European Qualifying is boring and needs a change
By Anthony Kendrick - Follow him on Twitter www.twitter.com/Ant_Kendrick
Qualifying for the World Cup and European Championships gets a lot of criticism, particularly in Europe. There are lower attendances, with tickets available for Wembley, and in addition the TV viewers are in decline.
It is obvious that the process is too long, tedious and the top nations will always qualify. Teams such as San Marino, Moldova, Andorra and Gibraltar struggle to pick a single point, let alone qualify. It could be argued that the right thing to do is to give any European nation a fair shot, which is all well and good.
For the middling countries, such as the Home Nations and Scandinavia there should be excitement, since it is not cut and dry whether they will qualify or not. For those countries, it is a competition of whether they will make the tournament. But it is still a dull process.
Part of the problem is that the qualifiers are so spread out - and interspersed with friendlies. Could the qualifiers be improved by playing the ten games over a few week period, perhaps at the end of a season? This could be done in the summer preceding the tournament.
Or another option would be to change the seedings. Could the top nine teams in Pot One automatically qualify for the World Cup, and play in some kind of tournament similar to the Rugby Six Nations? A similar tournament could be set up for the minnows, where the winner of say, the bottom ten teams could be given one place? Then the middle teams could be separated to determine the remaining places.
I think that this would make things much more exciting, with more big games between nations that can compete with each other. For the top nations, they get to face the best, and for the minnows, they get regular games against sides of a similar quality. This would help the likes of San Marino and Andorra to improve. Perhaps an outlandish suggestion, but one I think could be considered.
However, we will never see this happen due to financial reasons. Having more games means more money, despite the declining audiences both on TV and at the stadia.
Having said that, the World Cup will be expanding to 48 teams. We have a proposal from FIFA with the allocations as follows:
Europe - 16
Africa - 9
Asia - 8
South America - 6
North/Central America - 6
Ocenia - 1
Playoff Winners - 2
Whether the World Cup should expand to 48 teams is a whole other debate. And it comes down to whether it is more important for FIFA to be inclusive, or whether a competitive World Cup is of greater importance. With the way FIFA is run, this will surely get enough votes to comes to pass.
But for the focus of this article, this will make the qualifying even worse than ever before. With 16 places, there will be a virtual guarantee for all of the top European nations to qualify. Qualifying will become even more dull.
I would like to see the following format in my dream scenario:
The top 8 nations qualify automatically - but play each other once each in a Six Nations style tournament.
The following 24 nations are split into two groups of 12, with each team playing each other once. The top three are given world cup spots, with fourth place in a play-off game.
The bottom 20 nations are also split into two groups of 10. The winner of each group would play in a play-off game.
The play-off games between fourth place in League Two and the winner of League Three would then face each other to determine the final qualifiers.
This system would be much more competitive, producing more excitement. Obviously it would never happen as it would never gain the approval.
But it's nice to dream of a more fun system, isn't it?