1. The governing bodies have finally succeeded in stacking the deck so firmly in favour of the major footballing nations that it is almost impossible for them not to qualify. Portugal won just two of their first seven games, but still managed to reach the playoffs simply because over the course of such a long group, they had time to recover. Now that FIFA have decided to seed the playoffs (at the last minute), they are firm favourites to qualify, undeservedly.
Italia 90 was my first World Cup, and I remember the old format – groups of four with one qualifier, groups of five with two, and since there was a lack of genuine minnows (no San Marinos back then), all the games were tough. France, Denmark and, ironically, Portugal failed to qualify despite having far better records against far tougher opposition than the Portuguese have managed this time around.
2. If the European system is bad, then the South American is a joke. Argentina lost six games and still qualified. How can a small nation possibly overachieve for eighteen games and qualify?
3. Argentina might have qualified, but under Maradona they are no threat for the World Cup itself. They look utterly disjointed, lacking in any tactical plan, and reliant on a couple of individuals to fire them through. Look at their team on Wednesday – some of it was excellent (Messi, Mascherano, Higuain), but the rest aren’t likely to scare anyone. Romero, Otamedi, and di Maria are all inexperienced, Veron will be 35 in March, and Guiterrez is hardly lighting up the Championship with Newcastle. And with Maradona in charge, there is always scope for crazy selections – Aguero wasn’t even on the bench.
4. David Beckham looks like an idiot. Seriously, what is with the caveman look?
5. Mind you, he can still play a bit, and will surely go to South Africa. But giving him the man of the match award for a half an hour appearance is a slap in the face for the rest of the players.
6. What has happened to Romania? Once a force in world football, they ended fifth in their group, sandwiched in between Lithuania and the Faroes, having been hammered 5-0 by Serbia at the weekend. Gheorghe Hagi must be despairing.
7. Croatia have fallen a long way since Euro 2008 too, where they were seconds away from the semi final. Ukraine’s inevitable victory over Andorra put them out, and to add insult to injury, neighbours Serbia won France’s group and even Bosnia have made the playoffs.
8. Egypt are doing their best to continue their woeful qualifying record – they haven’t played in the competition since 1990, despite winning the African Nations Cup three times since (twice, ironically, in the year of World Cups they failed to reach – 1998 and 2006). They must now beat Algeria, their undefeated group leaders, by three goals in the final match to qualify. A two goal victory would actually see both sides finish with identical records, and a 3-1 victory would cancel out the scoreline Algeria won their first meeting by, and would result in the drawing of lots.
9. The FIFA World Rankings are a joke. Looking at the top 25 to see who had surprisingly failed to qualify, you’ll find Croatia in ninth, which is a fair reflection of their recent success, the Czechs in 18th after a woeful campaign, Bulgaria in 19th, and then, in 22nd, Israel. Israel??? Fourth behind Switzerland, Greece and Latvia (who are, incidentally, way down in 47th, two places behind Gabon) in the current group, they also came fourth in qualifying for Euro 2008, and haven’t played in a major tournament since their one and only appearance in the World Cup in 1970. Why are they up in 22nd?
10. International fortnights stretch on painfully. Okay, we already knew that one.
At last, it is over, and from tomorrow, the real football returns. I’ll be previewing that later. Until then, enjoy your Friday.