Sunday, July 13, 2014

Told ya so

The World Cup is over -- let the real dog days of summer commence. Before the tournament fades into the mists of time, though, I thought it might be fun to update a previous post.

I said in that post that teams from Concacaf -- the region that encompasses North America, Central America and the Caribbean -- did more with their places in the World Cup than their African or Asian counterparts and thus did not deserve to have World Cup bids taken from them and given to other regions. The events of this year's World Cup did little to shake my confidence in that assertion. Four Concacaf teams qualified for Brazil, with three advancing out of their group and one reaching the quarterfinals. Just two of Africa's five teams reached the last 16, and Asia's four qualifiers combined for a paltry three points between them.

Below are my updated numbers for each region, both for this year's tournament and overall since the World Cup expanded to 32 teams in 1998. As a reminder, in an attempt to quantify how much return each region provides for each place it gets at world soccer's biggest event, I added up the points earned by each team from each region during the group stage and divided that total by the number of berths that region received. The idea is that trends in performance should emerge over the span of several World Cups. You can find the breakdown for 1998 through 2010 at the first link.

Asia: Australia 0 points, Japan 1, Iran 1, South Korea 1. Total points: 3. Points per place: 0.75.
Africa: Cameroon 0, Ivory Coast 3, Nigeria 4, Ghana 1, Algeria 4. Total points: 12. PPP: 2.4.
Concacaf: Mexico 7, Costa Rica 7, Honduras 0, United States 4. Total points: 18. PPP: 4.5.
South America: Brazil 7, Chile 6, Colombia 9, Uruguay 6, Ecuador 4, Argentina 9. Total points: 41. PPP: 6.83.
Europe: Croatia 3, Netherlands 9, Spain 3, Greece 4, Italy 3, England 1, France 7, Switzerland 6, Bosnia 3, Germany 7, Portugal 4, Belgium 9, Russia 2. Total points: 61. PPP: 4.69.

Asia: 20 World Cup berths, 43 points. PPP: 2.15. Round of 16: 4. Quarterfinals: 1. Semifinals: 1.
Africa: 26 berths, 68 points. PPP: 2.62. Round of 16: 6. Quarterfinals: 2.
Concacaf: 17 berths, 57 points. PPP: 3.35. Round of 16: 9. Quarterfinals: 2.
South America: 25 berths, 148 points. PPP: 5.92. Round of 16: 19. Quarterfinals: 12. Semifinals: 5. Finals: 3. Champions: 1.
Europe: 70 berths, 333 points. PPP: 4.76. Round of 16: 41. Quarterfinals: 23. Semifinals: 14. Finals: 7. Champions: 4.
Oceania: 2 berths, 7 points. PPP: 3.5. Round of 16: 1.

It's all there in the numbers -- Concacaf earns more points and advances more teams to the knockout rounds than Asia or Africa despite having fewer World Cup places. Make all the subjective, hypothetical arguments you want about how Mexico wouldn't finish in the top half of a European qualifying group or how England would waltz through the Hex without breaking a sweat, but those arguments lack the support of hard evidence. When the FIFA bigwigs start furrowing their brows and making noises about reallocating World Cup spots, Concacaf can point to its track record and simply reply, "We get results."

Of course, I would be remiss without reiterating another set of numbers -- Africa has 56 FIFA member nations, Asia 47, Concacaf 41, Europe 54, South America 10 and Oceania 11. As such, don't expect anything more than tinkering around the edges of the World Cup playoffs from FIFA officials who want to keep their phoney-baloney jobs. They need Asian and African votes to stay connected to the gravy train, after all, and they need to keep the Europeans and South Americans onside to help drive TV ratings.

Let's hope that whichever regions gain or lose bids do so on the strength of their on-field performance and not as a result of political machinations. Given the track records of the people making the decisions, it's a faint hope at best.

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