European teams’ underperformance at World Cups in South America has been well documented, and it looked like a similar story was about to play out after the group stages of this summer’s competition in Brazil.
Former World Cup winners Italy, England and current holders Spain all saw their tournaments cut short, bowing out at the group stage—all beaten by teams from the Americas. Portugal and Croatia also failed to get beyond the first phase of the competition, with the Portuguese being dismantled by finalists Germany.
Germany’s run to the final has seen them take on opposition from the continent just once, the drubbing of hosts and pre-tournament favourites Brazil in the semifinal. Should they become the first nation from Europe to lift the title, they will once again need to get beyond another opponent from the home continent, Lionel Messi’s Argentina.
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Europe’s woes in South America go back to the inaugural competition hosted by Uruguay in 1930. France, Yugoslavia, Romania and Belgium formed the European contingent, with the Yugoslavians impressing in the group stage by beating Brazil before succumbing to hosts and eventual champions Uruguay in the semifinal by a score line of 6-1. It took more than two weeks to negotiate the Atlantic Ocean, with teams training on deck during the voyage on the SS Conte Verde. Indeed, the same ship carried the teams from France, Romania and Belgium, stopping off in Rio en route to collect the Brazilian squad.
The final, an installment of one of the fiercest international derbies in the sport—the Clásico del Río de la Plata—saw Uruguay lift the trophy against Argentina at the iconic Estadio Centenario in Montevideo.
Twenty years after the first World Cup, international football’s flagship tournament returned to South America and, for the first time, to Brazil. Europe supplied six of the 13 participants and would’ve provided a larger contingent but for France, Turkey, Scotland and Portugal all choosing not to compete. European teams fared better in Brazil than they had previously in Uruguay, with both Sweden and Spain topping their groups before fighting for third place in the four-team final group. Uruguay was once again champions, topping the final group with their dramatic win over hosts Brazil, dubbed the Maracanazo.
When the tournament visited Chile 12 years later, Europe provided its first finalist at a South American World Cup—Czechoslovakia. Arriving in the final without facing a team from outside their home confederation of UEFA in the knockout stages, they were summarily dispatched by Brazil, lead by Mario Zagallo, Garrincha and, of course, Pelé. The European challenge had once again improved but that first win in South America remained elusive.
1978 and Argentina came next, with ten European nations making the journey across the Atlantic to take part. The runners-up from the 1974 competition, the Netherlands, took on the hosts in the final at River Plate’s Estadio Monumental in front of more than 70,000 spectators. Argentina only guaranteed top spot in the second group stage by thumping Peru 6-0 in the final match, taking Brazil’s place at the top and consigning their bitter rivals to the third place match against Italy, which the Seleção won.
Argentina of course won their first World Cup in a mal-tempered affair at the Monumental with extra time goals from Golden Boot winner Mario Kempes and Daniel Bertoni, leaving Europe’s greatest still looking for their first World Cup triumph on American soil.
Incidentally, teams from the Americas won World Cups hosted in the New World, with Brazil winning their third World Cup in Mexico in 1970 and Maradona’s Argentina taking the title— again, in Mexico—in 1986.
Can Germany be the first European nation to lift the World Cup in South America? The signs are good for Die Nationalmannschaft. They have the advantage of an extra day’s rest and their opponents, Argentina, were taken to penalties by the Dutch to reserve their place in the final at the Maracana on Sunday.
Despite Germany’s stroll against Brazil in the semifinal and the failure of Argentina to reach their full potential with a series of 1-0 victories and a penalty win, history favours the Albiceleste. Germany has already broken records in this competition, and if they are to lift their first World Cup since they beat Sunday’s rivals at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome 24 years ago, they’ll have to do so once again.
Paul Sarahs is a London-based writer. Follow him on Twitter.