World Cup 2014: Things we thought we knew

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil has banished some long-held football beliefs. Ali Khaled learns five lessons that fans, players, coaches and organisers will do well to heed in the future.

Just when we thought we knew all about the talent available to international football, Colombia's James Rodriguez emerged. Toshifumi Kitamura / AFP
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Home advantage helps

Fans turned up in the hundreds of thousands and sang their hearts out, and referees were generous toward the boys from Brazil. But it was not enough for the hosts to win the World Cup.

There was a time, in earlier World Cups, when a partisan home crowd seemed to represented an advantage for the hosts.

In five of the first 11 World Cups (Uruguay 1930, Italy 1934, England 1966, West Germany 1974, Argentina 1978), the competition was won by the host nation.

However, in the following nine editions, including Brazil 2014, only France in 1998 managed the trick.

Of course, in recent years the World Cup has been hosted by emerging football nations like South Africa, the US, and jointly by Japan and Korea, but that still left the likes of Spain, Italy, Germany and Brazil unable to win on their home soil.

Clearly, the trend is not likely to change in Russia 2018 or Qatar 2022.

Negative press is a bad thing

Demonstrations and riots marred the build-up to in Brazil, but once it began we saw full stadiums, record television audiences and unprecedented social-media engagement.

On the beaches and in the fan zones, locals partied with supporters from around the world, many who travelled great distances and at high cost, to watch their team play in different cities.

Nor did extreme temperatures and humidity levels have a significant negative impact on the action.

While not ignoring the socioeconomic concerns, Brazil 2014 has been arguably the best since Spain 1982.

This will be music to the ears of the Qatar 2022 organising committee. The controversy over that tournament’s award will not go away soon, but it seems that if you build state-of-the-art, air-conditioned stadiums, and lush green fields, the fans will come. In Qatar, they will not need to travel far after arriving in Doha.

Brazil 2014 has shown that unfavourable weather, the spectre of civil unrest and high ticket prices are little deterrent to fans at a World Cup.

Population leads to success

Since Brazil’s astonishing loss to Germany, one question has been posed many times: how can a nation of 200 million not produce better strikers than Fred, Jo and Hulk?

The English press lamented the fact that Uruguay, with a population of only 3.3 million, overcame a nation 16 times larger.

Population may be a factor, but it is by no means a decisive one. If it were, China and India would have monopolised the World Cup for decades. And the Netherlands and Uruguay would be football afterthoughts.

In the book Why England Lose, the author Simon Kuper and economist Stefan Szymanski hypothesise that national team performances are dependent on four factors: home advantage, international experience, population size and the size of a nation’s economy.

In 2014, Brazil seemed to have ticked all four boxes, and look what happened to them. Perhaps the importance of statistics is another myth that needs to be discounted.

On the other hand, China’s day may yet come, but that day remains a long way off.

No more unknown stars

In the era of the Uefa Champions League and blanket football coverage, there was little that this World Cup could offer in terms of new talent. Or so we thought.

James Rodriguez, Guillermo Ochoa, Memphis Depay, Divock Origi and DeAndre Yedlin.

To varying degrees, all came into the tournament as relative unknowns, caught the eye, and now are expected to make moves to big clubs this summer.

The World Cup also can overinflate a player’s value. Two years ago, Manchester United could have bought Rodriguez for £5 million (Dh31.4m). After six goals in the fish bowl that is the World Cup, he is now worth 10 times that amount.

There are no easy opponents

Spain against Holland, and Brazil against Germany, proved that pushovers can still be encountered at the hightest international level.

On a serious note, it is the performance of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) members that disprove the notion that the global playing field has been levelled.

There were hopes that the 2002 World Cup would usher in an era of improvement from Asian countries, especially after Australia’s switch to the AFC in 2006. That has not happened.

Between them, the four AFC nations collected a dismal three points from a possible 36 in Brazil, all in games finishing as draws.

The 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia will give the continent a chance to show off its better qualities. But massive improvements are needed before Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022.

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