The Case for South American Football

Because of its extraordinary local leagues and great players, Europe is arguably the most competitive football region in the world. According to the FIFA ranking of men’s national teams, European countries take 7 spots in the top 10 with Germany currently taking the lead, and with Brazil, Argentina, and Chile being the only non-European countries in this top 10. Also, of the 20 FIFA World Cups celebrated so far (excluding Russia 2018), 11 have been won by European teams.

This perhaps justifies the fact that since its creation, the FIFA World Cup features roughly 50% of European teams. However, considering that the remaining 9 World Cups were won by South American countries it can seem unfair that the number of South American teams has been kept to roughly 20% of the total national teams competing.

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Well, to perhaps add to this argument, this graph shows how much more effective South American national teams have been in reaching the knockout stages of previous (and current) World Cups. The long-standing average percentage of teams from South America that passed the group stage sits at 66% and is 80% in the current 2018 World Cup, with only one team not qualifying to the next round and most South American teams leading their corresponding groups.

Whether South American football “deserves” more spots in the FIFA World Cup is hard to tell, but certainly South America as a region has been better than any other when it comes to overcoming the always challenging group stage. All in all, it may be surprising then that out of the 12 new spots announced for the 2026 World Cup, only 1 will be allocated to the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL).

The Top Gun Effect?

Was the 1986 blockbuster “Top Gun” one of the best recruitment campaigns in the US military history? Some think it was (see The Armed Forces Need Another Top Gun by Richard D. Parker). Given its sequel Top Gun 2 started filming this month, I thought of “visualising” the effect (if any) the original film had on the US Navy’s recruitment statistics.

Unfortunately, detailed data on the number of young people applying to become a Navy fighter pilot is not readily available. However, I’ve managed to plot what I think could be the “Top Gun Effect” by comparing the average number of Officer Cadets (one has to become an Officer first to go to flight school) in the different branches of service of the US military between 1982 and 1992. Basically, what I do here is to plot deviations from a 10-year average in the number of Army, Navy, and Air Force Officer Cadets reported by the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC).

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Of course, not all Navy Officer Candidates are there to become fighter pilots. However, compared to the other military branches, there seems to be a large (unexplained?) change in the number of Navy Cadets in the subsequent two years to the movie release. If we take into account the average time from applying to Officer Candidate School (most applicants were probably still in College by that time) to becoming an Officer Cadet (and hence be part of the statistics for that year), this might very well be the direct effect of Top Gun.

Considering not all applicants are accepted for attendance to Officer School, this effect (more than 25% increase) might be even understated!