The first FIFA World Cup in South America since 1978 kicks off on Thursday with the UEFA contingent well aware of Europe’s decidedly mixed record in the previous four editions on that continent.
No European team lifted the trophy at any one of Uruguay 1930, Brazil 1950, Chile 1962 or Argentina 1978 and only in the latter two competitions did the continent even provide the beaten finalists. In total only seven European sides achieved top-four finishes in those events, and three of those slots were filled by two nations that no longer exist (the record is not much better even if the three World Cups on CONCACAF territory are included). UEFA.com looks at those tournaments and asks UEFA chief technical officer Ioan Lupescu if things could improve at Brazil 2014.
Travelling to Uruguay was still logistically challenging for Europeans in 1930, and only with two months to go to the event did Belgium, France, Yugoslavia and Romania ensure some representation – the latter at the personal request of King Carol II. Indeed, the squads from Belgium, France and Romania, the three European referees, FIFA president Jules Rimet and what was to become in 1946 his eponymous trophy all sailed together to South America.
France beat Mexico 4-1 in one of two simultaneous opening games, but they would lose 1-0 to both Argentina and Chile. Romania also started with a win, 3-1 against Peru, but fell 4-0 against Uruguay while Belgium were defeated by both the United States and Paraguay. Yugoslavia fared better, seeing off Brazil 2-1 and Bolivia 4-0 to make the semi-finals, until Uruguay put them out 6-1.
This time Europe supplied six of 13 finalists, and would have had more had Scotland, Turkey, Portugal and France chosen not to compete. Overall in the group stage European teams won six and drew two of ten group meetings with non-UEFA nations, though one of the two defeats lives in infamy for one country, England's 1-0 loss to the US in Belo Horizonte (where Roy Hodgson's side face Costa Rica this time). Both Sweden and Spain topped their groups to progress to a unique four-sided final pool – here, Spain managed just a 2-2 draw with Uruguay and conceded bronze to Sweden, who beat them 3-1 after two reverses to Uruguay and Brazil.
Ten of the 16 contenders were from Europe and provided six of the last eight. However, in the knockouts European teams drew a blank against South American opposition as Brazil and Chile knocked out England and the Soviet Union respectively in the quarters. Czechoslovakia, who did not overcome a non-European side in the competition, defeated Hungary and Yugoslavia to advance to the final but there lost 3-1 to Brazil.
Again ten European teams crossed the Atlantic, and five progressed past the initial group stage. A UEFA finalist was then guaranteed as Group A in the second round contained four sides from the old continent, the Netherlands finishing first; however, Poland came third in their section behind Argentina, who were at least taken to extra time by the Dutch in the final. Nine years later a European country did win a global title in South America, Yugoslavia lifting the 1987 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Chile with the other medallists West and East Germany.
So can Europe break their duck this time. UEFA's chief technical offier Ioan Lupescu, in the Romania team that made the quarter-finals at USA '94, believes it will be tough but looks back four years to the first finals in Africa, where Spain saw off the Netherlands in an all-European decider.
I think the one main obstacle that the European sides will have to overcome is the climate – or, more accurately, the changes in climate the teams could face," Lupescu told UEFA.com. "Playing in different parts of such a big country could be like playing in three different seasons depending on a team's schedule. Tactics may be very different from one game to the next because of this. If the European teams can negotiate this problem, they have a great chance.
"Two European teams contested the last World Cup final which took place outside Europe so I think that particular 'mental block' has now been removed and going to a different continent does not hold the uncertainties that it maybe once did – even South America."
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