AP Photo/Armando Franca

Isn’t there a better way for UEFA to sort out its World Cup berths?

Leave a comment

There’s euphoria in Portugal and frustration in Switzerland after goal differential propelled Cristiano Ronaldo’s men into the World Cup after the Group B teams finished with twin 9W-1L marks.

There’s bitterness in Italy and relief in Spain after the two recent World Cup winners did battle in Group G, almost inexplicably allowed to be drawn together.

[ UEFA: Who’s qualified, and who’s in the playoffs? ]

And how about Slovakia, who was punished for finishing second to England and ahead of Slovenia and Scotland in a very tricky group?

Then there’s Group I, with Iceland snaring the only automatic spot in what was probably the deepest group in UEFA. Croatia gets to contend a playoff, but Ukraine and Turkey are left on the outside looking into Russia.

At the risk of being labeled reactive, UEFA needs to sort itself out when it comes to World Cup qualifying.

Already handed the most spots in the world, deservedly you must admit, the methodology of European qualifying is never going to satisfy everyone. But surely there’s a way to narrow the minnows a bit faster.

France had to go to the playoffs in 2014 qualifying because, like Italy, it had the misfortune of drawing Spain.

Meanwhile, the world is treated to score lines like this:

Sweden 8-0 Luxembourg (2018)
San Marino 0-8 Germany (2018)
Belgium 9-0 Gibraltar (2018)
Ukraine 9-0 San Marino (2014)
England 6-0 Andorra (2010)
Liechtenstein 0-6 Germany (2010)

Those score lines don’t happen in Asia, where there were only two 4-goal wins in the final round of qualifiers (60). Africa has one 6-goal blowout and three 4-goal wins so far. CONCACAF has USMNT 6-0 Honduras and two 4-goal wins (including a U.S. win and loss). CONMEBOL has no worse than a pair of 5-0 away Bolivia losses. Even Oceania isn’t a total cakewalk for New Zealand.

How to remedy? Some of this in moot if the World Cup field is expanded again. But, in 2006 the top two second placed teams automatically went to the World Cup, which would put Switzerland and Italy into the fray this time around (and that seems fair).

Or maybe this idea would pop, and follow me here:

— UEFA has 52 teams fighting for 13 places in the 2018 World Cup. It gets 14 matches this cycle because a European team is hosting (Russia), so normally it’s 53 teams going for 13.

— Right now each team plays a minimum of 10 matches plus a potential two playoff legs.

— I propose that the top teams are separated from the bottom teams for an initial group stage. X numbers of nations, say 8 of the 13 berths, earn a spot from competing with only the best of the best.

— The bottom group, based on previously performances in European and international competitions in a similar fashion to the Champions League, sees Y number of nations battling for the right to reach the second stage.

— The second stage sees a second group stage instead of one-off playoffs, with faltering top teams facing the best of a second tier.

Essentially, you’d have teams like France, Spain, and Italy fighting each other for an automatic spot and the chance to put their squads through less important matches before the big tournament. And you’d give Andorra, Belarus, Moldova, and the like an opportunity to claim more wins in front of home fans.

Based on the standings from this year’s qualifying, this is a much more attractive option for fans, the game, and the powers.

Report: No money in January for Mourinho

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jose Mourinho will have to deal with the squad he has for the rest of the season, according to a report the Guardian.

The report states that Tottenham isn’t making any money available for signings in January, meaning that Mourinho won’t have the chance to add to his Spurs squad. Usually, when a new coach comes in, they’re given at least a transfer window to bring in one or two players, especially mid-season, to stabilize the squad.

[READ: Mourinho speaks for the first time as Spurs manager]

It’s certainly an unusual move from Tottenham. It leaves Mourinho in a bad spot in terms of the five first-team players who will be out of contract in June. If any of them, including Jan Vertonghen and Christian Eriksen, leave on transfer, perhaps Tottenham can use those funds towards new signings. However, it’s more likely at this point that all five will finish the season at White Hart Lane and leave, setting up a massive summer for Mourinho.

At the same time, Tottenham has shown financial austerity for the past few seasons, as it struggles to pay back the loans it took to renovate its stadium. Pochettino didn’t make a single signing for the entirety of the 2018-2019 season and while the club broke its transfer record to sign Tanguay Ndombele, there wasn’t investment throughout the squad.

Considering Tottenham’s financial behavior, it does question why Mourinho took the job in the first place. But with his reported eight-figure salary, and the chance to work with Harry Kane, Mourinho may have decided it’s worth it, even if he can’t sign his players and mold the squad in the way he wants.

Looking Ahead: Mourinho’s first 10 games

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tottenham’s stunning week continued on Wednesday with the appointment of Jose Mourinho as manager.

Taking in his first day of training, Mourinho can now get to grips with not only his squad, but what’s ahead for Spurs. Here’s a look at what Mourinho will be up against in the next two months.

