If you were to ask pundits with some semblance of knowledge about the beautiful game beforehand to predict a winner of the World Cup, it would be unthinkable if they would have tipped anything else but a European or a South American country. Every final of the previous 19 World Cup tournaments has featured countries exclusively from one or both of those continents. European nations have won the competition ten times, led by Italy and its four, and South American nations have triumphed in the other nine, with Brazil and its five titles on top of the global pack. They would have been hard-pressed to look past any South American team, on Brazilian soil in particular, as sides from South America have won the only four instances of the tournament held on that continent.
This year’s edition of the World Cup features 19 European and South American nations, well over half of the total involvement in the tournament, though Europe sent a whopping 13 representatives from the Old World to try and join Spain in becoming the only other European nation to win a World Cup outside of Europe. So far, though, the honor of Europe has largely been let down, particularly by some of its most traditional powers.
Spain, two-time defending European champions and winner of the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, managed to save some face and beat Australia yesterday, but will be exiting the tournament early with a woeful defense and their tails tucked firmly between their legs, conceding seven goals and only scoring one in their first two games, both losses.
Italy’s rich history counted for nothing today in a 1-0 loss to Uruguay, sending them home early, too, and prompting the resignation of manager Cesare Prandelli. Luis Suarez and Bitegate, episode III, was despicable, yes, but did that incident have any impact on the eventual result of the game? I don’t think so. After winning their first game, then losing to Costa Rica and still only needing a draw today to advance, this was a choke job of the highest order.
England could only scrape a 0-0 draw against Costa Rica today in the potential swansong of captain Steven Gerrard, and the Three Lions also lost both of their first two matches. Don’t worry about the Queen; Roy Hodgson, Wayne Rooney, and Gerrard need God to save them.
Portugal needed a world class cross from a world class player, Cristiano Ronaldo, in the game’s dying seconds to save their skins against the United States, but that should prove to be only a temporary respite. You wouldn’t expect a combination of results to go their way on Thursday for them to advance to the knockout stage. No, it’ll be another big European nation getting a nice long summer break.
The Netherlands, France, Germany, and Belgium look to be Europe’s last remaining serious hopes. They’ve won eight of their nine combined games so far, with Germany getting a draw in the other match against Ghana, and looked nothing short of dominant, playing with style and flair and scoring a boatload of goals while doing so. Greece needed a penalty kick in the last minute of second-half extra time to beat Ivory Coast and advance, despite scoring only two goals (one from open play) in three group matches. Switzerland and Russia are the only other European teams to have a hope of progressing, and it looks pretty slim for Russia.