by Cristopher Rubio
Question: What country has been crowned the South American soccer champion (Copa América winner) the most times? Well, it’s not Brazil or Argentina. Though since you read the title you probably already guessed it: Uruguay.
But here’s something that you might have not thought about: The same country that has won the most South American championships is also the least populated country (3.5 million people) of all ten that participate in South American fútbol.
To put this in perspective, Los Angeles, the city in California, has a population of 3.7 million people. Imagine L.A. producing a soccer team that has won two World Cups, 15 South American Championships, and finished fourth (while producing the tournament’s best player, Diego Forlán) in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. It would never happen! If you magically dropped Uruguay in Central America, they’d have the second smallest population…and the best team by far.
In the U.S., high school sports teams are grouped based on their enrollment. It wouldn’t be fair to have a high school with 500 students regularly compete against a high school with 3,000 students would it? The larger high schools have a much larger pool to select athletes from, making them more likely to be better.
But in soccer, countries compete with each other, regardless of population. However, if we factored in country’s populations, much like the way boxing factors in weight for its pound-for-pound rankings, it’s hard to make the argument that Uruguay isn’t the best international soccer team in the world. So how the heck do Los Charrúas do it?
According to Soccernomics by Kuper and Syzmanksi, international soccer success is attributed to three things: population, income, and experience. We’ve covered their small population, but Uruguay’s large middle class, and relatively even distribution of wealth help make up for their small population. They’ve also been playing soccer longer than most countries, and the European influence in Uruguay hasn’t hurt either.
You could make the argument that a lot of Uruguay’s success came while the rest of the world was still playing catch-up. Their World Cup wins occurred in 1930 and 1950, the latter being one of the most famous wins in soccer history – a win in the final against Brazil in front of 160,000 Brazilians in the Estádio do Maracanã. And most of their Copa América wins happened pre-1950.
But, I still think you have to give credit where credit is due. Their Under-17 team made it to the final of the 2011 U-17 World Cup, they finished fourth in the world in 2010, and they won the Copa América this past July. Their national league has produced a combined eight Copa Libertadores winners (Peñarol with 5, Nacional with 3). Besides Forlán, they’ve also produced Liverpool star Luis Suárez (you might remember him for one of the more famous handballs not from Diego Maradona).
So there you have it, La Celeste, the best soccer team in the world…per capita.
To learn more about Cris, visit El Kamino Real.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of
the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.