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World Cup 2010: South Americans Feel Right at Home in South Africa

COS columnist Tom Smith wants to know why the South Americans are doing so well and asks if the rest are battling against fate in the Southern hemisphere.

Ellis Park Johannesburg World Cup 2010 Argentina v Nigeria (1-0) Match 03 12/06/10 Lionel Messi (ARG) Photo Roger Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom

The South American teams are still unbeaten; they have not even been behind in a match yet. Uruguay have now conceded one, and so have Argentina who next face their impressive Central American neighbours Mexico. Paraguay have also only conceded only one (against the raining champions) and Brazil and Chile have been comparatively sloppy conceding two each.

In conjunction with the widely held opinion that these teams have so far provided the best football, Chile and Argentina been particularly exciting, I have to ask; why are the South Americans doing so well?

I’m sure everyone has a view, maybe some think the facts are flattering them and the failure of European giants France and Italy have made the comparison particularly lop sided. With Spain starting to simmer nicely and the Dutch looking comfortable in 3rd gear, more will be expected from them and from Portugal and England or Germany (I dare not call that one) to upset this South American fiesta.

Here are some of the arguments put forward so far;

Qualification in South America is just healthier. They play 18 games rather then 10 for the Europeans and CONCACAF, or 8 in Asia and only 6 for African teams. On top of that, the teams South American teams have to compete with are better in quality. No Andorra or San Morino here, the worst team in Qualification was Peru, ranked a respectable 53 in the FIFA rankings and who earned 1-1 draws with both Argentina and Brazil at home in the Andes altitude. (The 2001 Copa America champions and South American powerhouses Columbia have probably suffered the most at this tough regime, failing to qualify for the World Cup since France ’98 whilst their Club teams do well in the Copa Libertadores, with Once Caldas winning the South American version of the Champions League in 2004)

It’s the middle of the South American season. The players are in their peak and as their seasons are split with a luxurious winter break, the players are therefore rested yet also inform.

The attacking mindset got the South Americans off to better starts comparatively and they developed an early momentum.

They are used to playing at altitude, and so physical and technical preparations are not novel and the subject of Greame Souness-esque baseless speculation.

Other theories are available from your local football buff, but these environmental and structural factors are in addition to some cultural factors. The most likely being the insular nature and exposure of European Leagues and players when compared to South America. If you want to follow South American Football with any commitment, expect it to infringe on your social life and sleeping pattern. This point is slightly offset with the fact that most of the South American stars are based in Europe.

Besides the fact that this is the first World Cup in the Southern Hemisphere since 1978 (When the hosts Argentina won) and the fact that no Northern hemisphere side has ever won a World Cup hosted in the South, or even in Mexico, when in ’70 and  ’86  the Brazilians and Argentineans took the changes in latitudes in their strides. (For the geeks among us, Brazil are the only team to ignore the hemisphere factor winning in their opposite half of the world in 2002 (Japan and South Korea), 1994 (USA) and 1958 (Sweden).

No good answers then I’m afraid to explain the South American domination so far. Maybe its more simple, maybe they’re just better?