Concacaf and Africa gain at Asia's expense

By Paul Kennedy

The group stage ended with the exit of three European powers, all former World Cup champions: the holder Spain, four-time champion Italy and England.

But form largely held as Europe and South America, which have produced every World Cup champion, sent six and five teams, respectively, into the round of 16 -- the same numbers as in 2010.

Concacaf and Africa with three and two teams -- both records -- in the knockout stage each gained one berth at the expense of Asia, whose four representatives not only all failed to advance but also all failed to win a game.

2014 Survivors:
6/13 Europe
5/6 South America
3/4 Concacaf
2/5 Africa
0/4 Asia

Here's a confederation-by-confederation look at how teams fared ...

EUROPE. The big thing that stands out is who is missing: Spain (the defending champion), Italy (for the second time in a row) and England (finishing with its worst record ever). Along with Germany, they form the big four of European soccer -- at least at the club level.

Burnout after long club campaigns has to be factor in the failures of the trio of European powers. Notably, all three teams lost their second group games, in the case of Italy and England following their match in Manaus. (The counter to the argument that fatigue contributed to their early ouster is, of course, that other teams that rely heavily on players from the big European clubs -- teams like Brazil, Argentina and Belgium -- advanced.)

Just six out of 13 European teams survived the group stage, matching their performance in 2010. It marks a continuing decline, though, in the depth of the European forces. In the three previous World Cups, Europe averaged 9.7 teams out of the final 16 teams.

Europe should not be written off too quickly, however. European teams were the top three finishers in 2010. They swept the top four spots in 2006. This year, European teams will enter the knockout stage favored to claim two of the final four berths: Netherlands and France or Germany.

Europe Standouts:
1. Arjen Robben (Netherlands)
2. Karim Benzema (France)
3. Thomas Mueller (Germany)

Europe Survivors:
2014: 6/13.
1998: 10/15.

SOUTH AMERICA. The good news is five of six South American teams -- all but Ecuador -- are through to the round of 16. The bad news is that four of them -- Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay -- find themselves in the same quadrant, so two of them will be gone by Saturday night, and only one of them will survive past the quarterfinals.

With at least one semifinalist assured, South America will match its best performance at the last four World Cups, where it has never had more than one team reach the final four (Brazil in 1998 and 2002 and Uruguay in 2010).

Argentina will be favored to make it two South American teams in the final four as it finds itself in a favorable quadrant. But the pressure on the Albiceleste will be enormous as it has not made the final four since 1990.

South America Standouts:
1. James Rodriguez (Colombia)
2. Lionel Messi (Argentina)
3. Neymar (Brazil)

South America Survivors:
2014: 5/6.
2010: 5/5.
2002: 2/5.
1998: 4/5.

CONCACAF. Concacaf just might get a little more respect after a record three teams made the final 16. Costa Rica won its group, finishing ahead of three former champions, Mexico went unbeaten, tying host Brazil, and the USA advanced out of the Group of Death. Only Honduras, 31st out of 32 teams with three straight losses, did not advance.

What Concacaf's performance demonstrates is that the teams at the top make each other better. If they can get through Concacaf, they can be competitive at the World Cup. For Mexico, the World Cup has been a cakewalk after what it went through in the Hexagonal.

More generally, the conditions the Concacaf teams face in the Hexagonal -- travel, weather conditions, fan support -- made them very well prepared for what they'd face in Brazil 2014.

Concacaf Standouts:
1. Rafael Marquez (Mexico).
2. Joel Campbell (Costa Rica).
3. Jermaine Jones (USA).
(BTW, The three keepers of the surviving Concacaf teams -- Tim Howard, Guillermo Ochoa and Kevan Navas -- have all been excellent.)

Concacaf Survivors:
2014: 3/4.
2010: 2/3.
1998: 1/3.

AFRICA. The success of African teams in Brazil has unfortunately been overshadowed by continuing off-the-field problems between teams and their federations and teams and their local media. For the first time, two Africans teams -- Algeria and Nigeria -- are in the final 16. Ivory Coast was 90 seconds from going through. And Ghana was in good shape to survive the Group of Death before its crisis on the eve of the Portugal match.

