Brazil and Argentina challenge the power of Europe in the World Cup

When Gianni Infantino told a group of European soccer leaders gathered in Vienna that he was keeping his fingers crossed that the World Cup champion would come from his continent, the FIFA president was quick to point out — with a smile — that it was a comment It adapts depending on the region in which it is located.

It is not a matter that causes any grace to the rest of the world.

Seven of the last world champions have been European. Also 13 of the last 16 semifinalists.

Only three teams outside Europe — Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay — have reached the World Cup final. Uruguay has not done so since the Maracanazo of 1950.

And if anything, two non-European teams other than Brazil and Argentina have reached the semifinals since 1970: South Korea in 2002 and Uruguay in 2010.

No African team has broken through to the bottom four, in part because of Luis Suarez’s last-gasp handball for Uruguay, sinking Ghana in the 2010 quarterfinals. No one from North America has since the United States in the first World in 1930.

The World Cup is a party to which nations from all over the planet are invited, but really, only Europeans to the last.

“What you want is for the World Cup to be a global tournament,” said Jonathan Wilson, author of several soccer books. “The ideal is to have a team from each confederation in the quarterfinals.”

“What you want is to have the best teams, but the best teams from as many different places as possible. This is a global sport. If it ends up concentrated in a small group from the richest part of Western Europe, it becomes boring for everyone”.

Wilson attributes the recent European hegemony to the football powers of the continent injecting large sums of money and resources into the development of young players — what he has called an “industrialization of the youth academy”. It all started with the French National Football Institute in the 1990s. Germany, Spain and England have more recently followed suit.

The roadmap takes these young promises to their national leagues, which are the most competitive and richest in the world.

“You have the best facilities, the best teachers, the best tutors to learn from,” Wilson told The Associated Press. “You test yourself against the best.”

The only nation that prevented a European consecration in a World Cup since 1994 was Brazil in 2002. Verdeamarela coach that year, Luiz Felipe Scolari, says he was fortunate to have had a “spectacular generation” with the attacking trident made up of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho — and that Europeans now produce better players than ever before, having studied the 1958 team that brought the country the first of its record five titles.

In an interview with AP, Scolari considered that the current European dominance is a “phase and could be struck down by Brazil in Qatar or, perhaps, in 2026.

After all, Brazil enter the World Cup at the top of the national team rankings, undefeated in the South American qualifiers and with just five defeats in 76 games under coach Tite.

“The guys that we have now can give us the result that we hope for,” Scolari said. “But you can’t push them to achieve everything. Maybe in four years we can put pressure on them to achieve everything, because they are going to arrive at their peak, with 26 and 27 years.

Traditionally, Argentina — third in the latest FIFA ranking and two-time world champion — is the team that, along with Brazil, is presented with the option of breaking European supremacy. And Lionel Messi and company will land in Qatar with that ambition.

While the cream of Europe raises questions — England have gone six games without a win, France and Germany have won just one of their last six, Italy have not even qualified — Argentina remains unbeaten in 35 games under coach Lionel Scaloni, who has put together a more balanced team around Messi.

A recent element has altered things. The new UEFA Nations League — and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic — meant that Europe’s strongest teams don’t often face Brazil and Argentina.

Only one match of this type stands out after the 2018 World Cup: La Finalissima, a new duel between the champions of the European Championship and the Copa América. Argentina defeated Italy 3-0 in London in the first edition last June.

La Albiceleste has collided with three Europeans since the last World Cup. Brazil has barely played one.

“It’s very difficult to measure their potential,” said Wilson, whose books include “Angels with Dirty Faces: The Definitive History of Argentine Soccer.”

“Perhaps it is not the worst thing that they come to this tournament with confidence, without an inferiority complex,” he added.

If you take out Brazil and Argentina, it seems almost impossible to have another champion other than a team from Europe, which has 10 of the first 12 in the FIFA ranking and 13 of the 32 nations in Qatar.

And the list of European candidates is growing these days. Croatia was a finalist in the 2018 World Cup. Denmark advanced to the semifinals of Euro 2020. And Switzerland is a tenacious rival like the great powers, nurturing itself with players who play for several of the best clubs on the continent.

As for the Africans, whose best card is continental champion Senegal, they continue to suffer from a lack of resources rather than a lack of talent.

“(African countries) have so many players in Europe and at formidable clubs right now, so you assume they must get a better result than they usually do,” Lars Lagerback, Nigeria’s manager in 2010, told the AP. There are too many challenges, with so many people involved in logistics and everything else”.

“They have players with individual quality, but you have to know how to surround them with everything,” he added.

And that is, in the end, where Europe makes the difference.

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Brazil and Argentina challenge the power of Europe in the World Cup