Friday, July 14, 2006
Places at the Table, Part 3
It would be cruel of FIFA to take it away from the South Americans, but they just might. After all, the nation making up their extra half, Uruguay, failed to make it through the playoffs, although they faced easily the strongest opponent of the remaining three stragglers. I have earlier commented that the same nations routinely progress from the Asian and Central/North American qualifiers, but it shouldn't be forgotten that the same thing has happened in CONMEBOL for the last two cycles.
Furthermore, Brazil and Argentina aside, the South American nations are usually among the also-rans at the World Cup. No South American side other than Brazil and Argentina has reached the semi-finals since 1970, and few have remotely threatened to.
The plain fact remains that South America's No. 5 team is likely to be far stronger than, for instance, CONCACAF's No. 4. But such considerations do not typically prevail in FIFA's decision-making process.
One further reason to believe that South America might be the ones forced to give ground is that they initially received just the four places for the 2006 cycle, only gaining an extra half thanks to some shrewd political manoeuvring, and to New Zealand's dismal results at the 2003 Confederations Cup.
Set against this is the fact that Europe only received its 14-strong World Cup allocation as a result of Germany hosting the event; in 2002, they had half a place more, but the relative failure of European teams at the Asian World Cup cost them dearly in the wash-up. Effectively, they lost a full place for 2006.
Nevertheless, after Germany, Europe has a very strong case for maintaining its complement of 14. No less than ten of these progressed to the knockout stage, and from the semi-final stage onwards, it was an all-European event. Even with home advantage (so to speak), that's an impressive showing.
Perhaps the only good argument against letting Europe keep 14 at the World Cup is that the tournament should feature a variety of styles. Not that there is any great variety these days, but there is still an evident distinction between the physically tough, tactically astute European sides and the quick, skilful but often naive contenders from Asia and Africa. A poor argument, you might say, but would you really want to sit through the two hours of Switzerland v. Ukraine again? Probably the most entertaining, if not the best, half of football I attended in Germany was the second period of Korea v. Togo in Frankfurt. Both sides were committed to attack and played with enormous enthusiasm. There is something to be said for that, particularly in the context of a World Cup which became horribly sterile in its latter stages.
Here, then, is what I think FIFA might come up with for 2010. Note: this is what I think will happen, not necessarily what should happen:
South America: 4
Africa: 4.5 plus South Africa
A repechage tournament for the four "halves" would have to be a strong possibility.
Alternatively, it could be held on neutral ground, in the WC host nation as a test-run/warm-up for the proper event, thus getting rid of the need for the Confederations Cup. Yeah right ;-)
Finally, I don't think it would be a bad idea to give two half-spots to one or two confederations.
Alternatively, it could be held on neutral ground, in the WC host nation as a test-run/warm-up for the proper event, thus getting rid of the need for the Confederations Cup. Yeah right ;-)...
Yeah, a repechage tournament on neutral ground was the idea. Certainly makes sense to me. But we are talking FIFA here... ;-)
...Finally, I don't think it would be a bad idea to give two half-spots to one or two confederations....
More or less happens in Europe already, but then they only play off with each other. Of course, if they (the Euro halves) were thrown in the pot with everyone else, it'd be next to impossible for countries such as the CONCACAF No. 4 to get through, so the idea would be a non-starter for FIFA.