If El Tri were a European squad, the CONCACAF nation would do just fine in Europe's top competition.When it comes to evaluating the state of world soccer, the Euros seem to give everyone tunnel vision. In the slight lull between opening kickoffs and the quarterfinal round, you can bet on a series of articles declaring how wonderful soccer is when European sides can have at each other unobstructed by pesky teams from inferior regions.
It’s a Eurocentric fest worthy of the fifteenth century, before Europeans realized there was much else out there. But the net assessment - that few teams outside Europe are competitive in the world’s game - is grossly unfair to those countries that have stepped up their games in the past couple decades, a list which Mexico tops.
Yet, with the celebration of the centrality of European football to the world order, along come the sycophantic pundits with their mundane observations about how much better the game is played in Europe than everywhere else.
In the last week, the following assertions have been made, perhaps more than once, in print by otherwise reasonable journalists smitten by a month of European football:
- The European Championship is a mini-World Cup, missing only Argentina and Brazil.
- The Euros are actually a harder tournament than the World Cup, with less margin for error.
- And this from one of the array of brilliant English journalists living (apparently begrudgingly) in a CONCACAF nation, and forced to cover our version of game: No CONCACAF team would have a chance of even qualifying for the Euros.
On the surface, it’s easy enough to shake one’s head in approval. The cream of the crop in Europe is clearly better than the best teams anywhere outside of South America. It’s obvious that teams like Spain, Germany and … well who else in Europe is so head and shoulders above everyone else in the world right now?
El Tri would hardly be shaking in its collective boots at facing most of the Euro quarterfinalists, and yet we’re still dealing with contentions that the CONCACAF region is so weak that none of its teams could hope to even make the tournament.
Please, where have these pundits been for the last 20 years? El Tri would do just fine in the Euros. And El Tri’s relative position in CONCACAF suggests that some of the region’s other teams could hold their own as well.
The most puzzling thing here is that while the assertion that Europe is so superior to every other footballing region in the world (South America is sometimes spared) is mostly subjective, where CONCACAF is concerned there’s actual empirical evidence to the contrary, available to anyone willing to open their eyes to it.
For example, the Confederations Cup - the actual mini-World Cup - hasn’t exactly been the domain of European teams over the years. European teams have won two of six, and - what’s this? - Mexico has won one as well. That means Mexico has won more Confederations Cups then all the Euro quarterfinalists, minus France, combined.
In friendlies, the amount of European sides El Tri has knocked off in the last couple years is too long to list, but since 2010 it includes Bosnia (twice), Wales, and Serbia -- all middle-of-the-road European teams that would presumably breeze by Mexico and other CONCACAF teams in this imaginary world of European dominance.
Even mighty Spain, in its friendly trips to the new world after the 2010 World Cup title - with a full squad it should be noted - managed only a pair of last-gasp draws in Mexico and Costa Rica.
Then there’s the constant argument that Mexico or the U.S. wouldn’t make it through European qualifying because they don’t win easily in Central America. As if England, Spain, or anyone really, goes to Montenegro, Estonia or Bulgaria and consistently comes away with 4-0 victories.
The world of international soccer is already Eurocentric enough without these baseless jabs at soccer elsewhere. Nearly half the World Cup field still comes from Europe, and about half those teams get knocked out in the group stage every four years - a percentage not much better or worse than teams from anywhere else (except Africa, but that’s a story for another time).
And don’t bring up the FIFA rankings, which weigh games played by European teams more heavily than those from other federations, assuring that the top positions will always be packed with European sides no matter the results on the field.
The Euros are a pleasure to watch, that much is not in dispute. The depth of quality of European sides is also unequaled, but that has more to do with the number of reasonably well-endowed, rich nations in Europe compared to other confederations. So why can’t we just enjoy the tournament for what it is, without bashing other regions of the world?
It’s easy enough to be spellbound by the vacuum of European soccer than accompanies the Eurocopa. It’s also easy to sit back and argue, while no other teams are involved, that the soccer in Europe is so fantastic, so beautiful, that no other region in the world could hope to compete with the European teams on display. That seems to be the popular belief.
But besides unnecessary, this brand of euro-snobbery is plain inaccurate. Argue all you want that European soccer looks superior in a summer vacuum, but the evidence provided on the field over the past few years just doesn’t bare that out.
The world of international soccer is changing. If you still think Europe is so superior, it’s time to update your paradigms.
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