There have been 18 FIFA World Cup tournaments since the inaugural tournament in 1930. Remarkably, nine tournaments have been won by South American countries and nine have been won by European countries. In 2010, the World Cup will be hosted in Africa for the very first time and it will play host, as a neutral battle ground, to the great North South divide.
With the top 10 FIFA rankings dominated by South American and European countries, I ask, who will reign supreme in South Africa and secure a tenth win for their confederation? The North or The South?
Before I get started, let me just take the time to explain my apparent ignorance towards the African, Asian, North American, and Oceania qualifiers. At the time of this article, the FIFA rankings place USA as the highest out of these four confederations, but at 11th in the rankings, they would have to pull off something quite incredible to cause an upset. As such, this article is based on the assumption that a European or South American country is destined to lift the World Cup in Johannesburg on July 11, 2010.
History shows us that European countries have only ever won the World Cup when it has been hosted in a European country, whilst the South Americans have always won on home soil and in Central and Northern America. So what's the difference between them?
Brazil are the only non European country to ever win in Europe, defeating hosts Sweden in the 1958 tournament. In 2002, Brazil won in South Korea/Japan, the very first time the World Cup had been staged outside of Europe and the Americas. Brazil are also the only World Cup champion to never win on home soil, losing their tournament in the final to Uruguay in 1950.
The above, alongside the fact they have won the tournament a record five times, hands the South a distinct advantage in South Africa 2010.
Since Brazil's World Cup triumph in Chile in 1962, the World Cup has been won by European and South American countries in turn with each of the 12 tournaments being shared six a piece. The current champions are Italy, so, theoretically of course, a South American champion is next in line.
So, what about the North? Surely they have something on their side going into South Africa 2010? Well, they do have one glimmer of hope. The climate in South Africa, despite being Southern hemisphere, will be more favourable to European countries than previous southern tournaments.
They do also have the law of averages on their side. Surely a European country will break the cycle and win a World Cup on non European soil someday? There's few better places to achieve this laborious task than in South Africa in July.
Finally, they have perhaps the best crop of European players you are likely to ever see. Spain, England, and the Netherlands will all offer exceptionally strong opposition and you can never write off the chances of France, Portugal, Italy, and Germany. We also have the numbers on our side with more qualifiers than any other confederation. Serbia, Switzerland, and Slovenia all have the ability to upset the likes of Uruguay and Chile.
Brazil and Italy are the most successful countries in the tournament's history with five and four titles respectively. Who would bet against a Johannesburg showdown between the current holders Italy and the current FIFA No. 1 ranked Brazil? It would be a fitting final to break the North South deadlock and hand a tenth title to one confederation. (Let's just hope it's a more exciting affair than the 0-0 they played out in the 1994 final!)
World Cup Role of Honour
1930 Uruguay won in Uruguay
1934 Italy won in Italy
1938 Italy won in France
1950 Uruguay won in Brazil
1954 West Germany won in Switzerland
1958 Brazil won in Sweden
1962 Brazil won in Chile
1966 England won in England
1970 Brazil won in Mexico
1974 West Germany won in West Germany
1978 Argentina won in Argentina
1982 Italy won in Spain
1986 Argentina won in Mexico
1990 West Germany won in Italy
1994 Brazil won in USA
1998 France won in France
2002 Brazil won in South Korea/Japan
2006 Italy won in Germany
2010 ????? won in South Africa