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Is the World Cup a party for two?

Tuesday 3rd July 2018

We are now 88 years and 21 tournaments since the inaugural World Cup took place in Uruguay in 1930. The hosts won it, beating Argentina in the final. In all the tournaments since, the final has always been played out between a combination of European and/or South American teams. 

One would be forgiven for thinking that football wasn't the global game it claims to be but the fact is teams from the other four Confederations have struggled to make an impact on the world stage. Only the United States (1930) and South Korea (2002) have made it to the semifinals. In Asia, North Korea are the only other side to reach a quarterfinal. Cameroon, Ghana and Senegal are the only African sides to make the last eight. From CONCACAF, Mexico, Costa Rica and Cuba have also gone that far. 

It's fair to say these regions were underrepresented in earlier tournaments. There's even an argument to be made they still are even though the rest of the world now occupies almost half the tournament places. The hard truth is the results just haven't been anywhere near as good as they should be.

Mexico and Japan were the only two sides from outside UEFA and CONMEBOL to reach the last 16 in Russia. Both were eliminated on Monday. So where does the answer lie? What do the outsiders need to fulfil their potential? 

Considering they were also eliminated in the first round, Iceland might not be the best example, but this was their first time at the World Cup. The repeat failures might want to follow their model. Iceland put pitches next to schools, educated coaches, and built indoor training facilities that could be used all year round by youngsters. 

Giving facilities to youngsters is a great thing but by far the most important aspect of the Icelandic footballing revolution was ensuring everyone helping these children on their football journey is qualified. To coach children in Iceland, you need a UEFA B License. That's a far cry from giving the only parent who is willing to do it the keys to their future. Having the facilities is like a billionaire having the fastest car in the world. If he doesn't know how to drive, what's the point? 

How many times have we seen African teams managed by a European coach? Are coaches in those countries not getting the right opportunities? Surely there are capable candidates but an African coach at a World Cup is extremely rare. It was so good to see Aliou Cisse bring Senegal to this World Cup. They were quite unlucky to exit in the way they did. 

While I won't claim to know a lot about grassroots football in most countries, I have read a lot about is the USA. There are more kids in the USA playing football than any other sport. Over half are girls. The USA ladies side has taken those numbers and won three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals. The men are said to be more enamoured with the ridiculous money on offer in gridiron, basketball, baseball and ice hockey. Is that a hint for MLS to make its salaries more competitive?

The other argument regarding the USMNT's failure is the lack of quality coaches. Too many youngsters are being coached by soccer moms and dads who weren't raised on the game. The 1994 World Cup led to a big boost in football's stateside popularity in the game. The kids who began playing then are now the parents of a new generation of youth players. Will we see a commensurate boost at the senior level in the coming tournaments? 

In the meantime, the US and other countries should be giving their future generations the best chance they can. The only way to do that is to train coaches properly. Just like Iceland, it can push these nations to previously undreamt heights. 

Gerry Johnston

I am a 33-year-old sports writer from Ireland who enjoys watching European football. My main focus is La Liga, but I do keep a close eye on all of the major leagues throughout the world.

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