Tag Archives: europe

Europe’s Poor Performance… and Other Useless Stats

Ronaldo_2956126bThe major story lines leading up to this World Cup were all about things that had little or nothing to do with football.  Faulty or incomplete stadiums, paltry labour conditions, a populace acting as unhappy hosts, the ever-present whispers of bribes and corruption… this is how we talked about Brazil.

Two weeks into the tournament, however, and the story is very much about the game itself.   Wide-open play has meant a treasure chest of goals, the most ever for the group stage.  Out of the 48 matches so far, only eight of them have been draws, and only five of those have been nil-nil.  Meanwhile, there have been a lot of shutouts (almost half of the matches) but only 13 games have been either 0-0 or 1-0 finals.  For this writer anyway, this has been the best World Cup since France ’98.

However, several European nations might disagree with me.   Out of the 13 UEFA teams in the tournament, only the Netherlands, Greece (a first for Ethniki), Belgium, Germany, France and Switzerland are going to the Group of 16.   For the second World Cup in a row, less than half of the European teams are progressing.  Is this because the former colonial powers can’t play away from their home continent? Maybe… but the European influence has been declining for some time.

If you take the percentage of total participants in each tournament* allocated to UEFA (in 2010, that was 13/32 or 40.625%) and multiply it by the percentage of European teams that make the knockout round (again in 2010, it was 6/16 or 37.5%), you can — imperfectly — see well how the confederation performs.

There are a couple of trends that emerge.  First of all, the number of UEFA spots have pretty much stayed the same, with one or two additions or subtractions.  But as the tournament has expanded, this has meant the Europeans’ share of World Cup berths has declined.  Nothing shocking here.

A familiar sight for England fans over the last half-century

A familiar sight for England fans over the last half-century

What is changing is who are winning the knockout berths.  At least three CONMEBOL teams have qualified for the next round in three out of the last five tournaments; they only got two spots in 1994 and 2002, and Brazil won both of those anyway (FYI the Brazilians have only missed the knockout round once, in 1966… between World Cup victories in 1962 and 1970).   Last tournament, two CONCACAF teams reached the knockout stage; this year, there are three.  For the first time ever, two African teams have reached the Group of 16 in 2014.

The reason for the European decline are fuzzy.  Some blame the flood of foreign players — particularly South Americans — into the big European leagues, pushing home-grown players aside and making big clubs less likely to develop their own youngsters.  Others say European players lack the desire to achieve greatness for country, because they are getting paid so much by their clubs.

However, it could all back to simple maths.  The change starts to be noticeable in Mexico’s 1986 World Cup.  João Havelange had won the FIFA presidency in 1974 on promises to let more developing nations into the tournament.   Twelve years later, Morocco was the first African Nation to qualify for the knockout round along with hosts, Mexico.  It was the first time two teams from one of the “other” confederations made it through with the big boys.   Since then, both CAF and CONCACAF have had at least one team in the elimination rounds, and CONMEBOL get at least 50 percent of its teams into the knockouts.

Capello

Capello thinks about how to spend his millions

What is more interesting is who is out.  The platinum generation of Spanish footballers finally ran out of currency, dropping out at the group stage for the first time since 1998.  Their Euro 2012 final opponents, Italy, missed two successive knockout rounds for the first time since the 1960’s.   The “golden generations” of Portugal and England both finally sputtered out.   Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia still have far to go to match the prowess of their Yugoslavian predecessors.  Russia may be rethinking Fabio Capello’s £6.7M annual salary… although the gaffer claims he did his job by getting the side into the tournament for the first time in 12 years.  In fairness to Capello, he didn’t have his talisman, Roman Shirokov.  Imagine if Óscar Tabárez’ Uruguay had to play with Luis Suarez… oh right.

Some caveats:

– like Brazil in ’94 and ’02, Spain won in 2010 despite a record-low representation by European teams.  However, the other three tournaments that had a low knockout representation by Europe went to South American sides: 1950, 1970, and 2002.

– a more likely determinate of World Cup success is tournament location.  If it’s in Europe, a UEFA team will likely win the whole thing.  If not, look to CONMEBOL.  The only exceptions are South Africa 2010 for Europe and Sweden 1958 for South America (where UEFA had seven of eight playoff births but Brazil still won).

