x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

World Cup 2014: An European team can lift trophy in the Americas

Today’s inter-connected world makes it easier for teams to win away, writes Ian Hawkey.

By winning the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Spain proved European teams are ready to win trophy outside their continent. Javier Soriano / AFP
By winning the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Spain proved European teams are ready to win trophy outside their continent. Javier Soriano / AFP

The World Cup keeps its hold on the imagination of the planet partly because of its myth-making and its traditions.

At its heart is a duel between Europe and South America, which is not to say other continents have less to give the global game, simply that the places that have been dominating the tournament for longest, as competitors and organisers, have the most developed joust about status.

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Though it is less valid, in an age of multinational club football, to generalise about a style that may be “western” or “eastern” or “Latin”, the World Cup still has some time-honoured laws, such as a history of no European team winning when the tournament takes place in the Americas.

World Cups rotated between Europe and Latin America from 1930 to 1990. But Brazil 2014 is the first tournament hosted in South America since 1978. Only twice has it been staged in the Americas in the past 36 years, as opposed to four times in Europe in that stretch.

It may be time for Europe to make some history.

Europeans should not be inhibited by crossing the Atlantic, especially now when, for most elite footballers, the distinction between home and away has eroded.

Modern stadiums are designed to strict templates and tend to resemble each other from the perspective of the player on the pitch.

Air travel is much more comfortable than it once was and the devices – video links, tablets – that can combat homesickness are more plentiful.

Talk to some Brazilians and they will refer you to real, decisive differences in typical playing conditions there and in the leading European leagues to which they export their talent in numbers.

They often mention the length of the grass (higher in Brazil), but in a World Cup, Fifa command the groundsmen on exactly how to prepare surfaces and their instructions are the same the world over.

Home advantage is clearly worth something, which is partly why Brazil are favourites for 2014. Uruguay and Argentina will have a significantly higher body of support in stadiums because of relative proximity, but neither nation will be playing to stadiums packed out with their own compatriots.

Spain, the defending champions, broke a mould with their victory in South Africa in 2010 as it made them the first winners from Europe to win a World Cup staged outside Europe.

This time, expect the likes of Spain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and France to regard the blank record of European successes in the Americas not as a hurdle, but a motivation.

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