From a scientific point of view it's fair to say that currently it's the biochemistry of metatarsal healing that exercises most England fans' concerns

Writing a piece on the World Cup at this stage (the time of writing is very early June) is fraught with peril, as any prophecies will surely constitute a hostage to fortune by the time you get to read it (with at best just the semi-finals remaining and 28 teams having bitten the dust). So no predictions from me.* 

From a scientific point of view it’s fair to say that currently it’s the biochemistry of metatarsal healing that exercises most England fans’ concerns. Unbeknown to them, however, the financial repercussions of demonstrating your support for your team may be higher than most would suspect. Indeed, should England suffer an early exit then the hurried binning of the myriad miniature St George’s cross flags currently adorning car’s extremities will have reduced an unexpected financial burden for the flag bearers.  

Antonio Filippone at Manchester University, UK, has recently calculated that the drag generated by such embellishments will result in a three per cent reduction in fuel efficiency, resulting in over a million extra litres of fuel used up during the course of the tournament, should England stay the course.  

In chemical terms, Fillipone notes that his calculations equate this to 3000 tons of CO2 being generated. Impressive though this is, the figure is small beer compared to the effective CO2 usage involved in powering all the television sets trained on the action worldwide.  

During the 2002 tournament a total of just under 50 billion viewer hours was notched up. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation after extensive research on my part (typing "CO2 television" into Google) suggests that with on average two people sharing a set, this maybe amounts to an ’extra’ half a million tons of CO2 output. Mind you, what that calculation undoubtedly lacks in accuracy is almost certainly equalled by what it lacks in environmental relevance; if it wasn’t for the World Cup they would all just be watching reality television anyhow. 

How about the tournament itself? Well, depending upon how things pan out, group C looks like the customary ’group of death’, containing as it does Argentina, the Netherlands and Ivory Coast.  

The analogy between the groupings used for the tournament and those found in the periodic table starts to make you think of how the teams involved could be represented by elements of the latter. The US team could perhaps be thought of as technetium - new kids on the block, potentially dangerous but ultimately unlikely to last long. Italy might be platinum - very useful, occasionally brilliant but financial considerations will always loom large. Serbia and Montenegro might be represented by seaborgium - after all, as a country they’re only recently formed but have already voted to undergo fission. Favourites Brazil could perhaps be caesium (brilliant, can attack anything but not so handy in the rain) and the Germans maybe lead (venerable heavyweights with an inert pair upfront).  

On top of that we have plenty of teams (Australia, Japan etc) who probably don’t have the ability to win it but who, on their day, are perfectly capable of destroying other teams’ chances with a shock victory; lightweight but potentially lethal beryllium would serve for them.  

And England? Well carbon fits the bill - ubiquitous but rather dull and only sparkles in the diamond formation. If inspiration is to be drawn from the periodic table then perhaps neon could show the way - after all, no-one has yet broken down its formidable 2-2-6 formation. As for Scotland’s chances of future World Cup qualification? Well, eka-radium, element 120, sums it up quite well; we’ll see it eventually, but probably not in my lifetime! 

* Oh go on then; after Germany v Czech Republic and England v Brazil semi-finals, the English will beat the Czechs to lift the Cup. So confident of this am I that I’m off out now putting my shirt on the Ivory Coast! 

Paul Kelly