PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Can we really consider it a "World" Cup when its winners have come from only two continents?
Of the 20 World Cups played since 1930, absolutely zero have featured a winner from North America, Asia, Africa or Australia. Teams from those continents and their surrounding regions have never made the final, in which Brazil, Italy and Germany alone account for 12 out of 20 victories and 20 out of 40 finals appearances. Of the nations that have won it, only Brazil (with 202 million people) ranks among the Top 10 in population. The next largest winner, Germany, clocks in with 81 million. Uruguay, which won in 1930 and 1950, has fewer than 3.5 million people.
It's tough to overestimate just how long it takes a nation to become competitive enough to make a World Cup regularly. The U.S. was absent from the event for 40 years before finally returning in 1990. Some of the larger nations on the list have made the cut before, but just haven't been able to do so consistently. In that Top 10, the U.S., Nigeria, Russia and Japan have all become World Cup fixtures of late, despite never making it to the title match.
As the World Cup's reach grows and multinational sponsors including Coca-Cola, Adidas, Sony and Yingli Solar dump more money into the event, the pressure on other nations to step up their game will only intensify. Until then, we take a look at the five largest countries that aren't playing in this year's World Cup and see how far they are from joining the rest of the world's soccer teams on their biggest stage:
Population: 156 million
Population rank: No. 8
The Asian Football Confederation has 43 teams fighting to qualify for the World Cup. This year, it sent four: Japan, South Korea, Australia and Iran. Bangladesh was seeded 42nd, but handily defeated Pakistan 3-0 in the first match and held them to a 0-0 draw in the follow-up to make it to the second round. They went on to play Lebanon, which crushed Bangladesh 4-0 in the first match, but went down 2-0 in the second. That combined score of 4-2 ended Bangladesh's World Cup run.
Keep in mind that Bangladesh has been in existence only since 1971 after earning its independence from Pakistan. Its national team has been playing for only 41 years and didn't play a team outside of Asia until 2001. Just winning a first-round matchup in the World Cup qualifiers was a huge step, as Tajikistan sent Bangladesh home in the first round in 2006 and 2010.
It's a squad that's growing in a series of incremental steps and small victories. It has exactly one international player in Jamal Bhuyan -- who was born in Denmark and plays for the Danish club Hellerup -- but is starting to put up some respectable numbers in international play. Earlier this year, Bangladesh managed a 2-2 draw in a friendly against India while playing in Goa, India's inhospitable Fatorda Stadium. Their head coach, former Dutch player and Nigerian club coach Lodewijk De Kruif, has used his Dutch coaching staff to bring a more European style of play to Bangladesh, and his incremental changes appear to be working.
Bangladesh still has a long road to a World Cup victory, but it's at least making the journey.
Population: 188 million
Population rank: No. 6
Well, we don't need to tell you how Pakistan missed this year's World Cup. Perhaps a step behind Bangladesh at this point, it's been a tough go for the Green Shirts since playing their first international match in 1950.
After Bangladesh split off in 1971, Pakistan saw its pool of players reduced and the odds against it greatly increased. It didn't even attempt to qualify for the World Cup until 1989 and didn't gain so much as a point in World Cup qualification until 2001, when it managed a 3-3 draw with Sri Lanka. Since 2000, a revolving door of managers including Englishmen Dave Burns and John Layton; Slovaks Zavisa Milosavijevic and Joseph Herel; and Hungarian-Austrian George Kottan joined a host of Pakistani colleagues in stringing together 14 consecutive years of losing campaigns. The last coach to manage four wins was Herel in 2002-03. The last coach with a winning record was German manager Burkhard Ziese, who went 11-4-2 between 1987 and 1990 before turning over the reins to a committee of coaches.
FIFA has been pouring money into the country's soccer infrastructure and established a league in Pakistan a decade ago. In cooperation with the Pakistani government and Pakistani Football Federation, Pakistan has tried to build a program through a time of great political and social upheaval. If it's proceeding too slowly, it's because Pakistan has a lot more on its mind than just soccer.
Population: 247 million
Population rank: No. 4
The Red and White have one resume item the aforementioned teams lack: a World Cup appearance.
