was the best bet for over half of the respondents, way ahead of Germany and arch-rivals Argentina, as international soccer fans vie for one of the millions of tickets to cheer on their home country after the first kick off on June 12.
"Brazil are the big favorites. It will be very difficult for Brazil to lose there," said John Welch, a strategist with CIBC in Toronto. "But because of the way (Brazil's coach) Felipao plays, they are not going to be winning by 3 or 4 goals every time like they did in 1950 until the final."
Market professionals from across the world who regularly participate in Reuters economic polls were invited to showcase their forecasting powers on sporting matters. Most responses came from Europe and South America, in line with the greater presence of both regions in the 32-team tournament.
However, being the favorite of analysts and bookmakers should not cause too much enthusiasm in Brazil, according to Reuters polls on previous World Cup tournaments.
Although most were right in predicting Spain's glory before the 2010 South Africa cup, economists failed miserably in forecasting Italy's fourth title in 2006.
Some used sophisticated statistical models to predict World Cup results but were beaten by Paul, an Octopus living in a aquarium at Sea Life Centre in Oberhausen, Germany, who picked the right winner in 12 out of 14 matches in the latest cup.
A Reuters Breakingviews calculator based on the hard numbers – the players' transfer value, population, participation and public engagement – suggested Germany will squash the dream of a sixth win for Brazil.
In any case, this year's solid consensus is evidence of the great impression left by Neymar and his teammates last year, when they crushed once-feared Spain by 3-0 to win the Confederations Cup after a flawless campaign.
Despite unrest in Brazil's streets over the staggering cost of the World Cup and jeers for President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's team received massive support from its fans, giving economists another reason to be optimistic about the Selecao.
EARLY BATH FOR ENGLAND?
Brazil last hosted the cup in 1950 and an unexpected defeat then by Uruguay in front of more than 200,000 fans left deep scars in Brazil's national psyche and nurtured glory-thirsty teams which, led by Pele, were crowned world champion three times in the following four cups.
The best candidates to repeat Uruguay's feat in the economists' opinion are Germany, with 18 votes, and Lionel Messi's Argentina, with 13. Spain had more mentions than Germany to appear in the World Cup final match, but only eight expect a second straight title.
None saw Brazil's challengers coming from England, though. The inventors of football were pointed as the most likely former world champion to crash out of the tournament in the group stage, with 64 mentions.
"England will return from Brazil without scoring a single goal a la France in 2002," said Isaac Matshego at Nedbank.
Pessimism about England's World Cup prospects seems to have reached the highest levels after a British government report suggested that the national team faced their customary early exit from the tournament.
BOOT THE BALL
While Brazil is widely favored as a team, analysts thought Messi, chosen four times as the world's best player, would win the Golden Ball awarded to the best player with 42 mentions although Brazilian striker Neymar was a close second with 36.
Messi is also set to be the top goalscorer and win the Golden Boot, trailed by Neymar and Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo.
Apart from the few countries that have already won the Cup, played since 1930, economists bet that Belgium, Colombia and Chile would be the surprise underdogs.
If Brazil fails to win its sixth World Cup title, a European squad has a fair chance of winning the trophy for the first time on Latin American soil: 40 percent, according to the median forecast in the poll.
For whatever reason - the weather, food or most likely fan support - Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have seized all six trophies played for in Latin America.
Hamilton Moreira Alves, an equity analyst with Banco do Brasil, puts Europe's chances at zero. Why? Destiny:
"European teams have never won three consecutive World Cups. Italy did it in 2006 and Spain in 2010, so..."
(Polling by Reuters bureau in Bangalore, Brasilia, Johannesburg and London; Editing by Ross Finley and Toby Chopra)