Thursday, November 16, 2017

More places for Africa!!

I am going to repeat what I said a couple of days ago: Africa deserves more places in the World Cup.and is plausibly the only continent that deserves more places than their current 5, mostly to the detriment of Europe (please give the four play-off places in Europe to Africa!!!!!!), but I even think that Africa could deserve a play-off with South America´s fifth (Africa´s 6th against South American 5th), against Asia´s 5th, and against Oceania´s 1st (Africa´s 7th would knock out New Zealand).

An African side is not going to be World Champion in my lifetime. But there is no continent where the excitement and passion for football is as alive as in Africa, and the talent is raw and plentiful. Africa should have more places because Africa deserves them.

Now why does Africa not get more places in a 32 team World Cup?
Money, yes, African fans and teams are not as profitable as from other continents (specially fast-growing poor-at-football Asia), and do not attract as many sponsors. Racism, absolutely: in 1966 the rest of the world did not see Africa (or Asia) worth a single spot, and the same tendencies are alive today, where the crumbs of World Cup qualification are thrown at Africa sides. But as an extension of this, there is also the problem of African federations themselves, who band together for the crumbs, instead of insisting more strongly for more African influence in FIFA and in the World Cup.

For Qatar 2022 Africa will go from 5 to 9 teams (17% of their members in the finals) with Europe going from 13 to 16 (29% of their members in the finals. And note that with 6 for South America, it will be more likely to qualify randomly from that federation than not playing at all).
This is an example of more crumbs being given to Africa (and the rest of the World for that sake).

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The last of the 32

This post will not make me popular, so let me say it from the start: it is about football teams and not countries. The best thing for these teams qualifying is that people can raise their flag and sing their anthem, because in terms of football quality, none will add anything to the tournament.
I have been watching many of these last play-off matches with disappointment, not just at the lack of quality, but also of the fact that in a 32-team World Cup this is a confirmation that there are really too many mediocre sides.
Honduras-Australia: yes the pitch was bad, but frankly that is just a useful excuse for a disciplined match from the Australians and a poor performance by the Hondurans. Will any of these sides contend for the World Cup title? Unlikely. Will they raise any eyebrows in the tournament? Even more unlikely.
Peru is likely to qualify, and being fifth in such a contested qualification as the South American one is always an achievement. That said, I am sure Peru will not raise any eyebrows either. They are from the hard and defensive side of South America, and is unlikely to win many friends, or add anything to the beautiful game.
In Europe we have three of four qualified teams: Switzerland, Croatia and Sweden. Of these, only Croatia, with its talented midfield and young players is one that we will want to see in the World Cup. Granted, the Swiss are a quality but too defensive side, while Sweden has to be credited for eliminating Italy from the World Cup, but little else.
The first World Cup since 1958 without Italy....
Of course they do not deserve to be there if they don´t qualify, but one has to wonder if the distribution of the groups is good enough: Poland won one group, Iceland another, and with all due respect for them, Italy is better than either of these sides, or Denmark and Ireland for that sake.
A World Cup without Italy will simply not be the same.
That brings me to Denmark and Ireland: of course as a Dane I support Denmark, but as a fan I have to face the truth that Denmark will add anything to the tournament, except, as with the Irish, to the beer sales in Russia.

Africa only has 5 spots in the World Cup, and is plausibly the only continent that deserves more, preferably instead of Europe (give the four play-off places in Europe to Africa!!!!!!): Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Nigeria and Senegal will all be exciting to watch in Russia, but countries like Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, Zambia, Burkina Faso, Algeria.... Will all be sorely missed, and would have made the World Cup much more exciting than the four European teams that have qualified.

The World Cup in Qatar will have 48 teams. More for Africa, yes, but also more pretty mediocre sides, all to the excitement of mass nationalism (the football World Cup and the Olympics are the only good reason for countries to exist at all).
Expect a World Cup in Qatar with a lot of 0-0´s and second-rate matches.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

All is normal in Latin America

In San Salvador I went to watch the qualifiers in Sports bar called Strikers. A nice place that was full of Colombians and a few Peruvians to what promised to be a clash as we were also watching the scores of the other matches in South America.
Argentina needed a victory in Quito, and it looked bleak as they went down 1-0 after one minute. But none other than Lionel Messi scored three goals to give them a victory and a spot in Russia.
The World Cup would not be the same without Argentina and Messi, so we should all celebrate.
In the meantime Uruguay got their expected qualification with a 4-2 victoy over Bolivia, while Paraguay destroyed their own hopes by losing 0-1 at home to Venezuela (and watch out for the young Venezuelan side in the future!).
As all this was happening Peru and Colombia were playing a nervous match until Strikers exploded with two goals: James scored for Colombia as Brazil went ahead against Chile. This meant Colombia were qualified. Paolo Guerrero equalized for Peru, who needed a win, and Colombia seemed nervous, but it didn't matter: Brazil ended up trouncing the defending South American champions 3-0, meaning that all of a sudden Chile were out.
Colombia are in Russia while Peru are in the playoffs against New Zealand.

