Usual suspects will be at the World Cup, but would we have missed them?

October 15, 2009

So now we know which European teams are in the World Cup playoffs and we have a pretty good idea of the seedings, though FIFA’s updated rankings out at the end of the week will provide confirmation ahead of Monday’s draw.

It looks like Russia, France, Greece and Portugal will be the seeded teams with Ukraine, Ireland, Bosnia and Slovenia playing them. After Argentina’s qualification in the final match against Uruguay, it looks increasingly likely that all the big teams will be there in South Africa.

But four days on from my blog on Sunday, the decision to seed the Euroepan teams in the qualifiers doesn’t look any fairer.

Doctor Mario, in a comment on that blog, said seeding was a reward for credits earned but it will take a long time for a new nation like Slovenia to earn enough credits to start a qualifying campaign on a level playing field.

That’s one of the reasons why it tends to be the same old faces making it to the finals. If you are Italy, France, Germany or Spain you know that in your qualifying group will have no other “elite team”, just a couple of second or third tier nations and some also-rans.

If you are someone like Wales, Israel or Finland you know you will have to pull off a series of upset wins even to finish second in your group. And if you do it your reward is to be seeded in the bottom half again in the playoffs.

How much help do France need? If they are not good enough to win a group comprising Serbia, Austria, Lithuania, Romania and the Faroe Islands where is the justice in giving them another helping hand in the playoffs?

They didn’t make the World Cup in 1994 and I don’t remember too many people complaining about a degraded tournament.

In fact Bulgaria, who qualified ahead of them and had a particularly woeful World Cup record, produced some of the most memorable moments of the finals as they went all the way to the semi-finals. Four years later, France won the World Cup.

The 1970 World Cup is many people’s choice as the best-ever tournament — it’s hard to see how it would have been enhanced had Argentina been there.

There is no asterix alongside the results of the 1974 and 78 finals saying * Note: England failed to qualify.

Everyone is saying that Portugal, and Cristiano Ronaldo, should be there next year because the best players should be seen on the world stage, but Portugal have played in only four of the 18 World Cups. They are hardly a fixture.

And where was the help for Ryan Giggs, George Best or George Weah, whose lowly-seeded teams never made it through.

And anyway, it’s not the point. It’s FIFA’s unexpected introduction of the seeding that has so angered so many people. If they thought that was the fairest way then they should have enshrined it in the regulations at the start of qualifying, shouldn’t they?

PHOTO: Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo reacts after being injured against Hungary during their 2010 World Cup qualifying soccer match at Luz stadium in Lisbon October 10, 2009. REUTERS/Marcos Borga

15 comments

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aww come on! The decision to seed the play-offs is far less scandalous than not to decide to seed them. 4 years ago they were seeded, and everything in football is seeded!

FIFA rankings are won, Slovenia had as much a chance to have that same FIFA rankings as Croatia who could have been seeded, and Ireland had as much chance to win points as Portugal, Ukraine as much as Russia. In fact you refer to it, that Portugal (or Greece) does not have much of a history in the world cup nor huge population or wealth, if it got to be seeded status it surely is because it worked for it. All the unseeded nations got precisely the same chance to win enough games and rise to seeded nations status. In fact they have had the same chance all along.

Play offs were seeded in 2006, where was the scandal then, and why the surprise now?

Posted by SA | Report as abusive

[...] Source add it: Tags: confirmation, cup playoffs, doctor mario, elite team, faroe islands, FIFA, final match, france germany, france greece, france won the world cup, helping hand, italy france, memorable moments, old faces, qualifying group, semi finals, serbia, slovenia, South Africa, world cup record [...]

[...] Read more: Reuters Soccer Blog » Blog Archive » Usual suspects will be at the … [...]

Some fair points SA, but most are just devoid of real substance. Funny you should refer to Portugal and Slovenia as examples of teams comepting on a level playing field. Portugal reached the semis in 1966 led by Eusebio, one of the greatest players in the world of all time, who was born in Mozambique and then became a household name in the 1960s playing for Benfica and his adopted country. Portuguese football is rife with akin examples, most notably Deco and their latest acquisiton Liedson, who was granted Portuguese nationality to help them squeeze through to the playoffs with the team lacking a top class striker and flirting with elimination.
Slovenia, on the other hand, is a country of barely two milion people, better known for skiing than football – yet they have managed to qualify for Euro 2000, the 2002 World Cup and now the 2010 playoffs with a squad of anonymous and entirely home-born and bred players. No one is saying the top teams should be automatically pitted against each other, which would be the exact inverse and as much a travesty of justice of what FIFA has just done by making sure they don’t. It should be a random draw like in the English FA Cup, where you can be pitted against anybody.

