Lamenting Jordan and The Death of New Zealand

Posted on November 14, 2013

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It’s the final stretch on the road to Brazil 2014, as the last qualifying play-offs take place to decide what the final make-up of the 32 sides next year will be. Europe has four games of varying interest with their first legs on Friday, and the final stage of African qualifying takes place over the weekend as well. Outside of this, two intercontinental games had their first legs last night, and depressingly one-sided results came from them. Uruguay, after their 5th placed finish in South American qualifying, demolished Jordan 5-0 away from home. Mexico, who barely scraped through the Central American groups, trashed World Cup 2010’s only unbeaten side, New Zealand, 5-1. Barring miracles, the two fancied sides will make it to Brazil next year. Yippee doo.

What I want to know, in these days of desperate expansion of the game to new parts, is why in the blue hell are a South American side playing an Asian side, and a Central American side playing an Oceania side, in order to qualify for the World Cup? What geographical sense does that make? Where is the logic? If intercontinental play-offs are a must, why not have Central vs. South America, and Oceania vs. Asia? At least that makes geographical sense.

As it stands, South America will have six sides out of a possible 10 at the World Cup. Asia will have four out of 46 sides. Oceania will have zero. This makes no sense at all, quality or not. The World Cup is supposed to be a celebration of football all around the world, not a love-in for the rich and established. Some of the greatest World Cup moments of my lifetime have been courtesy of the so-called smaller nations, such as Roger Milla of Cameroon in 1990, Saeed al-Owairan’s individual wonder goal in 1994 and the stubborn resistance of North Korea against Brazil in the last edition. There isn’t anything more lovable and enjoyable in sport than a complete underdog.

It’s barely fair on Jordan and New Zealand either. Jordan went through 18 games, three rounds, climaxing in an epic 9-8 penalty shoot-out win against Uzbekistan in the final Asian play-off to get here. They beat previous qualifiers China and recent Asian champions Iraq along the way. The ‘Brave Gentlemen’, as they are known, have never been so close to a World Cup. They probably won’t be again.

Ah, what am I talking about anyway. Sport isn’t about what is fair, what is right, what is wanted. It is about what is best. With that, I say get rid of qualification altogether, and replace it with just the top 32 sides in FIFA’s admittedly ludicrous rankings by this time pre-every World Cup. Give up the pretence of wanting to expand the game, and make sure a huge gap grows between established nations and the historically smaller one. It’s worked a charm in club football, hasn’t it?

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