South America's World Cup lessons

As the dust settles, we can now reflect on the first ever European success in a South American World Cup -- in which, the champions Germany thrashed hosts Brazil and overcame Argentina on their own continent, on their march to the title.

It is the third consecutive European World Cup win, and had Holland won the penalty shootout against Argentina it would have been the third consecutive all-European final.

There is plenty, then, for South America to think about.

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After 20 tournaments, Europe now has 11 wins to South America's nine. Europe was ahead 2-1 after 1938; since then, the continent did not take the lead until Spain's victory four years ago in the first African World Cup.

From one perspective, though, South America has never been stronger. The continent can now boast impressive strength in depth. In the past two World Cups, from a total of 11 teams, only one has failed to qualify for the knock out stage -- Ecuador this time.

The Ecuadorians can consider themselves unfortunate. Their crucial game always looked likely to be the opener against Switzerland. In the closing stages, with scores tied at 1-1, they looked by far the more likely winners -- even going into second-half stoppage time, when Michael Arroyo had a chance to snatch the three points. But he was caught in possession, and with Ecuador having lost their discipline, the Swiss broke straight up the other end to steal a winner.

Ecuador, however, can take heart from their subsequent performances, and from the fact that more of their players are being snapped by European clubs.

Chile would also appear to have the strongest team in their history -- and will look at next year's Copa America, which they host, as an opportunity to win their first senior title.

Colombia reached their first World Cup quarter final -- as did Paraguay four years ago, when they gave Spain their toughest test on the way to the title.

The Paraguayans then suffered the inevitable consequence of having to change generations. They finished bottom of South America's 2014 World Cup qualification table, but they will be back. A few months ago they took a young side to Germany for a friendly, and came back with a 3-3 draw -- a result that looks even better now in retrospect.

But if South America can count on unprecedented strength in depth, where is the extra strength capable of carrying one of the continent's teams all the way to the title?

Here, the situation does not look so comforting. All the evidence points to a clear conclusion -- in terms of club football, the gap between Europe and South America has never been so big.

This is not just a question of money; in recent years Brazilian clubs have been paying big salaries as a consequence of improved TV and sponsorship deals.

There are two sad facts here. One is that the organisation and administration of the Brazilian game are so dire that the clubs have spent themselves into deep financial crisis. The other is that in terms of ideas, Brazilian football looks intellectually barren.

Its clubs have won the Copa Libertadores in each of the past four years -- but without ever dominating in the way that should be the logical consequence of the giant financial advantage they enjoy over their continental rivals. And with the exception of the compact Corinthians of coach Tite in 2012, all have come back humiliated from the World Club Cup. This year, in an astonishing display of incompetence, Brazil has not even managed to qualify one team for the semifinals of the Libertadores.

Any hopes that Brazilian football would be taking a long hard look at itself were dashed when Dunga was hurriedly appointed as national team boss.

Argentina's production line of talent appears to have slowed down alarmingly since their most recent World Under-20 Cup win in 2007. And they come away from defeat in the final against Germany with an obvious question ringing in their ears -- this time around they had a favourable draw, immense traveling support and Lionel Messi at 27. If they cannot win the tournament this time, then when?

Uruguay reached the 2010 semifinals and won the Copa America the following year. But that side now needs extensive rebuilding, and a fallow period may follow.

Can Colombia keep making progress? Their coach Jose Pekerman argued that Brazil 2014 would be the tournament where the country took a definitive place at football's top table.

With an interesting generation still to reach its peak, maybe they can be genuine contenders in four years' time -- when South America will have to come up with something special to close that 11-9 gap with Europe.