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Of the 488 countries that entered the group stages, 50% were from Europe, 18% from South America, while only 10% or less were from Africa, Asia and North America each
On November 20, the 22nd edition of the FIFA World Cup kicked off in Qatar. In the past, the World Cups were predominantly hosted in European countries (11 editions) and South American countries (5 editions). North American nations hosted it thrice. Qatar is only the third Asian country to host the tournament after Japan and South Korea co-hosted it in 2002. In 2010, South Africa hosted the tournament.
European and South American countries have not only been dominant as hosts but have also formed the lion’s share of participants. Of the 488 countries that entered the group stages (round 1) in the 22 editions of the tournament, 249 were from Europe, constituting more than 50%; 18% were from South America; while 10% or less were from Africa, Asia and North America each.
The first African team to enter the tournament was Egypt in 1934. More than 35 years later, in 1970, Morocco became the second African country to do so. From Asia, Turkey and South Korea participated in the first round of the 1954 edition.
But over the years, there has been a steady increase in the number of Asian and African teams which have been entering and registering wins in the group stage of the tournament. While entering the group stages is not a hurdle as each continent has a fixed number of qualification berths, registering wins and moving on to successive stages of the tournament is a different ball game altogether.
In 1954, Turkey beat South Korea 7-0 to become the first Asian team to win in the group stage of the World Cup. In 1966, North Korea won against Italy. This was the first defeat of a non-Asian nation at the hands of an Asian team. Tunisia defeated Mexico (3-1) in the 1978 edition to become the first African country to win a match in the group stage. It was in 2006 that a team from Oceania managed to make it to the list when Australia beat Japan (3-1) in the preliminary stage.
In 2022, five teams from Asia are participating in the World Cup and have recorded three victories and one draw. The five African teams that entered this edition have also managed to win a few matches. The Sunday game in which Morocco defeated Belgium is a case in point.
This being said, European and South American teams still dominate the knockout stages of the tournament. Of the 132 teams that reached the quarter-finals in 21 editions of the tournament, almost 70% are from Europe (91) while almost 23% are from South America. African nations entered the quarterfinals only thrice: Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010. None of them won. In 1938, Cuba became the first North American nation to enter the quarterfinals. Mexico entered the quarterfinals in 1970 and 1986. The U.S. entered the quarterfinals in 2002 but lost to Germany. In the inaugural tournament, the U.S. became a semi-finalist only to be crushed by Argentina which scored six goals to the U.S.’s one. Of all the Asian countries that have participated in the World Cup, it was North Korea that became a quarter-finalist in 1966, though it lost to Portugal 5-3.
In 2002, South Korea and Turkey managed to not only enter the knock-out rounds but also reached the semi-finals stage after defeating Spain (5-3) and Senegal (1-0), respectively. The South Korean team lost against Germany in the semi-finals as German Midfielder Ballack managed to score a goal 75 minutes into the match. Brazilian centre-forward Ronaldo Nazário scored the winning goal against Turkey to enter the finals.
Apart from these exceptions, no non-European or non-South American team has managed to enter the semi-finals, let alone the finals. While nations from these two continents alternated as World Cup winners between 1930 and 2002, in the past four editions the Europeans have clearly dominated. France in 2006, Spain in 2010, Germany in 2014 and France again in 2018 managed to become the World Cup Champions. Moreover, in three of these editions, both the finalists were from Europe.
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