Reuters Soccer Blog

World Soccer views and news

Is seeding the World Cup play-offs playing fair?

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For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and for every FIFA marketing slogan there is a subsequent decision that can make fans wonder if world football’s governing body is being serious.

Fair Play Please” is the current favourite but how, exactly, does that square with the decision to make the European zone World Cup playoffs a seeded affair?

Nowhere in the acres of pre-qualifying regulations was there a suggestion that the playoffs would be seeded but now the good people of Zurich have realised that some of the biggest names in the game could be involved in the November home and away matches, the new rule has been presented as a fait accompli.

So the eight teams in the playoffs will be seeded according to their FIFA ranking — conveniently avoiding the prospect of France playing, say, Portugal and one of the continent’s big guns being forced to miss out.

All and nothing for U.S soccer fans

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This weekend soccer fans in the United States will, as usual, be able to take their pick from scores of games, from all over the world, broadcast on television. The country has two soccer-only television channels – Fox Soccer Channel and Gol TV, as well as soccer providing sports networks such as ESPN and Setanta (still alive in North America) and of course Spanish language broadcasters keep the Hispanic communities well supplied with soccer from south of the border.So, from Saturday’s World Cup qualifying games, the U.S. based fan with cable or satellite could pick from Bahrain v New Zealand, Russia v Germany, Portugal v Hungary, Mexico v El Salvador, Greece v Latvia etc etc. Add in pay-per-view internet providers such as Omnisport and you can catch plenty more games from Europe and South America.There is one game you won’t be able to watch in America though — the United States’ penultimate World Cup qualifier away to Honduras on Saturday. If the U.S win they qualify for South Africa but amazingly the game is not available on television or (legally at least) on the internet.The bizarre situation has come about due to the decision of the holders of the rights to Honduras’ home games to sell the U.S rights to a provider of closed circuit television. The result is that if you want to watch the game you will have to find a bar or a club that has paid the rights fee and has the closed circuit feed. (A list of those venues is here)”We are certainly disappointed for our fans,” said U.S coach Bob Bradley, “We’re very fortunate that whenever we go anywhere there are passionate U.S. supporters wearing colors. Certainly the idea that this match is not on regular TV is disappointing for all of them, and we understand and feel badly about that.”The players at training camp this week have been careful not to speak out too strongly about the situation — rightly or wrongly the affair doesn’t look good for the U.S Soccer Federation even though they don’t have control of the rights to away games. But the players must be hugely disappointed to be battling for qualification against a talented Honduran team knowing that just a tiny fraction of their fan base is able to watch them.Some England fans have been up in arms about their team’s game in Ukraine only being available (for less than the price of two pints of flat London beer) on the internet. England have, of course, already qualified for the World Cup but can you imagine the outcry if that game was decisive and was not even viewable on the web?Of course, if soccer had a stronger standing in the U.S, the television networks would have fought for the rights to the game and outbid the closed circuit operator and the problem wouldn’t have arisen.While it is harsh to blame anyone in U.S soccer for an affair that is out of their control, the farcical situation is a reminder that for all the progress the sport has made in the country in the past decade there is still a long way to go before the game is truly mass market.But is there not a question for FIFA here? Should the sports’ global governing body not have a ruling that World Cup games at least be available on easily accessible television?  The only winners in this situation are a little known closed circuit tv provider – it can’t be good for the game.In the meantime, for this reporter in Miami, a re-run of Burnley v Birmingham City is about to start on Setanta and I’ll have to find out if that Honduran social club, 30 minutes drive away, is definitely going to be showing the U.S game….

Why Norway look doomed in World Cup playoff race

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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.

South Korea rejects North Korea poisoning claim

South Korea has rejected claims by North Korea that it poisoned its players before last week’s 2010 World Cup qualifier in Seoul, as tensions mounted over the North’s long-range rocket launch on Sunday.

Kim Joo-sung, (South) Korean Football Association (KFA) international affairs chief, said the accusations were politically motivated and baseless.

Six reasons for Argentina’s 6-1 defeat to Bolivia

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Argentine media allocate dozens of pages to football daily and the country has two 24-hour cable channels almost exclusively dedicated to the sport. Quite often it’s a struggle to fill all that paper and airtime — so much so that one of the TV channels passes away the afternoon with a programme in which the presenters play foot-tennis.

But on Thursday, there was more than enough to talk about. How did Argentina, supposedly revitalised by Diego Maradona, lose 6-1 away to Bolivia, one of the region’s weakest teams, in a World Cup qualifier?

Ukraine overawed by (lack of) Wembley atmosphere

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Ukraine coach Oleksiy Mykhaylychenko said his players had been overawed by the Wembley atmosphere in their 2-1 World Cup defeat by England but their nerves must have been based on the twin-towered mystique of the old stadium rather than the soulless feeling of the new.

At a cost of 800 million pounds ($1.15 billion), the new Wembley undoubtedly looks impressive and there was no hint of the credit crunch as the wine flowed in the packed private dining suites before the game.

Can the Balkans do a World Cup quadruple?

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Soccer leagues in the Balkans are suffering from an uncontrolled outflow of talent to wealthier and more competitive environments in Europe and it’s a trend that’s benefiting some of the region’s national teams.

At least three countries that emerged from the former Yugoslavia stand a good chance of reaching next year’s World Cup in South Africa.

Ivory Coast stadium crush leaves at least 19 dead

Tragic news from Abidjan, where officials say at least 19 people were killed in a stampede at an overcrowded stadium during a World Cup qualifier between Ivory Coast and Malawi.

“We have 19 dead and many seriously injured,” a military source at the stadium said. The crush occurred after part of a wall collapsed when ticketless fans stormed one of the entrances to the 45,000-capacity Houphouet-Boigny arena in the West African country’s main city, Abidjan.

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