It was all too much in one of the most excitng qualification nights ever, but it did not stop there as we swithched over to the CONCACAF qualifiers, where nothing was going as expected: USA was losing 2-1 to Trinidad & Tobago, Honduras was winning 3-2 against Mexico, and just as we started watching Gabriel Torres gave Panama a 2-1 lead against Costa Rica.
It ended like this, and that means Panama are in Russia, Honduras are in a playoff against Australia and the USA can go home.
Granted, Panama qualified with a non-goal, but that doesn't take away that USA lost it themselves. The team has lost five matches, and they were outright arrogant in many of their matches. They have to face it: despite the advances, and MLS and all that, USA is still only a mid-ranking CONCACAF nation. The World Cup is much better without the USA!

A great evening in San Salvador as we look forward to a final round of playoffs to find out about the last teams in Russia.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Russia-bound and not

Today Iceland made history: with a 2-0 victory over Kosovo they won their World Cup qualification group and will be going to their first World Cup ever. And with this, Iceland is the smallest nation (in terms of inhabitants) ever to have qualified for a World Cup.
There are only 11 men on the pitch, but surely bigger nations will feel sad they didn't make it.
In Africa this has not been the case, as the two most populous nations, Egypt and Nigeria have both qualified with a match to go. Senegal and Tunisia are also on the verge of qualifying, while Cote d'Ivoire and Morocco will play a real final for the final spot.
In CONCACAF Mexico and Costa Rica have qualified while USA, who seemed in trouble, are now close to qualifying after trouncing Panama 4-0.
While Japan, Corea, Saudi Arabia and Iran are qualified, while Australia and Syria are set for a clash for the last Asian spot.
In Europe most of the first spots are decided, but the possible play-offs will be interesting. Ireland upset Wales with an away victory to take second spot, while Italy is also in the play-offs along Denmark, Croatia, Greece and Northern Ireland. Portugal and Switzerland will be fighting for first and second spot in their group, while Netherlands will play for everything when they face Sweden at home: only a Dutch victory by a lot of goals will give them a play-off, which seems unlikely...
A World Cup without Netherlands will not be the same, and a World Cup without Argentina will hardly be worth watching. At least Argentina "only" need an away victory against an Ecuador side that has no options of qualifying...

Friday, October 06, 2017

South American drama

The South American World Cup qualifiers are always the most difficult and most dramatic. None of the teams are bad, and as we head into the final round of matches six out of ten teams have options to join the already qualified Brazil.
Uruguay will almost surely join them, as they only need one point against Bolivia to qualify. The South American champions of Chile took an important step with a victory against Ecuador, but will probably still need a result in their last match against Brazil to be certain of qualifying. Not impossible, so Chile is likely to qualify.
Colombia could have made it with a home victory against Paraguay. And they were up 1-0 until the end of the match when the Arsenal goalkeeper made two huge blunders in added time, giving Paraguay teo goals and the victory. Ospina may have cost Colombia a World Cup, but they have another shot against Peru at home. The problem is that Peru will also be fighting for a World Cup spot: after 0-0 against Argentina they have fifth place, and with a win will surely be in Russia, and could make it with a tie, depending on Argentina.
Argentina! Oh dear Argentina! After home ties to Venezuela and Peru they seems the least likely team to qualify: they need an away victory against home-hardened Ecuador. All credit to Peru, but their style will not win them friends in Russia, so Argentina will be doubly missed.
Come on! No matter what you think of Argentina, a World Cup without the Albiceleste will not feel real! (Besides the fact that for me it will be hardly worth watching).
Paraguay, who for a long time was deemed out, has better chances of qualifying than Argentina. With their victory against Colombia they just need a victory against Venezuela at home, which would likely give them at least a play-off.
Next week everything will be decided, and I pray that Argentina will make it. Please pray with me.