Southern exposure

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:16 AM ET

LONDON -- It isn't much of a surprise that most of the focus in this country is on European football, especially the English Premier League and Italy's Serie A.

Europe is where most of the world's top players play.

When it comes to discussing national teams from outside Europe, that discussion usually focuses on Brazil and Argentina and how they will always contend for a World Cup.

It often surprises football fans that those South American powerhouses are not immune to the vagaries of economics and the lure of the big dollar.

Many of their top players from South America - Messi, Pato, Robinho, Kaka, Cesar and others - play in Europe.

Brazil is one of the biggest exporters of soccer players. One statistic shows that in 2008, a record 1,176 Brazilian footballers left their homeland to play elsewhere and 762 of them ended up in Europe with Portugal the most popular destination.

That's more than an 8% increase from the year before.

Many Argentinian players follow the same route.

It provides those South Americans with an opportunity to play in highly competitive situations. It's also proof that South American teams, particularly Brazil and Argentina, continue to produce an enormous amount of football talent.

But the continual exodus of this talent places a burden on the national team. The problems revolve around difficulty in establishing training regimens because of distance and other commitments.

Brazil and Argentina often play international games at less than full strength. Travel wears out the players.

This year's South American World Cup qualifying reflects many of those problems.

The top-four teams qualify for the World Cup while the fifth-place team begins a playoff series beginning with a member of CONCACAF.

After 12 games - yes, South American qualifying is a marathon - Brazil is only in second place and has had some difficulty in their qualifying. They are three points behind Paraguay, one point ahead of Chile and two ahead of Argentina.

Argentina is life and death to stay ahead of Uruguay, Colombia and Ecuador to hang on to the last automatic qualifying spot.

Argentina was stunned 6-1 in their last qualifying game. The daggers are out for Argentine coach Diego Maradona. If it had been anyone other than an Argentine legend that had coached the team to that defeat, they would be looking for work.

Maradona might still be looking for work if Argentina continues to struggle.

Brazil looks safe, but has been inconsistent.

Their constantly changing lineup is one issue.

Their inability to keep players in their own country is another.

Brazil is looking to protect some of their young talent because often their young talent play almost no games with Brazilian club teams. Many Brazilian fans only get to recognize their young talent when it takes the field on some foreign pitch.

Pato played only 10 games professionally in Brazil.

Some of the better-known Brazilians, such as Carlos and Cafu, played a number of years in Brazil before moving to Europe. It established some sort of continuity.

Brazilian football authorities have installed rules that prevent footballers moving abroad before the age of 18 and not allowing players under the age of 16 to sign professional contracts.

That will only marginally help. Those players will go where the money and endorsement deals are. They will leave at the first opportunity.

It's the price Brazil pays for being the world's most productive football factory.

It's also why Brazil, and in many ways Argentina, no longer have a clear run at qualifying and dominating the World Cup scene, as it has over the past 50 years.


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