The world cup will be held in Qatar in November this year against May/June during the summer which has been the period for the competition over the years. Just like the summer hosting trends, Europe has set precedence, as in 2002 in Korea/Japan when Brazil won, south America had 9 wins to Europe`s 8 but Europe has won the last four editions producing a trend in victory but a very dismal performance when defending the title.
No other time in history had any continent held a stranglehold on this tournament. What has given them the competitive edge and why have they been poor at defending their title? Could it be that in this edition France will break that notorious trend or Brazil will retain the world cup in Asia? Or could another victory from Europe or a new champion emerge from elsewhere?
The European dominance
The Europeans have produced some of the finest teams and players in this period of world dominance, the Spanish team that won in South Africa in 2010 is regarded as one of the greatest in history, and the Italians that won before them are renowned for producing great defenders introduced Metarrazi to the global stage and Cannavaro who later joined Real Madrid won FIFA world player of the year a record for a defender and the third defender in history to win the Ballon d’Or.
This trend actually started in France when the host won it in 1998 with the emergence of Zidane, they crashed in the first round in 2002. It was one of the shocks of the tournament they never recovered from their opening match upset to Senegal, another shocker was Argentina also failed to advance beyond the first round. The French started a trend that defied expectations and spread across the continent thereafter.
The curse of the European champions
The European champions had a trend, always losing in the first round in groups generally regarded as average.
The performance will be assessed in depth to ascertain reasons for their failure. It is not conclusive or exhaustive and more clarity can become available in the future.
The group had perennial participants Denmark, former champions Uruguay and debutants Senegal. Their loss of form made this group death, giving all the teams an almost equal strength and opportunity to qualify. The French were trying to rebuild after a very successful period. After winning the world cup, they added the European title (this was last achieved by Germany in the seventies) they also won the confederations cup. They came into the world cup with an injured Zidane with the expectation that he will be available as the tournament progresses and that the team will still be competitive. They received a rude shock in the opening match losing to the west Africans that surprisingly reached the quarter finals, they managed a draw against the south Americans and lost a must win encounter against their European opponents. It was the first time since 1966, That the champions had failed to advance to the second round, as recently as in 1990, The Argentines lost their first match to Cameroun but still reached the finals. This was certainly one of the greatest shocks of any of the World Cups.
The worst of the champions, the signs were there but it was still inconceivable for the Italians not to make it beyond the group stage with Paraguay, Slovakia, and New Zealand. Their form was so bad that they had to persuade their winning coach Marcelo Lippi to return from retirement. They failed to find a balance between rebuilding a team or sticking with the team that led them to glory. They drew two matches and lost the final match to Slovakia. a draw would have been enough but they conceded and chased the game eventually losing by three goals to two. Lippi said he saw fear in the eyes of his players, a significant indicator of negativity, they have not performed better at the world cup since. Another first-round exit and back-to-back failure to qualify from the last three editions. This is indeed shocking, a decline in Italian football.
They could be forgiven after what they had achieved, the first team to defend the European championship (2008, 2012) they went unbeaten for 35 matches a record between 2007-2009(currently held by Italy with 37 matches) Nevertheless their decline was alarming losing 5-1 to the Netherlands who gained some level of revenge for losing to the Spanish at the world cup finals. a game that they even scored first. The three teams in the group with the exception of Australia to some extent were very strong. The Dutch won bronze at this world cup while Chile went on to win the Copa America championship back to back. The Spanish had to come to grips that their best players had also started their decline. They lost to Chile another revenge from the last edition and managed to beat Australia in a meaningless last match.
The German team did not fare badly reaching the semifinals of the European championship losing to host France a very strong team that went on to win the next world cup which they could barely advance beyond the first round. The controversy surrounding allegiance to the Turkish President by some players did not help, other factors also affected team spirit and performance but as earlier mentioned the Germans are tournament specialists, they won the confederations cup and this dismal performance was an exception, a rarity.
The Germans have the best record over this period even better than the Brazilians. Even in 2002 when they came with a decent team they still reached the finals. They have a way of making an impact, like Spain before them they won a group match and had a chance in the final match to qualify, they were still in contention needing to score, but the game was goalless until the 90th minute when they conceded twice and lost to the south Koreans.
