The five World Cups since 1998 (including 2014) have involved 32 international teams who qualified through their respective confederations. Examining the performances of the representatives of the differing international continent-based confederations allows us to look at how competitive the differing regions have been.
Key Statistics: Escaping the Group Stage
Europe (UEFA) has seen only 6 of its 13 sides qualify for the 2nd Round in each of the last two World Cups (2010 and 2014.) Before that, 10 sides made the last 16 in 1998 and 2006 and 9 in 2002.
South America (CONMEBOL) has seen 5 of 6 sides qualify for the 2nd Round in 2014 and 5 of 5 sides in 2010.
From 1998 to 2010, only one of the tournament’s African teams (CAF) in each of the four tournaments made it through to the 2nd Stage (the continent had 5 teams in 1998, 2002 and 2006, and 6 in 2010.) This year represents the first time 2 African sides have made the 2nd Round.
The CONCACAF region has witnessed the greatest improvement in recent World Cups, with 2 sides making the 2nd Round in 2002 and 2010 and three in 2014.
Asian sides (AFC) have only made the last 16 (2nd Round) in two World Cups: 2002 and 2010. On both occasions, two sides made it through from the group stages.
Key Statistics: The Elite Eight & Final Four
Whilst the picture emerging from recent World Cups is one of an increasing diversity of 2nd Round competitor nations in terms of their global geographic identity, the pattern of European and South American domination is quickly identifiable through an analysis of the teams in each of the World Cups that successfully navigated their way to the quarter finals.
28 of the 32 quarter finalists between 1998 and 2010 were from Europe or South America. Only Ghana (2010), USA (2002), South Korea (2002) and Senegal (2002) secured quarter final places from those national sides competing from other regions. 19 of the 28 quarter finalists were from Europe and 9 from South America.
Europe’s dominance is even more pronounced at semi-final level. During the period 1998-2010, 12 of the 16 semi-finalists were UEFA teams, with 3 being South American and 1 Asian side (South Korea in 2002.)
2014: Will the pattern remain the same?
The 16 2nd Round teams that will battle it out for quarter final places include 5 from outside South America and UEFA: CONCACAF’s three sides (USA, Costa Rica & Mexico) and the two African (CAF) sides, Algeria and Nigeria.
It will be fascinating to see if any of those sides can join the four sides since 1998 from outside the two dominant continents to make the last eight and, possibly, progress even further. Time will tell.