Posted by Zoran | Report as abusive

“It’s FIFA’s unexpected introduction of the seeding that has angered so many people. If they thought that was the fairest way then they should have enshrined it in the regulations at the start of qualifying, shouldn’t they?”
Precisely – FIFA did not anticipate that France or Portugal could be forced into the playoffs and when it became rather obvious they would be, the world soccer body reached out for a desperate, 11th-hour and only available measure to give them every chance of cruising through the playoffs. But, judging by their form, the playoffs will hardly be a formality for either. One would expect France to get past, say, Bosnia and Portugal to beat Slovenia, but I wouldn’t put my life savings on it (not that I have any).

Posted by Red Devil | Report as abusive

Hey you. Mitch. The word is “asterisk”, not “asterix”!!! Meatball.

As far as the comments go, SA, Zoran, and Red Devil all make good arguments for their points. Personally, I can see both sides of it. Those teams with the higher seedings have earned the right to be seeded, yet Zoran also makes a valid point about the job for teams like Slovenia being so much more difficult, and that the draw should be random, such as it is in the English FA Cup. I know first hand how frustrating the seeding system can be. My heritage is Slovakian, and when I lived in Slovakia for almost a year back in 2005-6, I went to a few of their qualifiers for Germany ’06, including their final match in Bratislava. It was a goalless draw against Russia to knock them out, and to solidify second place in the group behind Portugal. For the playoffs, they were in the lower seed, of course, and ended up having to play Spain. Their betting odds were roughly 4-1 to advance, though I thought that they should have been more like 10 or 15-1. And after losing the first leg 5-1 in Spain, they had no chance of qualifying. It was an extremely frustrating situation, considering how well they had played in the qualification group, only to be pitted against the powerful Spaniards. Fortunately, Slovakia was able to win their group this time around. I was absolutely dreading the idea of another playoff. I assumed that the seeding system was in play right from the start, but it sounds as if it wasn’t. Is that factual, or are the implications by Zoran and Red Devil based on assumptions. If anybody could leave a link with an article pertaining to this, it would be much appreciated.

Posted by canadianstakes | Report as abusive

Nobody would have missed them, indeed. Nobody missed France at 94 CW, just like nobody missed England at Euro08

Posted by julien p | Report as abusive

It could also have backfired.
If Croatia had not f… it up, they would have been seeded instead of Portugal.
A France v Portugal playoff would have been a 1/4 probability, while no seeding would have made of that pairing a 1/7 probability.

Posted by julien p | Report as abusive

SA, i agree completely with you. Every team is equal and has the same possibilities to earn the points that make them higher in the FIFA ranks.

Zoran, i am Portuguese and i can’t agree with you when you talk about Liedson. You are right about Eusébio, born in Mozambique, a Portuguese colony, like so many others countries had or still have. As you know, the person who was born in a colony, automatically had the mother-land nationality, so Eusébio is Portuguese since he was born. If you had to talk about Eusébio, you could have refered Zidane, who was born in Alger, like so many other players who play for their national teams. If you want to see the nonsense you wrote, even further, you can compare then Pauleta, top scorer ever for Portugal, who was born in the Azores, a portuguese island or some other players who were not born in the continental territory. About Liedson, he is portuguese, legally adopted portuguese nationality by staying and working 5 years in Portugal, representing Sporting Lisbon. Yes, he is brazilian, like Deco and Pepe. They all represent legitimately our country because they have a strong connection to us. We didn’t beg Liedson to get the portuguese nationality just so he could play for us; its his right to get it. Just look to France national squad and please tell me how many palyers play there that have really been born in France. And how about Germany? how many do they have? or even Netherlands?
if you are going to particularize something, think about what you are going to say because you can be unfair.

If it really matters that teams that hardly made it to the World Cup, to be there? when i see a tournament like that, waiting 4 years for it to happen, i want to see the top players, the best ones. They are the ones who give these tournaments their fame and importance. So think if you want to see a World Cup without Ronaldo, Simão, Deco, Nani, Bosingwa, Tiago, Pepe, Benzema, Gourcouff and so many many others…?

p.s.- i am sorry for my awfull english but i really had to defend my nation’s honor.

Posted by SLBenfica | Report as abusive

[...] talked a lot on this blog about the controversy over seedings but it would be hard to separate Greece and Ukraine on paper let alone on the [...]

SL Benfica,

It’s very easy for you to preach your viewpoints, but I honestly doubt you’d stick to them if Portugal were in the bottom half of the seedings.
I agree that like Portugal, some other nations, especially France and Netherlands as you mentioned, also have plenty of talent to pick and choose from their former colonies and it’s a principle I strongly disagree with because most teams can’t afford that luxury. Therefore, it is not your nation’s honour I was having a go at, it was the double standards that rule modern-day football. And I hope Bosnia beat Portugal to qualify for the World Cup.

Posted by Zoran | Report as abusive

Julien agree 100%
If croatia had done what they know how to do, they would be in the seeding without any issue. But do need to admit Portuguals got a shot at it..if they play straight!