It was back in 1938 -- when the nation was known as the Dutch East Indies -- and ended when it was expelled in the first round by Uruguay, but it counts. Since then it has failed to qualify for a World Cup spot each time it's tried, just missing the tournament in 2002 when it tied China atop its Asian Football Confederation Group but couldn't beat the Chinese in either of two tiebreaker matches.
In fairness, it was banned from World Cup play from 1958 through 1970 after refusing to play Israel in a 1958 World Cup qualifier. Since 2002, however, its play has gone downhill in a hurry. During the qualifying rounds for the 2014 World Cup, Indonesia managed only one win and eight goals in eight matches, while giving up a whopping 32 goals to its opponents. It's been chasing an Association of South East Nations Football Federation championship fruitlessly for nearly 20 years -- finishing second four times between 2000 and 2010 and finished out of the running altogether in 2012. Its national team has burned through 13 coaches since 2000 -- including two stints apiece for Bulgian Ivan Kolev and Indonesia's own Benny Dollo. Its mishmash of soccer leagues resulted in the national team's brief suspension by FIFA in 2012 and the management of its soccer leagues at home hasn't had such great repercussions for its national squad abroad since.
Indonesia was a step away from the World Cup a dozen years ago, but has taken several steps back since. It's going to require at least moderate stability for the nation to even consider returning to the big event.
Population: 1.24 billion
Population rank: No. 2
India is the big, bulky center of the Asian Football Confederation's lineup.
Not as good as No. 1 Japan, not as awful as No. 43 Laos, No. 27 India has a somewhat muddled history with the World Cup that hasn't quite settled. The Indian national team made its debut in 1948 and qualified for the 1950 World Cup when all other Asian teams withdrew. But India didn't see why it should spend the time and money it would take to travel to Brazil and felt Olympic soccer was a better use of its resources.
It politely declined -- a move that's just about unthinkable today -- and went on to lose 10-1 to Yugoslavia at the 1952 Olympic Games in Finland. FIFA denied India's bid in 1954 and India sat out World Cup qualification until 1986. It has never come close to qualifying for the World Cup since, losing 5-2 to the United Arab Emirates in the first round of this year's qualifiers.
India's soccer history isn't nearly as bleak as its World Cup record indicates. It was runner-up at the Asian Cup in 1964, it won two gold medals at the Asian Games and has won three of the past five South Asian Football Federation Championships. Dutch coach Wim Koevermans has been in charge of the Indian squad since 2012 and has a young squad with exactly one international player -- goalkeeper Subrata Pal of Danish Superliga squad Vestsjaelland. It's a team that's a force regionally, but has never made much noise globally.
In the AFC, they're passable, but not really a World Cup threat.
Population: 1.36 billion
Population rank: No. 1
No, China didn't qualify for the World Cup this year, but it doesn't mean soccer isn't absolutely massive there. The Chinese national team has won the East Asian Cup twice, in 2005 and 2010, and were runners-up in the Asian Cup in 2004. That last match drew 250,000 million television viewers in China alone -- an audience larger than the entire population of Indonesia.
Under legendary Mexican-Serbian coach Bora Milutinovic, China qualified for its first and only World Cup in 2002. It didn't score a goal in any of its three first-round matches, but it was an enormous step for Chinese soccer. Afterward, success was erratic at best. Milutinovic's replacement, Dutch coach Arie Haan, took the team to second place in the Asian Cup in 2004. Coach Gao Hongbao gave China its last East Asian Football Championship in 2010. No coach other than those two has managed a winning record in the past decade, though.
At times, China looks like a powerhouse, as it did when it smoked Laos 13-3 in its second-round qualifying matches. Other times, it looks like a feeble newcomer, as it did in losses to Jordan and Iran during its third-round elimination. This is what happens when your nation's only major soccer league is less popular than Major League Soccer in the U.S. and about as corrupt as Italian soccer at the turn of the millennium.
But that league is cleaning up and growing. Chinese soccer fans are expected to draw roughly $250 million in World Cup ad dollars for state-run CCTV -- a 50% boost from 2010 -- and are already the targets of China-specific ads and promotions by McDonald's and Coca-Cola. Chinese soccer may still be somewhat of a novelty, but soccer's big enough in China that the national team will inevitably catch up.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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