Thursday, June 24, 2010

World Cup Favorites

Regular readers visit this blog expecting to find thoughtful apologetics, evidence and reason demonstrating that the world we live in really is the one most accurately described by the Christian worldview. But the World Cup is currently taking place, and so what you'll get today is another (likewise thoughtful) post about soccer.

I've followed a good deal of the coverage (mostly on the radio, but some on the telly), and listened to a variety of wags discussing the favorites. Many named European teams like England, Spain, the Dutch and the Portuguese, Germany, and even France and Italy. Brazil and Argentina have been in the conversation, of course, but not usually given the nod as the favorites.

Nearing the end of the first stage (group play), France and Italy are headed home, Spain is still on the bubble, and Germany and England have barely made it to the next round. Of the European teams, only the Netherlands have won all three of their games, while Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay have impressed, and Chile and Paraguay are also undefeated. So the talk has turned to the unexpected bad play of European nations and the unlooked-for success of teams from South America.

In all of this coverage, I have not heard a single expert mention the one historical fact with which I began my understanding of this year's World Cup...

The World Cup has been held 18 times previously, half of them in Europe and half of them outside of Europe. No European team has ever won the World Cup when it has been held outside of Europe. If held in South America, the Cup has invariably been won by a South American nation. If held in Mexico, the United States, Japan/South Korea, it has been a South American team and not one of the European powerhouses that has lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy*. And in my lifetime, or (let's put it this way instead) in the past five decades, the nation winning the Cup when held outside of Europe has been either Brazil or Argentina.

So, regardless of what kind of squad Spain or the Netherlands or Germany can put on the field in South Africa this year, it seems that history dictates that the conversation about the front-runner to win the Cup begin with Brazil and Argentina. And so far, the person picking these two as the favorites is looking pretty good.

Now, I realize that this situation will not last forever, that some year (perhaps even this) a European team will break through for the win on a foreign continent. After all, four teams will make it to the semifinals, and it is highly unlikely that Europe will be shut out of the final four. And anyone who follows the world's most popular sport will know that in a given game, anything can happen.

Nonetheless, what we can say at this point is that up until now, European nations have not travelled well, at least not well enough to lift the Cup. Add to that the strength of this year's teams from Brazil, Argentina, and even Uruguay--and the weaknesses of the best European teams (Spain's history of under-achieving, Germany's relative inexperience, the aging of England's stars)--and one should not be surprised to find a South American team celebrating the victory on July 11.

* What they're actually playing for now is called the FIFA World Cup Trophy. When, in 1970, Brazil became the first 3-time winners, they got to take the original trophy, the Jules Rimet, home for good. It was, however, stolen in 1983, and has never been recovered.

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