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