The draw for the World Cup in Brazil has been run and won, and at this point the 32 nations competing for the highest honour in world football, are aware of who they will face in the group stages in 2014.
While acknowledging from the outset that there is no truer statement in world sport than ‘to be the best, you need to beat the best’, it is also quite evident that FIFA as an organisation have their problems, following the assembling of some of the World cup’s weakest groups of all-time.
Understandably, every football fan in the world would admit to wanting their country pitted in a relatively weak group, to ensure a safer progression to the knockout phase of the competition. Having said this though, being as significant a sporting event as it is, top nations meeting in the latter stages of the competition is consequently what we all want.
While I am all for the fairytale team that has the dream run, at this level this is something that has to be earned, not gifted to on a silver platter. Sure it’s positive for the development and progression of the game in such countries, but surely the competition deserves better.
Take Group H at next summer’s finals for example: Belgium, Algeria, Russia and South Korea. Or Group C consisting of Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan.
If by merit an Algeria or a Greece were to do enough and progress, well good on them. However had FIFA put in place a slightly more intellectual system for the draw, then surely this would be a truer reflection for all involved? Historically FIFA have made this mistake before, and it looks to have happened yet again. Take 2002, when the likes of Argentina, Portugal, France and Uruguay all failed to progress from the group stage after being drawn in difficult groups.
In that edition of the World Cup, Turkey had one of the easiest passages to a semi final known to man. Having worked their way through a group with eventual winners Brazil, Costa Rica and China, they then met Japan and Senegal before the semis. The Koreans meanwhile had a relatively easy group, and then overcame a couple of European heavyweights in the most controversial of circumstances, which is a discussion for another thread.
Compare Groups C and H to a Group B in 2014, where we will see Spain, Netherlands, Chile and Australia battling it out in one of the three Groups of Death. While such fixtures are a fan’s dream on paper, it is outrageous to think that one of Spain, Netherlands and Chile will be packing their bags two weeks into the tournament. The same can be said for Group D, where one of Uruguay, Italy and England will bow out earlier than expected.
These countries are obviously not at fault for the outcome of the draw. There is only one group to blame in this instance, and that is of course FIFA.
Ludicrous FIFA ranking system
While you would have read plenty of analysis, and experts comment on why this year’s draw is a shambles, for those that haven’t here it is in a nutshell:
FIFA President Sepp Blatter decided that this year we would base the initial seeding of the nations on their current position in the FIFA World Rankings, as of October, yes October 2013.
For my French, Portuguese, Croatian, Greek, Uruguayan and Mexican friends reading this, you are correct in thinking that you were not even qualified for the tournament at that point, indicating that these rankings could change.
Making Blatter’s decision to seed countries in this fashion was made even more outrageous by the fact that as of today, Italy (Pot 4) have narrowly leapfrogged Switzerland (Pot 1) into the top seven in the rankings, coincidentally on the back of the Swiss going down to South Korea 2-1 in an insignificant friendly.
With eight nations in each of the four pots prior to the draw, Brazil as hosts completed Pot 1, despite being ranked 11 at the time in the ridiculous FIFA rankings.
Given their consistent form at international tournaments over the past decade or so, Holland, Italy and France are the nations who have been most hard done by this year, prior to the draw. Colombia, Belgium and Switzerland taking their place is amongst the top nations in the world is beyond belief.
Below are some extraordinary facts to highlight the deficiencies of the FIFA World Cup draw system.
* Italy have won more World Cup trophies than Colombia have games at a World Cup.
* They have not played in a World Cup since 1998.
* Since then, the Dutch have played in a World Cup Final and two EURO semis; Italy have won a World Cup and played in two EURO finals; while France have played in a World Cup Final and won a EURO final.
* Belgium have won just 3 matches in 19 attempts against the Italians.
* Belgium have not played in a World Cup since 2002.
* Are currently ranked 11 in FIFA rankings, having dropped six places since Blatter’s October decision.
* Have won the same amount of matches at a World Cup, as Italy have trophies since 1954.
* Qualified from a group in European qualifying consisting of Iceland, Slovenia, Norway, Albania and Cyprus.
* Simply in no way, shape or form deserve to be a top ranked nation.
A much fairer way of seeding nations, would have been to do so as they did in 2006, by taking into account FIFA ranking, however in combination with that national team’s performance at the previous two World Cup tournaments. Rewarding countries based on their recent form without considering anything else just does not make sense.
Sit back, relax and enjoy
The fact that one of Uruguay, Italy or England, and one of Spain, Netherlands or Chile will be eliminated from the group stages in 2014 is not ideal, but then again it is what it is, and there is very little we can do about it. Sit back, relax and enjoy another World Cup that still promises to be a wonderful tournament, as the greatest players in the world are sure to put on a spectacle for all those in attendance and the millions watching around the world.
Can Brazil win a record breaking sixth title, will Argentina win their first since 1986, or can one of the powerhouse nations break the European duck in South America and clinch victory on the continent for the very first time?
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