There’s Germany, Netherlands, and Spain sitting atop their respective groups. But then there’s France and Italy sitting rock bottom of theirs. The collective failure of European squads, especially in comparison to their South American rivals, can be attributed to the long domestic seasons that also caused so many injuries prior to the World Cup. In England, in particular, there’s the FA and Carling Cups in addition to the Premiership and European competitions. Though in fairness, South Americans have their own drawn-out cup competitions, namely the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana (think Europa League).
The blame then could be more heavily placed upon the presence of foreign players (or “luxury immigrants,” as a racist Italian grandstander puts it) in the major domestic leagues, displacing homegrown players from the starting lineups of top teams. It creates a scenario where the likes of Inter Milan can win the Champions League without a single Italian player in the starting lineup (though Inter’s philosophy has always been to welcome foreigners), with Argentines like Diego Milito and the Brazilian Maicon occupying starting spots. At the same time, back in South America, both veterans the likes of Seba Veron and Robinho are playing in the continent’s most competitive domestic sides and upstarts such as Nilmar have only recently left.
The rare exception amongst the group of foreigner-heavy leagues is Spain. That’s because with La Liga a two-horse race between Barca and Madrid every year, the Spanish players at those two clubs largely comprise the best Spanish squad of any possible makeup.
Perhaps then Brazil’s national team coach Dunga has deciphered it best, citing globalization. “Forget the notion of ‘traditional teams’,” he said. “If you don’t play well, you’ll be eliminated. Long gone are the days when a traditionally strong team could just turn up and expect to win.”
After all, even the US won its group. And hell, the semifinals could beckon.