The Uneven Road to Rio

fifa2014So the full line-up for Brazil 2014 has been confirmed and, despite a traditionally balanced opinion from Zlatan, I’ll probably be tuning in for the majority of it.  It’s a shame the crazy big Swede won’t be there but there are others who probably have more reasons to feel hard done by after another mammoth qualifying campaign.

In many respects, FIFA’s desire to grow the beautiful game globally is an admirable one.  Though it probably masks their true mantra, follow the money, the event undoubtedly benefits from the presence of players, teams and fans from all over the globe.  Having said that, this is the pinnacle of world football and as thus the World Cup should be a best versus the best spectacular.  In the early stages at least, the competition will be nothing of the sort as Zlatan and his mates will sit and watch teams vastly inferior to Sweden perform on the greatest stage of all.

Australia will be there again.  Third year in a row now for the Socceroos.  The authorities are forever tinkering with the hoops the Aussies must jump through to book their spot but appear incapable of creating anything resembling a fair challenge.  After decades of waltzing past the might of American Samoa and the Cook Islands then losing a playoff, life is much easier down under these days.  Three wins in eight games to finish above Jordan (FIFA ranking of 70), Oman (92) and Iraq (103) was sufficient for the 57th ranked Antipodeans this time around.  Japan (44), Iran (49) and Korea (56) join them from the Asian qualifiers.

Speaking of Jordan, finishing above Oman and Iraq was good enough for them to swagger into the last chance saloon of the play-offs.  Uruguay swiftly ended their hopes with a 5-0 victory in Amman.  Uruguay themselves reached that stage courtesy of winning just seven out of 16 games in their qualifying group.  Out of the nine South American FIFA associations there’ll be six playing in Brazil.  Nice odds if you can get them.

Another nation that apparently has lady luck shining down upon it is Mexico.  They were more Mexicants than Mexicans for much of their qualifying campaign and managed to register only two wins and seven goals in 10 games.  USA, Costa Rica and Honduras took the automatic spots in the finals ahead of them.  Nevertheless, those two Mexican wins against Panama and Jamaica apparently warranted a play-off against New Zealand.  There aren’t enough Hakas in the South Pacific to turn NZ into a decent side and a 5-1 first leg demolition sealed their fate.  I’m not even going to embarrass FIFA by listing the New Zealanders’ opposition prior to their thumping in the Aztec Arena.

Finally, I think the Egyptians deserve an honourable mention.  At 51 in the world they are ranked higher than many of the qualifiers for Brazil 2014.  They also won seven out of their eight qualifying matches.  Sadly, however, there’ll be no dancing in the streets of Cairo next summer as a 6-1 drubbing in Kumasi ensured Ghana triumphed in the play-off.

I’ll admit that I am merely pointing out some weird and wonderful qualifying facts here rather than constructively analysing the system or proposing a viable alternative.  But I still can’t help thinking there must be a more equitable, in a sporting sense first and foremost, way to divvy up the spoils.  The old argument used to go that nobody wants 22 European teams plus Brazil and Argentina competing for the trophy every four years.  Of course not, but those days are long gone.  There is enough strength and depth in world football today that representatives would come from far and wide even without the benefit of a skewed qualifying process.

Someone has to just go away and figure out the logistics.  And thank God we’ve got Sepp Blatter at the helm to manage everything.

Stuff it, I will embarrass FIFA.  New Zealand earned a play-off place by beating: New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Tahiti and Fiji.  More a group of life than a group of death.

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