Does country size have anything to do with soccer prowess?

Perusing the list of largest countries in the world, one is struck by the fact that very few of them can be considered soccer powerhouses. Sure, you have Brazil and Argentina but on the other hand you also have Canada, China, India, Mongolia, Niger, and Mauritania whose accomplishments in soccer can be counted on the fingertips.
In the list of 30 largest countries (~ 1 miilion square kms or more), there are only 6 that are ranked in FIFA’s top 30 (I know, I know, not the best rating system), but it happens to be the most quoted one (unless Dr Statto comes up with a better one).
Here is the list of largest countries with their current (FIFA rankings)
1) Russia (34)
2) Canada (54)
3) USA (16)
4) China (89)
5) Brazil (1)
6) Australia (33)
7) India (130)
8) Argentina (3)
9) Kazakhstan (140)
10) Sudan (113)
11) Algeria (93)
12) DR Congo (67)
13) Saudi Arabia (81)
14) Mexcio (18)
15) Indonesia (139)
16) Libya (79)
17) Iran (47)
18) Mongolia (181)
19) Peru (42)
20) Chad (128)
21) Niger (169)
22) Angola (55)
23) Mali (63)
24) South Africa (72)
25) Colombia (21)
26) Ethiopia (101)
27) Bolivia (85)
28) Mauritania (166)
29) Egypt (29)
30) Tanzania (143)
These 30 countries account for approximately 83 million sq kms of territory, about 70% of the landmass, the other 200 countries make do with 30%. However when we compare the soccer power rankings, the big real estate countries take a backseat.
List of top FIFA soccer countries with their (size ranking)
1) Brazil (5)
2) Italy (71)
3) Argentina (8)
4) France (48)
5) England (79)
6) Netherlands (134)
7) Spain (51)
8) Portugal (110)
9) Germany (63)
10) Czech Republic (117)
11) Nigeria (32)
12) Cameroun (53)
13) Switzerland (135)
14) Uruguay (90)
15) Ukraine (44)
16) USA (3)
17) Denmark (133)
18) Mexico (15)
19) Paraguay (59)
20) Cote D’Ivoire (68)
21) Colombia (26)
22) Sweden (55)
23) Croatia (126)
24) Guinea (78)
25) Ghana (81)
26) Romania (82)
27) Turkey (37)
28) Ecuador (73)
29) Egypt (29)
30) Poland (69)
Running statistical (two tailed T Tests, p= .05), we get a significance value of .005173.
The interpretation is that there is a significant discrepancy between performance in soccer and landmass.
In fact, if we go down the FIFA list and breakdown the list further into large countries (~ 1 million sq kms or more ), moderate (500,000 – 1,000,000 sq kms), small (100, 000- 500, 000 sq kms), and very small (< 100, 000 sq kms), we see that there are 6 large , 5 moderate, 13 small, and 6 very small countries in the FIFA top 30. In the internatiuonal scene, the largest countries have won 8 World Cups (Brazil, Argentina, and France) with 10 going to the smaller countries (Italy, Germany, Uruguay, and England). If we add regional supremacy, then the large countries do better in the weaker conferences, like the CONCACAF, AFC, and the Oceanic Conference. The smaller countries are extremely good in the tougher conferences like the CAF, Copa America, and the UEFA.
There is a suggestion that smaller countries do better than larger countries. This not just true of countries in Europe which are usually smaller in size (Russia and Kazakhstan are the largest European countries) but the cluster of small West African countries. In the 19 top small soccer playing countries, 12 are from Europe (8 Western Europea, 4 Eastern Europe), 4 from Africa (all West Africa), and 3 from South America.
