Is seeding the World Cup play-offs playing fair?
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and for every FIFA marketing slogan there is a subsequent decision that can make fans wonder if world football’s governing body is being serious.
“Fair Play Please” is the current favourite but how, exactly, does that square with the decision to make the European zone World Cup playoffs a seeded affair?
Nowhere in the acres of pre-qualifying regulations was there a suggestion that the playoffs would be seeded but now the good people of Zurich have realised that some of the biggest names in the game could be involved in the November home and away matches, the new rule has been presented as a fait accompli.
So the eight teams in the playoffs will be seeded according to their FIFA ranking — conveniently avoiding the prospect of France playing, say, Portugal and one of the continent’s big guns being forced to miss out.
Unsurprisingly, the decision was not welcomed by the likes of Ireland – into the playoffs but likely to be seeded in the “bottom half”.
Bosnia were too busy celebrating making the playoffs on Saturday to worry about their structure but wouldn’t they be right in thinking they deserve as much a chance of facing, say, Greece or Slovenia as Russia or France?
The nine group winners got their reward in automatic qualification. Shouldn’t the best eight second-place teams (Norway look set to be the unlucky ninth-best runners-up who will miss out altogether) be left to take their chances having, in some cases, overcome tough seeding in the group the first time round to make it this far?
The arrival of bright new teams, and the chance for unfamiliar players to make names for themselves on the biggest stage of all, help keep the World Cup fresh and exciting. If the rules just make it more likely that the Big Boys always make it, the worry must be that the game and the tournament will end up being the loser.
PHOTO: Ireland’s Liam Lawrence reacts after their 2010 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Italy at Croke Park Stadium in Dublin October 10, 2009. REUTERS/Darren Staples