Trends from the South American champions
South America, the other content that has produced world champions always gave a good account of themselves. apart from Brazil which failed to advance in the first round in 1966, note that they were double defending champions(1958 and 1962) and won remarkably again in 1970. they have always gone beyond the group stage reaching the semi-finals in 1974., finals in France in 1998, and quarter-finals in Germany in 2006. Argentina was knocked out in the second round by Brazil in 1982 and reached the finals in their other title defense for Uruguay they refused to participate in 1934 and in 1954 finished fourth.
Why have they been outstanding unlike their counterparts in Europe?
Before now, it has been claimed that the reason countries perform better in their continent was because of some sort of home advantage. from the twenty-one editions, only seven had been won in different continents Brazil and Argentina accounting for five. With the exception of Brazil, Germany, and Spain the other five debutant winners benefited from this opportunity. A very good team as the host had better chances to win the tournament over their rivals. This favored the best sides from both continents but the South Americans had better and outstanding defense of their title with the exception of Uruguay, which Usually has very exceptional and outstanding players that perform at the highest level in several tournaments, for Argentina they needed at least one, as host and first-time winners they had Kempis and Passarella, in their second victory away from home but within the North American continent at Mexico in 1986, they had Diego Maradona, he won the title for them with arguably the greatest single performance in a tournament. he scored 5 goals and created 5 assists, 71% of their total number of goals scored then a record(currently it is David Silva`
s 75% in 2010) but what made it remarkable was that it came in defining and decisive moments a goal against the defending champions Italy in their group match draw, a brace against England, the second one was arguably the most important goal in history (a beauty at the highest level) another two against Belgium in the semifinals. then in the finals, he gave an exquisite killer assist pass for the winning goal, even half-fit and injured he was able to lead them to the finals in Italia 1990, He is remembered for making teams much better and capable of winning. For the Brazilians, their victories can be defined by two eras, the Pele era, and the Romario /Ronaldo era. In their first conquest, they became the first team to win outside their comfort zone. They won in Europe breaking the trend of countries winning within their continent and being the last to successfully defend their title, the second domination would have been greater, they could have won it three consecutive times if not for the mystery that happened in France 98 before the finals. two titles and a final appearance from three attempts. They also reached the quarter-finals as champions in 2006 losing again to the Zidane-inspired French team, The Brazilians had several ballon D'or winners Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Romario, Rivaldo, Kaka, and other all-time greats like Roberto Carlos, and Cafu. During the first reign apart from Pele they also had Garrincha. This clearly explains their dominance and decline in recent times, they have not produced such great players and also, the Europeans have mastered a competitive edge over their rivals which has made it difficult for South America even with a certain Messi to win titles. the trend for the past twenty years is, Europe can win titles but relatively the best title defense is done by the south Americans beaten finalists in 1990 and in 1998. the last title to be retained was sixty years ago by Brazil. Europe`s best within that period was in the United States when Germany reached the quarter-finals.
Can the French reverse the negative European trend?
The French team the current world champions like the Spanish and German teams has added a second title, the euro nations league after beating the number one ranked team Belgium in the semifinals and the Spanish in the Finals. They had also knocked out Portugal the defending champions.
Their federation and coach had done the sensible thing by including the red-hot and world-best player Karem Benzema in the squad and this has made it more potent, the talent production line is still at its best and the not-too-impressive second-round exit in the European championship and poor run at the recent euro nations league will serve as a guide against complacency. If they can also eliminate fighting of any kind and have the clarity to discern the right mix of players to avoid the dangers of wanting to stick with big-name players that have lost form then, the least expectation is within their grasp of becoming the first European team since Germany in 1994 to reach the knockout stages. Then depending on how well they have navigated all the challenges can equal Italy and Brazil as the only countries to have defended the title.
What we can learn from the world champions
⦁ The most successful team at the world cup Brazil wins when they have a cluster of great players and the right strategy, they go on to dominate several editions.
⦁ Germany the joint most successful European team(Italy did not qualify)has won the world cup every twenty years, 1954,1974, 1990(was an anomaly), and 2014. Uruguay (1930 and 1950) and France (1998 and 2018) also have a twenty years sequence between their first and second titles.
⦁ Eight countries won the world cup, and six debutant winners alternated between South America and Europe consecutively(Uruguay 1930 and Italy 1934) with the first set of victories twenty years apart from the second(Germany 1954, Brazil 1958). the next set of winners was also alternated between continents but the winners (England 1966 and Argentina, 1978)had a twelve years sequence followed by a twenty years sequence(France 1998) and another twelve years sequence (Spain 2010)between the preceding winners. Will there be an anomaly with a new team winning this edition or will it follow the twenty years sequence or go longer? by the end of the year answers will be provided.