Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Places at the Table, Part 2
The Asian confederation pulled off a very neat trick as a result of South Korea's success in 2002, wangling four and a half places out of FIFA for 2006. This despite the fact that they recieved only three and a half spots in 1998, and that the two Asian nations who lacked the benefit of home support in 2002 flopped embarrassingly. A real political coup for Mohammed bin Hammam.
Asia can consider itself very lucky that the ersatz Asian team at the tournament, Australia, made it past the first round this time. Otherwise, Asia's collective performance at the event was dismal, and the fact that the usual suspects qualify from Asia with monotonous regularity and yet fail to convince at the finals must surely be setting some alarm bells ringing in Zurich. Nonetheless, it is hard to see Asia losing any ground for 2010. Unfortunately for Australia, it's hard to see the AFC gaining any ground either. Four and a half is likely to be the limit once more, despite the addition of Australia.
What, then, of Oceania? It is now a pathetic shell of a confederation with a half-spot it scarcely deserves. The remaining "half-spot" confederations, one suspects, will be queuing up to knock over the Oceania champion in late 2009. It's quite possible that FIFA, in order to avoid any bad blood, might finally have to consider the option of a cross-confederation repechage tournament on neutral territory, for the playoff orphans. The playoff ties in 2005 were a patent absurdity, Australia facing Uruguay while Bahrain played Trinidad and Tobago. Either of the former two teams would almost certainly have butchered either of the latter in a playoff. Hence, probably, the lack of a repechage tournament for the cycle just finished: the Asians and CONCACAF, both of whose supremos wield considerable influence within FIFA, would never have countenanced it.
CONCACAF does not deserve its three and a half places, but the influence of its bully-in-chief Jack Warner, not to mention the necessity of ensuring that the U.S. qualifies, will probably ensure that it keeps them. As with Asia, the same teams routinely emerge from the CONCACAF qualifiers every time.
And so to the big guns: South America and Europe. To be dealt with in my next instalment.
I think CONCACAF should have 2 spots (or perhaps 2.5). Just bite the bullet and give the US automatic entry, and let the other countries fight it out with Mexico to grab the remaining spot.
I'm not so sure about NZ being a threat, even at that pretty low level. We've beaten NZ by at least three clear goals in the last few WC playoffs, and I really don't think they've progressed much in the last few years. And there's the same problem for them that we had before joining Asia - no practice in competitive games against peer opposition.
...I think CONCACAF should have 2 spots (or perhaps 2.5). Just bite the bullet and give the US automatic entry, and let the other countries fight it out with Mexico to grab the remaining spot...
That would certainly make things easier for FIFA!