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.