Europeans poised for Americas success at 2014 World Cup like never before
In seven attempts, no European country has ever won a World Cup in the Americas, but that statistic will come under serious threat at this year’s tournament in Brazil.
While teams have traditionally struggled in tournaments on foreign continents, the sport’s increasing globalisation and advances in technology mean that playing at home is no longer the advantage it once was.
From a purely sporting perspective, the 13 teams from the Uefa confederation who head to Brazil will do so at a time of clear European dominance.
Three of the four semi-finalists at the 2010 World Cup were European and six of the last seven Club World Cups were won by European teams, with Brazilian side Corinthians’ 2012 triumph over Chelsea the sole exception.
Meanwhile, although Argentine superstar Lionel Messi has dominated the Fifa Ballon d’Or in recent years, the last time another South American player finished on the podium was when Kaka received the award in 2007.
Messi is also an illustrative example of a South American player who has spent more time playing in Europe than on the continent where he was born.
The 26-year-old may be an extreme case, having left his homeland for Barcelona at the age of just 13, but his experience reflects a wider trend.
Whereas 21 of the 22 players in the Argentina squad that triumphed on home soil at the 1978 World Cup played their football in their home country, only five of the 30 names in Alejandro Sabella’s provisional squad for the 2014 tournament could say the same.
As England manager Roy Hodgson observed earlier this year, the mass exportation of South American players to Europe means that they may not feel much more at home playing in Brazil than their European counterparts.
“South American teams are exporting all their players to Europe, so there’s a certain European-ness about even the South American teams these days,” Hodgson told the Fifa website.
“The Brazil team will probably have very few players in it that are actually playing in Brazil. The Uruguayans and the Argentinians probably don’t have many that are playing there.”
Transportation is also a much less thorny factor than it was for the Europeans who travelled to the first World Cups to be held in South America – in Uruguay in 1930, Brazil in 1950, and Chile in 1962.
Whereas the four European teams who contested the first World Cup in Uruguay had to cross the Atlantic by boat, many of the players competing in Brazil this year will arrive in executive comfort aboard luxurious jets.
Warm-weather training will help the non-South American teams to adapt to Brazil’s climactic conditions and while humidity will be an issue in several host cities, temperatures will largely be akin to a warm European summer.
Furthermore, European teams have already come close to enjoying success in previous World Cups in the Americas.
Czechoslovakia took the lead against hosts Brazil in the 1962 final, only to lose 3-1, and Argentina required an 84th-minute Jorge Burruchaga goal to see off West Germany in the 1986 final in Mexico.
Dutch midfielder Rob Rensenbrink, meanwhile, would have given the Netherlands the trophy in 1978 had his shot not hit the post in injury time of the final against hosts Argentina in Buenos Aires.
Instead the Argentines took the game to extra time before winning 3-1, leaving Rensenbrink to reflect: “If the trajectory of my shot had been five centimetres different, we would have been world champions.”
The presence of figures from Argentina’s military junta inside the Estadio Monumental helped to create an atmosphere that felt thick with intimidation for the Dutch players, but there again, Brazil will be different.
Despite the threat of a repeat of last year’s protests against corruption and the cost of organising the tournament, Brazil’s tightly policed new stadiums are likely to be monuments to comfort and security.
The European teams can expect to feel right at home.
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Published: May 22, 2014 04:00 AM