YOKOHAMA, Japan – European teams have only twice failed to be in the top two in the World Cup’s 72-year history – in 1930 and 1950.
It could happen again on June 30 in Yokohama, Japan – a signal that soccer’s center of gravity might be shifting away from the old continent and toward Asia, Africa – and even North America.
With the quarterfinals completed on Saturday, the World Cup semifinals look like this: South Korea-Germany on Tuesday in the South Korean capital, Seoul; and Brazil-Turkey on Wednesday in Saitama, Japan.
A Brazil-Germany final is not out of the question. But neither are the other three possibilities: Brazil vs. South Korea, Turkey vs. Germany, or even Turkey vs. South Korea.
For the first time since 1978, there are only two European teams in the final four – three-time champion Germany and Turkey, hardly one of the usual European powers. Turkey is appearing in only its second World Cup, its first since 1954.
The other two semifinalists again represent the old and new.
Four-time champion Brazil is the tournament favorite, a role it assumed when defending champion France was knocked out in the first round without scoring a goal. South Korea – the first Asian team ever to reach the semifinals – is the sentimental favorite. By reaching the semifinals, South Korea went one better than its northern neighbor, which made it to the quarterfinals in 1966.
Tuesday’s Germany-South Korea semifinal is a repeat of a group game in 1994 in the United States, which Germany won 3-2. The two starting goalkeepers – Oliver Kahn and Lee Woon-jae – were on the bench in the match. Lee came in as a substitute when Germany ran off to a 3-0 lead after only 20 minutes.
German coach Rudi Voeller was still playing for Germany in that match and came on as a second-half substitute.
Brazil and Turkey have only played twice – in an exhibition in 1951, which Brazil won 1-0, and again in the first round of this World Cup, when the Brazilians won 2-1 on a goal from a controversial penalty kick with three minutes left. Earlier this year, Turkey tuned up against two South American teams in exhibitions, beating Chile 2-0 and losing 1-0 to World Cup qualifier Ecuador.
Strangely enough, Brazil and Germany have never met in the World Cup.
The shift in power away from Europe has been gradual but seems to be gaining speed.
In the previous five World Cups going back to 1982, Europe took 16 of the 20 semifinal places. In 1982, it claimed all four semifinal spots.
The semifinal lineup this time is the most diverse since the first World Cup was played in 1930 in Uruguay when one North American team (United States), two South Americans (Argentina and Uruguay) and one European (Yugoslavia) reached the final four.