Zoran,

you dont have anything to agree or disagree. In Portugal, as in the majority of Nations you have 3 ways to get a nationality. Two ways by origin (born in portuguese territory and having portuguese parents) and one secondary way (staying and working for 5 years in Portugal). All those make you Portuguese with equal rights, social, economical and political (except running for President) The players are portuguese: the ones who were born in the colonies, were born with the portuguese nationality and the others, like Pepe, Liedson and Deco worked for 5 years in Portugal, so they are fellow Portuguese citizens like the others, and like the others they the right to be named for the National team. Any other view will discriminate and will be illegal because you were saying that there were 2 types of portuguese people, one with Human Rights and the others without them.

I cant understand the fuss about seeding. There always have been seeding. A team is seeded according to rankings, meanining that every team has the equal oportunities to climb the ranking: just win games! So its fair the best team gets some (legal) advantages. Another thing is changing the rules with the qualification running. I cant agree with that. The rules should be set at the beggining of the Qualifying. You cant even say that those changes were meant to save Portugal because only in the last game Ukraine surprisingly beat England, making the 2nd place, ahead of Croatia who has better rank than Portugal. So, it makes you wonder.
Of course i want Portugal to make it to the World Cup but if we loose against Bosnia, i will be a Bosnia fan in South Africa. For the rest of the games, i only expect to see good games and lots of goals and that the best teams (showed on the pitch) win.

Posted by SLBenfica | Report as abusive

Still, all of this talk of FIFA changing the rules and coming up with the seeding format well after qualification has started. I asked earlier in this thread if this was really true or not and asked for an article link from anybody out there to prove it. And nothing. I find it hard to believe that FIFA did not have the plans for seeding the European playoff 2nd place teams written up at the beginning, since they have done seedings in the past with second placed teams. I ask again, if anybody could please post an article link on here, showing me that they came up with the idea to seed teams long after qualification started, it would be very much appreciated. Thanks, and I hope to hear from somebody, anybody, soon.

Posted by canadianstakes | Report as abusive

In answer to your query – this Reuters story explains how FIFA made the decision three weeks ago “we have made the decision on seeding…” says Sepp Blatter.

http://football.uk.reuters.com/world/new s/LT716650.php

There is also no mention of any seeding of the playoffs in the competition regulations published before the start of qualifying.
Hope helps and thanks for all your feedback on this one, chrs Mitch

Posted by mitch | Report as abusive

One more thing, SL Benfica: When Cristiano R. and his generation pass by and the next one is perhaps not so talented, will you have 11 Brazilians with legal Portuguese passports in your team and do you think that’s what most people in your country want? And if other nations start to follow suit, give passports to Brazilians and Africans after five years (why not a year or two, why wait for five years?), we will end up with nations having just two or three home-born players competing in the World Cup. What’s the point? Will it it not erase the thin line between club and international football?

Posted by Zoran | Report as abusive

Zoran, when i see the youngsters who play for Portugal U21 and those in the major clubs here, i can tell you im not worried about our future. Im not saying we have 10 Ronaldos but im glad for it. If we had 11 ROnaldos on a team we wouldnt win any game, as there were no room for 11 giant egos.
About having 11 brazilians playing for the portuguese squad, i dont believe that happens. However, and again, i challenge you to check France`s and Netherland`s squads and see how many were born really in those countries. Im not saying im not worried about having “foreigners” playing for my Nation but we cant do anything, can we? we live in the Globalization era, the World Wide Web, where the World gets smaller every day. so its normal to have lots of foreign people living in our countries. In Europe, you even have free borders and free traffic of people and goods. And you must realize the most important issue: the laws that allow you to get portuguese nationality, as long as you stay and work for 5 years here, were not made thinking about football. Instead, they were made for you to feel comfortable in our country, to let you learn our costumes and laws and most important you get the portuguese nationality because you want to be portuguese, its your choice. Therefore, its your own affirmation that you feel like a portuguese citizen and want to live under our laws, making Portugal your own country. It is thought for people who came here hoping for better life conditions, for a job, for an equal treatment, like you have in the origins of USA or even the most countries in American Continents… So, if those can have the portuguese nationality, why cant the brazilians, the spanish, the americans, the africans who came here to get a job as football players be portuguese and have the same rights as the engineers, the mechanics, the lawyers…? also, bare in mind that Portugal was one of the most important nations in the world in the XV and XVI century, as we found Brazil, mapped Africa and established lots of colonies from here to India. So we have strong connections with a lot of countries and it wouldnt seem correct to deny it. on the contrary, we are very proud of that. if that reflects it on our football squad? well, its a minor consequence… i prefer thinking they have a better life here and i bet they will proudly defend our collours.

Posted by SLBenfica | Report as abusive

SL Benfica

I’m sure the World Cup will cope just fine without Nani and Tiago!