Oct 28, 2022
Oct 28, 2022

Why location matters at the World Cup

How does the location of the World Cup affect who will win?

Qatar World Cup location analysis - data to consider

Where has the World Cup been held in the past?

The impact of location on the performance of teams at the World Cup

Why location matters at the World Cup

Throughout the 20th Century there was a trend for the World Cup which was very rarely deviated from. If the tournament was held in North or South America, then a team from the latter continent would win. When a European country were the hosts, a team from Europe would prevail.

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Where has the World Cup been held in the past?

The only exception to this trend across the first 16 editions occurred in 1958 when a Brazil side featuring a 17-year-old Pele won the trophy for the first time by defeating hosts Sweden in the final. Things have changed since, though not by much.

There have been two reasons for this. Firstly, FIFA has since held World Cups in Asia and Africa when it hadn’t before, with the 2022 tournament heading to Qatar in the Middle East.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, international travel is not the novelty it once was. European teams undertook a 15-day boat journey in 1930 to take part in the first World Cup in Uruguay, so it was little surprise that two South American sides contested the final. The days of such arduous journeys are long gone, though.

There are now very few secrets in soccer.

Players are now fully aware of their rivals from other countries too. Historically, they would have come up against players they had never met or even seen play before, but there are now very few secrets in soccer.

Brazil won the one previous World Cup that took place in Asia, lifting the trophy for the fifth (and to date, last) time in Japan and South Korea in 2002. They are favourites to win it this year too. Aside from fourth-favourites Argentina, the other top eight sides in the Outright market are European.

Let’s look at whether the location of the World Cup affects the general performance of teams, to see if the information can help inform our betting selections. We’ll study the last six editions, as they featured 32 teams as the 2022 tournament will. This gives us three World Cups in Europe, with one each in Africa, Asia, and South America, to provide a decent cross-section.

How have African, Asian, and North American World Cup teams performed?

As the Outright betting odds for Qatar show, the winner of the 2022 World Cup is expected to hail from Europe or South America, just as it always has in the past.

The recent history of the competition does at least suggest some of the nations from the other continents stand a chance of making the quarter-finals, though. 

In the 2002 edition, co-host South Korea reached the semi-finals.

In the 2002 edition, co-hosts South Korea reached the semi-finals, while Senegal and the USA also reached the quarter-finals. Eight years later (in South Africa), Ghana and Costa Rica qualified for the last eight, with the former a penalty shootout away from becoming Africa’s first-ever World Cup semi-finalists.

The unusual location for the 2022 World Cup could give the likes of Senegal and the USA the opportunity to outperform their Outright odds of 13th and joint-15th (at the time of writing) to reach the quarter-finals. The draw means they could meet in the round of 16, which would ensure safe passage for one of them.

How do South American teams fare? 

South America have only provided one semi-finalist at the last three European World Cups, the Brazil side who lost the final to hosts France in 1998.

The CONMEBOL nations enjoyed more success at the other editions in our study. Brazil went all the way in 2002, Uruguay finished fourth in South Africa in 2010 while the big two, Argentina and Brazil, were runners-up and fourth respectively in 2014 (though the latter were the hosts).

Less-fancied sides such as Paraguay (2006) and Colombia (2014) have enjoyed quarter-final berths when outside of Europe too. And Uruguay reached the last eight last time out in Russia but there’s no doubt that South American nations tend to prosper more when playing outside of Europe.

Will the European teams be affected by playing in Qatar?

It is a little harder to assess teams from Europe, purely because there is always far more of them than there is from any other continent. UEFA will send 13 teams to Qatar, when no other confederation will have more than six teams in the 2022 World Cup Group Stage.

European sides tend to do better when on continental home turf.

It’s clear that European sides tend to do better when on continental home turf though. More of their teams reached each of the final three rounds when playing in Europe rather than elsewhere across the last six editions.

World Cup Location

European Teams at The Finals

European Quarter-finalists

European Semi-finalists

European Finalists











Obviously, the findings in this article are all linked to each other. If fewer European teams make the latter stages, then a side from another continent will have inevitably taken their place by knocking them out. Nonetheless, with the 22nd FIFA World Cup being held outside Europe, don’t be surprised if some European nations do not perform as well as you might have expected.

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