Wednesday 23 September, 2020

World Cup quarterfinals exclusive to Europe, South America

A Japan supporter cries after his team fell against Belgium in the round of 16 World Cup match in the Rostov Arena, in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Monday, July 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

A Japan supporter cries after his team fell against Belgium in the round of 16 World Cup match in the Rostov Arena, in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, Monday, July 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

So much for this being a "World" Cup.

The quarterfinals are all-European and South American for the first time since 2006.

Mexico said adios with a 2-0 loss to Brazil in the round of 16 on Tuesday and Japan sayonara when it wasted a two-goal lead in a 3-2 defeat to Belgium, ending the hopes of North America and Asia.

Africa and Central America didn't make it past the group phase. Oceania and the Caribbean couldn't even earn an invite.

For 47 consecutive months, experts proclaim emerging football nations are catching up with the traditional powers.

Then the World Cup pitches its big tent and the European and South American nations knock all others to the curb with the ruthlessness of an Eric Cantona kung fu kick. Turns out not much has changed from the days when players wore shorts that extended below kneecaps and booted dark T-model leather balls with thick laces.

"What we're seeing here for the most part, when it comes to that European and South American talent, it's in abundance, and it's traditionally very successful," said former American defender Alexi Lalas, at the World Cup as a Fox analyst.

Since the current format of group stage followed by knockout rounds started in 1986, 46 of 72 quarterfinalists have been from Europe and 18 from South America, with Wednesday's England-Colombia match to decide another spot.

CONCACAF has made it three times: Mexico at home in '86, the United States at South Korea in 2002 and Costa Rica in Brazil four years ago.

Africa also has three quarterfinalists: Cameroon at Italy in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana at South Africa in 2010.

There has been just one from Asia — South Korea, when it hosted the tournament. That Korean team was the only outsider that advanced to a semifinal, where it lost to Germany.

Teams from other continents approach matches against world powers trailing before the opening kickoff because of a mentality deficit. They often speak after losses lamenting they gave opponents "too much respect." They approach World Cup games as if facing an entire nation, not just the 11 opponents on the field. That us-against-history affliction has proven difficult to treat.

"In Italy, I think some of the fans said if they don't beat the US 4-0, it's a disgrace," 1990 US captain Michael Windischmann said when the Americans returned to the World Cup after a 40-year absence.

Mexico is the North American power, yet it has lost seven straight round-of-16 matches and been frustrated in its national quest to reach "el quinto partido" — the fifth match — for the first time since '86.

"The mentality is changing, it's changing," Mexican star forward Javier Hernandez told Fox after the loss. "In the world you can see that, You can feel it."

The quarterfinals are all European and South American for the fourth time in nine World Cups, after 1994, '98 and '06. Only once has more than one outsider made the last eight, when CONCACAF, Africa and Asia each advanced a team in South Korea.

Lalas thinks Africa is the most likely nation to break the powers' hegemony.

"While it would be different and unique and never-before seen, it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility," he said. "Certainly if a CONCACAF team did it, it would be a huge, huge surprise. You not only need to be good, you need to have a little bit of luck."

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