LET’S be frank, qualifying tournaments have become tedious – bloated and repetitive, full of over familiarity, largely predictable (don’t say that in Amsterdam this summer) and too much cannon fodder. Sometimes, you forget if you’re watching a European Championship or a World Cup qualifier.
So here’s an idea. Why not use the continental tournaments as a qualifying competition for the World Cup? You can almost hear the outrage at UEFA and FIFA headquarters, in fact, given that UEFA is in Nyon and FIFA (those characters that are still free to roam, that is) is holed-up in Zurich, they can probably hear each other’s screams.
If the World Cup was really about the 16, 24, 32 or, heaven forbid, 40, best teams in the world, it would be heavily lop-sided towards Europe and South America. Given that FIFA does its best to include the minnows and the emerging nations, it doesn’t work like that – rightly or wrongly.
It is therefore likely that whichever you slice and dice FIFA’s membership, any tournament has to have broad representation from the regions. What better way to arrive at 32 teams for the World Cup than through the regional competitions.
For example, if World Cup 2014 was based on the performances from each continent’s own championship, it could comprise the following:
Europe (last 16 of Euro 2012): Spain, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Czech Republic, Greece, France, England, Ukraine, Sweden, Croatia, Republic of Ireland, Russia, Poland, Denmark, Netherlands
Who would miss out? Belgium, Switzerland, Bosnia
Who would gain? Czech Republic, Ukraine, Sweden, Rep of Ireland, Poland, Denmark
South America (8 from Copa America): Brazil (hosts), Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Paraguay
Who would miss out? Ecuador
Who would gain? Peru, Paraguay, Venezuela
Asia (Asian AFC Cup top three): Japan, Australia, South Korea
Who would miss out? Iran
Who would gain? Australia
Africa (African Cup of Nations top three): Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali
Who would miss out? Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Ghana, Algeria
Who would gain? Burkina Faso, Mali
North & Central America (CONCACAF Gold Cup winners): USA
Who would miss out? Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico
Who would gain? Nil
Oceania (Oceania Cup winners): Tahiti
Who would gain? Tahiti
A caveat – this is just one way of allocating 32 places – there are many permulations.
What’s the value in doing this? Simply, to cut down on international games, to give added gravitas to the confederations’ own competition and to raise the level of the World Cup. Strong performance in the confederation’s competition can be rewarded by elevation to the World stage. Just as the winners of the UEFA Champions League receive entry to the FIFA Club World Cup, the teams that qualify for the latter stages of the EUROs, the Copa America and others go forward to the next level – i.e. the World Cup. There’s another benefit – by introducing this system, FIFA could scrap the Confederations Cup.
Of course, it won’t happen, because sponsorship, TV broadcasting and FIFA and UEFA themselves will want to ensure that thiefdoms are kept intact. But one very huge and influential segment of football society would probably advocate such a move – the clubs. Before too long, the UEFA Champions League will become the benchmark by which all football is compared. Or are we there, already?