[READ: 5 things Mourinho must do at Tottenham]


Game 1: Tottenham at West Ham, Saturday, Premier League

Mourinho’s first game in charge is a London derby, which is a pretty tough way to start life at the club. Coming on the road, you can expect a packed house, tons of media attention, and possibly a re-energized squad. That’s what Mourinho will be hoping for, anyways.

Sebastian Haller has struggled recently, and with just four goals in 11 Premier League games, he could be looking at this matchup as a way to get back on the scoresheet. It will be up to Mourinho to re-organize a want-away defense.

Game 2: Tottenham v. Olympiakos, Nov. 26, UEFA Champions League

Game 3: Tottenham v. Bournemouth, Nov. 30, Premier League

Game 4: Tottenham at Manchester United, Dec. 4, Premier League

Mourinho only has to wait three weeks before his first trip back to Old Trafford. Even though it’s coming soon, it’s not a guarantee that it will be Mourinho v. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who is under a lot of pressure himself. Things haven’t improved at Man United much since Mourinho was sacked, and a win for him on the road would be the kind of grudge match he lives for.

Game 5: Tottenham v. Burnley, Dec. 7, Premier League

Game 6: Tottenham at Bayern Munich, Dec. 11, Champions League

If the Champions League stopped today, passed Go and went directly to the knockout rounds, Tottenham would be in. Despite all the Premier League troubles, Spurs have done well enough to stay ahead of Red Star Belgrade and Olympiakos in the standings. Should Tottenham beat Olympiakos in November, and Red Star loses to Bayern Munich, it will be set. However, if Tottenham hasn’t secured a place in the knockout round by then, it may need a result against Bayern at home. That will be one of Mourinho’s biggest tasks moving forward.

Game 7: Tottenham at Wolves, Dec. 15, Premier League

Game 8: Tottenham v. Chelsea, Dec. 22, Premier League

Tottenham opens the busy holiday period against Mourinho’s other Premier League former club, and the place where he made his name in England. At this point, Mourinho will have been with Tottenham for an entire month and if things are going well, Tottenham could challenge Chelsea in this match. If Tottenham remain at its current level, Chelsea could certainly win a match like this on the road at the new White Hart Lane. Another side plot will be Mourinho facing his former star midfielder, Frank Lampard.

Game 9: Tottenham v. Brighton and Hove Albion, Dec. 26, Premier League

Game 10: Tottenham at Norwich City, Dec. 28, Premier League

Mourinho will have to navigate some tough matches, including big six derbies against Chelsea and Man United, plus a trip to Wolverhampton Wanderers. However, it certainly could have been worse for Tottenham. Spurs has five home games, along with matches against Burnley, Bournemouth, Norwich City and Brighton and Hove Albion. Despite 10 games in the rest of 2019, and a busy holiday period, Mourinho has a shot to turn Spurs’ season around and put them in contention for fourth place by May.

UEFA investigates player’s claim of racial abuse in Romania

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NYON, Switzerland (AP) UEFA has called for further investigations into allegations by a Sweden player he was racially abused by Romania fans at a European Championship qualifying game.

After Alexander Isak reported his claim to the match referee last Friday, play in Sweden’s 2-0 win was briefly stopped to broadcast a warning to fans in Bucharest. The stadium will host four Euro 2020 games in June.

[READ: How the USMNT found and kept Sergino Dest]

UEFA says it opened a disciplinary investigation, and also charged Romania’s soccer federation for separate incidents of an alleged “illicit banner” and “illicit chants.” Those charges will be judged on Dec. 12.

Romania faces more severe UEFA action because it was already under one year’s probation for previous incidents of offensive fan behavior.

Only accompanied children were allowed to attend Romania’s home qualifier against Norway last month.

The next UEFA punishment could affect Romania’s next game in the Euro 2020 playoffs round in March.

Report: Austin FC hire Reyna as sporting director

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Months after locking in Josh Wolff as head coach, Austin FC is reportedly on the verge of naming one of MLS’ best sporting directors to the same role.

The Athletic reported on Wednesday that Anthony Precourt’s Austin FC has hired Claudio Reyna from New York City FC to be the expansion club’s new sporting director. It’s the second expansion club that Reyna is working for since he joined NYCFC in 2013 as its first director of soccer operations.

[READ: MLS takes big step with All-Star game update]

If true, it’s a shrewd move by Precourt to bring in a man who knows MLS like the back of his thumb, and to pair him with a former teammate from the U.S. Men’s National Team. Wolff’s spent almost his entire career in professional soccer in MLS too, so the club now has two influential individuals who are knowledgable about the league and it’s various roster mechanisms.

Austin FC doesn’t enter MLS until 2021, so locking in Reyna now gives him more than a year of runway towards building an MLS-ready roster. Precourt has surely seen the best-case scenario – Seattle, Los Angeles FC, Atlanta United – where a team loaded with top-heavy talent and good role players can make a deep playoff run in its expansion season. But he’s likely also seen the worst-case scenarios – look at Minnesota United in the past and FC Cincinnati this year.

Bringing in Reyna certainly makes it more likely that Austin FC’s future will lie in the former category.