Is Europe's Americas drought ending?
RIO DE JANEIRO -- On Sunday, Germany will attempt to break through the last frontier for a European national team, winning a World Cup held in the Americas.
European sides have attempted to win soccer's biggest prize in the Western Hemisphere on seven previous occasions and come up empty every time, although there have been some close calls.
Italy fell to Brazil on penalty kicks in the 1994 World Cup final that was held in the United States. The Netherlands took host Argentina to extra time in the 1978 final, only to fall 3-1.
The streak lives on.
So why hasn't a European side been able to break through in the Americas?
Simple infrequency plays a part. The 2014 edition of the World Cup is the 20th since the tournament's birth in 1930, yet it's just the eighth to be held in the Western Hemisphere.
You have to go back to 1994 to find the last time a World Cup was held in the Americas, and the current edition is the first to be held in South America since 1978. All told, the World Cup has been held in the Americas just five times in the past 40 years.
But an argument can be made that European sides don't fare as well in World Cups hosted outside their home continent.
In the 2006 World Cup, hosted by Germany, European sides went 23-5-7 against teams outside their confederation. When France hosted in 1998, that record was 20-6-13. In this tournament, European teams have gone 18-11-10. In 1994, the mark was 13-9-7. Not bad, but not quite as stellar as on "home" soil.
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Often, the travel and climate are cited as the main reasons some European teams struggle.
Certainly in the first incarnations of the tournament, travel times were much greater.
In terms of weather, the temperatures have usually been hotter, something players from the Americas are more used to dealing with.
It's also an issue that has been exacerbated by the larger percentage of games being held in the afternoon, the better to accommodate prime viewing hours back in Europe. In 1994, Ireland played the Netherlands in Orlando, Florida, with a kickoff at 12:30 p.m. local time, an utterly insane time to be playing.
In Brazil, Cesare Prandelli, who managed Italy during the tournament, seemed utterly obsessed with the effect climate was having on his players. On the one hand, he stressed that the heat wasn't to blame for his team's shock 1-0 defeat to Costa Rica, but he earlier said it was "madness" not to have timeouts in extreme conditions. There have been other factors, as well.
"I personally feel the stadiums haven't been constructed well with regards to airflow," added ESPN television analyst Taylor Twellman. "That can make it feel even hotter, so the weather has played a factor, I don't care what anyone tells you."
Europe achieved something of a breakthrough four years ago when Spain triumphed in South Africa. It marked the first time a European side had prevailed in a World Cup held outside of its home continent. But there was also almost a European feel to that World Cup. The temperatures were cool, even cold at times.
Also, South Africa is a relatively small country, making it fairly easy to get around.
That hasn't been the case in Brazil, where the travel distances have been much greater, and the temperatures hotter. Then there are the cultural differences between playing a game in Europe and playing in South America.
"There's more of a chaotic feel to playing a game in South America," said Twellman, who represented the U.S. at the 2007 Copa America in Venezuela.
"In Europe, everything's perfect. In South America, there are things that get you a little unraveled. Your bus ride could take an extra 20 minutes. The playing surfaces are different; sometimes drier, sometimes heavier."
That all points to a problem in the head, as opposed to the lungs or the legs.
"Obviously you can talk about the heat, you can talk about the travel, just the grass you play on, all these different things, but I think it comes down to a psychological barrier that's there," said ESPN television analyst Alexi Lalas, who spent part of his career on loan with Ecuadoran side Emelec.
"If everyone is saying it's going to affect you, then you believe it's going to affect you."
It is possible that such influences have been overstated.
In 1986 and 1994, Europe supplied three of the four semifinalists, so it's not as if every team from that continent struggled. In this tournament, the Dutch were a penalty shootout from making it an all-European final.
That hasn't stopped Germany from seeking to minimize these factors.
The German Football Federation, the DFB, spared no expense in terms of the players' accommodations in Brazil, building from scratch the team's training base, Campo Bahia.
Germany has a laundry list of other advantages, as well.
Germany will have a full day's more rest than Argentina, a benefit exacerbated by the fact that the Albiceleste's semifinal against the Netherlands went to extra time while the Germans enjoyed the longest stretch of garbage time in World Cup history after racing to a 5-0 lead after just 30 minutes against Brazil.
For the Nationalmannschaft, things couldn't be lining up any better.
"Germany will be more confident, I think they're a more complete team," Lalas said. "Now they just have to show in that 90 minutes all of these things that at least on the surface that we can see."
Lalas believes that the Germans have a more complete side than their opponent on Sunday and that that will play toward their advantage.
"I'm not sure Argentina has a tremendous amount to counter it other than this Lionel Messi dependence," he said.
"Don't get me wrong, it's a wonderful person to be dependent on, and that well that they keep going to has yet to run dry. But they're coming up against a well-oiled and complete German team right now."
And one that is poised to make history.