South American Football v European Football – Which is better?

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By Martin Graham | 23rd Jun 2022

The age-long argument is back in the media after the recent champions match which saw Argentina, Copa America 2020 champions, trounce Italy, Euro 2020 champions in the inter-confederation ‘Finalissima’.

The match was a result of the football governing bodies of South America (CONMEBOL) and Europe (UEFA) signing a memorandum of understanding to work together for the betterment of the game in both their confederations.

Both tournaments happened in the same time period in 2021 (pushed back by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down the world in 2020) but as expected, the European tournament took centre stage. Both teams provided their particular brand of excitement for football fans too.

But following the Argentina-Italy game, many have started the argument about whose football is better again. The argument was also fuelled by comments made by Kylian Mbappe at the start of the international window which claimed that South American football is not on the same level as European football.

What Mbappe said

The 2018 World Cup best young player was asked what he thinks about competition from the other most popular region in the world in football, particularly Argentina, who are on an impressive unbeaten run and are one of the odds-on favourites to win the World Cup.

He opined that the Albiceleste had not faced quality opposition like in Europe. “Argentina haven’t played games of great quality to reach the World Cup,” he said. “In South America football isn’t as advanced as Europe. That’s why if you look at the last World Cups it’s always the Europeans that win.”

His last comments ring true, seeing that the last time a South American team won the global tournament was in 2002. The region has also not produced many World Cup winners with only Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay winning the title.

His comments drew the ire of many figures in South American football as expected. Aston Villa goalkeeper and number one Lionel Messi fan Emiliano Martinez lashed out. asking the Frenchman to try playing on both continents to see the difference.

“Bolivia in La Paz, Ecuador with 30-degree Celsius heat, Colombia where you can’t even breathe… they (in Europe) always play on perfect pitches and have no idea what South America is all about. Every time you travel with the national team you’ve got two days coming and going, you are exhausted and can’t train much.

“When an England player goes to train they are at the ground in half an hour. Let them go to Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and see if it is that easy.”

Messi, Mbappe’s teammate, also made the same observations while maintaining diplomacy.

Is Mbappe right?

While it is true that European teams have more social capital because they are easily recognisable due to the influence of UEFA on football, the jury is still out on European teams as the better football nations.

A key point to consider is the equality of games on both continents. While it is almost always skewed in favour of big European sides like Mbappe’s France, it is more equal in South America. Bolivia, which Martinez mentioned, has the highest altitude stadiums in football. Teams easily tire out playing in that stadium and the Bolivians run riot against such teams, even if they are South Americans.

The hard-tackling and direct style of South American football also make for interesting viewing as every match is contested as if their lives depend on it. Payers who have to survive have to be strong, fast, skilful and very adept on the ball. This is why South American players are some of the toughest players around and are also some of the most scouted.

In Europe, meanwhile, a big emphasis on systems abound and this can sometimes make games slow or mechanical, both styles are the antithesis of one another but the entertainment value they both provide is something that each fan will have to decide on their own.

Martin Graham is an MFF sports writer

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