The European- West Africa link is interesting. There are 4 big leagues (England, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands), with smaller sized but active leagues in Sweden, Denmark, Portugal, and Switzerland that attract foreign players. The big name West African players from Ghana and Nigeria land up in the EL, the Serie, and Bundesliga, the players from Cote D’Ivoire, Cameroun, Guinea, go to the French league first and then transfer to the wealthier EL, Serie, and La Liga. Other players go to the Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Swiss, and Portugese league. It seems this link, historically a colonial one, and now strengthened through soccer, builds a reciprocity, the foreign players encourage a stronger, more competitive league through their level of play, benefits the host national team, and the foreign players benefit from that tough league exposure their national teams. Pretty simple so far. However my point is that, with this linkage, soccer supremacy is perpetuated. With other teams that do not have these strong supply and demand lines with such leagues you get more variations in performance. That is why countries like Paraguay, Ecuador, and Uruguay, slip up and down the table.
The performance of Egypt becomes all the more impressive. In the African continent it happens to be the only country that does not have strong colonial or soccer ties with any European country, with only a few of its players playing in the foreign leagues, and mostly reliant on players from its domestic league, which again attracts just a handful of players outside of Egypt. Egypt has won 5 Africa Cup of Nations, the most in the CAF, which is one of the most competitive of conferences. It is 30th in the FIFA rankings and 6th in the CAF. Egypt won the last Africa Cup this year in February 2006 beating Cote D’Ivoire.
The performance of South Africa is a cause for concern and for a large country (24th, 1,221, 037 sq kms) and the host of the 2010 World Cup, it is 72nd in the FIFA rankings, and is ranked 15th in the CAF (behind Zambia, Mali, and DR Congo). The importance of building a strong Bfana Bfana cannot be stressed, otherwise South African fans will soon be picking the usual favorites. Hopefully, Carlos Alberto Parriera can work wonders. The 2008 Africa Cup will become extremely important as South Africa as the World Cup host will have no opportunities to test their mettle in qualifiers.

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3 comments on “Does country size have anything to do with soccer prowess?
  1. The fact is that performance is linked closely to so many factors that a macro view cannot explain why one country is better than another consistently.
