Why Europe and South America dominate World Cup

Updated on Dec 08, 2022 11:50 PM IST

More finals slots, street football, academies and greater resources keep them ahead of other continents

There hasn’t been a team from South America in the final since 2014 and only once before that when Brazil won their fifth title, in 2002, in the last six editions. (AP)
There hasn’t been a team from South America in the final since 2014 and only once before that when Brazil won their fifth title, in 2002, in the last six editions. (AP)

All continents on the planet were represented in the round of 16 of this World Cup, a first. There were two from Africa for the second time ever, three from Asia – a first – USA carried the flag for North and Central Americas with Europe and South America filling up the rest.

It had Arsene Wenger pointing out that more countries have “acquired the tools to compete at the highest level.” Wenger, FIFA’s head of global football development, also said that it reflected a more even access to technology. After pointing out that it was a sign of greater global competitiveness, Gianni Infantino said this boded well for the rest of the competition.

“I have seen all the matches, indeed, and put very simply and very clearly, this has been the best group stage of a FIFA World Cup ever,” said Infantino, the FIFA president, on Wednesday.

After another round of games, all Asian teams have been knocked out and only Morocco remain from Africa. That means there is one-eighth chance of a team from Africa winning the tournament for the first time. Conversely, there could be all-European semi-finals if Netherlands and Croatia make the penultimate round and Portugal end Morocco’s run.

Or there could be an all-South American semi-final between Brazil and Argentina. There hasn’t been a team from South America in the final since 2014 and only once before that when Brazil won their fifth title, in 2002, in the last six editions. The previous 21 World Cups have been won by teams from Europe and South America. Since 1930, and through different formats, there have only been two teams outside Europe and South America who have made the semi-finals. They are the USA in 1930 and South Korea in 2002.

Reputations, they say, don't matter. Not at this stage. You could get complacent and in a tournament such as this, that will spell doom for your chances. But at the same time, reputations come with their own share of responsibilities. They need to be earned. So when you step onto the field wearing the Brazil or Argentina or France or England jersey, it means more than what mere words can convey. This can weigh heavily on some but then again, it can give you a huge mental boost if taken in the right spirit; a driving force that you can use at major tournaments.

We talk about tradition because it means you are part of something far greater than just the present. The domination of the traditional powerhouses can be attributed to a number of reasons, the prime among them being the number of allotted slots to their confederation. For instance, Africa got only five World Cup berths despite having 54 Fifa members while Europe has 55 but gets 13 slots among the final 32.

But that alone would never suffice. The quality vs quantity argument is hard to ignore. Europe has 12 teams in the top 20 of the Fifa rankings and the only South American teams that do consistently well are the big two -- Brazil and Argentina, who are ranked high in the rankings as well. Uruguay also usually find a way to perform at a high level but they went out early this year.

FIFA’s logic always has been that Europe and South America have better teams so deserve more berths and they aren't completely wrong. Professional football started in those continents decades earlier than it did elsewhere and they are still reaping the benefits of that. The infrastructure is better, the leagues are developed and the best players from around the world all want to play in Europe.

The tradition of street football in South America, as former Germany striker Juergen Klinsmann said, produces players who are tough and high on individual ability. South America also has quality academies with an eye on producing players for the European market.

The European touch adds steel to Brazil's flair. Vinicius Jr has learned not just from Tite but also from Carlo Ancelotti, his coach at Real Madrid. The same is also true of Neymar, whose evolution since coming to Europe has been significant. Messi plays for Argentina but he has been made in Barcelona.

Being football’s richest continent, Europe’s domination is likely to continue for a while. Not just because it has the money but also because they are the cutting-edge innovation in football. The players who come to play in Europe get better by assimilating aspects of the European game but at the same time, European players are learning tricks from Asia, Africa and South America. It never is one-way traffic.

Kylian Mbappe, one might argue, would feel just as home in the Brazilian team as he does in France. He loves the one-on-one challenges and will run at opponents with no fear. Ousmane Dembele has a wild streak to his game and Croatia, lest one forgets, can trace their heritage to the talented Yugoslavia side that was once dubbed 'Brazilians of Europe'. England aren't just playing the long-ball game anymore either.

The evolution continues for Europe, just as it does for the rest of the world, and catching up will require a lot more than just matching them.

For now, the best that the rest of the world can hope for is that Morocco will go even deeper in the competition. Rest assured Europe and South America won't make it easy for them.


    Dhiman Sarkar is based in Kolkata with over two decades as a sports journalist. He writes mainly on football.

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