CONCACAF, GDP and the World Cup

Though CONCACAF is traditionally an international soccer backwater, the American, Mexican and Costa Rican National Teams are representing in Brazil.

CONCACAF is doing well for itself despite adverse socioeconomic conditions and poor World Cup history. Mexico looks the strongest after yesterday’s nil-nil draw with host Brazil tied with them atop Group A. Their victory over an uninspired Cameroon proved little, but going toe-to-toe with the Selecao for the full 90 showed quality. Costa Rica looked solid in surprising Uruguay 3-1, and are leading Group D. The Stars and Stripes exorcised some ghosts of World Cups Past by beating Ghana and now sit tied with Germany in the Group of Death. Only Honduras is showing poorly, having been routed by France.

World Cup 2014 seems to be holding pattern so far with CONCACAF World Cup history. Mexico is performing the best with America right behind. These two countries dominate the region, followed by Costa Rica and Honduras. Of the 35 appearances by a CONCACAF nation at the World Cup, 65% of those showings were from either Mexico or the USA. Costa Rica is third in total qualifications with four (almost five after a hotly contested qualification-losing playoff loss to Uruguay in 2010), and Honduras now has its third qualification. After Honduras, only El Salvador has qualified more than once and only five other countries have represented our region over the last 80 years.

Mexico has traditionally banged through CONCACAF, but whimpers on the international stage. They have competed in nearly every World Cup (failing to qualify for only three and suffering embarrassing sanctions that banned them from Italy 1990) and haven’t failed to advance from the Group Stage since 1978. El Tri’s consistency in qualifying and advancing from Group Stage play is stellar. And yet they always lose shortly thereafter. Mexico has won a knockout round game only twice, both times with the advantage of being hosts in 1970 and 1986. Mexico has never advanced past the quarterfinals, and their best finish was 6th. America, however, makes the most of its chances. We have only advanced passed the Group Stage four times, but have won two twice thereafter. Our highest finish was third, way back in the inaugural World Cup of 1930. Both Honduras and Costa Rica have skimpy World Cup history. Costa Rica edges Los Catrachos with one more qualification and one advancement from its Group. The dynamics within North American soccer remain stable, but the region is maturing.

CONCACAF teams are no longer World Cup afterthoughts. Mexico has always had population, wealth and ambition invested in their National Team, but has never been good enough to advance very far. Since international soccer is still a study in socioeconomics, CONCACAF has suffered. Most of the Central American and Caribbean countries have severe limitations to growing a dominant soccer program. Costa Rica, the third best country in the region, competes well despite having a nominal GDP akin to Sierra Leone’s, and a population equal to Kentucky’s. The after effects of racism and colonialism are still apparent in the record of CONCACAF qualifying.

America is the region’s outlier, a wildly wealthy nation in an impoverish corner of the world. Only a lack of ambition has held the US back from making a ruckus on the world’s stage. America is now flexing its muscle on the pitch with better athletes, facilities and dedication. As the popularity of the game rises, the moneymen finally see profit in soccer. This influx of cash into all corners of the soccer world: MLS expansion, the rebirth of the NASL, ESPN broadcasting the domestic league and NBC winning the EPL broadcast rights, indirectly feeds the growth of the USMNT. Over the next weeks, well see how these investments pay off.

CONCACAF WORLD CUP AND ECONOMIC STRENGTH:

Mexico

Qualification: 16

Advancement from Group: 7

Knockout Round Wins: 2

Best finish: 6th (‘70 and ‘86)

GDP (nominal): 14

GDP (per capita): 69

America

Qualification: 10

Advancement from Group: 4

Knockout Round Wins: 2

Best finish: 3rd (‘30)

GDP (nominal): 1

GDP (per capita): 14

Costa Rica:

Qualification: 4

Advancement from Group: 1

Knockout Round Wins: 0

Best finish: 13th (1990)

GDP (nominal): 81

GDP (per capita): 71

Honduras:

Qualification: 3

Advancement from Group: 0

Knockout Round Wins: 0

Best finish: last (Honduras has never won a world cup game)

GDP (nominal): 109

GDP (per capita): 135

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