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.
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.