The wealth of young talent spread across European clubs will make African teams contenders for years to come. But they'll never achieve their potential until they stop shooting themselves in the foot with nasty off-the-field squabbles. Those most responsible are the federation leaders who prefer to see how many friends they can sign up for junkets to the World Cup rather than find a way to end the years of mistrust with players.

Africa Standouts:
1. Sofiane Feghouli (Algeria).
2. Kenneth Omeruo (Nigeria).
3. Serge Aurier (Ivory Coast).

Africa Survivors:
2014: 2/5.
2010: 1/6.
2006: 1/5.
2002: 1/5.
1998: 1/5.

ASIA. Asia's record in Brazil was pathetic: average of 0.25 points per team, all of three points from three draws in 12 games. This isn't the first time Asia's representatives are failed to clear the first hurdle, but it is a huge setback after 2010 when both Japan and South Korea reached the final 16.

On the continental level, the performance shows just how badly soccer has been mismanaged by Asian leaders, beginning with former Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed bin Hammam, who treated the region as his own fiefdom.

Soccer is enormously popular as a spectator sport in parts of Asia -- raking in tons of money in broadcast rights for the English Premier League -- but that interest has yet to be translated into the development of the game at the competitive level.

Asia Standouts:
1. Mathew Leckie (Australia)
2. Tim Cahill (Australia)
3. Son Heung-Min (South Korea)

Asia Survivors:
2014: 0/4.
2010: 2/4.
1998: 0/4.
*Australia, then in Oceania, advanced.
5 comments about "Concacaf and Africa gain at Asia's expense".
  1. Kent James, June 27, 2014 at 10:03 p.m.

    It's nice to see the rest of the world starting to catch up to Europe and South America (though Asia, obviously has a lot of work to do). Some time soon, I'd like to see a team outside of Europe or South America hoist the trophy (though I doubt it will be this year; but maybe we can make 'em sweat a bit...).

  2. New WorldOrder, June 27, 2014 at 11:04 p.m.

    The best argument as to why the 3 Euro Top Teams did not perform well, Italy/England/Spain, is simply because the best 2-3 teams in each league depend largely on the great play of South Americans, Brazil/Argentina. Those 2 teams have the same exhaustion problem so common sense will tell us that the best teams in the best Euro leagues depend way too much on 2 South American Countries and are certainly way overrated. Rafa Marquez has not been Mexico's best player in this World Cup. Would have to be Ochoa, Herrera. Mexico and Costa Rica have not only went through to next round, they did it playing teams straight up without bunkering in the back and hoping for a counter goal. They took it to teams like Italy, England, uruguay, Brazil. Both those teams will advance to top 8. Greece and USA are more on the lucky side of advancing and wont advance past 16 with that style.

  3. New WorldOrder, June 27, 2014 at 11:06 p.m.

    Costa Rica and Mexico are as good as anyone right now to win this thing. Cake walk for Mexico?? Really?? Could it be they are now playing closer to their full potential under new leadership in Miguel herrera?? You guys crack me up.

  4. Derek Mccracken, June 28, 2014 at 6:58 a.m.

    Good article by Kennedy. However, one of his conclusions in the 2nd paragraph, that Europe and South America did well because of the large numbers of teams they put into the second round, is flawed.

    One should not look at the number of teams each confederation has put through, but the % ratio of the total slots each confed gets.

    For example, the most successful would be South America with 83% of its teams through, Concacaf with 75%, then Europe with a more mediocre 46%, Africa with 40% and Asia with a pitiful 0%.

    Hopefully FIFA takes note and apportions more slots to Concacaf and Conmebol, accordingly.

  5. Mark Hardt, June 28, 2014 at 10:29 a.m.

    The concaaf respect earned will translate to:

    1. Higher MLS attendance. 2. More Americans returning to MLS. 3. More Concaaf players getting shots in Europe. 4. More under 30 Europeans playing in the MLS.

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