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The World Cup is often perceived as a bit of a closed shop. It is usually the same suspects who end up troubling the latter stages, competing for the ultimate prize. The only ‘first timers’ in the final since 1974 have been Spain and France, both of whom had previously won the European Championship.
While the usual pre-tournament favourites usually emerge from a small cabal of previous winners plus Holland and Portugal, I believe that the days of traditional heavyweights dominating the competition are coming to an end.
Recent failings of Italy, France and Argentina have given confidence and belief to the second tier of nations, and the margins between the traditional powers and ‘all of the rest’ are becoming smaller.
I would also suggest that the ‘Big Boys’ are not so proud beyond their traditional heartlands; the next three World Cups, those between now and 2023, will see FIFA’s centrepiece move away from some of the key axes of the game.
When the World Cup went to East Asia in 2002, the tournament was memorable for its giant killings; France, Portugal and Argentina all fell at the first hurdle, while Turkey and South Korea were unlikely semifinalists.
Could a move to other unreached territories—Russia and Qatar—produce similar scenes and give rise to an unlikely victor? Perhaps an African nation could capitalise from disorientation among the big boys, and maybe a move to alternate venues could lead to victory for an outsider.