Anticipation for the FIFA World Cup 2022 has been building for four years, with football (soccer) fans readying their most-loved team jerseys and arguing over which team has the best chance at the championship.

While oddsmakers base their predictions on the strength of each side’s offense and their record for defending the goal, we took a different approach. What if the most read-about teams and individual players on the open web came out on top?

Taboola analyzed nearly 2 trillion pageviews in more than 28 languages from August 2021 until now to consider the teams and players with the most fan interest on Taboola’s publisher network. For content creation and marketing, these are the true winners — the players, teams and matches with the most coverage.

If you’re a publisher, the predictions here should inform your coverage. And if you’re an advertiser, know that the publishers that belong to Taboola’s Premium Sport Package, including ESPN and NBCSports, have the World Cup covered — and score pageviews when it comes to content.

Let’s go!

For Brazil, France and England, performance is expected to match popularity

World Cup teams are randomly sorted into eight groups of four teams. The two top teams of these groups advance to the next round.

If the most popular team prevailed, the top team in each group would be: The Netherlands (A), England (B), Argentina (C), France (D), Germany (E), Croatia (F), Brazil (G) and Portugal (H).

Could things really shake out that way?

Since Brazil, France and England are widely regarded as the three favorites to win the whole tournament, they all have a good shot at winning their respective groups. The Netherlands is indeed one of the favorites to win group A, despite failing to clear this threshold at the last World Cup in 2018.

Things get fuzzier in a group like F, where fan interest is more evenly divided among members. While Croatia has nearly 40% of fan interest in that group with 96 million pageviews, Belgium isn’t far behind with 76 million.

Most prognosticators expect Belgium to take this group, but Croatia might get to the next round as the second seed — if they can get past the young and hungry Canadians.

The dream team viewers want to see

If we put together a “Dream Team” based solely on the number of pageviews per player, just imagine the excitement that team would incite. Take a look:

Since fans love to debate whether Ronaldo or Lionel Messi is the greatest player in modern football, no dream team would go without them, whether it’s based on performance stats or pageviews.

We put these rivals side-by-side as our strikers. Other names that would easily land on any all-star squad based on either popularity or prowess on the field include Kylian Mbappé of France and Brazil’s Alisson Becker, our goalkeeper. (In fact, no other goalkeeper has even 20 million pageviews, compared to Becker’s 310 million!)

Other players may not be household names, but they’ve been on fans’ minds due to recent events. Sadio Mané, for instance, has been a hot topic since Liverpool sent him to Senegal. Liverpool’s performance has suffered since, and many observers pin that on the departure of Mané.

Many if not most of France’s Paul Pogba’s 40 million pageviews are the result of a high-profile family feud involving an extortion attempt.

England’s Harry Maguire is an interesting paradox, in that he made our dream team not so much for his performance but his lack thereof.

Even though he’s the captain of Manchester United, the veteran has spent a lot of time on the bench lately, and he receives more abuse from disgruntled fans online than almost any other.

Most anticipated matches

Some fans just want to watch their home country play — and hopefully, win. Then again, some matchups draw excitement because of their star players, storied rivalries or expected intensity.

For the first round of the World Cup, it’s a no-brainer that matches featuring the teams with a shot at the championship are drawing the most pageviews. England vs. USA, France vs. Denmark, Spain vs. Germany.

Beyond that, who the top teams are matched with also affects fan interest. For instance, the most anticipated match of the first round is Spain vs. Germany, with 500 million pageviews.

That’s likely because both teams have a track record as World Cup champions. Spain won back in 2010. Before 2018, Germany finished in at least third place in four consecutive tournaments, and holds four World Cup championships.

Current circumstances also play a role. For instance, the Qatar vs. Ecuador match is highly anticipated, even though Qatar is the lowest-ranked nation in Group A.

But people will want to see the tournament host defend its home turf. Besides, Qatar is a team on the rise. Although 2022 is its first World Cup, Qatar did well in the qualifying rounds for the 2018 World Cup, winning a record nine matches.

Knockout phase simulation

Now let’s have a little fun. Which nation would bring home the World Cup if their wins and losses were based not on number of goals but on pageviews?

Our quarterfinals look a lot like bookmakers would predict for the real World Cup: top-ranked teams England, France, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Germany, Argentina and the Netherlands. The only difference is that we allowed the Netherlands to displace Belgium.

In the semifinals, we have some really tough matchups. Brazil has the top ranked national team, but France has a storied history that always makes its matches a major draw. It may come down to the theoretical last seconds, but when it comes to page views, Brazil will come out on top.

Then there’s the big final: Brazil versus France. Both teams plausibly have the plays to prevail on the field and the popularity to prevail in page views.

But when we crunch the numbers… France comes out on top!

Will our pick take home the trophy this fall? You’ll have to wait and see.

Originally Published:

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