Oct 13, 2010

Nothing pointless about them

By James Brown

There is always dissatisfaction during the international break over what are perceived as “pointless games,” those where the likes of Liechtenstein and Andorra get thrashed 7-0 with alarming regularity. Let's face it, countries like the San Marino (population 33,000) and Andorra (88,000) are never going to be able to compete with the big boys are they?

So why not, argue many, put in place another qualifying round for “lesser teams” before the group stage, saving us all a lot of bother and clearing up the international calendar?

Last night showed what a shame that would be. First Northern Ireland could only draw against the Faroe Islands, an island of fishermen that the name 'minnows' seems only too appropriate for them. Then it was England's turn. Montenegro defended with discipline, their goalkeeper was outstanding and they rode their luck to a creditable 0-0 scoreline. Seeded fifth in a group of five, they sit proudly atop group G. They must be considered as a genuine prospect to line up in the Championships in Poland and Ukraine.

What we saw last night is that no game is a formality in football, perhaps that's why the FA Cup Third Round is so popular, the chance of a giant-killing still thrills us. I must admit a part of me wanted Montenegro's Jovanovic's strike to dip under the bar when he hit that left-foot half volley from a full 30 yards! Looking at UEFA's Coefficients, it's likely Montenegro would be one of those forced to go through an extra qualification round if top pundits had their way- even though Wales are just two ahead of them in the rankings- I wonder how happy the Welsh FA would be to participate in yet more games?

Perhaps those with the greatest financial clout would be given a bye into the group stages, like the footballing equivalent of the Eurovision Song Contest, I honestly wouldn't put it past UEFA and Michel Platini.

Another reason to keep it the way it is is that for the European Championships in 2016 (to be held in France) the tournament will be expanded to include 24 teams rather than the current 16. In six years time, who knows who could be contending, San Marino? Liechtenstein? Unlikely perhaps, but that's the beauty of football; we can all dream.

So instead of booing England off the pitch and grumbling about pointless matches, why not be pleased for nations when they gain famous results... and here's to more of them in the future!


Anonymous said...

can you call Montenegro a small nation in the same ilk as Andorra or San Marino?? I don't think so. The latter two countries have failed time and again to do any miraculous (although I do believe they deserve their place at the table.) Montenegro are clearly better than their FIFA ranking (which is questionable at best anyways beyond the top 20) would suggest. They have only been around for a matter of years, and thus their ranking will undoubtedly rise to meet their more illustrious Balkan neighbours, Slovenia and Croatia (who, on this basis, would also have been deemed minnows in the late 1990s, when Croatia were dismantling Germany 3-0 at the WC.)

As for making the 2016 Euros a 24 team competition, it is a shocking decision. Firstly, if almost half the countries qualify, it surely lessens the occasion... Even Scotland and Wales could comfortably qualify. And thus the quality in the finals is severely diluted. Secondly, having 24 teams in the competition means that only a handful of countries in Europe will actually be able to host the thing. (Germany, Italy, France, England, Spain, Russia.) At a push maybe the likes of Greece, Portugal and Holland. But as Portugal had to severely boost stadium numbers to host the 16 team 2004 tournament, and Holland relied on Belgium for the 2000 offering, this seems unlikely. Therefore, we, the fans are either continuously subjected to joint bids (which are not as good, no matter how they dress it up), or it is just going to be held in the aforementioned countries forever more. Alas, Platini has decided he can get more money from the tournament, and in the process gone a long way to ruining its credability. I only hope France 2016 is an absolute farce, and by the time 2024 comes around, the competition will be back to 16 and countries on the periphery of European football will be able to host the event once again.

James Brown said...

I don't put them in the same category as Andorra or San Marino, but nor would I put them in the same box as Croatia... 4.5m people vs 650,000.

I don't necessarily agree about making the Euro's a 24 team tournament, but because they are doing that, it surely means two rounds of qualification makes no sense.

But let me address a couple of your other points... does everyone being able to win the FA Cup dilute the competition or make it a brilliant, romantic tournament where anything can happen?

Also, I can only think of Sweden as a small country that have ever hosted the Euro's on their own... I doubt it would happen today even with 16 teams, joint bids are the reality these days I'm afraid.

Interesting to note on the selection of France for 2016 is that there are a lot of people who found Platini to have far too much influence on the decision.

Anonymous said...

I accept that Montenegro are neither Andorra, nor Croatia, but I feel too many football experts (Phil McNulty in particular) look at population as some sort of deciding factor. Which is clearly pretty much irrelevent. If it was the case, Russis and Germany would walk every tournament, with smaller nations barely impacting. Which of course we know to be incorrect. It seems to be the luck of the draw as to whether a smaller nation can compete on the big stage, due to their individual and team talent.

The FA Cup and the Euros are very different competitions. How will the qualifying rounds and the first group stage be all that different? if three at least teams from each group qualify? Perhaps a straight knockout competition a la the fa cup in place of the Euros would be a better thing. (it wouldn't, the current format is better, but you get my point.)

As for France getting the tournament? Well, I think most thought it was going to Italy, which would have made more sense. But you can't deny Platinis rising power in the European game.

Anonymous said...

Browny, can you write an article as if you had been elected the UEFA president (narrowly defeating Ed de Gooey, Justin Edinburgh, Xisco and the consortium bid of both Nevilles)? I would be interested to hear your thoughts...

For example would would you do about the Champions League? Would you create a 3 tournament UEFA structure?
1. The Champions league (open to, let's say, first and second in each league which currently has immediate qualifications for the first two spots (i.e. Spain, Eng, Ital etc) plus 7 other teams based on their co-efficients for the league and past tournament history. Thus ensuring Liverpool, Bayern (huge club) and the likes are included despite one seasons dips.

2. UEFA Europa League - top echelons of the current tournament, and lower echelon of the current UCL.

3. UEFA Total Cup - everyone else who would normally be in the Europa Cup.

If I was the President I would ensure a very strict population de-minimus was enforced, primarily to piss off "Anonymous" above!

From Roy