One thing that I know frustrates not only me but also international managers such as Joachim Low and Roy Hodgson (and yes, I am currently placing myself on the same level as them in this debate), is the continued admittance of quite a few useless teams to the World Cup and European Championships Qualifying groups. This week, Germany had to play Kazakhstan and England were forced to travel to San Marino, two matches that should never happen.
There are a number of problems in the whole system of qualifying for international tournaments, but some make sense, while others do not. The fact that Israel qualifies as a European team makes sense because the other teams in the Middle East refused to play against them, but Kazakhstan qualifying for the European groups makes no sense whatsoever. Firstly, the location of Kazakhstan makes it a little hard to justify it being located within Europe, especially when it is five hours ahead of Germany. It’s located in the middle of Asia. It’s probably the only country that people can say, “Honey, what’s the name of that country right in the middle of Asia? Oh, Kazakhstan? Why are they playing the Faroe Islands then?” Though I honestly doubt that people will ever say that, it is fair to ask why Kazakhstan qualifies for European competitions while Lebanon does not and none of the other Central Asian Stans do. Why can’t the Uzbeks or the Tajiks join in? Apparently they aren’t considered to be quintessentially central Asian steppe people, even though they are next-door neighbours with European Kazakhstan.
There are certainly issues with location in some groups and time differences can affect both international teams and teams competing in European wide competitions like the Europa League.
With England annihilating San Marino 8-0, there was little point to the game other than trying to improve the goal difference. Three points should have been given to the England team before they even went on the field because it was only a matter of how much they would win by. Each team in that group will get six points from San Marino, just as each team in Group C will get three points from the Faroe Islands. There is no point to the games because some of the teams are so bad that they field amateur sides: San Marino’s only goal scorer of the night was Allesandro Della Valle, a full-time bank clerk. Lets just look at some of the stats: San Marino hasn’t scored in an international game since their game against Slovakia (which they lost) in October 2008, they have conceded 121 goals since they last scored, they have lost 59 qualifying games in a row, and they sit bottom of the global rankings at place number 207. Nations that are above them include New Caledonia, Swaziland, Comoros, the newly formed South Sudan and war torn Somalia. What is the point of matches against teams like these? There were 203 places between these two teams. Teams like Andorra, the Faroe Islands, and Liechtenstein shouldn’t be participating in the group stages of major competitions when the international teams are playing as much as they are. At the moment, there is conflict between clubs and FIFA over how many dates players have to go and play for their national teams and an easy way out of this situation would be to reduce the number of teams trying to qualify for each event, or at least to create a lower quality World Cup/European Championships for countries like Malta and Andorra to compete in.
It’s not like a cup competition where Bradford can get to the League Cup final to play at Wembley because even Bradford is not 203 places below the level of Swansea. In most competitions, it is fun to have lesser teams that can provide a challenge to higher ranked teams or could provide an upset but in these qualification matches we have a scenario where they are simply too poor to provide competition. It would be better to just remove these teams from the qualification stages and to form a second tier of international football, something that could provide a chance to win for tiny island nations and principalities. There are a series non-FIFA World Cups that already exist and it would be much more useful to place smaller teams in these competitions (Faroe Islands used to compete in the Island Games and San Marino could qualify for the Europeada). Sometimes it s just better to isolate the better teams and to prevent those who can’t compete from taking part: the top Olympic nations have qualification requirements, for example. Cricket teams will only play against other teams near to them in the rankings, and it’s time for football to do the same and remove some of the lower teams from qualification groups since they simply aren’t worth keeping around.