Resurgent Americas sparks global great debate

In a World Cup that has already left so many lasting memories, the real legacy could be a shift in the balance of power from Europe to the Americas.

The quarter-finals will feature four teams from Europe and four from South and Central America, but the hope over here in Brazil is that this could be the start of a period of international dominance based around Rio, Buenos Aires and Bogota.

It is a view expressed by Javier Mascherano, who batted away most questions about his Argentinian side after Tuesday’s match against Switzerland but was instead rather more excited when discussing the progress of his continent.

The demise of the great Spain side that ruled the world for six years has left a vacuum at the summit of world football, and while this tournament has stunning players, it has no team ready to fill that void.

Every World Cup final since 1950 has featured at least one European side, but 1950 was the last to be held in Brazil, as Uruguay beat the hosts in the final game. It would be quite something were history to repeat itself.

The Americas are also featuring more heavily when it comes to the number of quarter-finalists. In 1994, seven of the eight were European, in 2010 just three, and this year it is a 50-50 split.

But there is also, as Mascherano admits, another factor at play. Simply put, the big guns have regressed, while teams formerly regarded as minnows have improved substantially.

Few would have given Algeria or Switzerland much of a chance against Germany or Argentina before the tournament, for example, but both pushed their more vaunted opponents all the way in extra-time.

“The South Americans teams, while one or two have gone out, have put in a very respectable performance,” said Mascherano.

“Obviously, we’re seeing a very different World Cup as South America is not the same to play in as Europe.

“There’s been evolution. Today, you have countries who, historically, don’t have such a football tradition but they’ve evolved, they’ve made a stride forward.

“I’ve read that it’s the World Cup with the most goals, where there are a lot of entertaining games, where there are a lot of great match-ups. There aren’t too many big gaps between teams. For supporters, that’s great.”

That is certainly true, as the tally of 154 goals at an average of 2.75 per game demonstrates.

And while their styles of play are utterly different, both Colombia and Costa Rica have shown why this potential shift in power is occurring; fine managers giving their players a structure to impress themselves in the way that Portugal and England, for example, have been accused of shying away from.

There is also the question of whether Europe-based players are exhausted by the time a World Cup comes around.

Of the top leagues, only Germany and France are still in the competition, with England, Spain and Italy all long departed.

Yet with Messi, Neymar and Arjen Robben lighting up the competition, that argument fails to hold water, with the attention now switching to the basic question of whether it means more to play for Costa Rica or Colombia than England or Portugal.

Certainly Joachim Low, the Germany coach, believes the local teams have been desperate to prove themselves in this tournament above all others.

“The South and Central Americans — Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, Costa Rica — have certainly shown that on their continent, they want to show their class,” he said.

“They want to show the entire world ‘this is where we’re playing, this is our continent and we will do whatever is necessary to satisfy our fans and our countries’.”

Mascherano agrees with that sentiment, although he is not surprised with how it has turned out.

“I don’t think it’s fair to say anyone’s been a surprise but you have to mention Costa Rica, who are doing something extraordinary,” says Mascherano.

“You must also give a lot of credit to Colombia — two squads who, with their youth and style, are putting in great campaigns through this World Cup. That’s the reward for brave sides.

“It’s a bit of a lottery too. Chile could well have gone through, it would have been deserved. I think they put in a very respectable display against Brazil.

“They’ve grown a lot and, above all, they never deviated from their idea. That’s the identity of a team.”

The identity of a team, and perhaps the identity of football’s future.


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