    Specifically with regard to South Africa. The isolation of the anti apartheid period is one of the most obvious factors in the limitation of its development. Other factors must be the imbalanced development plans that are currently being utilized. Further than that they will no doubt in time move on in terms of establishing themselves.

  2. I agree that the time spent under anti-apartheid sanctions was one of the major reasons for limitations in the growth soccer. In cricket due to the Kerry Packer years there were a number of South Africans who played cricket. As a result there was no real drop off in cricket.
    I am not sure what is causing the recent decline in soccer though. There seems to be some good talent in South Africa (Ryan Botha, Marvin Andrews) along with some of the older players like Benni McCarthy, Shaun Bartlett, Delron Buckley.

  3. Not sure how this will post as a “paste”, but here is a list of the top 200 CLUB teams in the world based on domestic, International club play, league rank points based on UEFA and other rankings, and play in the world club championships….
    Tournament Play Club Champ Pts League Rank Pts Domestic Bonus Total
    1 Liverpool ENG 39.00 20.00 6.90 8.00 73.90
    2 FC Barcelona SPA 34.00 0.00 8.00 15.00 57.00
    3 Inter Milan ITA 33.00 0.00 7.30 15.00 55.30
    4 Chelsea ENG 32.00 0.00 6.90 15.00 53.90
    5 AC Milan ITA 37.00 0.00 7.30 8.00 52.30
    6 São Paulo FC BRA 15.00 25.00 2.80 9.00 51.80
    7 FC Porto POR 34.00 0.00 4.80 13.00 51.80
    8 PSV (Eindhoven) NETH 33.00 0.00 4.50 13.00 50.50
    9 Olympique Lyonaisse FRA 30.00 0.00 5.60 13.00 48.60
    10 Valencia CF SPA 32.00 0.00 8.00 8.00 48.00
    11 Arsenal ENG 33.00 0.00 6.90 6.00 45.90
    12 Bayern Munchen GER 26.00 0.00 5.30 13.00 44.30
    13 Real Madrid SPA 26.00 0.00 8.00 10.00 44.00
    14 Deportivo Saprissa CR 20.00 15.00 1.75 7.00 43.75
    15 AS Monaco FRA 34.00 0.00 5.60 2.60 42.20
    16 Villarreal CF SPA 31.00 0.00 8.00 3.00 42.00
    17 Club Brugge BEL 32.00 0.00 3.30 5.00 40.30
    18 Manchester Utd ENG 22.00 0.00 6.90 10.00 38.90
    19 SL Benfica POR 27.00 0.00 4.80 7.00 38.80
    20 Boca Juniors ARG 26.00 0.00 2.90 9.00 37.90
    21 AS Roma ITA 20.00 0.00 7.30 10.00 37.30
    22 Shakhtar Donets’k UKR 25.00 0.00 2.90 9.00 36.90
    23 Olympiakos (pireus) GRE 24.00 0.00 3.50 9.00 36.50
    Steaua
    24 Bucuresti ROM 26.00 0.00 3.50 7.00 36.50
    25 Panathinaikos GRE 27.00 0.00 3.50 5.00 35.50
    26 CSKA Moskva RUS 25.00 0.00 3.50 7.00 35.50
    27 Schalke 04 GER 25.00 0.00 5.30 5.00 35.30
    Juventas ITA 28.00 0.00 7.30 0.00 35.30
    29 Sevilla FC SPA 23.00 0.00 8.00 4.00 35.00
    30 FC Basel SWI 27.00 0.00 2.80 5.00 34.80
    31 Lille OSC FRA 22.00 0.00 5.60 7.00 34.60
    32 Sporting CP (Lisboa) POR 20.00 0.00 4.80 9.00 33.80
    33 Olympique de Marseille FRA 25.00 0.00 5.60 3.00 33.60
    34 Ajax NETH 24.00 0.00 4.50 5.00 33.50
    35 Litex Lovech BUL 25.00 0.00 2.70 5.00 32.70
    36 Celtic (Glasgow) SCO 19.00 0.00 3.30 9.00 31.30