– the set up of this year’s tournament tree means that only one of Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay will advance to the semi-finals, while the Europeans could still end up having six teams in the quarter-finals.

Brent P. Lanthier

*Only post-war World Cups. The three tournaments before 1950 had no group stage, and were straight knockout competitions.

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European Curse?


A dejected German fan ponders his team’s fate

Call it Vuvuzela’s Revenge: Europe’s traditional soccer powers have certainly been stinking up the pitch.  After they ran roughshod over the Aussies, Germany missed a penalty and lost to Serbia (although some would say there is no shame in that). European champions Spain threw the kitchen sink at Switzerland but couldn’t break them down, losing 1-0. Yesterday, it was the Italians’ turn.

Italy? Defending World Cup champions. New Zealand? Ranked 78th. But on a free kick in the seventh minute, the ball went off Che Capitano Cannavaro and into the path of Shane Smeltz; 1-0 to New Zealand on their only shot on net.  The Italians would eventually tie the game on a penalty.  But the Azzurri have yet to win a match, and now need at least a draw against Slovakia to go through.

Which leads us to The Three Lions. After Saturday’s lacklustre display, Captain Schtupping — who really isn’t captain — decided to hold a captain’s conference, saying the players shouldn’t be afraid to challenge the manager. Fortunately, the players wanted no part of it.  They reminded John Terry that: a) he is no longer their leader, and b) they aren’t going to speak out against Capello. I think they were afraid Don Fabio would have them all whacked…

Of course, the British press are spewing theories on why England have been terrible. Some say fatigue after a long Premier League season, others say a lack of preparation,  yet others say the players are afraid of making a Robert Green-esque error.  Meanwhile, England fans just want them to get on with it.

BTW, best cheeky bit we’ve read so far:

The England football team visited an orphanage in Soweto today. “It was great to be able to put a smile on the faces of people without hope,” said Mbutto, aged six.


Mais oh la la la la la. England and Italy don’t have it as bad as La France.  Nicolas “The Incredible Sulk” Anelka was sent home after directing some swears at French coach Raymond Domenech.  Then the French players showed up for practice but wouldn’t get off the bus.  Then they did.  Then captain Patrice Evra had a bust-up with the team’s fitness coach.  Then Domenech had to read a statement saying the players wouldn’t practice because Anelka was sent home… because Domenech had told the FFF about the swears.  The French are kings of irony but this is a bit much.  If you listen carefully, you can hear Irish laughter…

So what’s their problem? According to one journalist, it’s the economy, stupid. But it’s looking more and more likely that once again, a European team will not win on a foreign continent.

Oh yeah, Brazil qualified yeseterday, with Luis Fabiano scoring two lovely goals against the Ivory Coast. Too bad the game was overshadowed by Kaka being sent off because of Kader Keita’s Rivaldo-like performance.

Brent Lanthier

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The Lyon merry-go-round

Hadi Zogheib

It is understood, in Europe, that the great players desire to play in the great leagues. This allows players to showcase their talents to a larger audience and enables them to reap the benefits of larger financial contracts and endorsements. Manchester United? Sure. Barcelona and Real Madrid? Obviously. Inter or Juve? Absolutely. Lyon? Er. Maybe for a while, but then…


Which is what makes Lyon’s staying power all the more impressive. They churn out talent – but it rarely sticks around. Michael Essien, Florent Malouda, Mahamadou Diarra, Gregory Coupet, Tiago, Eric Abidal, John Carew, Karim Benzema, Hatem Ben Arfa. They’ve all been there and had a hand in at least one of the five consecutive Ligue 1 titles Lyon boasts. And, inevitably, they’ve all left. Who wants to stick around when Chelsea, Real and Juve come calling?

It is understood that others will soon leave as well. Hugo Lloris is one of the top rated goalkeepers in Europe. Lisandro Lopez may be the next Diego Milito, looked over by the big clubs until late in his career. And the list of suitors for Aly Cissokho is too long to mention.

But until they leave, there is some unfinished business for the club. For all its domestic success, Lyon have had very little to cheer about in the Champions League. That’s all changed this year under manager Claude Puel. Down only 1-0 to Bayern after the away leg, Lyon has never had a better chance to get to the final of Europe’s biggest football stage. Wait, I thought you had to leave Lyon to go deep in the Champions League. Just ask Essien, Malouda or Benzema. Oh right, their teams have already been eliminated.

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