World Cup 2014: Do European Teams Have a Chance in South America?

Will Tidey@willtideySenior Manager, GlobalMarch 25, 2013

Germany staffer and PR man Oliver Bierhoff believes it will be "almost impossible" for his team to win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

"It is a really big mountain," he told reporters on Monday, as per ESPNFC. "The South American sides are usually more advanced (in their own continent)."

The caveat here is that Bierhoff has an agenda—one of lowering expectations around a maturing team that is bossing their qualifying group, representative of a Bundesliga in the ascendancy and boasts an enviable number of the world's best young players.

Whatever his motivation, it was still surprising to hear Bierhoff take such a defeatist tone. The German mentality we're most familiar with is one of absolute belief, not resignation. 

Is Bierhoff moving to dilute the hype that has his exciting team fourth favorites with the bookmakers behind Spain, Argentina and hosts Brazil in 2014? Is this a calculated move to relieve some pressure from the young shoulders of Mario Götze, Marco Reus, Mats Hummels and Co.?

Or is Bierhoff just coming to terms with a World Cup reality? Is it indeed the case that European teams are unlikely to make it three in a row after triumphs for Italy (2006) and Spain (2010), both of whom beat European opposition in the final. Does simple geography stand in their way?

Here is a graphic to break down the 19 World Cups, in terms of favorites heading in and the eventual winners.

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History adds weight to Bierhoff's argument. All four World Cups held in South America—1930 (Uruguay), 1950 (Brazil), 1962 (Chile) and 1978 (Argentina)—were won by teams from the home continent. Two of the four losing finalists were also South American teams.

If we add the two Mexican finals of 1970 and 1986, played to similar conditions and won by Brazil and Argentina, respectively, South American dominance stretches to six wins from six tournaments played in, or overlooking, their own backyard.

The home continent rule works the other way, too. Nine of the 10 World Cups held in Europe have been won by European teams, with the one exception—Brazil's 1958 win against host Sweden—which was marked by a 17-year-old Pele announcing himself to the world.

Spain would certainly not be the first pre-tournament favourite to falter on unfamiliar ground. Brazil were favorites heading to England in 1966, but they didn't make it out of the group stage. Reigning champions England went at the quarters at World Cup 1970 in Mexico. The brilliant Dutch couldn't make it happen in Argentina in 1978.

Based on precedent, you might argue a surprise South American winner is more likely than a fancied European one in Brazil. Examples can be found in Italy's 1982 and 2006 wins on European soil, Argentina's triumph at Mexico 1986 and France prevailing at their home tournament in 1998.

If not Brazil, then maybe Argentina or Uruguay, or perhaps even Colombia.

The worry for European nations is that very few of their players have experienced regular football in South America. With the Champions League serving as the world's elite club tournament, there's simply not the motivation to do so. The movement happens in the opposite direction.

To that end, you might conclude that a South American triumph at Russia 2018—with so many of the Brazilian and Argentinian players now found playing in Europe—is a good deal more likely than a win for Spain, Germany or Italy in Brazil next year.


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