Rise of the Americas - the World Cup so far 0

Michael Foster discusses the strong showing from the American teams at this Summer’s World Cup….

Ah the sea! A natural wonder which has not only inspired poets, explorers and scientists, but has also proved to be the nemesis of the international footballer. Whenever a team is required to travel any distance over a significant stretch of water, it seems to have a truly negative impact on their form and chances of success.

If you ever needed evidence of the significant advantage gained by the home team in football, this World Cup is it. There is a reason a European team has never won a World Cup in the Americas, for the same reason teams like Brazil struggle to win tournaments when they travel to Europe. The psychological impact of travelling not only to different countries, but a completely different continent, is a significant one. No more is this apparent then at a World Cup held in Brazil where teams from the Western side of the globe are not only winning matches, they are doing so in style.

Of the eleven teams from North, South and Central America who qualified, eight have made it through to the second round. Europe meanwhile, usually the dominant force in world football, has seen seven of their thirteen representatives go home early, including big hitters like Spain, Italy and Portugal…oh, and England. Compare this to Germany 2006, where ten European representatives made it through the group stages, and the advantage for the home teams, or indeed teams, is plain to see.

Colombia have been a revelation. Even while missing their star Falcao they have been playing electric, pulsating attacking football, and can be considered dark horses to win the tournament. Chile have also played well, out-muscling Spain like the last six years never even happened. Yet the stars have undoubtedly been Costa Rica. When they were drawn in a group containing three of the top ten seeds, people expected Satan to take up a part time job as an ice cream salesman before they would get out of that group. To see them qualify as group leaders, and comfortably so, is testament not only to their exceptional team spirit, but the spirit of their home region.

The support for the American teams have been nothing short of excellent. Their fans have come in huge numbers and their support for their teams has been unwavering and, in some cases (mentioning no names in particular), even misplaced. USA fans have travelled in particularly huge numbers, only outnumbered by Brazilians themselves. It’s weird to see North Americans take to football so enthusiastically, but perhaps having a tournament relatively close to their doorstep has given the sport the boost they, and indeed their team, needed. Maybe their route to round two, their fate at one point hinging on a single goal, will shatter the illusion some stubbornly cling to that only high scoring sports can be exciting.

It hasn’t all been bad for Europe however. Holland and Germany have both been excellent, qualifying from very tough groups with relative ease. France and Belgium have also performed well, even if they haven’t as of yet been seriously tested, and Greece getting to the second round for the first time in their history is undoubtedly an achievement. Africa has had a good World Cup. With Nigeria and Algeria through, the continent has two second round representatives for the first time in World Cup history, not to mention Ivory Coast and a scandal hit Ghana only missed out by minutes. Asia however has had an atrocious World Cup, all four of their representatives crashing out having finished bottom of the group.

Overall though it has been a fantastic tournament so far, and has provided the kick in the pants international football has needed. Instead of cagey matches between teams fearful of conceding, as we saw in South Africa, in the space of four years the mentality has switched to favour all-out attack followed by swift counter attacks. Additionally almost all the big hitters, Messi, Neymar, Robben, Van Persie and Muller, have turned up and are scoring plenty of goals. The games have been exciting to watch, the competition is fiercely competitive with still no clear favourite, and aside from the latest episode in future sitcom, ‘The Many Hijinks of Luis Suarez,’ the tournament has been largely controversy free. Blatter must be licking his lips in simultaneous delight and relief.

So far, so good. This World Cup needed to capture our imaginations, to prove there is still life in international football, and boy, have our imaginations been refuelled. Not only that, it has been a wonderful advert for American football. Let’s hope the remaining two weeks continue in this vein, and that the old footballing powers will continue to give these regions the respect and attention they deserve once it is all over.

Who knows? Maybe the next time Costa Rica or Chile come to Wembley for a friendly, ITV pundits won’t automatically claim it as a gimme for England.

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