No home-field edge at 2022 World Cup means field could be wide open in Qatar

DOHA, Qatar — For some 80 years after the first World Cup in 1930, there was a hard and fast rule when it came to predicting which part of the world the winner would come from.

It went like this. When the tournament was held in Europe, a European team was going to win. When it was in South America, a South American team was going to win. And if it was somewhere else, well, a South American team would win, too.

The formula held up time after time, with only one exception, when Pelé’s brilliance lifted Brazil to victory in Sweden in 1958, although the teenage master’s performances were so superb that he probably his team would have lifted the trophy if there had been a final. it has been held in Lapland, on the Moon or under water.

And while there have been a couple of recent variations, in 2010 when Spain won the only World Cup ever held in Africa, and in 2014 when a superb German team thrashed Brazil 7-1 in the semis and overcame Lionel Messi’s Argentina in the semi-finals. the final, there is still enough historical precedent to pay attention.

“Geography gives an advantage,” FOX soccer analyst and former USA defender Alexi Lalas told me. “It’s not as simple as saying if it’s in Europe, for sure a European team will win, but it sure happened with great regularity. I like how it’s shaping up this year. Everyone will adapt to the conditions in their own way and no one has an automatic advantage.”

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In 21 World Cups, 16 have been held in Europe or South America. Of these, 14 were won by a representative of the host continent. Many who enjoy World Cup history also point to the two World Cups held in Central America (Mexico) and won by Brazil 1970 and Argentina 1986 as further cementing the trend.

So what does it all mean this time?

When it comes to the favorites for the 2022 tournament, Qatar can pretty much be seen as neutral territory.

The top eight countries in the FIFA world rankings and the oddsmakers’ list come from football’s most powerful pair of continents. It would be a legitimate surprise if the ultimate champion was someone other than Brazil, Argentina, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, England or the Netherlands.

Factors like familiarity and weather and the subtle differences in conditions aren’t as much at play this time around. Qatar’s desert climate has little in common with the European or South American climate, although there is a school of thought that suggests teams from southern Europe, such as Spain and Portugal, and South American nations, could enjoy the warmth of Qatar a little more. than those of England and Germany.

Indeed, if there’s an advantage to be had, it could help the five Asian confederation teams — Qatar, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Australia — all of whom have experienced competitive action in Qatar before, have a better than expected performance.

“Don’t be surprised if some of the Asian teams do well,” former Iran assistant coach Dan Gaspar told me in a phone interview. “Many of these teams will be comfortable and familiar with what they encounter in Qatar and will have a good idea of ​​what to expect.”

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If a new location (this is the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East) brings a bit of unpredictability, Lalas is expecting it.

“We may have a new arrangement of the status quo,” Lalas said. “Brazil and Argentina are my favourites, but while we’re always looking to win the tournament, for some countries to get out of the group and into the quarter-finals is an incredible achievement that elevates them to being a footballing nation . . .

“In that sense, it’s wide open. We’re going to see some surprises, which is part of what keeps the tournament energized.”

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Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX i subscribe to the daily newsletterr.

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