Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Despite Featuring Many Top Teams Expect European Nations to Struggle at 2014 World Cup

World Cup 2014, Brazil
The 2014 World Cup of soccer is fast approaching, and fans of the 32 involved nations are getting more and more excited with each passing day for their prospects of glory in Brazil.

But while the majority of tournament favorites come from the continent of Europe, I can almost guarantee you that the World Cup winner will not be a European nation.

Perhaps that comes across as a mighty bold statement considering the prowess of international superpowers like Germany, Spain, France, and Italy, but there is an unfortunate fact in football that will doom these teams. The problem is the location of Brazil for the World Cup. Here is the fact: Only one European team has ever won a World Cup outside of Europe!

That team was Spain, which won the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. While that achievement does give hope for the European teams headed for Brazil, it really should not. For one thing, the home teams are generally boosted by their friendly surroundings at international sporting competitions. Just like Russia recently dominated the medal count at the Sochi Olympics, so will Brazil likely stroll to a World Cup title.

And the surrounding nations like Uruguay and Argentina should also figure to dominate at this event, potentially even pulling off a victory themselves. Meanwhile, at the African World Cup of 2010, the African teams were boosted, but I doubt anyone had expected one of them to actually win. They are simply unable to compete against many of the world's best. However, Ghana did manage to reach the quarterfinals.

The reason that Spain proved to be an anomaly was that their team was freakishly talented beyond all others. They simply dominated possession in every game forcing opponents to scramble keeping up. While they will still carry many of the same players of that triumph, they will be without a vital piece of their former squad: Carlos Puyol. The often-barbaric central defender was crucial to the success of Spain and often sucked the life out of their opponents. He was also a hero after scoring a powerful header to lead Spain to victory over Germany in the semifinals. Without Puyol in the side, expect Spain to not be quite as strong. And as evidenced by their 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Brazil in the 2013 Confederation Cup Final, I doubt the Spanish will be able to contend.

But why have World Cup victories proved so difficult for countries to earn outside of their respective continents? There are actually a ton of reasons. For one, fan support is limited. While World Cups do make for wonderful traveling opportunities, it is will be both costly and possibly dangerous for foreigners to make the trek out to Brazil.

There will be definite security threats throughout the tournament and most fans simply cannot afford trans-Atlantic plane flights, World Cup tickets, and all the additional costs of hotel arrangements and pricey dinners.

In essence, every European match (especially those against South American teams) will be an away game. As we see time and time again in club soccer throughout the world, winning an away match can be mighty tricky. The same effect is reversed for home teams. With their fans at their backs, they often rise above the odds and push forward to win.

Thus, the South American teams at the World Cup will be blessed with home support throughout the tournament. With some of the rowdiest known fans on the planet, expect these sides to work magic and win most of the games. For everyone else? The going will be tough. In fact, the only nation other than Spain to even win a World Cup outside of their home continent has been Brazil. And now they will be the host nation.

Another factor that will come into play is the time zone difference. For the European nations, they will have to play matches on an average of 4 hours later. While teams will attempt to counter this by arriving early and settling into the new surroundings, there’s no doubt that they will struggle to adapt to the new time zones.

A whole other issue resides in the weather in Brazil. This is literally a nation through which the equator of the world runs. It will be hot. It will be humid. And as we will soon see, European players, most of whom are not used to playing in temperatures above 60 degrees (and often play in far colder weather) will probably suffer in these conditions.

Perhaps it won’t be too much of an issue in earlier games, but as the tournament wears on towards the final, some of these European stars will certainly be feeling the heat and get fatigued!

And lastly, I expect Europe to fail as a whole at this World Cup because of the players. Sure, there are many wonderful European soccer stars, but South America is home to some potential soccer legends, and they have the supporting casts to back them up. For Brazil, it is all about Neymar, the sensational 22-year-old striker who has already scored 30 goals for his country. His task will be made easier with the likes of Oscar, David Luiz, Dani Alves, Hulk, and Thiago Silva.

For Argentina, the talk is all about Lionel Messi, and his quest will be aided by the likes of Sergio Aguero, Pablo Zabaleta, Javier Mascherano, and Angel di Maria. Or take a look at Uruguay, led by superstar striker Luis Suarez and a supporting cast of Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlan, Christian Rodriguez, and Diego Lugano. These guys are the ones that could win a World Cup.

Elsewhere, there may be some star players, but the supporting cast isn’t quite up to par. Sure Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben could make a claim for the Netherlands, but their back line will be a major area of concern. Yes, Cristiano Ronaldo is an incredible player, but who else on Portugal will get him the ball?

Mario Balotelli will carry the burden of Italy on his shoulders, but who else on that team can really support him? And yes, France and Germany both have great squads, but are any one of their players actually world-class superstars? By the players alone, South America will dominate this World Cup.

And so while the 2014 World Cup beckons warmly for all soccer fans and their visions of success, I think there are many reasons to keep a level head and not expect a European winner this time around. Sure, there will be enthralling matches, and a team like Germany could potentially reach the final, but make no mistake about it, a South American team (probably Brazil) is going to walk away as World Cup Champions!

© Nicholas Spiller & Soccerphile.com

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