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!
Oct 13, 2010
Nothing pointless about them
By James Brown