Can A European Team End The Wait For World Cup Success On South American Soil In Brazil?
Following the conclusion of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, the European representatives heading to next Summer's tournament in Brazil are; Spain, England, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Russia, Switzerland, Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Belgium, Greece, Croatia, France and Portugal. Together, they account for 13 of the 32 teams contesting football's biggest prize in seven months time.
The question at this stage is whether one of these European teams is capable of winning the World Cup in South America? On the six previous occasions that the tournament has been in the continent, teams from South America have won each time. Uruguay won the inaugural World Cup in 1930 as the host nation and again the last time the competition was played in Brazil in 1950. Two of Brazil's five World Cup victories have come in South America, winning when Chile staged the tournament in 1962 and lifting the lifting trophy in Mexico in 1970.
Argentina account for the other two World Cup wins when the competition has been hosted in a South American country with 'La Albiceleste' winning on home soil in 1978 and Diego Maradona led the side to a memorable victory at Mexico '86.
The fact that no European nation has ever gone to a World Cup staged in a South American country and returned victorious has opened up a whole debate about whether that trend can come to an end in 2014. It wasn't until in South Africa four years ago that Spain became the first European team to lift the World Cup outside of their own continent. The previous eight European winners had all won when the competition was staged in Europe with not one managing to win in the eight staged elsewhere around the globe between 1930 and 2010.
The question therefore should be asked, is any of the 31 other teams, let alone the 13 from Europe, capable of overcoming Brazil in their own backyard?
The Samba Boys may be without a World Cup win since 2002 but with Luiz Felipe Scolari, the man who guided them to that victory in Japan and South Korea 11 years ago, back at the helm, expectations are high and there is surely no bigger motivating factor to the players than playing in front of a home crowd, a country synonymous with 'the beautiful game'.
With the current squad boasting names such as Neymar, Robinho, Oscar, Maicon, Dani Alves and Marcelo, it could be argued that this could be Brazil's best chance of success since 2002 and the bookmakers certainly that's the case with the hosts the 10/3 favourite to win World Cup number six and make home advantage count.
According to the odds, it is Germany who represent the biggest danger to Brazil and Europe's best chance of ending that winless trend in South America, with Joachim Löw's men rated a 5/1 chance to win lift the trophy for the first time since 1990. The three times winners of the competition are always a force on the world stage and have made at least the semi finals for the last three tournaments, finishing third in 2010 and 2006 and runners up to Brazil in 2002 and you have to go all the way back to 1938 for the last time they failed to progress past the group stage.
Football in Germany is enjoying something of a renaissance right now, illustrated by Bayern Munich winning the Champions League last season in an all German final against Bundesliga rivals, Borussia Dortmund at Wembley. The current Germany squad consists of seven Bayern Munich players and that cohesiveness at club level is arguably an advantage internationally and they will be a threat to all on comers in Brazil with the likes of Mesut Özil, Thomas Müller and Mario Götze all under 25 and rated amongst the best players in world football currently. In fact, the average age of the most recent Germany squad was just 25 years of age with Hamburg's Heiko Westermann the eldest member at 30! This clearly bodes well not only for the 2014 World Cup but for the future of the German national team. But are they capable of becoming the first European side to win the World Cup in South America?
Like Germany, Spain is considered a big threat to Brazil's chance but Vicente del Bosque 's side can be backed at slightly bigger odds of 11/2 to win what would be their fourth major tournament success on the bounce. The Spanish international football dynasty began in 2008 when they won the European Championship, they followed that up with victory at the World Cup in South Africa two years later and confirmed their domination 12 months ago at Euro 2012. As such, there's no doubting the experience and pedigree within the Spanish squad and if anything, they have only got better recently with the rise to prominence from the likes of Álvaro Negredo, Pedro Rodríguez and Jordi Alba, who only add strength and depth.
Sceptics may argue that the domination of the Spain team has to come to an end sometime and with Brazil and Germany looking much stronger but the Spanish simply cannot be written off and they will no doubt make their presence felt in South America and as they showed by winning in South Africa four years ago, are more than capable of winning outside of Europe but winning in Brazil presents a different proposition that South Africa who had no chance of winning as the host nation.
Of the other European nations with World Cup aspirations, Belgium is a team many are predicting to do well. Despite having not qualified for either the Euros or the World Cup since 2002, Head Coach Marc Wilmots has a squad of world class talent at his disposal, which really is a 'golden generation' for Belgian football. The likes of Eden Hazard, Christian Benteke, Romelu Lukaku, Kevin Du Bruyne, Marouane Fellani, Mousa Dembélé, Thomas Vermaelen and Jan Vertoonghen will all be familiar names to fans of the Premier League and together, they form the nucleus of what is an exceptionally gifted team who qualified for the World Cup without losing a single match and are currently 16/1 to triumph in Brazil.
The Netherlands and Italy are both quoted at odds of 20/1 to lift the trophy in Rio on the 13th July and whilst neither look as strong as they have heading in to previous tournaments, they are both heavyweights of international football with a wealth of experience between them and it would be no surprise to see one of the pair reach the last four or even the final.
Both France and Portugal qualified for the World Cup via the European qualifying play-offs with France turning around a 2-0 first leg deficit against the Ukraine to win 3-0 in Paris and Portugal overcame Sweden 4-2 across both legs with all four goals coming courtesy of Cristiano Ronaldo! If Ronaldo shows that kind of form in the finals, he could be capable of carrying his team mates deep in to the competition but without the Real Madrid star, Paulo Bento's side look a fairly ordinary side, much like the French and it would be a shock to see either win the competition, which is why they can both be backed at 33/1 to be victorious.
The same can be said for England, who look to be in something of a transitional period currently under Roy Hodgson, as he continues to blood new players in hope of finding a winning formula but he is unlikely to find that in Brazil and the only people backing the Three Lions at 25/1 to win their first major trophy since 1966 will be those patriotic punters with 'blind faith'.
Whilst it would be a huge shock if England did end their 48 year wait for glory in Brazil, it would not be as big a shock should any of the other five European teams were to win. If any of Russia, Croatia, Switzerland, Bosnia-Herzegovina or Greece was to win, it would rank as the biggest World Cup shock of all time and to be frank, a line can drawn through any of their chances.
The chance of a European team finally winning the World Cup in South America firmly rest on the shoulders of Germany and Spain who, on paper at least, look a match for Brazil but with home advantage in their favour, it looks a tough assignment even for Europe's leading duo to upset the hosts but only time will tell and as it stands, Brazil are more than worthy favourites.
A more clear picture regarding the chances of the European contingent winning in Brazil is likely to be obtained when the draw is made for the group stage of the competition on Friday, 6th December, after which, the potential paths and scenarios will be known for each team to reach the final.
All odds quoted to win the World Cup are best prices at the time of writing courtesy of Betting Directory