    37 Al-Ittihad (Jeddah) SAUD 20.00 10.00 0.40 0.50 30.90
    38 AZ (Alkmaar) NETH 17.00 0.00 4.50 9.00 30.50
    39 Werder Bremen GER 16.00 0.00 5.30 9.00 30.30
    40 Rangers (Glasgow) SCO 21.00 0.00 3.30 5.00 29.30
    41 Deportivo La Coruna SPA 18.00 0.00 8.00 3.00 29.00
    42 Newcastle United ENG 19.00 0.00 6.90 3.00 28.90
    43 RSC Anderlecht BEL 16.00 0.00 3.30 9.00 28.30
    44 Vfb Stuttgart GER 20.00 0.00 5.30 2.70 28.00
    45 Middlesbrough ENG 21.00 0.00 6.90 0.00 27.90
    46 Fenerbahçe SK (Istanbul) TUR 18.00 0.00 2.90 7.00 27.90
    47 Rosenborg BK (Trondheim) NOR 22.00 0.00 2.30 3.00 27.30
    48 Dynamo Kyiv UKR 16.00 0.00 2.90 7.00 25.90
    49 Lokomotiv Moscow RUS 19.00 0.00 3.50 3.00 25.50
    50 Parma AC ITA 15.00 0.00 7.30 3.00 25.30
    51 Besiktas TUR 17.00 0.00 2.90 5.00 24.90
    52 Levski Sofia BUL 13.00 0.00 2.70 9.00 24.70
    53 Udinese ITA 14.00 0.00 7.30 2.70 24.00
    54 AJ Auxerre FRA 15.00 0.00 5.60 3.00 23.60
    55 AC Sparta Praha CZH 19.00 0.00 2.90 1.00 22.90
    56 FC Girondins de Bordeaux FRA 8.00 0.00 5.60 9.00 22.60
    57 Real Betis SPA 14.00 0.00 8.00 0.00 22.00
    58 Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk UKR 14.00 0.00 2.90 5.00 21.90
    59 Partizan Beograd SERB 17.00 0.00 2.20 2.00 21.20
    60 Wisla Kraków POL 12.00 0.00 2.00 7.00 21.00
    61 SK Slavia Praha CZH 13.00 0.00 2.90 5.00 20.90
    62 Galatasaray TUR 9.00 0.00 2.90 9.00 20.90
    63 Hamburger SV GER 8.00 0.00 5.30 7.00 20.30
    64 Brøndby IF DEN 13.00 0.00 1.90 5.00 19.90
    65 Debreceni VSC HUN 9.00 0.00 1.60 9.00 19.60
    66 Feyenoord NETH 8.00 0.00 4.50 7.00 19.50
    67 Sydney FC AUS 8.00 5.00 1.40 5.00 19.40
    68 SC Heerenveen NETH 12.00 0.00 4.50 2.90 19.40
    69 Città di Palermo ITA 8.00 0.00 7.30 4.00 19.30
    70 Once Caldas COL 11.00 0.00 1.05 7.00 19.05
    71 Celta Vigo SPA 8.00 0.00 8.00 3.00 19.00
    72 CSKA Sophia BUL 9.00 0.00 2.70 7.00 18.70
    73 Real Zaragoza SPA 8.00 0.00 8.00 2.70 18.70
    74 RC Lens FRA 8.00 0.00 5.60 5.00 18.60
    75 AEK Athens GRE 8.00 0.00 3.50 7.00 18.50
    76 América (Cd. de México) MEX 8.00 0.00 1.50 9.00 18.50
    77 SK Rapid Buceresti ROM 15.00 0.00 3.50 0.00 18.50
    78 PAOK (Thessaloniki) GRE 11.00 0.00 3.50 3.00 17.50
    79 Dinamo Bucuresti ROM 11.00 0.00 3.50 3.00 17.50
    80 Crvena zvezda (Beograd) SERB 11.00 0.00 2.20 4.00 17.20
    81 LD Alajuelense CR 10.00 0.00 1.75 5.00 16.75
    82 Athletic Bilbao SPA 6.00 0.00 8.00 2.60 16.60
    83 Dinamo Zagreb CRO 6.00 0.00 1.50 9.00 16.50
    84 Zenit Sankt-Peterburg RUS 13.00 0.00 3.50 0.00 16.50
    85 RCD Mallorca SPA 6.00 0.00 8.00 2.50 16.50
    86 Maccabi Haifa ISR 7.00 0.00 2.40 7.00 16.40
    87 Bayern Leverkusen GER 8.00 0.00 5.30 3.00 16.30
    88 Heart of Midlothian SCO 6.00 0.00 3.30 7.00 16.30
    89 Real Sociedad SPA 8.00 0.00 8.00 0.00 16.00
    90 Bolton Wanderers ENG 6.00 0.00 6.90 3.00 15.90
