(we …) just like watching Brazil

brazil11Image: Thomás


When the odds were checked a minute ago, Brazil were still the bookies’ favourites, marginally ahead of Spain, to win South Africa 2010. We could even, at a pinch, have an all-South American final four; that would take a mighty performance from Our Lads against the Spanish. Jeremy Robson takes a cool-headed look at the past and explains, in this discussion of the importance of geography, how that would buck the World Cup trend …

When the World Cup comes round every four years, there’s one historical fact that is always trotted out in the build up to the tournament. Namely, that the winner of the competition when it’s held in Europe has nearly always been European, and conversely when it’s held in South America the winner has always been a nation from that Continent.

The only exceptions, of course, have been when Brazil won against the host nation in Sweden in 1958, and more recently in the US in 1994 and in Korea/Japan in 2002, when the representation of nations from North America and Asia respectively was relatively low.

The Koreans did very well of course on home soil, and much better than the Americans or Canadians did in 1994.

Brazil, proved on both occasions as winners that if you are good enough then geography isn’t so important. Or did they? If so, why should this be the case? There are factors which can explain Brazil’s success but it’s difficult to extend that to the remaining nations: Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina.

Of the millions of Brazilians who live abroad, 5,000 play football for the world’s top clubs. Continued success in the World Cup further fuels the migration to wealthier leagues overseas. This wave of émigrés began in the 1930s following the initial World Cup of 1930 in Uruguay.

The so called “Pele Law” was passed in 1998 repealing the “passe” which tied players to clubs as their property. This was in effect Brazil’s own version of the Bosman ruling which has been introduced in Europe three years earlier.

Exporting players to the world as domestic clubs rely on transfer fees to survive, and have become part and parcel of the annual budget even for the most successful Brazilian clubs such as Internacional and Gremio. And the circle continues.

The impact of all this is a familiarity with other cultures, and styles of play in other parts of the world, and which is unrivalled by even close neighbours such as Chile, Uruguay and Argentina. It is this unique diaspora that largely accounts for the consistent success of the Brazilian national team since serious international competition began some 70 years ago.

Surprisingly, perhaps, they have not won the tournament in Europe, and have reached the final only once (1998 v France), since 1958.

Given the relative weakness of the African nations competing in the 2010 tournament, then it may be a safe prediction, suggesting that the next world champions may come from the southern hemisphere, a scenario that I entertained among friends early in the tournament.

With Ghana remaining the sole representative of the African continent in this year’s competition the draw/seedings for the last eight nations has avoided pitting the South American nations against one another. Should Paraguay rise to the occasion and overcome the much fancied Spain, and Uruguay dispose of Ghana, then the four remaining nations would guarantee that the cup goes back to South America.

Even three South American nations reaching the semi finals this time around would probably have raised some eyebrows when the tournament kicked off less than three weeks ago.

Is this dominance just an anomaly, or strange coincidence. It’s quite conceivable that none of the South American teams will reach the semi finals, but I wouldn’t be putting my money down on that one regardless of how generous the odds might be?

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5 thoughts on “(we …) just like watching Brazil”

  1. As a Brazilian woman that only watches football – that’s the way we call it , while Americans call it “soccer” – when is the World Cup, I could not restrain myself to post here 🙂

    Brazilian people are by nature very happy even if they are very poor. We think that’s this kind of “mental attitude” that’s responsible for all awesome players that the country has brought to the games around the years.

    Most of those fantastic players are poor….really poor. They come from the “favelas” (a favela is a shanty town in Brazil) where the violence and misery is part of their daily lives.

    They starting playing soccer at young age, barefoot on the beaches….those are the best….the ones that start early and without any coaching or shoes – I swear to you, we have watching this for many years already.

    Whatever they are at their country or abroad, Brazilians players play the game like they live their lives: With humor, joy and passion

    Thanks for the opportunity of posting here!

    Regards,

    Marian Teagan
    A very proud Brazilian living in Miami – FL

  2. That’s an interesting point Mark. Prior to the 1970 World Cup in Mexico I’m sure that I can recall England doing altitude training ahead of the tournament in the same way that athletes would prepare for major events. You hear less of that these days. One of the advantages that Bolivia had was playing their home games in La Paz which gave them an advantage over visitors. They were always poor away from home though Not sure about altitude and the likes of Brazil, Argentina etc.

  3. One of the theories I’ve read to explain the dominance of S American teams at this WC is that they are used to playing at altitude, if not at home, then in qualifying. Just passing this on.

  4. I’ve given up any hope of seeing competence. When you heave a sigh of relief at the sight of Howard Webb, then there’s something seriously wrong. He is I rather reluctantly admit the best of a very bad bunch.

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