Saturday, August 04, 2007
The Asian Path
The unnecessarily convoluted third and fourth rounds appear to have been driven by the need for gate and television revenue. And, needless to say, they will favour those teams with the majority of their players based locally (the west Asians, that is).
Nevertheless, it’s good to see that the winners-only first round system employed by the AFC for the 2006 cycle has been abandoned. It made life extremely difficult for the slow starters, and ended up costing China a place in the second round last time. Even Japan, in fact, nearly missed out.
As far as the dates are concerned, the earlier panic about the AFC’s scheduling has, predictably, proved to be unfounded. All of the third and fourth round matches (that is, the ones Australia will be involved in) will take place either on FIFA designated dates or outside of the European season. The details can be found here and here.
Admittedly, matchdays 1 and 2 from the third round and matchdays 2 and 3 from the fourth are on "friendly" dates, which only require players to be released from their clubs 48 hours prior to the game – a little awkward for the European-based contingent. But if the FFA approaches the qualifying series in a sensible, professional manner, it should not prove too great an obstacle.
It is to be hoped that the administrative slackness that characterized the Graham Arnold era was merely a cost-cutting measure. The general consensus following the appointment of Arnold seemed to be that the national body had decided to watch the pennies until the 2010 qualifying series, and perhaps, in the final analysis, it mightn’t have been a bad move (partly since it was chiefly Arnold, rather than the FFA, who copped most of the criticism).
The likes of Rale Rasic (who seems to consider himself the Delphic Oracle of Australian football these days) might rail against the “delay” in getting a high-profile foreigner to replace Guus Hiddink, but the financial difficulties of the FFA – and their subsequent reluctance to splash out for a second Guus before the 2010 campaign gets serious – are not to be underestimated. As for Rasic’s belittling of Jorvan Vieira, he might have a point in that one tournament win doth not a masterstroker make, but surely managers with significant experience in Asia should be looked upon more favourably than aristocrat Euro managers with astronomical price tags.
A small point about Jorvan Vieira though: as a convert to Islam, how would he feel about leading out a side from a country that has, by and large, denigrated his religion against a nation from the Gulf?
Pim Verbeek’s name has been mentioned in connection with the Socceroo job as well, and we could do worse. His Korean side at the Asian Cup reminded me in many ways of Hiddink’s Socceroos in Germany; very fit, combative and well-organized, if a little short of bite up front. If we are indeed after a second Guus…
One final note: it seems that, despite FIFA’s earlier indications, the Oceania winner will once again be limited to a one-off two-leg playoff.
The Kiwis are learning what it’s like to be top dogs in Oceania. They will surely now resolve, as we did, to take FIFA statements on World Cup qualification with not just a grain but a pillar of salt.
My biggest fear was always that third round and the thought of having to top the group. The Koreans had a few heart attacks at that stage in 2004 as well, with Lebanon, Vietnam and one of the Gulf nations in their group from memory. Glad to see that we only need to finish in the top 2, although I'm not too sure if the draw for the final stage favours the those teams topping their groups?
Ironically, I felt that in the last AFC qualification series, the final group was easier to qualify from, because all you had to do was avoid last place in the four team group. That's pretty absurd when you think about it - seeing both Bahrain and Uzbekistan only winning one match each in the final round - and still 'earning' a place in the play off to determine the team that faced Trinidad and Tobago. Having to finish 1st, 2nd or 3rd in a five team final round makes it more realistic IMO.
Given that Asian teams generally struggle away from home, the real key for mine will be utilising our home advantage. Off the top of my head (which is known to be incorrect much of the time) we have not lost a home WC qualifier since 1981. Sure, there have been a few draws too many, but I'm pretty sure we haven't lost at home in that time. So if we have to face the Saudis in May-September for example, the FFA should do their utmost to schedule that match for a chilly Melbourne evening. ;o)
On the subject of Rasic, I recently heard a rumour that he coached Australia to the 1974 World Cup.
Despite what for us will be a drawn out process (although like all football fans I will relish all the competitve matches) I do feel sorry for over half the teams in Asia. The first two rounds will eliminate 23 teams of the 43 and that happens by November 2007! Many teams will play just two games and be done and dusted almost three years before South Africa even begins! At least when we used to get eliminated in the knock-out match we only had to wait six months before being distracted by the finals themselves.
The unnecessarily convoluted third and fourth rounds appear to have been driven by the need for gate and television revenue..."
How would you have designed the format, then? :p
Dead simple. Twenty teams in the third round = four groups of five, winners go through, best second-placed team plays off with the Oceania winner. Easy.
Most of the WC qualifying schedules are far too long ATM, I feel.