Europe or South America: which continent is the true home of football?
That question has featured in countless debates since the game went truly global in the 1930s with the advent of the World Cup, which in turn was propelled into being by Uruguay staking claim to the title of world’s best with their back-to-back Olympic Games triumphs shortly before the Jules Rimet Trophy came into being.
In terms of titles, the regions are closely matched. Europe boasts 12 World Cup successes to South America’s nine, but no side east of the Atlantic Ocean can match Brazil’s record of five wins. South American sides have also triumphed on no fewer than five occasions in tournament held outside the continent, while only Spain and Germany have managed the opposite. The latter remains the sole European country to have taken the trophy on South American soil.
A novel attempt to decide which powerhouse ruled the roost was held in 1973 when the best of each continent convened in a clash that showed off the best of the world’s talent. Barcelona’s Camp Nou played host to Europe vs South America in a charity match arranged by FIFA and the star-studded line-ups did not disappoint as they played out a 4-4 thriller.
Coached by Barca’s Hungarian legend Laszlo Kubala, Europe’s first XI reads like a who’s who of the continent’s football idols of the 1970s. The near-unbeatable Netherlands side of that decade was represented by Johan Neeskens and new Blaugrana arrival Johan Cruyff, while in the shape of Benfica and Portugal wizard Eusebio and Malian hitman Salif Keita, one of the first African nationals to make a mark on European football, there was plenty of goalscoring potential.
With Inter stalwart Giacinto Facchetti standing at left-back and Valencia’s Juan Cruz Sol inside, there was also plenty of steel to Kubala’s outfit. Across the pitch, however, and under the charge of Omar Sivori, a favourite at both River Plate and Juventus, South America also boasted household names in every position.
Three members of Brazil’s World Cup winning squad, Marco Antonio, Paulo Cezar and the brilliant Rivellino, were present in Sivori’s starting line-up; as were a trio of players who in 1975 would lead Peru to only their second Copa America in history. Teofilo Cubillas, Hugo Sotil and Hector Chumpitaz – the latter wearing the captain’s armband for South America – have gone down in history as three of the best players the Inca have ever produced and at Camp Nou they proved they were the equal of anything Europe could muster.
It was Sotil who fired the visiting South Americans into the lead, tucking away Paulo Cezar’s cross from close range after a delightful move down the right wing. Europe came roaring back, however, with Eusebio and Keita both netting to turn the tables; the former’s goal coming from a diving header to convert captain’s Cruyff’s pinpoint cross, a moment to treasure in the only game those two all-time greats played on the same side.
The score was levelled before half time by another Peruvian, this time Cubillas, and the pendulum continued to swing during a compelling second 45 minutes. Europe came close to taking the honour when Asensi and Austria’s Kurt Jara fired them two goals ahead, but Miguel Brindisi of Argentina pulled his side back to within a single strike following incredible skill from Rivellino. Chumpitaz then levelled from the penalty spot to seal a 4-4 draw. In the ensuing shoot-out it was another Argentine, goalkeeper Daniel Carnevali, who came to the fore, saving three kicks to leave South America the winners of an enthralling friendly encounter.While football is the last thing on most people’s minds during this most difficult of times, the idea of the two continents’ greatest players getting together once again once the coronavirus pandemic is over, perhaps even for a charity match in which the proceeds would go to those affected by the outbreak, remains intriguing. And just like in 1973, picking just 22 players out of the hordes of modern superstars, let alone a winning team of the two, promises to be an extremely difficult prospect.
Marc-Andre Ter Stegen has established himself as one of the world’s finest keepers in recent years, coming to the rescue of Barcelona on countless occasions with his agility and commanding presence between the posts. He just beats out Jan Oblak. Jordi Alba would bomb down the flanks and the evergreen Sergio Ramos partners Liverpool lynchpin Virgil van Dijk in the middle, while Trent Alexander-Arnold also takes a spot after establishing himself as arguably the world’s finest right-back in recent seasons.
With so many worthy options in midfield, striking a balance is possibly the most daunting task. For that reason the industry and tireless running of N’Golo Kante is put together with Kevin De Bruyne’s all-round talent and the dead-ball and passing ability of Toni Kroos to make a truly lethal trio. Further ahead our captain Cristiano Ronaldo will be ably assisted by Robert Lewandowski’s marksmanship, with Kylian Mbappe racing down the line out wide to put further pressure on the South America defence.
Luckily for the continent, it boasts a shot-stopper that can match even the best of Europe in Liverpool star Alisson. Ahead of him sits an uncompromising back three of Diego Godin, Jose Maria Gimenez and Thiago Silva, which will ensure that any attempt to break through will endure a rough ride before closing on the last line of defence.
Even at 36, Dani Alves proved in last year’s Copa America that he is still a player of the highest quality, sealing him a place on the right side of midfield. The middle will be bossed by Casemiro and Arturo Vidal, while slightly further up Philippe Coutinho will be tasked with providing the link with attack off the left wing and drifting off the flank into the final third.
Up front, meanwhile, is a near-perfect replica of Barca’s famous MSN all-South American trident.
Anyone lucky enough to witness such a game would no doubt be in for a treat. Overall, however, Europe’s slight edge in defence and the engine room should prove enough to take the honours, as long as they manage to shackle that potent triple threat in the South America attack.