And a new World Cup champion
The one thing that this World Cup has thrown up is that no team can take themselves for granted, no matter how strong they appear on paper or how impeccable their lineage. FIFA rankings count for very little.
Weak zones with disproportionate representation:
Two teams each from the weaker zones- the Asian and Concacaf succeeded in advancing to the Group of 16. The USA, Mexico, Japan, and South Korea progress to the next round. The last time was in 2002. Even New Zealand representing Oceania, the weakest zone managed to pull off three draws, including one against the defending champions, Italy.
In 2006 only Mexico succeeded. Australia made it to the next round as well but as part of Oceania.
South America/ Conmebol on the rise:
The South American countries have so far found passage. Chile is waiting in the wings. In 2006, Paraguay was left behind and three went through- Argentina, Ecuador, and Brazil. This time Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay topped their groups and Chile playing today with a win can do the same. The South American countries have yet to lose a match.
Western Europe in decline/ UEFA:
France and Italy have been eliminated in painful fashion. England scraped through and are in second place in Group C. Germany survived a scare from Serbia to top Group D. Denmark favoured to pass from Group E were unable to progress after Japan beat them in convincing fashion. Greece also joined the also rans after being outplayed by Argentina.
Spain were shocked by Switzerland and now face group leaders Chile while keeping a nervous eye on the Switzerland vs Honduras match (the Catrachos have a pulse believe it or not). Portugal after a lackluster draw against Ivory Coast were able to right the ship convincingly against North Korea. But they face Brazil in their last match. Only Netherlands have coasted wrinkle free. In 2006, all eight Western European countries made passage to the group of 16.
Africa and Eastern Europe maintain the status quo:
This World Cup billed as the “African World Cup” was expected to provide a fillip for African success but only Ghana has lived up to expectation. A repeat from the 2006 World Cup. Eastern Europe is a little different. This time, Slovakia goes through which actually represents a better percentage because of the smaller pool as compared to the last World Cup. Only Ukraine made it out of the group stage as Poland, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Croatia failed.
The odds get longer in the Group of 16:
England meets Germany. This was not what both countries wanted so early in the World Cup. Either the 11/2 or the 14/1 odds to win the World Cup will be left standing. There is a strong possibility that Spain might finish second in Group H setting up a potential Brazil meeting. The 4/1 meets the 5/1 odds to win it all. Or put in another way, two other Western European countries could fall or a five time World champion could be removed.
This World Cup has shaken conventional wisdom. We might be left with some unfamiliar names in the later stages. No Italy, France, England or Germany, and possibly Spain or Brazil. Whether this is unique to this World Cup remains to be seen but there might be other forces leveling the playing field. After 18 World Cups, we maybe welcoming a new champion, not the usual suspects.