Lesser lights may yet shine at this World Cup
Depending on the results of the second legs of the UEFA World Cup playoffs on Wednesday, next year’s tournament in South Africa could contain rather too many of football’s lesser lights for some fans out there.
Portugal, France and Russia, could all perish and the tournament, which is supposed to be the pinnacle of the game, could have a cast list including Honduras, New Zealand, North Korea, Slovakia, Bosnia and Slovenia.
Some fear the absence of world stars like Portugal’s Real Madrid playmaker Cristiano Ronaldo, Russia’s magician Andrei Arshavin and France’s mercurial Frank Ribery would de-value the tournament.
But would it be such a bad thing?
Some would suggest that Europe’s top nations should be guaranteed entry into the World Cup finals with a few token places for the also-rans.
But where would that leave the likes of Bosnia? Who could deny them their place on the biggest stage for the first time if they overturn a 1-0 deficit against Portugal in Zenica.
While that would leave Ronaldo kicking his heels on some beach next year, it would open the way for new names. Bosnia striker Edin Dzeko may not have much of a profile yet outside his home country and the Bundesliga where he plays, but after scoring 10 times in qualifying few would begrudge him his chance.
France have endured a fairly miserable few years under Raymond Domenech since finishing as runners-up in 2006. They should be there next year after winning 1-0 in Dublin last weekend but there may well be a few wry smiles from some of their rivals if they blow it in Paris.
Bar owners in South Africa’s host cities may also be hoping that Ireland’s party-loving fans are in town next year. And while Ireland have no A-list players, their supporters would certainly embellish the tournament.
PHOTO: Bosnia’s Edin Dzeko react during their World Cup playoff first leg against Portugal at the Luz stadium in Lisbon, Nov 14, 2009. REUTERS/Jose Manuel Ribeiro