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The Not-So-Glorious Certainties of Football. May 31, 2006

Posted by Abhishek in Football, guest.

Note: Arnold is guest writing on this blog. If you want him to join the Silly Point team on a full-time basis, please plead for him in the comments 😉

Football, any fan will be quick to assert, is a game of glorious uncertainties. I beg to differ.

Sure, there are upsets (like there are in every other sport), but if you look at the history of the World Cup, there have been far too many "certainties" for my liking. Let's take a look at just the finals for now, shall we? Here are some striking facts:

1. In 17 World Cups this far, we've had only 7 different countries lift the trophy. Even more surprisingly, the 34 teams that have competed in these 17 Finals have come from only 10 countries. I find this figure especially telling — not only are new teams not winning the Cup, they aren't even reaching the Final!

2. In the 9 Finals since 1970 (18 teams), there's been only one entry from outside the traditional powerhouses of Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Italy and the Netherlands. (The exception of course was France in '98.)

3. The last time a team made the Final for the first time (again excluding the French exception) was the Netherlands way back in 1974. The last time we had both Finalists appearing for the first time was in the 2nd edition in 1934!

So all the "glorious uncertainties", it would appear to me, happen in the early stages of the World Cup. But once it comes down to the games that really matter, we only see regular faces! When will the Senegals and the South Koreas of this world have what it takes in them to actually win the damn thing?

Another interesting point that one realizes is that home advantage plays a crucial role as far as the Football World Cup is concerned. Here are some more facts:

1. The two countries that have one the Cup once each — England (1966) and France (1998) — accomplished this on home ground. The only other team to have played in the Final only a single time — Sweden (1958) — also did so on home turf.

2. Countries seem to do well either in their own country or not too far from it. 6 World Cups were won by the home country and only Brazil has actually managed to win the Cup on a continent other than their own (Sweden '58, Mexico '70, USA '94 and Japan '02). When one adds to this the fact that no team from either North America or Asia could realistically be given too much chance of taking the Cup, the only real 'away-continent' victory remains Brazil in Sweden '58.

3. South Korea put their home advantage to good use in the last tournament and wound up reaching the semi-finals. I don't think any home team has been knocked out of the World Cup in the Group stages.

So why do teams have such a problem traveling away from home in this sport? And when will we have some new teams winning the Cup? Any answers?