Everybody loves an underdog. Everybody enjoys rooting for those with the odds stacked against them. It makes for a great story, makes for great television, and makes for great sport.
Unless those underdogs get slaughtered. Over and over and over.
Since FIFA took over the King Fahd Cup and made it the Confederations Cup in 1997, it’s been about bringing the best from every region and pitting them against each other in a warmup tournament for the World Cup.
Obviously, some regions are typically much stronger than others. Europe has dominated world soccer for a long time, with both top teams and wonderful depth. But every now and then countries from other regions such as South America, Africa, and even North America have made noise on an international level, and even Asia has a touch of ability.
Underdogs such as Japan, Australia, and the United States have made noise in both the Confederations Cup and the World Cup, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface on Cinderella stories over the years.
Then there’s Oceania. The bid from the Oceania region to the Confederations Cup is a stretch, and one that does nobody any good.
After watching tiny little Tahiti get manhandled at the hands of Nigeria in their opening match of this year’s competition, I cringe at the thought of them facing Spain and Uruguay in the coming days. The African representatives “only” won 6-1, but it probably should have been about 12-1 had they been more focused.
It’s all well and good to give countries a chance to compete at the highest level, and by all accounts it’s probably their “right” to appear in the tournament like any other region. But do we really want to allow countries like Tahiti to appear in the competition just to watch them get embarrassed in front of a worldwide audience every four years? New Zealand may have half a chance to grab a point or two, but is thay enough to justify it?
The little Oceanic country had one aim coming into the competition: don’t concede a goal for a half. They even scored a goal against a Nigerian team clearly looking ahead to other matches, a beautiful moment no doubt. But European oddsmakers set the chances for the Iron Warriors of Tahiti to beat Nigeria at 500/1, and odds to win the competition at anywhere from 1000/1 to 10000/1.
Since the birth of the modern Confederations Cup in 1997, teams from the Oceania region have amassed a measly 11 points in group play over the 7 tournaments. 10 of those points were obtained by Australia, who have now left the Oceania region to play in Asia.
That leaves New Zealand with the only point by any country currently in the region. Thrice the Oceanic country was blanked in group play.
The countries currently forming the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) are: American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanutau. Kiribati, Niue, and Tuvalu aren’t even FIFA members. Only three of those countries have a population higher than 300,000 people.
Nigeria’s Nnamdi Oduamadi scored a hat-trick against Tahiti, the ninth hat-trick in Confederations Cup history. Five of those have come against Oceania opponents.
Only four times have a member of the OFC made it to the World Cup. The OFC are the only region which does not have a guaranteed World Cup spot – the top teams must compete in playoffs with other confederations for spots – so why are they guaranteed a spot in the Confederations Cup?
There are plenty of other ways to give out the spot in order to maintain an even eight members of the competition. The best idea I’ve been able to come up with is to give the spot to the highest-ranking country not already invited. The FIFA rankings are a bit arbitrary, but seeing as the competition is FIFA sanctioned, why not?
If FIFA is insistent on keeping the competition based on regional tournaments, they could just dub Europe as the dominant region and give it to the runners-up in the Euros. They could allow Oceania the ability to make the competition with a playoff against some other opponent, but it would probably be too much to expand a non-World Cup tournament into a “qualifier.”
Finally, there’s the option of just condensing Oceania into Asia either partially or altogether, but that would put a burden of high expense on small countries in Oceania to travel long distances on a regular basis, and it would obviously have widespread consequences on the Asian Cup, World Cup qualifiers, etc.
I understand it’s a world competition, and therefore the right of everyone to take place in the tournament. However, it must be earned to play at the highest level. Oceania flat out hasn’t proven they have the ability to have any chance of competing. And it’s not like they’d be completely eliminated from contention. Anyone in the world can qualify through either hosting the World Cup, or winning the Big One. Clearly almost impossible if not incredibly unlikely, but aren’t their chances of making any noise in the Confederations Cup pretty much the same?
I give the Tahiti players an immense amount of credit for their bravery in taking this opportunity with open arms, and I’m sure these matches mean the world to them. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the players.
However, it’s painful to watch these poor players play so hard and still get slaughtered. It’s a wonderful story for Tahiti to be in the competition, but it’s not fun to watch them get picked apart. They have one professional player, and it showed. It would make for much better competition and therefore a much better watch if the spot were given to a more deserving, worthy, and able opponent.