“Which of FIFA’s confederations is the best?” is a timeless question, asked since the conception of intercontinental football by almost nobody.
I haven’t allowed this to deter me, however, from going to great lengths and spending a good deal of my own personal time trying to determine which part of the world produces the best kickers of footballs. Follow me on my journey to find out once and for all.
First things first, let’s take a look at the method that I used to determine which conference was the best. Discussion and thoughtful debate are all well and good, but what we’re really looking for here is cold hard results. FIFA seems to agree with me on this, hosting their own Confederations Cup every 4 years as a precursor to the World Cup. Nobody really takes this seriously, however, so I turned to the most scientific method I could think of: AI vs AI on FIFA 18.
I constructed five teams to play each other in a single round-robin league format: UEFA (Europe), CONCACAF (North America, Central America and the Caribbean), CONMEBOL (South America), CAF (Africa), and the AFC (Asia). You may notice that I’ve excluded the OFC (Oceania) here. This is because a) it would just be New Zealand’s team and b) it would be really hard to scrape together a squad of New Zealanders from the FIFA database, which I don’t feel like doing and c) it would be an exercise in futility, as they’d almost certainly lose every game.
After trivialising the footballing ability of an entire continent, I then proceeded to create five teams to compete at the tournament. I also decided to have players who aren’t at the World Cup unable to qualify to play for their confederation, so players like Alexis Sánchez, Leonardo Bonucci and Virgil van Dijk were not eligible.
I then moved all of the players to the team that is that reigning confederation’s club cup champion: Real Madrid for UEFA, Grêmio for CONMEBOL, Guadalajara for CONCACAF, Urawa Red Diamonds for AFC and Orlando Pirates for CAF (the only previous CAF Champions League winners on FIFA 18 – current champions Wydad Casablanca do not exist on the game).
To try and keep the playing field as level as possible, each team will play the same formation: a 4-2-3-1, with the same bench, comprised of a goalkeeper, a centre-back, a fullback (either side), a central midfielder, a winger (either side), an attacking midfielder, and a striker. Lastly, in order to avoid any controversy, I simply used the most up-to-date FIFA ratings (futwiz.com was an excellent resource for this) to pick the teams based on the best player rating at each position, which is why Neuer starts ahead of De Gea and Raheem Sterling starts at RW for UEFA. Below are the squads that I used for the competition, along with their ratings on the game:
UEFA: ATT – 90/MID – 89/DEF – 87
Subs: De Gea, Boateng, Carvajal, Kanté, Silva, Hazard, Kane
CONMEBOL: ATT – 89/MID – 88/DEF – 86
Subs: Alisson, Otamendi, Alex Sandro, Fabinho, Dybala, Coutinho, Higuain
CAF: ATT – 80/MID – 81/DEF – 80
Subs: Bounou, Sané, Sabaly, Ndidi, Khazri, Baldé, Ba
CONCACAF: ATT – 79/MID – 79/DEF – 76
Subs: Ochoa, Araujo, Aguilar, Borges, Pizarro, Vela, G. Dos Santos
AFC: ATT – 76/MID – 79/DEF – 75
Subs: Jones, M. Hawsawi, G. Sakai, Lee J.S., Koo J.C., Jahanbakhsh, Azmoun
With the squads set, all that was left was to actually play the games. To keep things even, all the games were played with 6-minute halves, on World Class difficulty, at a neutral ground (West Ham’s London Stadium). Below is a chart showing all the results, as well as the final league standings. And, in case you didn’t believe I would actually go to lengths of playing out these games, I’ve also included a link to a YouTube playlist if you’d like to watch all these games unfold for yourself.
YouTube: UEFA vs CONMEBOL 1st Half
So, what did we learn from this experiment? Firstly, if each continent’s best teams were to duel it out, there would be just 1.4 goals per game. This is most likely due to FIFA’s insanely frustrating AI. It was agony to watch teams repeatedly getting into threatening positions before deciding to pass the ball 4 or 5 times before losing possession inside the opponent’s penalty area.
In particular, the AFC struggled going forwards, with their lone goal in four matches coming in the form of a 90th minute Shinji Kagawa penalty. In contrast, the biggest surprise of the competition came in the form of the CAF coming 2nd in, including a shock 2-1 comeback victory over CONMEBOL. Cristiano Ronaldo finished at tournament top scorer, with 3 goals scored, equivalent to a preposterous 21.4% of all goals scored in the competition.
Finally, and most importantly, (assuming that my method was absolutely perfect and that there’s no point in repeating the test, of course) we can clearly see that UEFA are unquestionably the best confederation in the world. The bookmakers seem to agree, with SkyBet (at the time of writing), having six UEFA teams in their top eight favourites to be outright winners. Historically, this checks out as well, with UEFA’s 26 World Cup final appearances and 11 victories leading all confederations.
With all things considered then, the next time you’re lying in bed, wracked with anxiety over which confederation is best, remember that we have once and for all settled the debate over which arbitrary landmass produces the finest football talent: UEFA. I’m sure they’ll be delighted.