Is South America’s 60-year wait to win another World Cup in Europe finally set to end?
With Brazil kicking off Russia 2018 as favourites, the bookies certainly think so.
That prediction is grounded in the star-studded squad Selecao boss Tite can call on, including the likes of Neymar, the most expensive player in footballing history, Gabriel Jesus and Phillippe Coutinho.
History suggests otherwise, with Europe having won nine of the ten World Cups that have been held on the continent thus far.
But Brazil’s case for winning a record sixth trophy – not to mention the claims of other non-European nations – has been strengthened by a report from award-winning sports science technology company Kitman Labs, which investigates the theory of home-continent advantage and explores why European and South American nations are so dominant at tournaments in their own region.
The report finds that a talented squad supported by thorough preparation and substantial investment in facilities, support staff and sports science technology can overcome the huge challenges posed by competing on a foreign continent, like altitude, weather conditions and travel.
THE CASE FOR EUROPE’S DEFENCE
The only time a European nation has failed to win a World Cup in Europe was way back in 1958 in Sweden, when Pele went onto lift the trophy after becoming the then-youngest player to star at the tournament.
And the performances of the 32 competing nations, representing six continents, during the first two rounds of group matches at Russia 2018 underlines the strength of Europe when competing in their own region.
With Russia, France, Croatia, Belgium and England recording back-to-back-wins, Europe (14 teams) boast an impressive 68% win-rate in matches against teams from other continents. Only Germany, Iceland and Poland have been beaten.
South America (five teams, 40%) have the next best win-rate against other continents, but only Uruguay boast a 100 per cent record.
North America (three teams) have a 33% win-rate thanks to Mexico’s successive victories, with Asia (four teams) on 25%, Africa (five teams) on 20% and Australia & Oceania (one team) 0%.
Taking tournament history and results thus far into account, it’s no wonder four European nations (Spain, France, Germany and Belgium) are now in most bookies’ top-five tips to lift the trophy in Moscow on July 15.
WHY HAVE RANK OUTSIDERS RUSSIA ENJOYED SUCH A GR-EIGHT START?!
The one team that should truly benefit from the 11th World Cup being staged in Europe is, of course, hosts Russia.
Only six host nations have won a World Cup – France being the last 20 years ago – but Stanislav Cherchesov’s side, who started the tournament as the lowest ranked team, have certainly made home advantage count thus far.
So why do teams perform better at home? Greater support and playing in familiar surroundings are obvious factors, but Premier League performance stats offer further insight.
On average, Premier League home teams win one more point than away sides, record more shots on goal and win more corners, while away teams suffer increased fatigue and are more likely to experience decrease in sleep quality, quantity and hydration.
Positioned 70th in the latest FIFA rankings, Russia’s stats from their opening two victories against Saudi Arabia (67th) and Egypt (45th) mirror those Premier League findings. Over the two games, Russia recorded six more shots than Saudi Arabia & Egypt (25-19) nine more shots on target (10-1) and won seven more corners (13-6).
Russia’s eight goals mean they have already hit the net as many times as Spain did throughout their victorious 2010 campaign in South Africa. They have also made the best start to a tournament by a host nation since the World Cup began.
EUROPE VERSUS SOUTH AMERICA AT THE WORLD CUP
Of the previous 20 World Cups, ten have been staged on the European continent, five in South America, three in North America and one each in Asia and Africa, but Europe (11) and South America (nine) have provided all 20 winners.
European teams traditionally dominate European World Cups with South American countries performing likewise on their own continent. Only one European team have won in South America (Germany at Brazil 2014) and vice versa for South America. South America have won all four World Cups staged in North America and Asia (Brazil at Mexico 1970, USA 1994, Japan/South Korea 2002 and Argentina at Mexico 1986) while Europe succeeded at the only tournament in Africa (Spain at South Africa 2010).
HOW EUROPE HAS GIVEN THE OTHER CONTINENTS HOPE AT RUSSIA 2018
Germany finally bucked a trend that had spanned almost 85 years by becoming the first European team to succeed in South America at the last World Cup.
So how did Joachim Low’s side make history? Darcy Norman, Roma’s Director of Performance who is also High Performance Consultant for Die Mannschaft, supported Low at both Brazil 2014 and is currently part of his backroom staff in Russia.
Norman says Germany’s success four years ago was down to pre-tournament preparation aided by big off-field investment in facilities and performance staff, who had in-depth individual player data at their finger-tips.
In Brazil, Germany converted a private resort, Campo Bahia, into a home from home, boasting a FIFA regulation training pitch, outdoor swimming pool, media centre, fitness centre, lounge and dining area. Norman said this ensured that, between matches, players were relaxed and focused on recovering or preparing for their next game.
“Teams are investing a lot of energy and money into resources to try and give them the best advantage possible,” said Norman.
“[Germany] do a phenomenal job of creating training environments that are really comfortable for the staff and players. In the past, it was a disadvantage to be in new places and different hotels with things you weren’t familiar with. But now, you can really create a convenient training facility and base camp to minimise what was once deemed a disadvantage.”
TECHNOLOGY IS KEY TO DETHRONING EUROPE IN EUROPE
The advancement of sports science technology is helping teams better prepare for big tournaments on foreign continents. They are armed with years’ worth of data on their own players, opposition, stadia and competition schedule.
The more advanced the software sports science and performance staff have at their disposal, the better they can monitor, manage and protect players from injury or underperformance.
“Technology allows teams to prepare a lot better – we are getting smarter as we go along,” added Norman.
Kitman Labs is a sports science technology platform used by numerous national sporting teams and organisations, including the Irish Rugby Union, Australian Rugby League and Italian Rugby Union.
Stephen Smith, founder and CEO of Kitman Labs, highlighted the value of the company’s award-winning Athlete Optimisation System to national teams.
“More than ever, technologies such as Kitman Labs have the power to increase the efficiency and improve preparation of national teams,” he said.
“For example, we use a secure data flow meaning when an athlete comes into camp, national team staff can see their medical history, training loads, injury records and more at the click of a button.
“These types of insights are invaluable, as staff immediately know how to individualise programming for that player so that it will be to the benefit of the wider team and their goals.”
The rising trend of national teams investing enormous amounts to improve operations, backroom support and technology means the chances of Willian’s Brazil and Luis Suarez’s Uruguay ending South America’s six-decade wait to win another World Cup in Europe have increased, as have the hopes of the other continents winning their first-ever trophy.
Kitman Labs works with sports clubs across the globe to help them understand data and make better decisions to optimise the health and performance of their athletes. For further information, and to read the full report: http://www.kitmanlabs.com/home-continent-advantage/