    91 FC Sochaux-Montbéliard FRA 10.00 0.00 5.60 0.00 15.60
    92 SS Lazio ITA 8.00 0.00 7.30 0.00 15.30
    93 FC Thun SWI 12.00 0.00 2.80 0.00 14.80
    94 DC United USA 3.00 0.00 2.80 9.00 14.80
    95 Everton ENG 5.00 0.00 6.90 2.70 14.60
    96 Monterrey MEX 6.00 0.00 1.50 7.00 14.50
    97 Artmedia Bratislava SLVK 12.00 0.00 1.40 1.00 14.40
    98 Standard CL (Liège) BEL 4.00 0.00 3.30 7.00 14.30
    99 Paris Saint-Germain FRA 6.00 0.00 5.60 2.70 14.30
    100 Hertha BSC (Berlin) GER 6.00 0.00 5.30 3.00 14.30
    101 CA Osasuna SPA 0.00 0.00 8.00 6.00 14.00
    102 RCD Espanyol SPA 6.00 0.00 8.00 0.00 14.00
    103 LDU Quito ECU 6.00 0.00 0.95 7.00 13.95
    104 Sampdoria (Genova) ITA 4.00 0.00 7.30 2.60 13.90
    105 Internacional BRA 6.00 0.00 2.80 5.00 13.80
    106 RC Strasbourg FRA 8.00 0.00 5.60 0.00 13.60
    107 FC Utrecht NETH 6.00 0.00 4.50 3.00 13.50
    108 AC Chievo ITA 0.00 0.00 7.30 6.00 13.30
    109 FC Baník Ostrava AUT 11.00 0.00 2.20 0.00 13.20
    110 Grazer AK AUT 11.00 0.00 2.20 0.00 13.20
    111 SV Austria Salzburg AUT 2.00 0.00 2.20 9.00 13.20
    112 River Plate ARG 10.00 0.00 2.90 0.00 12.90
    113 Atletico Paranaense BRA 7.00 0.00 2.80 3.00 12.80
    114 Stade Rennais FRA 4.00 0.00 5.60 2.90 12.50
    115 Pumas UNAM MEX 11.00 0.00 1.50 0.00 12.50
    116 Spartak Nalchik RUS 0.00 0.00 3.50 9.00 12.50
    117 Vélez Sarsfield ARG 4.00 0.00 2.90 5.00 11.90
    118 FC Slovan Liberec CZH 0.00 0.00 2.90 9.00 11.90
    119 Perugia AC ITA 4.00 0.00 7.30 0.00 11.30
    120 Vålerenga IF NOR 9.00 0.00 2.30 0.00 11.30
    121 SK Brann NOR 0.00 0.00 2.30 9.00 11.30
    122 FK Austria Wien AUT 9.00 0.00 2.20 0.00 11.20
    123 Legia Warszawa POL 0.00 0.00 2.00 9.00 11.00
    124 FC Kobenhavn DEN 0.00 0.00 1.90 9.00 10.90
    125 Tottenham ENG 0.00 0.00 6.90 4.00 10.90
    126 Getafe SPA 0.00 0.00 8.00 2.90 10.90
    127 Trabzonspor TUR 5.00 0.00 2.90 3.00 10.90
    128 Santos BRA 8.00 0.00 2.80 0.00 10.80
    129 Cruzeiro BRA 1.00 0.00 2.80 7.00 10.80
    130 Atletico Madrid SPA 0.00 0.00 8.00 2.80 10.80
    131 Ferencváros (Budapest) HUN 9.00 0.00 1.60 0.00 10.60
    132 Bolivar BOL 6.00 0.00 0.50 4.00 10.50
    133 TSV Alemannia Aachen NETH 6.00 0.00 4.50 0.00 10.50
    134 Hammarby IF SWE 0.00 0.00 1.50 9.00 10.50
    135 Livorno Calcio ITA 0.00 0.00 7.30 3.00 10.30
    136 Empoli ITA 0.00 0.00 7.30 3.00 10.30
    137 Borussia Dortmund GER 2.00 0.00 5.30 2.90 10.20
    138 AC Fiorentina ITA 0.00 0.00 7.30 2.90 10.20
    139 Ascoli ITA 0.00 0.00 7.30 2.80 10.10
    140 ND Gorica SLOV 5.00 0.00 1.10 4.00 10.10
    141 Gimnasia y Esgrima ARG 0.00 0.00 2.90 7.00 9.90
    142 FK Mladá Boleslav CZH 0.00 0.00 2.90 7.00 9.90
    143 FK Teplice CZH 4.00 0.00 2.90 3.00 9.90
    144 Blackburn Rovers ENG 0.00 0.00 6.90 3.00 9.90
    145 West Ham Utd ENG 0.00 0.00 6.90 2.90 9.80
    146 Reggina ITA 0.00 0.00 7.30 2.50 9.80
