In a world cup that has been characterized by shocks, the biggest shock of all has to be the elimination of the two previous champions in the first round of the tournament. Italy (2006 champions) and Spain (2010 champions) both bowed out of the tournament in the first round after registering only a win a piece. England, who were not exactly contenders for the trophy but were tipped to at least get to the second round, finished bottom of their group with only a single point. These three are however not the only disappointing European teams in Brazil. Bosnia and Herzegovina boasted quite a sizeable amount of talented players but have already been eliminated from the tournament with a game left to play. Croatia showed a lot of promise in their opening game against Brazil but despite the talents of Rakitic, Modric and Mandzukic, they only recorded a single win and will also be on an early flight home. Belgium who were seen as potential dark horses in the tournament have qualified for the second round but they’ve had to grind out victories against relatively weaker opposition. Portugal have recorded one point from two games in which they’ve conceded six goals and scored two and their chances of qualification are as slim as they can get.
This is not the kind of tournament the media and fans had in mind for European teams as the only stand out performance from a European team was by Netherlands who were criticized for not having enough quality in their ranks but went on to claim all nine points in the group phase. Even Germany who have performed well were only capable of coming from behind to pick up a draw against a Ghanaian side they were expected to steamroller.
These performances albeit very poor, I dare say, were expected. Here are the reasons
The Media: The European media has made the European teams look in pregnable and seeing as European teams won the last two editions of the world cup we were made oblivious to the fact that European teams were not the only teams with talented players. While everyone talked up Belgium’s talented squad, nobody talked about Eduardo Vargas, Alexis Sanchez, Mauricio Isla and Arturo Vidal of Chile, all top players for top European clubs who enjoyed good seasons. Nobody talked about an Uruguayan team that Boasted Suarez, Cavani, Perreira and champions league finalist Godin. The South American and North American teams were grossly underrated. And the tactical ability of their coaches and some quality players and an unbreakable will saw the likes of Chile, Costa Rica and Ecuador book their places in the second round along with Brazil, Argentina and Mexico.
Geography: There is a reason the only time a European team have won the World cup outside Europe was in 2010, when Spain triumphed in South Africa. The reason is the location, and that has played a major role in the performance of the European teams at this tournament, Brazil is far hotter this time of the year than it was in Korea and Japan, Germany and in South Africa. Also, the altitude in Brazil is really high, and that means less oxygen when the players inhale. This inhibits the performances of the players of the European teams as their players have struggled to be at their best in this competition. While for the South and North Americans, it is business as usual as even though they have a lot of players plying their trade in Europe, those players were born and played for some time in South or North America and will need less adapting to perform well in those conditions it is also worth something that the European based American players all return to their continent to play qualifiers and Continentals tournament and so they are used to the playing conditions in countries like Brazil.
Grayed out players: Looking at the Italian squad since 2006 and the Spanish squad between 2008 and date in comparison with the Brazil and Argentine squad, the Europeans are guilty of sticking to their old guard who are generally pasttheir prime while the South Americans find a way to infuse fresh blood into their teams. While Spain still have Casillas, Alonso, Villa, Ramos, Xavi and Iniesta in their ranks the only survivior from Brazil’s 2006 campaign is Julio Ceasar, who at the time was a fringe player. And for the European teams apart from Germany and Portugal who have replaced players, the quality of the new breed is appalling. Portugal replaced Pauletta, Figo, Deco, Maniche and Ricardo with Miereles, Nani, Eder and Beto, the new breed of players are good, but they are not in the same class as the old guard. England replaced Scholes, Owen, Beckham, Campbell, Gary Neville and Ashley Cole with Sturridge, Welbeck, Henderson, Lambert, Lallana and a talented but inexperienced Luke Shaw.
For the European teams, so far, things haven’t gone according to plan. It will be back to the drawing board for most of their FAs as like prandelli, coaches will be fired or will resign and some players like Buffon may have played their last matches for their countries.