Time for international minnows to swim in their own pond?
Most sports fans love an underdog but I suspect many people watching Liechtenstein’s approach against Scotland on Tuesday will have been relieved for the Scots when Stephen McManus popped up to head his side’s winner in the seventh minute of stoppage time.
In soccer, for a minor team to hold or even beat one of the big boys, there is usually some spoiling involved and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, there is a difference between robust tackling and honest battling and some of the things on show at Hampden Park on Tuesday – and all too often before.
At times on Tuesday Liechtenstein’s approach seemed to consist of keeping the ball out of play as much as possible, while making at least two tackles that might be classed somewhere between violent and career-threatening. It was a surprise that they ended the match with 11 men still on the pitch.
Another minnow, Andorra have been known to take a similarly “Sunday League” approach, hacking their way through qualifying campaigns that are usually, in all senses of the word, pointless.
With leading players and managers complaining that teams play too many games, where is the justification for allowing San Marino to act as cannon fodder in World Cup and European Championship qualifying?
With the breakup of the Soviet Union and splintering of Yugoslavia there has already been a hefty expansion of teams in UEFA. Could it be time for the no-hopers to be trimmed.
Yes, they occasionally stonewall their way to a point along the way and there are occasional moments of glory such as when the Faroe Islands beat Austria in their first official competitive game but those results are so outnumbered by the relentless beatings that it is hard to see any justification in the teams’ inclusion.
A hypothetical demotion need not mean total exclusion. It would surely not be beyond UEFA or FIFA’s realm to create a second-tier of qualifiers. Perhaps the teams finishing bottom of their qualifying groups initially drop into a separate qualifying set-up, with the top two earning the right to compete with the big boys next time and the two with the worst records dropping down to take their place.
All the main groups could be capped at five teams, saving two matches per campaign, and removing the huge impact on goal difference that a big win against a minnow creates.
The little nations would then play matches actually trying to win them, and surely enjoy that more than what they do now.
PHOTO: Scotland’s Stephen McManus celebrates after scoring against Liechtenstein during their Euro 2012 Group I qualifying soccer match at Hampden Park stadium in Glasgow, Scotland September 7, 2010. REUTERS/David Moir