Living With No Hope
Africa, Asia, North America and Oceania all make their weaker opposition face a number of preliminary rounds before they are even allowed to come and think about playing the big boys. You never see Cambodia play Australia in an Asian qualifier for the World Cup, likewise São Tomé and Príncipe playing Ivory Coast, or even the Turks and Caicos Islands facing off against the USA.
Yet Europe thinks differently, countries with a population smaller than Wembley Stadium are forced to play off against the biggest and best teams on the continent. Recently, the Netherlands, the runner-up in the 2010 World Cup, went out and tanked San Marino 11-0. And its a common theme for the Sammarinese, Finland and Hungary have beat them 8-0 and Sweden 6-0. All in all, their eight games have seen them concede 44 goals, an average of 5.5 a game.
And they aren’t the only ones struggling, Malta and Andorra have 0 points, Luxembourg and Iceland have 1. Although the Malta and Iceland situation is potentially misguided because of them being in a five team group.
Why should this be allowed? At what should be the highest competitive level of football, teams are being forced to play weaker opposition, which doesn’t help anybody. The bigger teams walk over them and a couple of players get a nice boost to their national team goals tally, the smaller teams except to be walked over and don’t gain any decent experience from it.
There’s only one real solution for this, and its to follow a similar route used by the CAF, AFC, CONCACAF and OFC and use some preliminary rounds. For the record I will be using the seeding which determined the qualifying draw for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The big teams, and when I say big, I’m even including Pot 3 nations like Ireland, Belarus and Hungary. So I’m saying there are 27 countries capable of realistically qualifying for say, the 2014 World Cup. That leaves a further 26 who I think are unable to do it. Half and half.
Those 26 will then be placed into several preliminary stages which will help whittle down the number. And it doesn’t have to be anything complex, group stages which are used in North America and Asia don’t have to apply. It’s simple, a knockout stage draw, top 13 in the World Rankings in one pot, bottom 13 in the other. Even Scotland should be able to see off the likes of Malta. And if Malta do go on and beat Scotland, well they have gone out and proved they have deserved to be in contention to qualify.
From this there will be 40 nations left, which leaves for a nice round number, 8 groups of 5. Less matches for everyone, which keeps the clubs happy, and no difficult situations for some, when there are groups of 6 and 5, which means more games and more pressure for those in the bigger groups. The clubs will be fortunate and mean their players will have less international games for them to get injured in.
So the group winners qualify and then the five best runners up as well, and then everyone will have their 13 nations off to Brazil, without any hassle of having to play in front of a man and a dog in Andorra. Everyone wins.