South America aims to break Europe’s World Cup grip

Nov 8, 2022, 1:40 PM | Updated: Nov 9, 2022, 3:44 am
FILE - Brazil's Neymar reacts following a missed scoring opportunity during the quarterfinal match ...

FILE - Brazil's Neymar reacts following a missed scoring opportunity during the quarterfinal match between Brazil and Belgium at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Kazan Arena, in Kazan, Russia, Friday, July 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Andre Penner, File)

(AP Photo/Andre Penner, File)

              FILE - A view of the pitch during the World Cup semifinal soccer match between Brazil and Germany at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Tuesday, July 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File)
            
              FILE - Brazil's David Luiz, left and Luiz Gustavo react after the World Cup semifinal soccer match between Brazil and Germany at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Tuesday, July 8, 2014. Germany has routed host Brazil 7-1 and advanced to the final of the World Cup. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana, Pool)
            
              FILE - Belgium's Kevin De Bruyne (7) celebrates after the final whistle as Belgium defeat Brazil in their quarterfinal match between Brazil and Belgium at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Kazan Arena, in Kazan, Russia, Friday, July 6, 2018. Belgium won the game 2-1. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader, File)
            
              FILE - Brazil's David Luiz, left, and Dante react after Germany scored their sixth goal during the World Cup semifinal soccer match between Brazil and Germany at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Tuesday, July 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)
            
              FILE - Brazil players react in dejection after they were defeated in the quarterfinal match between Brazil and Belgium at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Kazan Arena, in Kazan, Russia, Friday, July 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo, File)
            
              FILE - Brazil's Neymar reacts following a missed scoring opportunity during the quarterfinal match between Brazil and Belgium at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Kazan Arena, in Kazan, Russia, Friday, July 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Andre Penner, File)

Kylian Mbappé riled up South Americans back in May when he said both Argentina and Brazil don’t play matches “at a high level” in qualifying to reach the World Cup.

Interviewed by Brazilian television, the France striker said South America lags behind Europe in terms of the strength of competition. He noted that the most recent World Cup champions — including his own country in 2018 — have been teams from Europe.

The responses ranged from aggravation to bemusement.

Lionel Messi, Mbappé’s teammate at Paris Saint-Germain, said Europeans have no clue about the challenges of playing World Cups qualifiers at high altitude in Bolivia or the heat and humidity of the Caribbean coast of Colombia.

Brazil coach Tite said the qualifiers in South America have a higher degree of difficulty than the European competition.

“With all due respect, we don’t have Azerbaijan to play,” Tite said. “No ones gives you a break.”

Sebastián Abreu, the retired striker whose “Panenka” penalty in 2010 sealed the shootout victory that put Uruguay into the semifinals of the World Cup for the first time in four decades, advised Mbappé “to try and read more in Wikipedia.”

There is a lot of swagger in South America these days, particularly in Brazil, with Neymar and a plethora of young wingers, and in Argentina, which has gone 35 games without a loss and has Messi playing better than ever with his national team.

Uruguay believes it can go far with Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani in their fourth and likely last World Cup, alongside youngsters such as Federico Valverde and Darwin Núñez. Ecuador is back and at least wants to advance from a group in which they are playing the Netherlands, Senegal and host Qatar.

They all want to break Europe’s grip on the trophy. But they also are aware of an ominous trend: It has been 20 years since a team from South American won the World Cup.

Since Brazil won its fifth title in Japan and South Korea in 2002, the Selacao has been eliminated as soon they faced a European team in the knockout round, including a humiliating 7-1 loss at home to eventual champion Germany in 2014.

Argentina has managed to beat a European team in those stages, but still eventually fell short, including to France in the round of 16 in Russia four years ago.

One factor they point to for their long World Cup drought is that Europe has lots of money to invest in the development of their young players. And lately, the pandemic and the new Nations League conceived by UEFA has reduced significantly the number of matches between the top teams from Europe and South America.

“The Europeans are clearly playing at a different speed than us. They are at dimension that is far ahead of the South American player,” said Iván Zamorano, a former Chile striker who played for Real Madrid and Inter Milan.

Zamorano envies the capacity that European soccer has to find talented players who can “leave a mark for the future.”

