This summer’s FIFA World Cup is the first tournament to be held on South American soil for 28 years (Mexico ’86). As history tells us, since the tournament started, only South American teams have won the competition when it is held in the sunny south continent. Yet, is there any particular reason for this phenomenon? What seems to be giving South American teams the advantage when the event is held here?
Looking closely at this year’s competition, South American sides average 2.33 points per game with home advantage, whereas their European counterparts are averaging just 1.19 points per game. Even Central and North American teams are beating the Europeans, which traditionally is unheard of. The evidence so far has indicated that the likely winner will come from South America. Much was made before the tournament about the impact of playing on South American soil and the challenges of a different climate for the Europeans, and it appears to be having an impact. Even the Asian sides are struggling to make any sort of impression on the tournament and as things stand, will not make it through to the knock-out stages. At the minute, every group that contains a South / Central American Nation will have at least one qualifier from that region through to the next round.
Looking closer at this, what are the reasons for the South American dominance? Before the World Cup started, many fans, players and pundits were aware that the weather would have a big influence. Some of the opposition coaches were very certain these conditions would give the South Americans by knowing how to “deal with the climate conditions”. The theory behind this is that the climate is much hotter in South America compared to the other continents, coupled with more humidity in the air, meaning it’s more difficult for players who are not used to playing in these types of conditions. More water is required to be taken on board as players are more likely to sweat profusely and lose fluids. However, some reports have indicated that the weather is not playing as big a part as was originally predicted.
Some other theorists have pointed towards more practical reasons for the failure of non-South American nations. Stadium atmosphere at the big venues have been evident for the “home nations”, and this factor (some believe) has a direct influence on the officials. This was quite apparent in the opening match when Brazil played Croatia, and when Chile spent much of the second half of its win against Spain lying on the pitch with exaggerated injuries but received no sanction for time-wasting. It has also been suggested that the travelling involved with getting to Brazil has left some of the European players feeling a little jaded while their South American counterparts are better “rested”, with east-to-west long distance travel producing some jet lag. The failure of the other continents to succeed on South American soil has also been attributed to a “psychological barrier” with the home nations even thinking that this year’s winner will come from their continent.
A final theory might be that teams from the Americas are fresher. The major European leagues just completed play in mid-May after beginning their season last August. Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, played in 51 matches for Real Madrid since the start of last summer, including the Champions League final a few weeks ago. The best teams from the Americas, like Brazil and Argentina, also have plenty of stars in the major European leagues. But others, such as Costa Rica and Mexico, are less reliant on such players. That could serve to mitigate the talent advantage that the European teams might have and reward the countries with disciplined and tactical team play.
Whatever the reasons are, it is looking likely that the winner will come from South America, although don’t go running to the bookies just yet as there is still a long way to go before the final on July 13th!