I read Franklin Foer's afterword in the The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup. In it he discusses what sort of government is most likely to produce a World Cup winner. Foer is the editor at large of the The New Republic, a war hawkish, neo-liberal embracing publication that was extremely rah-rah about war on Iraq (they love Joe Lieberman endorsing him as their presidential candidate in the Democratic primary in the 2004 elections and now over Ned Lamont in the CT senatorial race). Of course, now that the situation in Iraq has deterioriated to the point that nobody expects the US to pull troops out for the next five years (the pulling out will be done between Anbar and Baghdad), the TNR is now denying its previous enthusiasm about the war. A convenient memory lapse indeed!
Foer does not discuss the fortunes of the Iraqi soccer team. You would expect with his paean on democracies producing soccer winning teams, that the Iraq team would have vaulted its way to the top tier. But somehow it is hard to do that when bombs are going off in stadiums killing the fans, and the soccer federation president and its officials are kidnapped or killed. Foer does not have a category for democracies forced at gunpoint and their success rate in the World Cup. I have a feeling that the success rate is going to be very low. So in his hierarchy of success, lets add the new category. Social Democracies > Military Juntas > Fascism > Communists > Democracies forced at gunpoint.
Even more glaring is the omission of the US team. Foer does not discuss its lack of success. But he cautions against laying a bet on the oil producing countries, like Nigeria, Iran, Russia, the Gulf states, Venezuela, and Norway. This is also the 'paradox of plenty', with only a small percentage of the population benefiting from the oil money. Maybe he would be better off including a category of oil guzzling states, like the USA, China, and India who also do not seem to do well in the World Cup. These are the 'environmentally unfriendly' countries because driving an SUV saps them off the strength to run up and down a field for 90 minutes. No environmentally unfriendly country has made it past the quarterfinals in the World Cup.
Neo-liberal policies are a buzzkill in the short AND long term for success. Look at England. The last time they won the World Cup was when Harold Wilson's Labour Party was in power. With Tony Blair's neo-liberal New Democrats, the English squad has not won anything of note in his 12 years. Indian soccer has languished since opening up its economy in the early 90's. South Africa has moved towards neo-liberalism for the last 10 years but after winning the 1996 Africa Cup has done little in the African continent itself. Clinton's centrist neo-liberal policies were a boon for Wall Street and Silicon Valley, but in the last 12 years, has that translated into meaningful gains for US soccer? Highly debatable. In fact, countries with GINI coefficients that are high tend to do far worse in soccer.
Countries that practice pre-emptive wars? A definite category specially after September 11, 2001, the event that changed the world between 'freedom and terror loving nations.' (GW Bush, the decider). The USA and Israel. Will you bet on them winning the World Cup? Not really. Although Israel does take far better care of its economically disadvantaged citizens and it does have a better soccer league than the MLS. Emmanuel Pappoe and John Pantsil of Ghana are part of it.
So what are the chances of a country that practises the policy of pre-emption, is environmentally unfriendly, and has the highest GINI coefficient in the world (.83), doing well in the World Cup? Virtually nil.
However Foer manages to salvage some of his reputation at the end by mentioning The Caveat.
"There is one iron law that overrides all others. The political reality most likely to produce a Jules Rimet trophy at any given moment history: whatever form of government has taken up residence in Brasilia that week."
(The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup, edited by Matt Wieland and Sean Wilsey, Harper Perennial, 2006)