by Celso Chamochumbi - 10/13/2005
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In ten months, a new World Champion may be crowned. Twenty-four nations have already guaranteed themselves a trip to Germany next summer, the site of the 18th edition of the World Cup. This week, FIFA, soccer's governing body, will release the pairings for the teams still vying for the remaining eight spots. Within a couple of months, FIFA will ceremoniously announce the grouping of the 32 squads, and a month before the inaugural game, all nations will submit their final rosters.
In the upcoming months, many will doubtlessly pour over reams of statistics, player profiles, and recent results to identify the favorites. Some will latch onto the consistent, if uninspiring, play of host Germany, while others will drool at footage of the Brazilian jogo bonito. The Dutch, Spanish and French sides will be analyzed as potential long shots, and all will celebrate the lively and attacking quality of African soccer. Amidst all the speculation, however, lies a telling historical trend that fans today are seemingly quick to discount-the role of No. 12, in this case, a No. 12 of continental proportions.
Better known to fans of a generation or two ago, the starting players of a soccer team wore jerseys numbered one through eleven. The reserve goalkeeper was assigned number twelve, but since his chances of seeing the field was minimal, the home fans affectionately embraced the role of being the extra player on the field and became collectively referred to as No. 12.
By design, only one of the thirty-two teams will truly enjoy the unwavering support from their twelfth player. Yet, a correlation is not established between hosting and winning a World Cup. In the seventeen World Cup soccer tournaments, the host team has only taken the final victory lap on six occasions. Furthermore, since 1950, it has happened just four times in fifteen tournaments, with the most recent occurrence coming in 1998 when France defeated Brazil.
What, then, can be made of the relationship between the host site and the eventual champion? The answer is found in asking any middle-aged Brazilian why the 1958 triumph in Sweden, over Sweden, is so special. Besides representing the country's first of five World Cup soccer championships, the 1958 tournament marked the first and only time a team from the Americas won a Cup played in Europe. An European team has never triumphed outside of Europe.
Except for the 2002 World Cup whereby Japan and South Korea co-hosted the event, the tournament sites were designated to alternate between Europe and the Americas.
In fifteen of the sixteen tournaments played between 1930 and 1998, a team from the host continent ultimately hoisted the Cup.
This solid historical trend can aid handicappers that wish to narrow their list of favorites.
Also, given that teams from the Americas hold a 9-8 edge in terms of overall championships, the home field continent trend may further impel us to return to the Old World to search of next summer's gold.