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Sepp Blatter conjured up a lot of bluster about the state of the game, in the wake of the Thierry Henry handball and the match fixing arrests.
His call for an extraordinary meeting of the FIFA Executive Committee promised some extraordinary decisions and was followed at the start of the week with the firm hint fundamental change was in the offing.
Visions of stricter punishment for divers, more power for referees to deal with the wrestling between opposing strikers and defenders at set pieces and a suggestion of extra officials to deal with the game’s more contentious moments hung deliciously in the air.
Blatter made one of his better analyses of the issues he felt were blighting the modern game in a question and answer session at the Soccerex business conference in Johannesburg on Monday, setting up the prospect that Wednesday’s extraordinary Executive Committee meeting would perhaps promise a lot more of the fair play FIFA is so quick to pontificate about.
Most of the French fans who made up over half of my red-eye flight back to Brussels from Dublin on Sunday concurred that “Le Bleus” were lucky to emerge from the Croke Park cauldron around eight hours earlier with a 1-0 victory over Ireland in the first leg of their World Cup playoff.
“The result was fantastic, but the performance was not so good,” Jean, from Lille, said after the dust had settled on the win over Giovanni Trapattoni’s team, thanks to a 73rd minute deflected goal from Nicolas Anelka.
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.
Europe’s 53 national teams have been split into nine groups with the winners of each qualifying directly for South Africa. The best eight runners-up will play off among themselves over two legs next month for the remaining four slots. The runner-up with the worst record will miss out on a playoff berth entirely.
Usually, deciding the worst runners-up would be a simple case of comparing the respective team records. But there is one small snag — namely Group Nine, which has only five teams while all the others have six sides.
Forget about the 39th game. What about English Premier League playoffs to spice up the world’s most popular league and stop it becoming a boring four-horse race?
After watching the recent playoffs in the English lower leagues and witnessing the excitement surrounding the recent two-legged title decider in Belgium where I ply my trade, I reckon playoffs are the way forward for the top leagues, if not now, then possibly in the future.
Everybody loves the cup tie atmosphere, a nail-biting finale and a do or die decider.
But with the growth of the Premier League and top divisions in other countries, such as Spain and Italy, along with the popularity of the UEFA Champions League, the exhilaration of soccer seems to be dwindling.
Soccer’s governing bodies have admitted there is a real threat that the beautiful game is becoming boring.
My solution for the Premier League would be to have a four-team playoff for the title similar to that used in the Netherlands which proved successful.
This would prevent boredom should Manchester United run away with the title with a few games still to go. At the same time finishing fourth would have an added incentive for those teams battling to break into that coveted Champions League spot.
Breaking into the top four is hard enough for the likes of Everton or Aston Villa, but what about getting there and having a real chance of winning the title?
The ecstasy and heartbreak of Newcastle, Middlesborough, Sunderland and Hull on the final day shows a playoff at the bottom similar to those in the lower divisions is also more exciting than watching a club limp out of the top division weeks before the end of the season.
PHOTO: Burnley players celebrate after their English Championship playoff final victory over Sheffield United at Wembley Stadium in London May 25, 2009. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis