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 Robsontakes 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?