Demise of European Nations a Myth; Attacking Football Key to World Cup Success

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistJune 27, 2014

Members of the French soccer team group around Mathieu Valbuena as they celebrate after he scored their third goal during the group E World Cup soccer match between Switzerland and France at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil, Friday, June 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Sergei Grits/Associated Press

The 2014 FIFA World Cup has produced a number of trends and patterns, talking points and criticisms—though not all of them based on the reality of the situation.

One of the main arguments has been that European teams have failed at the tournament, as argued by, shedding major nations on a regular basis as they struggle down in South America to cope with the conditions, the expectation, the opposition and quite possibly the clearly CONCACAF-favouring Brazuca ball.

I love seeing the European teams shut out. This is the World Cup of the south!

— roya (@reporterroya) June 21, 2014

This world cup has been so far bad for European teams. Let's see what happens tonight. #FifaWorldCup

— Fereeha Idrees (@Fereeha) June 21, 2014

New world order? After the first GT in history with no European leaders, the World Cup is shedding European teams like nobody's business.

— Matt Rendell (@mrendell) June 24, 2014

Except, when you look a little deeper, that's not the case at all.

European Football's 'Demise'

Presumably, the main point of the argument is the big nations from the last major tournament falling early.

Likely three of the four Euro 2012 semifinalists eliminated in the World Cup group stage. How the mighty fall

— Clark Whitney (@Mr_Bundesliga) June 24, 2014

However, Spain—the reigning world and European Championship holders—were always going to see their dominance ended at some point (though not necessarily in this manner, admittedly), and the likes of Italy, England and Portugal don't account for the entire continent.

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

In fact, UEFA nations account for six of the final 16 teams in the 2014 World Cup.

Not very many? Well, to start the tournament, UEFA accounted for 13 or the 32 nations—41 percent. Six nations of the remaining 38 percent. Hardly a great drop in the overall compound of the tournament.

Delving further into recent World Cups, we can see this is no great surprise, or failure, at all. At the 2010 World Cup, held in South Africa, UEFA again sent 13 nations to the finals. And through to the round of 16?

Six teams again.

A poor World Cup in Brazil by European sides? Only if they are continually, collectively poor every time...and by definition that would make the achievement completely normal.

Further back, we can see similar numbers: A full 10 UEFA nations made it through to the last 16 at the 2006 World Cup, but that was, firstly, held on European soil in Germany, and just as pertinently, there were 14 UEFA nations at the finals. In Japan/South Korea 2002, 15 European countries played their part, with nine progressing.

More entrants, more qualifiers for the last 16 but outside of Europe, less.

It's not poor performance, it's inevitable consistency.

Frank Augstein/Associated Press

Those who have performed well—France, Germany, Netherlands—have done so by actively going out to win their matches, not look to protect themselves first and see if they can sneak a goal. They have made use of great offensive talents, have played fast, transition-based football and, once ahead, have looked to solidify their position by continuing to score goals.

Those who have failed—Spain, Italy, Croatia, England—have been either unable to play successive matches in good form or have taken a much slower, cautious approach to matches.

At this World Cup, the general theme is attack to win, and those who were unable or unwilling to do so have inevitably found themselves ousted.

All About the South Americans?

As Europe has been "failing," South America has been tearing it up on its home continent. True enough, but not to any excessive or unexpected extent.

Colombia have impressed, Argentina and Brazil have done enough, Chile remain exciting, Ecuador were perhaps unlucky not to make it through, while nobody really knows what to make of Uruguay now. All told, five of the six qualified nations from CONMEBOL have made the last 16—an impressive rate of return.

Also a consistent rate of return.

Felipe Dana/Associated Press

Five from five made the last 16 of 2010, three from four in 2006.

Running back over a period of three World Cup finals—any longer and the footballing landscape, players and even rules within the game itself can change too much to be pertinent—the only zone to show a notable increase or decrease in their qualifiers for the final 16 is CONCACAF: North and Central America and the Caribbean.

From one last 16 contender in 2006, they have improved each time: two in 2010 and now three from four in Brazil 2014.

The True Failing Regions

So if European sides haven't fallen off the scale dramatically, who has?

The answer lies in Asian and, to a smaller extent, Oceania-based nations.

OFC saw a qualifier for the last 16 in 2006, while Asia managed two in 2010. This time around there were no OFC nations at all at the finals—Australia defected to the Asia region in 2006—and no Asian sides managed to reach the final 16, all four falling at the group stage.

CUIABA, BRAZIL - JUNE 24:  A dejected Manabu Saito and Yoichiro Kakitani of Japan after defeat in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group C match between Japan and Colombia at Arena Pantanal on June 24, 2014 in Cuiaba, Brazil.  (Photo by Gabriel Rossi/Getty
Gabriel Rossi/Getty Images

The reason for such has been unclear, beyond the likes of Japan and Korea Republic simply being far too open at the back and not having enough killer instinct in possession.

Changes to the usual Asian kick-off times may be a factor—Chinese fans would have been watching games kicking off between midnight and 6 a.m. each day, with the Japanese and Koreans an hour later—or other off-pitch matters.

RECIFE, BRAZIL - JUNE 26:  Omar Gonzalez of the United States reacts after being defeated by Germany 1-0  but qualifying for the round of sixteen during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group G match between USA and Germany at Arena Pernambuco on June 26, 2
Michael Steele/Getty Images

There is still plenty to play for at the 2014 World Cup, with four zones still offering challengers for the title. South American sides might be getting the praise for sending almost every team through, and CONCACAF sides have been exceptional to reach this stage...but all could change after one more round.

By the semi-finals, for example, at least three more South Americans will have fallen by the wayside as Uruguay, Colombia, Brazil and Chile all go head to head on their side of the draw.

European teams have never won in South America, but Netherlands, France and Germany will each be eyeing up their potential runs to the final and thinking they have as good a chance of any as making it.

The demise of European football has not been seen at the 2014 FIFA World Cup—and one could well yet go on to prove as such by lifting the trophy in the Maracana.


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