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World Cup 2010: Battle of the Continents

The World Cup is the only major tournament where national teams from all the continents meet  in meaningful competitive matches and, coming only once every four years, it gives us a rare and interesting insight into the relative footballing strengths of the different continents.

Of the 64 matches at the 2010 World Cup, 53 were contested between teams from different continental federations (there were also 10 all-Europe clashes and one all-South American match), and we have analysed the results of those games to produce a league table of the continents showing which are football powerhouses and which are the also-rans.

South America took the title as the strongest continent, largely thanks to their impressive performances in the group stage where all five of their representatives reached the second round, four of them winning their groups. They ruthlessly dispatched the weaker opposition they encountered in the first round and didn’t seem to need any time to acclimatise to the conditions, but their performances dipped later on in the tournament. Overall they contested 24 matches against teams from other continents and won half of them, earning 1.75 points per game (on a 3 points for a win, one for a draw basis). They also scored the most goals per game at 1.375.

Europe were not far behind, with an average of 1.62 points per game from their 34 matches against teams from other continents. European teams started slowly but the ones who made the second round grew stronger as the tournament progressed and they made up three of the last four teams. Europe and South America’s results put them comfortably ahead of their nearest challengers in our table showing that the traditional football hotbeds are still leading the world.

A distant third came Asia, with 1.07 points per game from their 14 matches showing that the most populous continent is well placed to mount a challenge to the established powerhouses in years to come. Football has been rapidly gaining in popularity in Asia over the past couple of decades and playing standards have been steadily rising, so you can expect them to consolidate their current position and close the gap on the big two in the next decade. Their teams did have the leakiest defences at the tournament, conceding 2 goals per game but that was mainly due to North Korea‘s capitulation against Portugal.

Oceania is a surprise fourth in the table and it was the only unbeaten continent at World Cup 2010, with New Zealand‘s three draws from as many games earning them an average of one point per game. They also had the meanest defence but the lowest goals scored average at the tournament, scoring and conceding at 0.6′ goals per game.

North America (CONCACAF) will be disappointed at their fifth place finish, although getting two of their three teams to the second round suggests that judging them purely on a points per game basis is unfair. Nevertheless, they would have hoped for at least one quarter final representative and a better average than 0.91 points per game from their 11 fixtures.

Africa‘s challenge, or lack thereof, was the most disappointing aspect of the first World Cup on African soil. They managed only 0.9 points per game from 20 matches and five of their six representatives dropped out in the first round. Once again they failed to turn their potential into results and seem not to have made any progress in recent years.

Whether or not these performances will result in changes to the number of places each continental federation gets at the next World Cup remains to be seen. What is for sure is that South America will have an extra place as Brazil will qualify automatically as holders, with four more countries qualifying automatically and once going into a play-off. Europe has done more then enough to hold on to it’s 13 places but there may be a redistribution of the remainder. Africa will drop down to five teams as they lose the hosts spot that went to South Africa, and they may even have to make a further concession as Asia now warrants as many, if not more places than Africa. I would give Asia a full fifth place at the World Cup and make the fifth best African team play off against their fifth placed South American counterparts and have the Oceania representative play off against the fourth placed North American team.

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Our Proposed World Cup Allocations for 2014:

South America (CONMEBOL): 5.5
Europe (UEFA): 13
Asia (AFC): 5
Africa (CAF): 4.5
North America (CONCACAF): 3.5
Oceania (OFC): 0.5

*We’re not counting the Confederations Cup as a major tournament.

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