Saturday, 26 June 2010

European teams on the decline?

The World Cup in South Africa has reached the the second round, sixteen teams have departed and sixteen remain. As the 2010 tournament begins to heat up, I’m taking a look at the composition of this knockout phase in comparison with World Cups from the past.

The second round of sixteen format was first introduced in 1986 and it has been mainly populated with European teams ever since. In the six World cups between 1986 and 2006 Europe has had 10 of the last 16 on five occasions, in 2002 there were 9 European teams. In South Africa, things seem to have changed. Having seen 7 teams from Europe depart in the group stages, only 6 remain. This is a dramatic drop considering the consistent level since 1986. To make things worse for the European teams, the remaining 6 are all facing off against one another, guaranteeing the departure of 3 more.

France and Italy who contested the 2006 World Cup Final both finished bottom of their respective groups and looked very jaded and lethargic in comparison to some of the other supposedly smaller nations. The thing is, we all knew that France and Italy were in massive decline before the tournament, but many of us still begrudgingly believed that they would grind their way out of their groups and maybe reach the Quarter Finals before lamely bowing out. Refreshingly, teams like Uruguay, Mexico, Japan and Chile have really stepped up this World Cup, beaten European opposition and marched into the Second Round looking sharp, dangerous and playing exciting, entertaining football. The knockout rounds in South Africa look set to be one of the most diverse and intriguing knockout rounds ever.

Is this the beginning of the end of European dominance of the knockout phases of the World Cup? 2010 could be the beginning of a more evenly balanced World Cup future.

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