World Cup going South America's way so far

JOHANNESBURG - The dominance of South American teams in the World Cup over those from the rest of the globe are borne out by some telling statistics with half of the 64 games in the tournament completed on Monday.

South American teams are unbeaten so far, having won eight of their 10 matches against teams from the other confederations, drawing the other two.

Meanwhile typically strong European sides have struggled and Africa's only success from their opening 12 games came when Ghana defeated Serbia 1-0 in Pretoria on June 13.

Argentina coach Diego Maradona offered some explanation for South America's fine start to reporters in Pretoria on Monday ahead of his team's match with Greece in Polokwane on Tuesday.

"The South American qualifiers are much more competitive than in Europe and I have absolutely no doubt that Ecuador could also be here," he said.

Ecuador, who were at the last two World Cups, and beat Argentina 2-0 at home last year, finished sixth in the 10-nation South American qualifying group, one place short of the playoff in which Uruguay beat CONCACAF's Costa Rica.

"The South American teams are showing in the World Cup we are here and we are up to the standard," Maradona said.

Carlos Alberto Parreira, who won the World Cup as Brazil's coach in 1994 and is now coaching host nation South Africa added: "This World Cup, quite frankly, is most unusual.

"I've never witnessed such a great number of shocking results. Results that at the very least are unexpected.

"South America is once again able to show the strength of its football and I'm extremely happy to see these teams are performing in such an outstanding way."

FINE WINS

Argentina's two fine wins over Nigeria and South Korea, Brazil's victories over North Korea and Ivory Coast, and the impressive performances of Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, have been in stark contrast with Europe's major players.

France have failed to score, have off-field problems and could be eliminated this week; England have been woeful in draws with the United States and Algeria;

Germany face elimination from the group stage for the first time ever, and even European champions Spain made a stuttering start with a loss to Switzerland before a better performance and victory over Honduras.

World champions Italy have looked jaded and being held to a 1-1 draw by New Zealand in Nelspruit on Sunday was one of their periodic World Cup low points.

Italy's 2006 World Cup winning coach Marcello Lippi, referring to European teams but probably talking about his side too, said: "Our ability is a lot better than we have shown.

"We haven't done what was necessary because we have wanted it too badly. I heard (Fabio) Capello say that England are traumatised by the pressure of being at a World Cup. I don't want that to happen to us."

The South American figures do not include those of another Latin American side Mexico, who struck a blow for their CONCACAF region of North and Central America with a 2-0 win over France in Polokwane last Thursday, and are also unbeaten.

Indeed Spain's 2-0 win over Honduras on Monday was the first European victory over a team from Latin America and came in the 32nd match of the tournament.

HALFWAY STAGE

However, New Zealand coach Rikki Herbert believes that the big European teams will come into their own when the knockout second round stage starts on Saturday.

"It's still early days," said Herbert, buoyed by New Zealand's performance against the world champions.

"The Round of 16 will be defining when you really have to perform. But Spain, Germany and Italy are all still in - they just haven't hit their straps yet."

Factors such as the World Cup being played in South Africa's winter or that European players have arrived after a long hard season, do not appear to carry much weight.

European clubs are packed with South American and African players and these players are used to tough European winters and playing matches all over the world.

African teams, with a record six entries, have disappointed badly with only Ghana winning a match.

"African countries all have skilful players but maybe it's a lack of continuity in domestic football, said Nigeria coach Lars Lagerback, the former Swedish coach, trying to explain their poor showing.

"I had the same problem when I was in Sweden, most of my players were playing abroad," he said.

"At the same time we are talking about small margins at the World Cup, if we had had those small margins on our side, Nigeria would have had two very different results."

No hard conclusions can be drawn from the opening results just yet, but historically, no one should be too surprised.

The only confederation to win the World Cup outside their own continent has been South America, with Brazil's wins in Sweden in 1958, the United States in 1994 and Japan/South Korea in 2002. South Africa 2010 could yet be added to the list.

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