There are still people out there who like to believe that the champions league is not the pinnacle of football, they lay that on the door step of international football. Yes international football, country vs. country the cream of one nation’s talent against that of another’s.
However the thrills and spills that the World-Cup and the continental championships can produce must also be balanced against the David v goliath matches that the selection processes of the football governing bodies regularly produces during the rounds of qualification for major championships. Some games which are meant to represent a competitive form of qualification make a mouse cornered by a cat seem like a fair fight.
Let’s take for example the round of fixtures for the 7th of September. Italy playing in Rome against the Faroe Islands managed by former Irish youth and senior manager Brian Kerr.
Italy has a long and glorious history in football, great players, great club sides and the winners of four world cups and one European championship. The Faroe Islands has a history of… fishing. According to twitter Brian Kerr’s contract includes a clause for all the free fish he can eat.
Italy won the game five – nil, no doubt a moral victory to the Faroe players. But really those it serve any purpose in the development of football in this Danish outpost in the North Sea?
The Faros is after all an autonomous part of the Kingdom of Denmark; it doesn’t have a foreign affairs department or embassies in countries. It’s not really a country so how can it have any place taking the field against a nation like Italy?
Well a potential member of FIFA and UEFA needs to be a sovereign state, so the minnows of Europe such as Andorra, the Faros and San Marino are established members, even if they have no hope of ever qualifying for a major championship.
Historically rebellious, the peoples’ republic of Cork could declare itself a sovereign entity within the state of Ireland and apply for FIFA membership. This would allow Stephen Ireland to resume his international career without having to share a team-bus with those pesky Dubs and compete against other sides awaiting FIFA status such as the Samiis from Lapland or the Romas from all over Europe, well except France.
Andorra, recent losers in the first soccer international to be held at the new Aviva stadium is a principality in the Pyrenees. The little man with the hot wife French president Nicolas Sarkozy is the ruling monarch, the Prince of Andorra!
The current qualifying competition for Euro 2012 to be hosted in Poland and the Ukraine consists of nine groups. These are drawn at random by UEFA but with teams’ allocated seeded places in the draw on the basis of their previous results in the competition.
Of the 51 nations taking part, 9 have a population of less than one million citizens. These are Andorra, Cyprus, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro and San Marino.
In the interest of fairness and competition wouldn’t it be an idea to put these countries into their own group? Surely it would be better for the development of football in these countries if they weren’t routinely been thrashed by players who compete regularly in the champions league.
Given that Cyprus has shown in recent qualifying competitions an ability to be competitive you could exclude them from this group of minnows. Montenegro could also be discounted as it has many professional players and took part in the 2006 World Cup before the full separation from Serbia.
So that would leave you with a group containing 7 teams, one more than the standard group size. It would be easy for these countries to accommodate an extra round of fixtures as the majority of their players are amateurs.
The team which topped the group should be given a place in the play-offs against one of the runners-ups from the other groups for a spot in the EURO championships. The fans of these teams would be able to look forward to matches in which they had a good chance of performing well, along with a realistic shot at qualifying for a tournament.
In a two-legged play-off the potential group topper would fancy their chances, as has been shown in the past anything can happen when two teams, however unequal on paper, take part in a knock-out round.
It’s hard to judge whether UEFA President Michael Paltitni would ever look to adopt such a plan. His pet hobby seems to be tinkering with the club competitions and proposing that clubs not be run like Anglo-Irish bank.
It’s hard to imagine anyone opposing such a qualifying format. No countries governing body is every happy to be drawn with one of the amateur teams, every other side in your group whips them; the stadium is half full and the TV revenue pitiful.
If truth be told the minnows may not be so keen, they might foresee a drop in their own TV earnings in such a group structured like this, but with an increased interest at home and abroad from more competitive matches and a chance of a money-spinning play-off place for the group toppers, it may just be the spark needed to enliven a pedestrian qualifying competition.