When I was in Germany four years ago, a columnist argued that every World Cup should be held in Europe. That's a bit unfair to the rest of the world, but given the number of competing countries in close proximity and the always excellent show that European nations put on, the point has some validity. But when you examine the results of this World Cup and its two predecessors, you see a compelling advantage to a World Cup held outside of Europe- parity. As was the case eight years ago when the World Cup went to Asia for the first time, getting European teams out of their continental comfort zone makes for a far more diverse tournament.
In 2006, 10 of the 16 knockout stage participants were from Europe. By the quarters, it was seven of eight. When Brazil bowed out we were left with an all-European semifinals. Not that the teams didn't deserve their spots, but there's a reason why the European Championships are scheduled two years later. The tournament quickly lost the compelling cross-continent matches that are unique to a World Cup.
This year we have a true global mix. The Americas are well represented, with two teams from the North and all five from the South reaching the knockout stages. Two squads are in from Asia after none advanced four years ago, and Ghana returns as the lone African representative. Europe saw only six teams make it through, and with those teams all facing each other in the Round of 16, five of the eight quarterfinalists will be comprised of teams outside of Europe.
That mix mirrors the 2002 tournament in Japan/South Korea, when surprises like South Korea and Senegal were part of a quarterfinal group split evenly between Europe and the rest of the world. Five different continents were represented in the final eight that year.
This isn't meant as a knock on the European teams. I certainly enjoy watching Spain and Holland among others, and the Spain-Portugal and England-Germany matches should be good ones. But I'd much rather see a broad sampling of the world's teams. This World Cup has given us just that; another gold star for the fine tournament South Africa has hosted.