“There’s still that individual skill, the street quality, that makes the South American player unique,” Zamorano told The Associated Press. “But we are lacking the resources, the infrastructure, their work methods. So the chances of discovering and developing that kid with unique skills is tougher. That’s expensive and so many times in South America gets lost in the way.”

But Zamorano also says that this is the first time in at least three World Cups that he has seen Argentina and Brazil in such good shape right before the tournament.

Luiz Felipe Scolari, the coach of the Brazil team that won in 2002 with its “Three ‘R’s” attack combination of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho, believes the current European domination is a just phase.

He said Brazil could win it in Qatar, though he thinks the country is more likely to challenge for the title in 2026, pointing at the potential of a new crop of players. That includes Endrick, a 16-year-old striker that last month became the youngest scorer for Palmeiras in the Brazilian league.

“These kids playing now might give the result we expect,” Scolari said. “But you can’t pressure them to give everything. Maybe in four years we can pressure them to give everything, because then they will hit the pinnacle at age 26, 27.”

South American soccer leaders are seeking to keep their teams competitive. Alejandro Domínguez, the president of continental soccer body CONMEBOL, is hoping to reach an agreement with UEFA that will allow teams from South America to compete in the Nations League.

“It’s not easy to cut a 30-year-old gap. It’s just not titles but the expertise that has strengthened in Europe and what we’re trying to establish in South America,” Domínguez told a small group reporters in Buenos Aires. “Sadly our young players depart way too early. … We’re trying to generate more revenues so the clubs are not desperate to sell them.”

___

Associated Press writers Mauricio Savarese in Rio de Janeiro and Débora Rey in Buenos Aires contributed to this report.

___

AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

North Carolina forward Pete Nance reacts to the team's 103-101 loss to Alabama in four overtimes in...
Associated Press

Preseason No. 1 North Carolina drops out of AP Top 25

Houston and Texas remain firmly entrenched atop The Associated Press men’s college basketball poll, while preseason No. 1 North Carolina has dropped out entirely after a fourth straight loss. The Cougars earned 37 of 62 first-place votes in Monday’s poll, extending the program’s first stay at No. 1 since the “Phi Slama Jama” days in […]
1 day ago
Croatia's Ivan Perisic, second left, celebrates with teammates after scoring his side's opening goa...
Associated Press

Japan and Croatia tied 1-1, going to extra time at World Cup

AL WAKRAH, Qatar (AP) — The World Cup match between Japan and Croatia in the round of 16 has gone to extra time with the teams tied at 1-1. ___ AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
1 day ago
FILE - Carolina Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) walks off the field after his teams loss to...
Associated Press

Panthers waive struggling QB Mayfield, a former No. 1 pick

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Panthers waived struggling quarterback Baker Mayfield on Monday after the 2018 No. 1 draft pick asked for his release. Mayfield would be subject to waivers and become a free agent if he goes unclaimed. The move does not come as a surprise, because Sam Darnold replaced Mayfield after his […]
1 day ago
Soccer fan Misty Alvarez reacts at watch party after the Netherlands scored a goal on the United St...
Associated Press

Americans’ World Cup-ending loss seen by 16.5M on US TV

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The United States’ tournament-ending 3-1 loss to the Netherlands at the World Cup was seen by 16.5 million on U.S. English- and Spanish-language television and digital streams, according to figures released by Fox and Telemundo. Fox said its coverage of the round of 16 match, which started at 10 a.m. EST […]
1 day ago
FILE - Monica Seles, right, helps Nick Bollettieri with a blazer as Hall of Fame chairman of the bo...
Associated Press

Nick Bollettieri, coach to many tennis stars, dead at age 91

Nick Bollettieri, the Hall of Fame tennis coach who worked with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Andre Agassi and Monica Seles, and founded an academy that revolutionized the development of young athletes, has died. He was 91. Bollettieri died Sunday night at home in Florida after a series of health issues, his manager, […]
1 day ago
Serbia's Nikola Milenkovic, left, pushes Switzerland's Granit Xhaka during the World Cup group G so...
Associated Press

Serbia charged by FIFA for team, fans conduct at World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — FIFA brought disciplinary charges against Serbia on Monday for alleged misconduct by players and fans including offensive chants at a World Cup match against Switzerland. Tensions flared in the stands and on the field in a rematch of their stormy game at the 2018 World Cup that revived ethnic Balkan rivalries. […]
1 day ago
South America aims to break Europe’s World Cup grip