    147 Sporting De Braga POR 0.00 0.00 4.80 5.00 9.80
    148 FC Zurich SWI 0.00 0.00 2.80 7.00 9.80
    149 FC Dallas USA 0.00 0.00 2.80 7.00 9.80
    150 Wigan ENG 0.00 0.00 6.90 2.80 9.70
    151 Fulham ENG 0.00 0.00 6.90 2.60 9.50
    152 Panionios GRE 6.00 0.00 3.50 0.00 9.50
    153 Shelbourne (Dublin) IRE 5.00 0.00 0.50 4.00 9.50
    154 Djurgårdens IF SWE 5.00 0.00 1.50 3.00 9.50
    155 Charleton Athletic ENG 0.00 0.00 6.90 2.50 9.40
    156 Stabaek Football NOR 0.00 0.00 2.30 7.00 9.30
    157 SV Pasching AUT 0.00 0.00 2.20 7.00 9.20
    158 Amica Wronki POL 4.00 0.00 2.00 3.00 9.00
    159 Aab DEN 0.00 0.00 1.90 7.00 8.90
    160 Manchester City ENG 2.00 0.00 6.90 0.00 8.90
    161 Gençlerbirligi TUR 6.00 0.00 2.90 0.00 8.90
    162 Vitória SC (Guimarães) POR 4.00 0.00 4.80 0.00 8.80
    163 Houston Dynamo (formerly San Jose) USA 1.00 0.00 2.80 5.00 8.80
    164 Cerro Porteño PAR 3.00 0.00 0.75 5.00 8.75
    165 Újpest FC HUN 0.00 0.00 1.60 7.00 8.60
    166 NK Rijeka CRO 0.00 0.00 1.50 7.00 8.50
    167 Anorthosis Famagusta GRE 5.00 0.00 3.50 0.00 8.50
    168 Toluca MEX 7.00 0.00 1.50 0.00 8.50
    169 AFC Rapid Bucuresti ROM 0.00 0.00 3.50 5.00 8.50
    170 Rubin Kazan RUS 0.00 0.00 3.50 5.00 8.50
    171 Spartak Moskva RUS 4.00 0.00 3.50 1.00 8.50
    172 AIK Solna SWE 0.00 0.00 1.50 7.00 8.50
    173 Etoile du Sahel TUN 6.00 0.00 0.50 2.00 8.50
    174 Adelaide United AUS 0.00 0.00 1.40 7.00 8.40
    175 Maccabi Tel-Aviv ISR 6.00 0.00 2.40 0.00 8.40
    176 ZTS Dubnica nad Váhom SLVK 0.00 0.00 1.40 7.00 8.40
    177 OGC Nice FRA 0.00 0.00 5.60 2.80 8.40
    178 Le Mans UC 72 FRA 0.00 0.00 5.60 2.50 8.10
    179 FC Nurnberg GER 0.00 0.00 5.30 2.80 8.10
    180 Borussia Monchengladbach GER 0.00 0.00 5.30 2.60 7.90
    181 Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma SKOR 0.00 0.00 0.85 7.00 7.85
    182 FSV Mainz GER 0.00 0.00 5.30 2.50 7.80
    183 CD Nacional POR 0.00 0.00 4.80 3.00 7.80
    184 Boavista POR 0.00 0.00 4.80 3.00 7.80
    185 Aragua FC VEN 0.00 0.00 0.80 7.00 7.80
    186 Libertad PAR 0.00 0.00 0.75 7.00 7.75
    187 Alianza Lima PER 0.00 0.00 0.70 7.00 7.70
    188 Uniao de Leiria POR 0.00 0.00 4.80 2.90 7.70
    189 Kawasaki Frontale JPN 0.00 0.00 0.65 7.00 7.65
    190 Vitoria FC POR 0.00 0.00 4.80 2.80 7.60
    191 Al-Ahly (Cairo) EGY 6.00 0.00 0.75 0.80 7.55
    192 Aigaleo (Athinai) GRE 4.00 0.00 3.50 0.00 7.50
    193 FC Groningen NETH 0.00 0.00 4.50 3.00 7.50
    194 Estrela Amadora POR 0.00 0.00 4.80 2.70 7.50
    195 Espérance ST (Tunis) TUN 3.00 0.00 0.50 4.00 7.50
    196 Mamelodi Sundowns SAF 0.00 0.00 0.45 7.00 7.45
    197 Hapoel Tel Aviv ISR 0.00 0.00 2.40 5.00 7.40
    198 CS Martimo POR 0.00 0.00 4.80 2.60 7.40
    199 SK Beveren Waas BEL 4.00 0.00 3.30 0.00 7.30
    200 Roda JC NETH 0.00 0.00 4.50 2.80 7.30

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