Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Blog #5: South American dominance

Before a ball was kicked, stattos rolled out all the usual cliches; one of the favourites being that only South American teams have won the World Cup in tournaments hosted outwith Europe.

To me, it's as useless a statistic as "No team has won it six times." There is a very real chance that Brazil will, relegating this 'fact' to the history books.

In fact, I would have said it was ridiculous to suggest European teams would struggle simply because the tournie is in Africa, given our continent's dominance of the game. The European Champions League is the most popular and talented club format in the world, while teams like Spain, Germany and Holland are clearly a match for anyone. The last final was contested by two European teams.

However, results are all that truly matter in football and they don't lie. The 2006 finalists are having a torrid time, with France out and Italy held by New Zealand and Parguay.

England, down to a must-win final game. Germany, beaten by Serbia. Spain, just three points when you would have stuck your house on six.

Contrast that with the teams from South America and it proves this continent fairs better. They have collectively played out seven wins and two draws. No team from South America has been beaten in this tournament so far.

The only "blemishes" on this record? A draw against France for Uruguay, and Paraguay's 1-1 tie with Italy.

Argentina and Brazil have won all their games to date, a surprise to noone. What I have loved is watching the continent's other teams perform far beyond my expectations.

I almost feel sorry for Chile having to somehow steal a draw from Euro 2008 champions Spain to survive. They have had a fantastic tournament so far and if they were up against anyone but my boys from Espana, I would be rooting for them.

Paraguay and Uruguay do have my support, and both teams fully deserve to top their group. They have been the surprise package for me this year. Uruguay took seven points from a group with France, Mexico and hosts South Africa, while Paraguay sit nicely with four in the bag and New Zealand to play.

The likes of Alexis Sanches, Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez have done South America proud, and that's saying nothing of Mr Messi.

The Argentines have been brilliant so far. They count the best player in the world amongst their ranks, and as the tournament goes on it is starting to look like he will finally bring his Barcelona form to an Argentina shirt.

What's completely unfair is the likelihood that Argentina will also produce the world's next great - superbly talented Sergio Aguero recently had a son, Benjamin, with Diego Maradona's daughter. Wonder if he'll be any good with a ball...

You have to spare a thought for the African teams. They were never much fancied at this tournament, but to lump the continent's best hopes Ivory Coast in with Brazil and Portugal was harsh. Drogba's boys didn't have it any easier last time round - in 2006 they were paired up with Argentina and Holland.

As for Nigeria, they didn't stand a chance once they came up against the Argies. Poor Sani Kaita, the Nigerian midfielder sent off in their match against Greece, has received more than 1,000 death threats by email. Still, I'm sure it will be a welcome break from local bankers emailing him for help moving their millions...

As World Cup 2010 moves ever closer to a date with Soccer City on July 11th, noone is suggesting for a minute that Paraguay will be in the running. The final four teams will be a mixture of the usual, and you can be sure that the last two will be ranked in the world's top 10.

But what odds a Brazil v Argentina final?

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