There have been 21 World Cups and only three teams have ever won the tournament outside their own continent. Brazil won the 1958 finals in Sweden with the help of a player aged 17 who happened to be called Pele. They were world champions in the United States in 1994 in Japan and Korea in 2002. Spain won the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 and in 2018 Germany are defending the title they won in Brazil four years ago.
That means only five tournaments have been won by teams visiting a different continent and three of those happened in the last four World Cups. Usually a European country wins the World Cup in Europe and a South American country wins the World Cup in South America. No other continent has produced a World Cup winner despite the emergence of nations from Africa in the world game.
It was only in the 1980’s that players started to move overseas in numbers. There was the odd high profile transfer of a great player from one country or continent but generally a player plied his trade in the country of his birth. Jimmy Greaves and Denis Law had spells in Italy and Ian Rush moved to Juventus. He didn’t stay in Italy too long and he came back to Liverpool saying something like he didn’t enjoy the food but that could be a myth.
There is now a mass migration of the best players in the world to the superpowers of European football. Barcelona has a history of signing players from Brazil and Maradona played for the Spanish giants. Ossie Ardilles was the first significant arrival in England of a player from outside the British Isles. The growth of the Premier League means only about one third of registered players are English born.
There is now movement of players from within continents which means players from South America in particular are used to conditions in Europe. It’s not such a culture shock when they play in World Cups away from the continent of their birth. The 1958 Brazilian team were just so good they would have won the World Cup in any country and in 2002 Ronaldo was at his peak. Brazil have only won one World Cup in Europe.
Spain were a cut above the rest eight years ago in South Africa and Germany grew into the tournament in 2014. They became the first European nation to win the World Cup in South America and their three other world titles were won in Europe. Italy are the next most successful nation in the World Cup and each of their four titles were won in Europe. In 2018 Brazil are the favourites to win the World Cup but the next seven teams in the betting are European.
Russia are playing well at their own tournament this year and if they won the World Cup it would be the 17th time in 22 tournaments that a team were world champions in their own continent. Five hosts have lifted the trophy which means it’s the continent and not the country that is a key factor in identifying potential world champions. So, don’t rule out England.